What's your most unexpectedly brilliant tool and why?

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    Mike I

    Sometimes we are impressed by an excellent tool, but it’s only what we might expect given the make, cost, or the amount of time we spent refurbishing it etc.

    With that in mind I wanted to ask “What is your most unexpectedly brilliant tool and why?”

    Mike I

    I will start this off with my most unexpectedly brilliant tool.

    It’s this small try square (pictured). Honestly I bought it because it looked cute and I thought I might use it once in a while for “tiny projects”. *Obviously*, I thought, my real “manly” sized squares would be more suitable for general work.

    In actual fact it is very rarely out of my hand now. It is dead square (as might be hoped) and the perfect size for the vast majority or layout, marking and knife walls. It’s really easy to handle being so small and well balanced. I have a combination square but I really like try squares as there is less fiddling around to reset from the last crazy setting.

    As if those weren’t enough reasons, I can use it to quick check pieces for squarenes without having to remove it from the vice. The squares stock is small enough that it fits in the gaps between the apron and the workpiece when needed – I have a Paul Sellers style bench/vice where the vice is not flush to the apron.


    My absolute favorite tool is my Sargent 3420 fore plane.

    I bought it for next to nothing, cleaned it up and it works the best out of any plane I ever used.

    It’s wooden body is so much nicer to use compared to a metal sole and the adjustment knob for the blade works opposite of a Stanley which is great as I’m left handed.

    Thanks to this plane I plan on making all future plane purchases either traditional wooden or transitional planes. (I have two traditional wood planes already, a plow and a 30 inch jointer which works amazingly by the way)

    Wooden tools just feel so much nicer. Lighter, glide across the wood easier.


    My 4″ precison double square, it’s soooooooo good when marking joints on smaller pieces (handling etc) and more precise than a engineering square over time.

    • This reply was modified 5 years, 4 months ago by jcat.

    dragon, I wholeheartedly agree. You can’t beat this little square for convenience.

    David Perrott

    @rodrat I have to say I love wooden planes too. I would never get rid of my stanley no.4 (got it for $6). Its the only metal plane I use. Ok sometimes a block plane. I think the $5 ohio Jack plane, that included a stanley no 4/5 lever cap, iron and chipbreaker, got me into the wooden planes.

    Peter George

    For me, it’s my Veritas small bevel up smoother. It’s the first new plane I bought and is also my most used.

    Peter in
    Biggar SK
    "New York is big, but this is Biggar"

    Derek Long

    My 6″ Starrett combo square. I never thought I’d use it so much. I use it more than my 12″ square. If I recall correctly, I paid that old machinist $20 or $30 for it. Paid for itself many times over by now.

    Derek Long
    Denver, Colorado


    @delong1974 That’s mine too. I use it all the time. The 12 inch only when I need it

    • This reply was modified 5 years, 4 months ago by prbayliss.

    Add another vote for the 4″ double square. Besides being nimble for layout, it is able to get into joints to check them while making adjustments, e.g., to see if dovetails and sockets are square and clean, to probe into a mortise to make sure the walls are true and the bottom is at full depth everywhere. Also, the handle is a square reference block that can be placed on tenons to check the shoulders.

    Larry Geib

    The little Starret is a very useful tool, and I just found a double square that needs a little tuneup I expect will be great.
    But I expect a Starret tool to perform.

    In the shocking-how-well-they-work category is a Roubo style hollow and round set I made last March from a throwaway planer blade and some scrap Eastern White Pine and cherry for boxing following Caleb James’ article in last April’s Popular Woodworking magazine. It’s not much different than Paul’s rabbet plane tutorial.

    Roubo Moulding Planes with Caleb James

    The actual construction needed no special floats or anything and the planes work just as well as my English style antiques. That was the shocking part. It really wasn’t very hard to make a pair of planes. The round was just shaped with a block plane and templates make from a hole drilled in 1/4″ ply, the hollow was shaped by the Round.

    In these construction pictures I hadn’t opened up the escapements yet. Shavings now shoot out in ribbons

    Matching planes

    Hollow and round

    Hollow and round

    • This reply was modified 5 years, 4 months ago by Larry Geib.
    • This reply was modified 5 years, 4 months ago by Larry Geib.
    Dave Ring

    Another thumbs up on the 6″ combination square, my most-used tool. Mine is an old Lufkin.



    Has anyone used the 4 inch Starrett combination square ? Or is it too small ?

    Cheers !

    Sven-Olof Jansson

    No (think the shortest combination square is 6″), but I’ve found the 100 mm (4″) sliding square to be a good complement to the 150 mm (6“) one. My 150 mm (6″) combination square spends most of its time in the Starrett box.

    Sven-Olof Jansson
    London, UK; Boston, MA

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