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Forum topic by David Craig posted 08-07-2010 06:13 PM 2806 views 1 time favorited 34 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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David Craig

2137 posts in 3592 days

08-07-2010 06:13 PM

Topic tags/keywords: abrasive cleaning stick miter layout gauge brass setup bar measuring tools recommended tools

This morning I got a chance to spend a little time in the shop and as I worked with a few things, I thought about some of the items in my shop that don’t seem to get enough attention in the tool forums. It isn’t that they are rare, it is just that they are small items that many forget about when someone new asks about recommended tools for any new woodworker. So, while many forums will go into great detail about tablesaws, jointers, bandsaws, scrollsaws, etc. I would like to dedicate just a little space to get a list going of the small items that new woodworkers might not be familiar with, are fairly inexpensive, yet have made a considerable difference in our measuring, pocketbooks, and efficiency.

I will start with these three items -

Abrasive Cleaning Stick -
Anybody and everybody that has ever used sandpaper understands what a limited life each sheet or disc has. It doesn’t take long before the sandpaper clogs up and the sheet looks wasted, so we throw it away and grab another one. We do this because we know that the paper is losing its effectiveness and, even worse, is going to start marking our pieces with scratches instead of removing the tool marks we are trying to get rid of. A few months ago, I picked up one of these abrasive cleaning sticks for about 8 bucks. It has made an unbelievable difference in the life of my sanding belts, sanding discs, and sheets of sandpaper. I can honestly say that it paid for itself with my first packet of discs, as the life of my sandpaper easily extended 3 times what it normally would.

abrasive cleaning stick

Brass Setup Bars -
Need something to help you set the height of router bits, saw blades, jointer knives, etc. quickly and efficiently? Look no further than a 15-25 dollar brass setup bar set. I bought a pack of five from MCLS. They are machined to be exactly 1/16,1/8, 1/4, 3/8, and 1/2 inch thick. I stack them or set them side by side for fence alignment. They have really made setup a much less complicated process for me and they are worth their weight in gold.

brass setup bars

Saddle Miter Layout Gauge
I always had problems marking a line down the edge of a board that was consistent with the mark on top. This little layout tool has been a godsend for me as it allows me to set the mark on the edge exactly in alignment with the mark on top. The version of the tool I have is in metric but that doesn’t phase me much because I use it for layout and not measuring anyway. And the 45 degree guide on the end has really simplified those tricky cuts for picture frames on my miter saw. I can measure the required length, mark the miter angle, and line up my cut with the blade. Twenty bucks at Rockler I have seen it on sale quite frequently at half price. On sale or not, worth every penny.

miter layout gauge

Now I know all of you folks have a tool or two in your shop that you use frequently but the items escapes notice or does not immediately come to mind. What unheralded tools do you have in your shop that would save many headaches for someone new to the craft?


-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

34 replies so far

View schloemoe's profile


709 posts in 3422 days

#1 posted 08-07-2010 06:52 PM

I have a set of the brass set up bars I can’t tell you how much time its saved me in set up not to mention how accurate they are. still need to get the other 2 items.Thanks for posting….....................Schloemoe

-- schloemoe, Oregon , http://www.

View Gregn's profile


1642 posts in 3467 days

#2 posted 08-07-2010 08:00 PM

I couldn’t agree with you more about using abrasive sticks. I do need to get a set of set up bars myself. I use a set up gauge for the TS and Router, but they can sometimes be difficult if your not paying close attention. Another little item I’ve found very useful and use a lot is my Wixley digital angle gauge. It helps a lot in setting up my angles as well as 90degrees. One other thing I use and is something most woodworkers don’t think about is a good pair of pattern scissors. The ones with the off set allowing you cut with the material laying flat. Got mine at a fabric store. I use them more than the straight ones.

-- I don't make mistakes, I have great learning lessons, Greg

View Mary Anne's profile

Mary Anne

1058 posts in 3692 days

#3 posted 08-07-2010 08:17 PM

Great idea for a topic. These are some simple tools that I use on nearly every project:

Center Finder
Especially useful for turners.

Center Finding Rule
Sure you can just do the math, but a center finding rule is quicker, easier, always accurate, and saves you from math errors.

Here is the Incra with a built-in protractor

Or a less expensive self-centering straight rule

Don’t forget a Center Punch for marking and starting holes for drilling, or aligning your stock for spindle turning.

Also, if you can fit them into your budget, ALL of the Wixey digital tools are useful and accurate.

View Edward83's profile


161 posts in 3380 days

#4 posted 08-07-2010 08:58 PM

Brad point drill bits, One pet peeve of mine is when the drill bit walks just a hair away from where you need/want it to be, brad point bits put a stop to that around here. Also I love my abrasive cleaning stick, picked up my first one a few months back and I agree everybody should invest in one.

-- Praise God in all things, especially the bad things because they make the best learning experiences.

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3558 days

#5 posted 08-07-2010 09:25 PM

Great topic. There are lots of little things I use in the shop that I consider indispensable.

I would put a thickness gauge close to the top of the list. I prefer digital, but it does not have to be digital.

A good tape measure is essential. I like to have both a small convenient one (10’) and a bigger one (25’).

I good marking knife is quite valuable. More precise than a pencil.

i wouldn’t want to be without a compass.

A flashlight for when the lighting is not ideal.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View Catspaw's profile


236 posts in 4299 days

#6 posted 08-07-2010 09:27 PM

Just an aside to the center finding ruler.

If you have a sort of 5” wide board, set the ruler at an angle so that two whole numbers (like 10” and 16”) hit the edges. Halfway between 10 and 16 is 13”. There’s your exact center, quicker and with something you already own.

I can’t think of anything else in particular that I could recommend. Seems like all tools have their uses. The problem is in the acqusition of all known tools in the universe.

Well, there is one….some of those flip-down magnifying goggles….the older I get, the smaller things get.

-- arborial reconfiguration specialist

View Rob Drown's profile

Rob Drown

811 posts in 4317 days

#7 posted 08-07-2010 09:34 PM

Good Idea, Marking knife, cheep chisels for scraping glue, top pf a folgers coffee container for resting the orbital sander. Saddle square is great, but a butt hinge works almost as well. My better half got me one of those flash lights with legs and a swivel head. hands free infinite positions and small.

-- The expectations of life depend upon diligence; the mechanic that would perfect his work must first sharpen his tools. Confucius, 经过艰苦的努力的梦想可以成真

View degoose's profile


7255 posts in 3838 days

#8 posted 08-07-2010 11:11 PM

Bevel Box digital angle finder for the table saw etc… I blogged about it here
and maybe Silverglide dry lubricant for all table top surfaces…
check it out here

-- Don't drink and use power tools @

View a1Jim's profile


117713 posts in 4061 days

#9 posted 08-07-2010 11:19 PM

I use my brass set up bars all the time. for less money you can buy key stock and use them too they come in many sizes also.

View Beginningwoodworker's profile


13345 posts in 4157 days

#10 posted 08-08-2010 01:20 AM

This is a good topic, I cant be without my carpenter apron!

View TechRedneck's profile


770 posts in 3341 days

#11 posted 08-08-2010 04:50 AM

I agree with degoose. I bought a Wixey digital angle gauge from Woodcraft when they were on sale. It has a magnetic base and sticks to the side of the table saw. It makes for quick and repeatable angles on the saw blade and when finished, brings the blade back to 90 degrees. Works better than the machine square I used to use. It also come in handy on the compound miter saw and jointer.

They make one for height adjustments on the planer but I haven’t tried it yet, still use the calipers. Has anybody used the digital height gauge for the planer?

-- Mike.... West Virginia. "Man is a tool using animal. Without tools he is nothing, with tools he is all.". T Carlyle

View cathyb's profile


839 posts in 3728 days

#12 posted 08-08-2010 09:33 AM

Top of my list is my 6” depth gauge. I use it all the time. I also would be lost without my chalk. It’s easy to mark where the dado goes, the order of my boards for a glue up, the order in which the boards come off the bandsaw after resawing, weather I’ve completely sanded the board in my drum sander and the list goes on and on. I even buy colored caulk to give each side or leg of a piece it’s own marking system. What shop would be complete without duct tape? Yes, it has way more uses than just wrapping around duct work. I use duct tape to help in gluing, to keep epoxy off my forms (since epoxy won’t adhere to duct tape) and to tape a board that is way too scary to cut, but cut you must. In that case, I tape that thing to it’s sled or the chop saw and keep my fingers far way from the teeth of those blades!

-- cathyb, Hawaii,

View Gene Howe's profile

Gene Howe

11767 posts in 3912 days

#13 posted 08-08-2010 01:29 PM

Keyway stock, pairs of aluminum bars for inside measurements, laminate samples for measuring “just a skosh”,
pop cans for machine shim stock, 3/4 foam sheet for cutting on my bench, engineers squares, plastic drafting triangles, the Wixey, Double stick tape.
Just a few things that make shop time more fun.

-- Gene 'The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.' G. K. Chesterton

View mtkate's profile


2049 posts in 3809 days

#14 posted 08-08-2010 01:39 PM

Great tip on the abrasive stick. A little purchase that goes a long way.

View 8iowa's profile


1591 posts in 4245 days

#15 posted 08-08-2010 02:04 PM

I worked for years without a shop apron, now I don’t know how I got along without it. The accessories in my apron that get the most use are the remote button for the dust collector, the Starrett 6” combination square, a couple of sharp pencils, a 12’ tape measure, a 6” steel rule, and a brass caliper.

-- "Heaven is North of the Bridge"

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