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The most important appliance is 3 wooden sticks.
Owning a backsaw without owning a bench hook is like riding a bike without handlebars. This simple hand tool (three wooden sticks) uses the tool’s force and gravity to keep your job as you saw. And it helps guide your tool so your cuts are right on the line.
It also allows you to easily make cuts that are terrifying (or should be terrifying) on a power saw. A bench hook can also serve as a shooting board for cutting the face grain and final grain of small pieces of work with the help of a plane. Plus, building one takes minutes, not hours.
Now I wish I could tell you that I have come up with a new counter hook design that surpasses traditional designs. I did not. In fact, I think it’s an unlikely thing to accomplish.
The only “improvement” that we moderns can offer is to make it with power tools, which improve the long-term reliability of the bench hook. Here’s what I mean:
All bench hooks have three parts: The bed, which is the flat part where you put your work; the fence, which is what you push the work against; and the hook, which protrudes on the front edge of the worktop.
The first counter hooks were made from a single piece of wood. The bed, the fence and the hook were all sawn from a single thick piece. Subsequent hooks for the bench were made from three pieces of wood, but the grains of the fence and hook were at 90 ° to the bed, so the hook for the bench could self-destruct (thanks to seasonal expansion and contraction ) before the appliance was completely chewed on by your saw.
With the help of modern and accurate table saws, it is easy to make bench hooks so that the grain direction in all three pieces is aligned. And that’s exactly what you should do. (Or even make it out of plywood.)
Table Hook Cutting List
Item No. dimensions (inches) material
1 bed 3/4 x 6 x 8 hardwood
1 fence 3/4 x 5 1/4 x 2 hard wood
1 hook 3/4 x 6 x 2 hardwood
Part sizes and assembly
Bench hooks can be of almost any size. The dimensions shown in this article make a bench hook comfortable for most saws. Glue and nail the three parts together, using a square to make sure the fence is square to the bed.
With the assembled bench hook, mark a ladder on its fence in 1/2” or 1/4“Increases. The ladder helps you cut short pieces to length. When the glue dries, you are ready to go to work. Do not apply a film finish to the bench hook; this will only make it slippery and difficult for you to keep your work in place. Then make a second bench hook without the fence. This second appliance supports long pieces hanging on the first bench hook.
Using the hook
The first rule of bench hooks: they are disposable. You will cut them until they are unusable. So don’t worry when you tear the bed apart. Generally, put your work against the fence and hold it there with your off hand as you saw with your dominant hand. As with all sawing operations, it is better to feed on two lines rather than one, so try to saw an edge and a face at the same time. This trick will make all your saw cuts more precise.
Generally, I line up the edge of the bench hook fence with the line I marked on the wood. Aligning the fence and the cut line creates a longer line, and this is a visual cue that will help you see straighter.
As with all cutting operations, allow your cutting arm the freedom to move back and forth without rubbing against your torso. This also helps improve your accuracy.
Using a bench hook allows you to get things done safely, accurately, and faster than any other setup. I like to use them to cut small parts to precise lengths. I simply make a spring clamp to the fence to the desired size and rest my butt against the clamp. There is no better way to cut short dowels for anchor joints.
Bench hooks and planes
I use my bench hook with a plane as often as I use it with a saw. When I work the shoulders and cheeks of the tenons with a shoulder plane, I push the work against the fence with my secondary hand and plane with the dominant one.
I also use the bench hook as a small shooting board. Flip the bench hook over so that the fence hooks over the bench and you are working in the hook. Extra wide hook prevents (or reduces) bursting on the exit side of the cut. Your handplane (choose an instrument with a lot of mass) runs on your desk. Place the butt against the sole of the plane, then push the plane forward to shave some of the work. This is a great way to insert jambs into a split light door.
You can also use the bench hook to plan the long grain of short pieces. Push the end grain of the part against the guide of the bench hook and plane away. This is easier than trying to fix small pieces in the vise.
Once you’ve made a couple of bench hooks, you’ll start using them to hold your work instead of reaching for a clamp. I secure things against them for chiseling and scraping all the time.
Most importantly, I think you will like your back saw a lot more and use it for more operations. I’ve been to too many shops where backsaws were thought to be freehand tools, so the resident carpenter was either a highly skilled sawmill or a very frustrated one.
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