Hand Tools, Process Improvement
Comments 5

Thank you Mike Morton and Rob Cosman

My first serious hand tool: the Lie-Nielsen #4 Smoother.

I took a really big step in my growth as a woodworker recently. A while back, I became aware that my woodworking was way out of balance. You see, I am a power tool woodworker – about 99% power tool, 1% hand tool. Sort of sad. If the tool I am using doesn’t have a power cord, then I don’t use it – exception being a hammer but often I’ll side-step my hammer and use my pneumatic nailer. 😦

Last month I set out to change my ways with a trip to Highland Woodworking in Atlanta, Georgia. They were having a sale and the Atlanta chapter of the Modern Woodworking Association was gathering there, so I thought it would be fun to drive over. Plus, woodworker Mike Morton would be on hand.

Morton creates product test videos for Highland Woodworking and is a very skilled woodworker. A bonus for me: he is knowledgable about hand tools.

Hand tool anxiety sets in
I had heard about an iPad app from PBS via WoodTalk Online Radio, which lead me to an episode of Roy Underhill’s Woodwright’s Shop. The episode in question has Roy chatting with Chris Schwarz about hand planes. Chris explains the virtues of the Jack plane in great detail. I’m thinking if it is good enough for Chris Schwarz, then the Jack plane is good enough for me. As I drive over, a Jack plane is all that is on my mind.

A big, big reason I don’t work with hand tools more often is I don’t know how to set them up, and then I don’t know how to take care of them, especially sharpening hand tools. Often when a chisel gets dull, I just go buy a new one. I am a very impatient woodworker. To me, there is a certain vagueness in hand tools that I don’t find with power tools.

This frustration with hand tools, my lack of knowledge all lead to something I call hand tool anxiety. Once I get to Highland Woodworking, the anxiety rears its ugly head. I start talking to Morton and he is a big fan of the #4 Smoother as a first plane; not Schwarz’ recommended Jack plane. Already I know that Rob Cosman likes the #4 1/2 Smoother better than the #4. And at Highland Woodworking there are some cool looking Hock Krenov style wood hand planes – in kit form no less (I’d like to make planes at some point – that would be cool). All of a sudden, I don’t know what in the world to do.

The Atlanta MWA group; Mike Morton has the ball cap and brown MWA t-shirt. Scott Meek has the beard. I had a lot of fun; a great group of guys (photo courtesy MWA).

For a moment, I consider post-poning my purchase – I’m thinking I should do some more research. But I am determined not to leave empty handed; I have to take this step once and for all. After a long talk with Mike Morton and custom hand plane maker Scott Meek, I decide to dive in and buy the Lie-Nielsen #4 Smoother. I wanted to make a statement with my purchase; Lie-Nielsen is serious stuff. I even consider upgrading to the bronze version, but it was out of stock.

In the shop
Once back home I ran into a problem. By the time I got my plane out for use, I had forgotten much of what Morton had taught me at Highland Woodworking. More than a week had passed by and I needed a refresher course on correctly setting up my plane for use. More anxiety!

I remembered the Rob Cosman DVD I purchased about six months ago (Hand Planing and Sharpening, see it here). I got it out and thankfully Rob goes through the steps for setting up a plane. I carefully watch the video over and over until I feel confident enough to give my #4 a try. I first wanted to see how good the plane would be right out of the box. After adjusting the depth of cut, I got some pretty nice shavings and I am pleased with my purchase (my first significant tool purchase in a long, long time).

I have a lot to learn about hand planes, but I at least I have made a start. I need to finish getting the plane set up for use, but I am in no hurry. I am just glad I have taken this first step.


Before I let you go, I’d like to bring your attention to some cool woodworking resources…

Modern Woodworkers Association – this is basically a group of on-line woodworkers who meet monthly and talk woodworking. The Atlanta group has had an excellent SketchUp class taught by Aaron Marshall and the get together with Morton and Scott Meek was great. To see if there is a chapter in your area, visit the MWA website by clicking here.

WoodTalk Online Radio – this is simply the best woodworking podcast there is. If you don’t listen to it, I highly recommend it to you. See their site by clicking here.

The Highland Woodworker – I think this is the best online woodworking TV show today. The episode I watched recently visits a high end hand plane manufacturer, an exceptional chair maker and a saw mill. The production is very high quality and it is an impressive effort by Highland Woodworking. See the TV show by clicking here.

The PBS iPad app – Access many of the PBS series through this app. Sorry, but the Woodwright’s Shop is the only woodworking series I have found so far. You can see a number of interesting documentaries and I love Austin City Limits. Get the app here.

That’s it. Thanks for reading.

This entry was posted in: Hand Tools, Process Improvement


During the week, I sell flooring products for The Dixie Group. Weekends, you'll find me in my basement workshop making furniture.


  1. Awesome Jeff!! I admire your desire to keep branching out. I too have such a hard time keeping my hand tools in proper working order. Power tools seem to be a bit more forgiving in that area. Great post and great links at the bottom. Now go have some fun with that new toy!

  2. Jane, it is very cool. Hand tools open up a whole new world and I hope lead to much higher quality work for me.

    Jason, I need to get some sharpening stones and maybe a guide. I am very much a novice in this area.

    Thanks for the comments.

  3. I have three hand planes , jack, bench and a block plane and I am ashamed to say that they sit gathering rust. Yet there was a time 30 years ago I would reach for the hand tool before a power tool.

    Maybe I should follow your example and try a class.

    Thanks for the encouragement.

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