Checking for Square

A large portion of woodworking is spent making sure things are square. That is, checking that one edge or surface is at 90 degrees to another. For example, you might want to verify that the table saw blade is square to the table. Perhaps you want to make sure or that the face of a board is square to it's edge. Is that case you just glued together square? Is your jointer fence square to the table? In this post, I'll discuss the various ways to check that your measuring tools are calibrated and that your assemblies are square.

Check your squares

Most woodworkers have a variety of squares that are used for measuring, marking and tool setup. These tools are used as the basis for nearly everything you do in woodworking. They're used for machine setup as well as checking that joints are cut and cases are assembled square. If you can't trust that your squares are square, it will be hard to build anything with a right angle.

To check that your square is at exactly 90 degrees, place one edge against the straight edge of a scrap board and draw a line along the other leg of your square. Now, flip the square so that the portion against the edge of the board is pointed the other way. That is, if the two arms of the square were initially pointed to the left and away from you, flip the square so that the arms of the square are pointed to the right and away from you. Line up the square with the first line you drew and draw another line. If the square is accurate, the lines will overlap. Otherwise, the square is off by half the angle between the two lines.

Sometimes, any problems with your square can be corrected. Combination and sliding squares can fixed by carefully filing the flat portion the ruler slides along. A framing square is fixed by puching a dimple in the inside or outside corner with a nail set. Otherwise, you'll need to go shopping for a new square.

Check your miter gauge

To check that your table saw miter gauge is at 90 degrees to the blade, there are a couple of different methods you can use. These methods also work to check the setup of your compound miter saw as well, with only slight variations.

Cut-n-Flip
Take a pice of scrap 6 to 8 inches wide, joint one edge and rip the other edge parallel. The wider the piece, the easier it will be to see any error in your setup. Place one edge against your miter gauge (or miter saw fence) and make a crosscut. Place the two pieces against a straight edge and flip one half of the board away from you so that the two freshly sawn ends are still facing each other. If the miter gauge (miter saw) is accurately set to 90 degrees, the two cut ends will meet without any gap. Otherwise, you will need to adjust your miter gauge by half the angle between the two ends.
5 Cuts
If you need a really accurate setting of your miter gauge, the five cuts method multiplies any error in your setup by five. If your miter gauge is off even a little bit, it will be quite obvious by the end of the process.
Take a piece of scrap about 6 to 12 inches square that has at least one straight edge. Starting with the straight edge number each edge counter-clockwise (clockwise if your miter gauge is to the right of the blade or the workpiece is to the left of your miter saw blade). Leave some room between the number and the edge, as you're going to be cutting a bit off of each edge.
Place the edge numbered "1" against the miter gauge and make a cut along the edge numbered "2". Now place the edge numbered "2" against your miter gauge and make a cut along the edge numbered "3". Repeat the process two more times. The fourth cut should be along edge number "1" with edge number "4" against the miter gauge. Finally, make one more cut along edge number "2" (the same as the very first cut you made).
Using a reliable square, check the corner between edge "1" and "2". If your miter gauge is not square, it should be quite obvious. If you don't trust your square, you can measure the diagonals of your board to see if they are equal. Make any adjustments to your miter gauge (or miter saw setup) and repeat the process until your test board ends up with a square corner after the last cut.

Check your cabinet assembly

Having accurate tools is all very well and good, but what really matters is how square your cabinet assemblies end up. You could have the most accurate squares and jigs made and still end up with a crooked cabinet if you don't check it after you glue it together.

The easiest way to check that your cabinet is square is to measure the diagonals. On a square cabinet, the measurement from one corner to the diagonally opposite corner should be the same in either direction. If not, you have a parallelogram. Adjust your clamping pressure or use corner blocks to pull the assembly square. Sometimes adding a clamp diagonally along the long direction can help as well.

These are just some of the ways to check that things are square. What's your favorite technique to check for square corners? What do you do to correct any problems?

Make a Table Saw Panel Cutting Sled

In a previous post, I wrote about the two styles of table saw crosscut sleds. Today I will describe how to build a table saw sled with one runner. This is the kind of sled I use most often in my own shop for squaring up panels. It's lightweight, so I can hang it on the wall and it's easy to get on and off the table saw.

  1. Cut the base to size. Cut a piece of plywood or hardboard to form the base of your sled. I used a piece of 1/4 inch hardboard, but you can use whatever scrap you have laying around the shop. The base should be about 2 to 3 feet wide and about the same length. My sled is about 2 feet wide (deep) and about 3 feet side to side.
  2. Make the runner. Rip a piece of hardwood or plastic (UHMW is a good choice) that is longer than your sled base. The runner should fit into the left miter slot without any slop left to right and it should sit just below the surface of the table. I cut the runner just a bit oversize and then fine tune the width with a hand plane.
  3. Position the base. Lower the table saw blade below the table. Place the runner in the miter slot and place your base on top. Position the base so it extends over the blade and as close to square to the blade as you can, but don't worry if it's not exact. Your table saw fence can be helpful to help position the base.
  4. Attach the runner. Drill pilot holes and screw the base to the runner. It can be helpful to clamp the base to the table saw while you do this. If you prefer, mark the position of the runner on the underside of the base, flip the base over and screw the runner to the base. Just make sure your screws are not so long they protrude through the top of the base.
  5. Trim the base. Raise the saw blade, place your base with the attached runner on the table saw and run the sled through the saw blade. The right edge of the saw is now exactly even with the left edge of the saw blade. You will use this edge as a reference when attaching the fence.
  6. Make the fence. Cut a piece of hardwood or 3/4 inch plywood about 2 inches wide and at least as long as your crosscut sled base. I like to make my fence at least half again as long as the base. This allows me to clamp a stop block for repeated cuts while keeping the weight of the sled down.
  7. Attach the fence. Using your most accurate square, clamp the fence to the base with a little bit sticking off the right edge of the base. Drill and screw the right end of the fence to the base, leaving the other end clamped for now. I prefer to put the fence on the leading edge of the crosscut sled, since it allows me to cut panels a bit wider than the size of the base. However, putting the fence on the trailing edge provides the support needed to prevent tearout.
  8. Test and adjust the fence. Place the sled back on the table saw. Cut one end off of a piece of scrap about 6 to 8 inches wide and check the result. If the cut is square, drill and screw the left end of the fence down. Make another test cut to make sure things didn't shift. If all looks good, add a couple more screws to hold the fence in place.

Congratulations! You are now ready to put your cross cut sled to use. I like to drill a couple of holes into the base so I can hang the sled on the wall when I'm not using it. Then it only takes a few seconds to pull it off the wall and place it on the table saw.

Table Saw Crosscut Sled Basics

One of the most useful accessories you can make for your table saw is a crosscut sled. A crosscut sled is nothing more than a piece of plywood with one or two runners that fit in the miter slots of the table saw. With a crosscut sled, you can square up panels and crosscut wood boards very accurately. You can make specialized sleds for cutting miters, crown mouldings, dados and more. While you can do all of these operations using the miter guage that came with your table saw, a table saw sled allows you to make the cuts with greater control, accuracy and safety. This post will describe the various styles of sled and how to make one for your own table saw.

When it comes times to make your own table saw sled, one of the first things you'll need to decide is whether to use one runner or two. Anyone who has watched a few episodes of The New Yankee Workshop with Norm Abram is familliar with a version of the one-runner sled. The sled runs either to the left or right of the blade, though the left side tends to be more popular since it allows you cut stock of any length without removing the table saw fence. In addition, this style of sled has a fence on either the leading or trailing edge of the sled. The former lets you cut panels slightly wider than the sled base whereas the latter is a bit easier to control since the blade naturally pushes the stock into the fence.

Two runner table saw sleds have runners that slide in both miter slots at the same time. They usually have two tall fences that support the stock, preventing tearout, and hold the two sides of the sled together.

So which kind should you make? As with most things, it depends. A one runner sled:

  • Is lighter.
  • Is easier to make.
  • Can cut panels a bit wider than the sled.
  • Does not support the cutoff.
  • Is more prone to wiggle in the miter slot.

On the other hand, a two runner sled:

  • Is heavier.
  • Is more complicated to build (but not much).
  • Can only cut stock as wide as the distance between the two fences.
  • Supports the stock on both sides.
  • Is less likely to have any slop in the miter slots.

To make a table saw sled, you will need just a few parts:

  • Base. For the base of your sled, you can use anything from 1/4 inch hardboard to 3/4 inch plywood. The idea is to select a material that is flat and will stay that way. Keep in mind that you will be lifting this on and off your table saw, so something like MDF is likely to be too heavy.
  • Runner(s). The runners that slide in the table saw miter slots need to fit without any slop. A hardwood like oak is a good choice for runner. UHMW plastic is another good choice. If you're handy with metalworking, you could even use aluminum or steel, if you were so inclined.
  • Fence. For the fence, you can use hardwood, plywood or even plastic. For a two runner sled, thick (8/4) pieces of hardwood or two pieces of 3/4 inch plywood glued together would be a good choice for the fences since they will also be used to hold the two halves of the sled together. For a one runner sled, a piece of 3/4 inch plywood or hardwood would work fine.

In a future post, I'll go through the process of building each style of sled.

What's your favorite style of sled?

The Perfect Wood Panel Glue Up

There are times when you will not be able to buy wood wide enough for your project (or it would be prohibitively expensive) and it's not reasonable to use plywood. In this case you will need to glue up a panel from a series of smaller boards. In this post, I will describe the process for creating a wide panel that is flat and straight.

Wood Selection

The process of building a wood panel starts at the lumberyard. The wood you select not only determines how the panel will look, but how the wood responds to changes in moisture.

All things being equal, quartersawn lumber is less likely to cup and warp than other cuts. However, these days you're not likely to find wide boards that are all quartersawn. So pick boards that are not already warped or cupped. If the wood is pretty straight to begin with, it's likely to stay that way as you mill it.

In addition, pay particular attention to the color and grain of the wood you are selecting. Unless there's a particular effect you're going for, try to pick boards that are of similar color and grain. Doing so will make it easier to make the boards appear as though it's one, seamless panel. The best way to achieve this is to try and find a single board that you can cut into sections and glue together to make the panel.

Stock Preparation

As in every other aspect of woodworking, how you prepare your wood will affect every subsequent stage of the project. If your boards are not flat, straight and square, you'll find it difficult to get them assembled into a flat panel.

After you've selected your boards and cut them to rough length, face joint, thickness, edge joint and rip to width each of the boards as I as I describe in my post on stock preparation

Arrangement

Once you've selected your boards and cut them to rough length, lay them out on your workbench and deterimine which edges to match up. One rule of thumb suggests that you make sure the growth rings alternate (that is, one board curves up, the next curves down, etc.). Another says that the grain should all go the same way. While these ideas have merit, the most important thing to consider is the look of the finished panel. So if you can get the grain of all the panels to line up in the same direction, great, but not at the expense of the appearance of the panel.

If you bought your lumber in the rough, you will have to face joint and thickness the boards before you can really get a sense of the grain and how to arrange them

Once you have an arrangement you like, draw a big "V" across the joints of the panel or number them so that you can keep track of what order they go in

Edge Jointing

When you place the edges of the boards together, there should be no gap between them. If there is, go back to the jointer and make another pass or two to get the edge perfectly straight.

If you're using hand planes, takes the two boards to join together and fold them together like a book. Then, use your jointer plane to true both edges at the same time. By planing both boards at the same time, any variation in the edge from 90 degress will cancel out.

Some woodworkers like to join panel boards with a "sprung" joint. In this instance, the edges of the board to join are just slightly concave. The idea is that this keeps the ends of the joint tight. To do this, take a couple of swipes with your hand plane in the middle of the board's edge.

The Glue Up

Now that the boards to make up your panel are flat, consistent thickness and fit together without gaps, you're ready to glue the panel together. There are several ways to do this, depending on what clamps you have on hand. In every case, however, you need a flat surface to work on. If your work surfaces is twisted, there's a chance that twist could translate into your panel as well.

Lay out your choice of clamps and place your boards across the clamps and make sure you have everything you need before applying any glue. Squeeze some glue on to both edges of the joint and spread it out to a thin layer. There are glue bottles with a roller made for this application, but I find that just using a small piece of scrap wood works just as well for me. You want to cover the edge completely, but try not to apply too much glue, as it will just squeeze out when you clamp the boards and make a mess.

Push the boards on the clamps and push the edges together. I like to slide the joint back and forth a bit to help spread the glue and create a bit of suction to hold the boards together while adjusting the clamps.

The remainder of the glue up depends on what kind of clamps you have:

Parallel Clamps. If you have several parallel clamps, such as the Bessey K-Body or Jorgensen Clamp Master, the panel glue up is pretty simple. Push the boards down against the bar of the clamp and then tighten up the clamp, making sure the boards stay against the bar as you do so.

Pipe Clamps. Pipe clamps have a few problems that you need to account for during panel glue ups: The jaws are not parallel, the jaws can mark the wood and the bar tends to deflect as you tighten the clamps. The latter is especially true if you're using 1/2 inch pipe instead of 3/4 inch pipe.

To handle the non-parallel jaws, cut some pieces of dowel with a diameter about the same as the thickness of your panel. Place the dowel between the clamp jaw and the edge of the board. This makes sure that the force of the clamp is centered on the edge of the board. In addition, it keeps the clamp jaw from mar the wood edge.

To account for the deflection of the pipe, it is often useful to use some clamping cauls across the panel, perpendicular to the panel joints. To make a pair of cauls, cut some boards longer than your panel is wide. Try to make the edges slightly convex so that, when the pair is clamped together, the clamps will pull the joint flat. Apply some packing tape, painters tape or some other kind of tape to keep the glue from stickiing to your cauls.

By carefully preparing your stock and taking your time when clamping the boards together, you'll have a nice flat panel, ready to trim to width and crosscut to length for use in your project. What techniques do you use to glue up your panels? I'd love to hear any tips or ticks you might have!

Sharpening The First Time

When you first receive that set of chisels or that new hand plane, you may wonder why they don't work as well as you expected. New tools are rarely ready to use right out of the box. You'll need to spend a few minutes sharpening that plane blade or chisel to get the most out of your new tool.

The first step is to flatten the back of the plane blade or chisel. If both sides of the edge are not flat, the tool won't cut well. I like to rub the back of the blade on my roughest water stone (400 grit) to get a sense of how out of flat it is. If it needs a lot of work, I'll drop down to 80 grit sandpaper glued to a marble tile. Once the back has an even scratch pattern, I can start working my way up through my water stones until I've polished the back on my 6000 grit water stone. While this step can take a while, it only has to be done once, so take the time to do it right the first time.

For chisels, it's necessary to flatten a good portion of the back, since the back of the blade is used as a reference. However, for plane blades, it's possible to reduce the amount of work by putting a slight back bevel on the blade. Lay a thin ruler (about 1/32 or 1/16 of an inch thick) on your sharpening stone. Lay the back of the blade on top of the ruler as you sharpen only the very end of plane blade. This puts a one or two degree back bevel on the blade and only requires flattening a very small portion, which takes much less time than polishing the entire back.

Once you have polished the back, it's time to turn your attention to the bevel. For a new tool, you probably won't have to do much. Use your favorite sharpening jig or go freehand and hone the bevel on your sharpening stones at the current bevel angle. When you can just feel a wire edge form on the back side of the blade, you know you've sharpened enough and can move on to the next grit. I like to use a one or two degree micro-bevel as it requires much less effort to sharpen the 1/16 inch or so at the tip of the blade than it does to polish the entire bevel.

If you take some time to tune up your plane blades and chisels before use, you'll find they are much easier to use and make cleaner cuts.

Take Time to Sharpen Your Tools

Abraham Lincoln once famously said, "Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe." If you're like me, sharpening your tools is one of those things that is pretty low on your list of things you like to do in the shop. However, if you take time to sharpen your woodworking tools, it does end up saving time in the long run.

Keeping your woodworking tools sharp has many benefits. It makes things more enjoyable, since you don't have to force your tools to work as hard. You'll make cleaner cuts, with less chance for tear-out. In addition, it's safer. The more force you put on that chisel, for example, the more likely it will slip and hurt you, the workpiece or both.

Keeping the blades, bits and cutters for your power tools is also important. A dull saw blade or router bit is more likely to burn the workpiece. The motor has to work harder, shortening the life of the tool. Finally, you are more likely to have to force the tool to do it's job, increasing the potential for a disastrous slip.

Sharpening is one of those things that, if you let it get away from you, will make it harder to catch up with when you really need to do it. Instead, if you sharpen a few tools from time to time, before they get too dull, it actually ends up taking less time. Spending a few minutes to touch up the edge of your block plane blade is much easier than grinding out a bunch of nicks and re-establishing the bevel because you let it go too long.

Here are a few strategies for keeping up with your sharpening chores

  • If you have room, try to set aside some space in your shop dedicated to sharpening. If everything is already set up and ready to go, it's much easier to touch up an edge and get back to working on your project.
  • Try to find those natural lulls in the process of building a project. The time spent waiting for glue to dry or finish to cure is a good opportunity to freshen the cutting edges of your plane blades and chisels.
  • Dedicate a shop session to sharpening. If you only have a little bit of time to be in the shop (i.e. not enough time to make any progress on your current project), consider spending the entire time sharpening some of your most commonly used tools.
  • Pick a sharpening system and stick with it for a while. By staying with the same system for a period of time, you'll become more practiced and faster at sharpening your tools.

What strategies do you use to keep your tools sharp?

Multiple Methods for Making a Tenon

Last time, I wrote about some of the ways to cut a mortise. Today we'll discuss how to make the corresponding joint, the tenon. As with the mortise, there are nearly as many ways to make a tenon as there are woodworkers. This post will describe some of the more common methods

Hand Saw

Before power tools came along, woodworkers used hand saws and planes to cut a tenon. To cut a tenon by hand, there are eight cuts that need to be made:

  • Cut the shoulders. Use a crosscut saw to define the shoulders of the tenon. You make four cuts, one on each face down to the thickness or length of the tenon.
  • Cut the cheeks. A rip saw is used to cut down each face of the tenon to meet up with the shoulders of the tenon.
  • Cut to width. The tenon is cut to width the same way as the cheeks.

Once the tenon has been cut, it is usually refined by using a shoulder plane. This is a plane where the blade goes all the way to the edge of the plane body, allowing the cutter to get into the inside corners of the tenon.

Table Saw Tenon Jig

The table saw can be used to make the same series of cuts made by hand when cutting tenons:

  1. Cut the shoulders. Set the height of the blade to the thickness of the shoulder. Using a stop block clamped to your table saw fence, use the miter gauge to make the shoulder cuts. Readjust the blade height for the ends of the tenon and repeat the procedure for the other two faces of your stock.

  2. Cut the cheeks. Set the blade height to slightly less than the length of the tenon. Use a tenon jig to hold the stock vertically while you make the rip cut along each face of the tenon. If your stock is too long to be held vertically, you can use a band saw to cut the cheeks.
  3. Cut to width. If your tenon jig is able to hold the stock securely, you can use the same method to cut the tenons to width as for the cheek cuts. Otherwise, you'll need to cut them by hand or use a band saw or jig saw to cut the tenon to width.

Table Saw Dado Head

Another method cuts the cheeks and shoulders in the same pass by using a dado head in your table saw. Install enough cutters to make the dado head wider than your tenon length. If your tenon is longer than your dado capacity, you'll need to make multiple passes to cut the tenon. Set the height of the dado to the depth of the tenon shoulders.

You use your fence as a stop and guide the work piece through the dado head using your miter gauge. You don't want to use the fence and the miter gauge at the same time since kickback becomes a possibility. Instead, install a stop block towards the front of the fence or slide the fence back (if you have a Unifence). Set your fence so the distance from the left edge of the dado cutter to the fence is the length of your desired tenon.

Slide the wood up against your stop block or fence and guide the wood through the dado head using your miter gauge. If you've set things up correctly, the end of the tenon should be clear of the fence by the time it reaches the dado head. If the tenon is longer than your dado head is wide, slide the piece to the left and make additional passes to remove the rest of the material.

Leave the fence alone and readjust the height of your dado head, if necessary, and repeat the procedure to cut the other two faces of the tenon.

You'll probably notice that this methods leaves some score marks across your tenon, especially if you have to make multiple passes. These generally don't affect anything and are likely to be removed in the process of trimming the tenon to fit anyway.

Router

The router can be used in a table to cut tenons using the same method as when using a dado head in the table saw. The router can be in either a standard router table or horizontally mounted. The latter typically allows you to cut longer tenons in one pass since you can use the entire length of the bit rather than just the radius.

The router table has an advantage over the table saw in that it doesn't leave the scoring marks that the dado head usually does and usually leaves a smoother surface

Another way to use the router is with a jig, such as the Leigh FMT jig for making mortise and tenons. This jig holds the work piece vertically while the router is run around the outside of the tenon, allowing you to form the tenon in one pass.

These are just some of the many ways to cut a tenon. Which method is your favorite? Any popular methods I've forgotten?

Multiple Methods for Making a Mortise

The mortise and tenon joint is about as old as woodworking itself. Woodworkers tend to be an innovative lot, which might explain why there are about as many ways to make a mortise as there are woodworkers. In this post, I'll summarize some of the more common ways of cutting a mortise.

Chisel and Mallet

The traditional way to make a mortise, before power tools came along, was with a mortise chisel and a mallet. Using a thick chisel, designed to take the stresses of being beat with a hammer, you literally chop out the material to form the mortise. Typically you start in from the ends of the mortise and remove the majority of the material. Lighter paring cuts are then made to bring the mortise to it's correct length.

Drill and Chisel

Another common method involves the use of a drill (powered or otherwise) and a chisel. After laying out the mortise, you use a drill equipped with a bit slightly smaller than the width of the mortise to drill a series of holes along the length of the mortise. A forstner bit is a good choice for this method since it leaves a mostly flat bottom and makes it easier to overlap the holes.

Once the holes are drilled, use a sharp bench chisel to pare the mortise to the layout lines. The idea here is that the drill removes the bulk of the material and the chisel cleans up the mortise.

Hollow Chisel Mortising Machine

At some point, someone came up with a mechanized, one-step version of the previous method, inventing the hollow chisel mortising machine. A square chisel with a drill bit inside plunges into the wood to make a square hole. The drill bit removes the majority of the material and the chisel squares up the hole. A mortise is made by making a series of overlapping plunges into the wood the entire length of the mortise.

There are dedicated machines for making mortises as well as attachments for your drill press. The former typically have a longer arm to get the leverage needed to plunge the chisel into the wood, but they take up additional space. The mortising attachment for your drill press uses a machine you may already own, but it's harder to plunge the chisel. In addition, it's not trivial to switch between mortising and drilling operations with the mortising attachment

Router

The router can be used to make just about every joint in woodworking, and the mortise is no exception. Using a plunge router to make a mortise involves some kind of jig or fence system to guide the router along a straight line and, in some cases, limit it's travel to the length of the mortise. An upcut spiral router bit it usually the best choice here since it tends to eject the chips from the mortise.

The basic technique, regardless of the jig used, is to first make a full depth plunge cut at each end of the mortise. The remainder of the material is removed with multiple passes, increasing the depth of the mortise (about 1/4 inch or so) each pass. Once the mortice is cut, you can square up the corners with a chisel or make your tenons with rounded corners.

The jig to guide your router can be as simple as an edge guide mounted to your router and a way to hold the router stable on the workpiece. If you want something fancier, there are no shortage of plans for more elaborate jigs to make mortises with your plunge router. Of course, there are also, commercial jigs you can buy. Typically, as the speed and accuracy of making the mortise goes up, so does the price.

These are just some of the ways to make a mortise. What is your favorite way to make a mortise? Are there any tips you have for making mortises quickly and accurately?

Buying Used Tools on eBay

Buying hand tools on eBay can be a great way to fill out your hand tool collection. Older tools are generally cheaper than their modern day equivalents and are often just as good. As someone who as bought and sold tools on eBay, I'll provide a few pointers on how to shop wisely on eBay to get good tools at a great price.

Expectations

The first thing to keep in mind when buying tools on ebay is that you're unlikely to find something you can just take out of the box and start using right away. This isn't really the case with new tools either. You'll likely need to give the plane or chisel blade a light honing at the very least. However, if you are willing to put a little effort into cleaning up a tool and tuning it for use, buying used tools on eBay can be an inexpensive way to get great tools.

Search Tips

The mantra at a prior company was, "If they can't find it, they can't buy it." The same could be said for buying tools on eBay. Picking the right search terms can be something of an art as you search for tools to round out your hand tool collection. Sometimes, the search is relatively straight forward. For example, "stanley 4 plane" is obviously a search for a Stanley #4 smoothing plane. But even that will often litter the results with irrelevant results, such as a listing titled "Handle For Stanley No 4 Plane".

Here are some tips for finding things on eBay

  • Enter only the keywords that are important. eBay will try to match all of the words you enter against the listing. So if you enter the search "stanley no 4 smoothing plane rust free", you'll miss out on seeing listings that are titled something like "Stanley No 4 Plane".
  • Tell eBay to ignore certain matches. In the example I've been using (searching for a Stanley #4 smoothing plane), the results will often include accessories or replacement parts for the tool you're looking for. This usually isn't what you're looking for, so you can tell eBay to ignore these listings by entering the relevant keywords preceded with a minus sign. You can group together multiple terms with parenthesis. For example "stanley 4 plane -(tote, knob, iron)" will search for listings matching "stanley 4 plane" and ignore those that include the words "tote", "knob", and "iron" in the title.
  • Consider other brands. When searching for planes, for example, one often things of Stanley planes, as they were the largest and most prolific tool maker in the day. But there were other, smaller, companies making competing products at the same time such as Miller Falls, Capewell, and others. Often their tools are just as good, but they go for much less money since they're usually not as collectable.
  • Search for misspellings. If the seller has misspelled the manufacturer's name, for example, it won't come to the top of the results and won't get bid on as much. For example, you could search for "stanely 4 plane". This is a good way to find listings that won't get bid up as much
  • Be patient. New tools are being listed on eBay every day. If you don't find something that is exactly what you want, chance are good that it will show up eventually. Just keep checking each day.
  • Save your search. Once you've crafted a search that finds the results you're interested in, save your search so you don't have to keep entering it.

Bidding

Once you've found a few tools that match your criteria, save them to your watch list. This way you can keep an eye on them as the auction closing date approaches. If the bidding gets too high, you can ignore that listing and focus on the other candidates you've identified. Before bidding, make sure to do your due diligence to make sure you know what you're buying. If the listing doesn't have many photos or they're of such poor quality that you can't tell anything about the condition of the tool, ask the seller for more. If the seller can't provide better photos, move on to other listings. You don't to bid on a tool only to find that it's fatally broken in a way not obvious in the pictures. Ask questions. If you want to know whether the type 52 wood stretcher has the temporal adjustment knob, and you can't tell from the pictures, ask the seller.

In addition, use other resources on the internet and elsewhere to determine if the particular tool is collectible or just a solid user quality tool. Tools listed as "mint" or "new in box", are pretty and are nice to use, but you'll pay a premium for them. In addition, if you use them to actually work wood, you'll destroy their value to collectors. Sites such as Patrick Leach's site on Stanley tools are a great reasource for determining whether the tool you're looking at is desireable or not

Once you're satisfied that the tool is in the condition you're willing to accept, do not bid right away. eBay encourages early bidding because it helps feed the competition for an item and drives up the price. If you wait until the absolute last minute before entering your maximum bid (a practice known as "sniping"), you're more likely to get the tool for a lower price than if you bid in the middle of the auction. Synchronize your watch to eBay's official time and hit the bid confirmation button when there's less than a minute remaining on the auction. You may still get outbid, but you wont have tipped your hand as to how much you're willing to pay for the item.

For even more thoughts and ideas on how to buy things on eBay, see Ken Rockwell's article on the subject.

What tips do you have for buying tools on eBay?