The True Economy of the Half Set

It took all of ten minutes after posting on the false economy of half sets of hollows and rounds for me to come across a half set I couldn’t pass up.

I wouldn’t have been looking, but I was having significant communication issues with the first dealer, so I wasn’t even sure he could fulfill the order I placed last week. In his defense, he’d been on vacation, and I felt bad when I finally did hear from him after cancelled my order.

So what changed last night? Well, the half sets I’d been considering up until that point were uniform makers. While tool collectors go out of their way to snap up these sets, decreasing supply and increasing demand, I’m not really a collector at heart.

I don’t want to own tools for the sake of owning tools. I want to own tools for the sake of using them.

Enter: the harlequin set. The harlequin set has the same sizes of planes as its purebred cousin, but lacks the uniformity of maker prized by collectors. These sets are priced according to the value to the user, not to the collector. A typical collector would have to snatch up many harlequin sets to assemble a collectible set.

The other nice thing about harlequin sets is that because the price isn’t inflated by virtue of it being a matched set, there’s no loss of value if you split it up. So two years from now, if I figure out there’s a plane in the set I’ll never use, I’ll have no qualms about selling it to a fellow craftsperson. If I knock one off my workbench and the wedge breaks, I’ll make a new wedge and move on.

So this morning, I placed an order for that harlequin half set of hollows and rounds, and once again I’m waiting for tools to show up on my doorstep.

The False Economy of the Half Set

One of the things I really liked about Bickford’s premise was that you could start with just a couple of hollow and round pairs in common sizes (say a No. 4 and a No. 8) and cover a lot of ground befor you felt the need to buy more tools. And for most cases, I think he’s right. If I were making up my own profile, I could come up with something attractive with just a No. 8 pair. But because I’m reproducing an existing profile, I’m bound by the choices of the original maker.

The casing requires a No. 8 round and a No. 6 hollow (both of which I needed to purchase). These are two common sizes that will be useful for both the joiner and cabinetmaker.

The plinth block, an ogee topped by a cove, requires just a No. 12 pair. That’s pretty big for furniture work, but looking around, I realized that the original baseboard in my World War I-era foursquare have just a cove at the top. The radius of that cove? 3/4″, perfect for a No. 12 round. It’s been bugging me for years that the baseboard in our remodeled kitchen was not a faithful reproduction.

So maybe my project is really the exception that proves the rule. While I’m constrained by the parameters of the project, it turns out that the makers of these mouldings used just a few sizes.

For the baseboard, which has four 1/4″ reeds, I ordered a 1/4″ center bead, since I don’t have snipes bill planes, and they’ve been going for outrageous prices this summer (maybe longer since I only recently started paying attention).

So why not buy the half set? I’ve come across a few half sets that are certainly worth the investment given the current market. I’m definitely intrigued by their versatility. And as difficult as it’s been to find the few planes I need for this project, I’d love not to have to go through it again.

The truth is, I may never use half of the planes in a half set. My taste in furniture has leaned toward the gothic influences of the arts and crafts rather than the classical motifs where these planes excel.

Who knows? Maybe this project will have me hooked. Let’s find out.

A Little Light Rust (Hunting)

The remains of Isaac blew through Kansas City last Friday and Saturday, bringing some much-needed moisture, and reminding us how lucky we can be. The sudden increase in humidity had me thinking about tools, though. I was out in the workshop Friday night, giving everything a wipe-down with jojoba oil.

Many of my tools are stored in a hanging tool cabinet. The cabinet started off as a traveling case my grandfather, Loren, built to take to woodcarving shows and meetings. For many years Loren was a fixture in the Kansas City Woodcarvers Club, sharpening tools for beginning carvers and teaching others to sharpen. He even wrote and self-published a book on sharpening in the ’80s, a volume that would become my textbook for everything from carving gouges (including a great treatise on the V-tool) to plane irons and chisels for joinery.

When my grandfather gave that case to me, I modified it to hang on a cleat on my workshop wall. I’ve reorganized it several times, even using it to store power tool accessories for the few years I tried keeping a hand tool shop in my basement. I moved everything back to the garage about a year ago, so it’s back in use for hand tools.

It’s a little crowded now, and looking up at it Friday night, I noticed one reason why. At some point I’d decided it was a good idea to keep two sets of bevel-edge socket chisels standing in parallel racks. I never use that back row of chisels, and the rack leaves little depth for anything else. These racks were made of two layers of 3/4″ plywood, one layer with graduated dados to receive the chisels. At some point I’d glued the two racks together, giving it a much more stable footing. It makes sense if you actually need all of that steel, but one set of bevel-edge socket chisels is plenty. Plus, it’s more steel to house and maintain.

Needing space more than redundancy, I took the chisels down and split the two racks apart along the glue line. I planed the back of one rack flush and attached it to the back of the cabinet with some carpet tape, which allows me to rearrange again at some future time.

(Editorial Note: The carpet tape turned out to be insufficient to hold up the rack of chisels. A few weeks later I came out to the workshop to find chisels scattered across my workbench. Luckily, none were damaged.)


The redundant set of chisels got a wipe-down with jojoba oil before I stashed them in a canvas tool roll and tucked them away, waiting for my son to get a little older.

Saturday I had the pleasure of meeting Greg of Greg is one of those great guys in woodworking, dedicated to the craft and passionate about the tools. Not only does he have an impressive personal collection of tools, he’s also an officer in the Kansas City Woodworkers Guild
and makes a great ambassador for that group.