There are two warring factions in my brain: the one that is militantly minimalist, and the one that loves tools. Guess which one is usually winning? This category will contain information on that tools that I use in all of my projects. I try to keep these articles as objective as possible and will always give an honest account of my experience with any tool. But when I do link to the tool, I’ll usually provide an affiliate link.

Starrett C183 Steel Protractor

Starrett C183 Steel Protractor

Starrett C183 Steel Protractor Starrett C183 Steel Protractor
$75.25 In stock
Starrett C183 Steel Protractor with Rectangular Base Buy Now

When I built my trestle table I needed a protractor. After a night of deliberation I settled on the Starrett C183 Steel Protractor.

I’ve been a cheapskate with measuring tools in the past.  I’ve got an angle gauge that changes measurements if a mouse farts in its direction. I have a combination square that spends most of its time on the floor, in pieces. My shop time is almost non-existent.  I’d rather spend my time building than working around the quirks of the tools I depend on to get things done.

So I decided to treat myself.

The Value of the Starrett C183 Steel Protractor

Let’s talk about cost. But we also need to talk about value.

The Starrett C183 Steel Protractor is not cheap and buying it was not an easy decision. I stared at the screen for hours before I clicked Add to Cart.  There are lots of protractors on the market and a massive range of prices, and fortunately, they all have lots of reviews to investigate.  Some reviews were fine. But there were just too many bad reviews to ignore. Customers complained that other ($10 range) metal protractors were flimsy.  Some complained that they did not hold their settling (loose or inferior lock nut). And others mentioned that they went through several of them and different tools of the same model had differences in their markings.

My goal is never to buy another protractor.  I’ve only owned my Starrett a few months but barring a fire or massive screw-up, I don’t see that being a problem.


One major concern about cheaper protractors was how many reviews mentioned flimsiness. They alleged that they could be easily bent, and my tools are no stranger to being knocked to the floor. So that’s a problem.

The Starrett C183 feels durable, heavy (for a protractor), and machined from high-quality steel.  The head doesn’t bend at all.  The blade curves slightly and springs back to where it should be.  Permanently altering the shape of either piece would take considerable effort or a major accident. I doubt that everyday wear-and-tear will bend your Starrett.

Fit and Finish

A common problem with angle gauges and protractors is an inadequate locking mechanism.  The lock nut on the Starrett C183 doesn’t look all that impressive.  But it’s effectiveness and simplicity will leave you feeling like you made the right decision. It takes just a few twists to tighten or loosen the nut. And once it’s tight, the blade isn’t going anywhere.  My biggest complaint about the handful of modern and vintage angle gauges I have in my shop is the flimsy lock. Up until this purchase, I thought hundreds of years of tool evolution had still failed to improve on this mechanism. I was wrong.

The accuracy of the gauge isn’t something I can speak to because I have no base for comparison. But so far my results have been precise, so I trust it.


Was $75 a lot to spend on a tool they used to hand out free in middle-school geometry?  Sure.  I can’t say with certainty that this tool is worth the price. Only time will tell.  But it’s a pleasure to use and beats the competition in every metric I can test. I wouldn’t hesitate to buy it again.


Dewalt DW735 Planer

Dewalt DW735 Planer

Dewalt DW735 Two-Speed Thickness Planer Dewalt DW735 Two-Speed Thickness Planer
$649 In stock
13 Buy Now

It’s terrific to know how to dress lumber to be flat and square using hand tools, but damn is it a pain. And limiting yourself to dimensional lumber is expensive and confines your creativity. I like the flexibility that owning a planer affords me: I can source wood from a lumber yard, reclaimed barn wood, or a fallen apple tree. So it wasn’t far into my woodworking journey that I picked up my first planer. Which shot half a blade out the back and nearly killed me.  And then, like so many new woodworkers, I picked up a Dewalt DW735 Planer at Lowes.

Dewalt DW735 Pricing

The Dewalt DW735 belongs to a class of tools called lunchbox planers.  It’s compact and reasonably portable. It’s meant to satisfy a hobbyist’s needs as opposed to a professional woodworking shop.  Lunchbox planers are plentiful and usually priced between $200-$600. The DW735 is at the higher-end of the price range: as of the time of writing this post, the DW735 is priced around $600. But pretty much every power tool manufacturer has some version of the lunchbox planer on the market including Porter Cable, Grizzly, Rikon, Makita, Delta, and Triton.

If the DW735 worth the price?  Unfortunately I haven’t had the opportunity to compare it in action to other lunchbox planers.  However the DW735 does come with extras that others don’t provide.  The $600 package comes with extra knives and infeed and outfeed tables. It’s also got an extra inch on most of it’s competitors, with it’s girthy 13″ bed.

Dewalt DW735 Planer Performance and Features

If you search the Internet for reviews of the Dewalt DW735 planer, much of what you read will sound like somebody is fishing for a Dewalt sponsorship.  The buzz around it is a bit too circle-jerky for my liking.  So even though I own and appreciate the DW735 I’ll do my best to be honest.

At first the DW735 was underwhelming. But after some fine-tuning and an upgrade, I’m very happy with it.

The Blades

The DW735’s cutter has three blades. Most lunchbox planers come with two, so this is a point in it’s favor. This means that each blade has to remove less material per-rotation than in a two-blade configuration, resulting in cleaner cuts and less strain on the machine. Unfortunately the factory blades dull quickly, and you’ll soon find yourself shelling out the extra $150 for a set of 3 carbide-tipped blades.

My DW735’s still didn’t perform well after upgrading the blades. The built-in breaker would trip while removing more than 1/64 at a time, even in white pine. And planing stock even remotely close to the 13″ width was a laughable notion. I nearly threw in the towel completely, until I discovered the helical cutter heads.

The best advice I can offer to owners of the DW735 or to prospective buyers is this: save your money. Instead of replacing the blades on the DW735 invest in a Shelix Byrd helical cutter head.  Shelix cutter headers are spiral-shaped and covered with dozens of tiny, square blades. This design is better for a number of reasons, but the one I care about the most is performance. The spiral shape means less of the cutter is in contact with the wood at any one time, which means less strain and cleaner cuts. Also, replacing any of the tiny blades is just a few bucks, as opposed to $150 for a new set up 13″ carbide-tipped blades.

Should you be thrilled about shelling out another $450 after you already paid a premium for the DW735? Probably not. But a helical cutter head is a worth investment for any planer or jointer, and it’s the upgrade that made me fall in love with my DW735.

Cut Quality

The Dewalt DW735 makes a nice clean cut, so as the knives are clean and sharp, and you don’t try to take more aggressive a cut that it can handle in a single pass. The DW735 also offers two different feed rates. You’ll use the quicker feed rate for most work.  You can get a cleaner, smoother, final pass by switching to the slower feed rate. A slower feed rate means that the blades contact the wood more often, taking less material in each pass and leaving a smoother surface.

The Build-in Breaker

For a while I was trying to use my DW735 on a 15 amp circuit which also ran lights and a radio.  I ended up making a lot of trips to the breaker box.  I upgraded to a 20 amp circuit and soon things were buzzing along.  My DW735 still gets overwhelmed and trips (for example while planing a 2 x 12 earlier today), but now it trips the breaker built into the unit.  Wait a few seconds, push the reset button, and you’re back in business.

Dust Collection


The DW735 is one of few Dewalt tools that I feel gets dust collection right. It sports a 4″ dust collector port on the back. The planer has a built in fan that helps rapidly eject shavings. It’s so efficient, in fact, that I don’t even have to run my dust collector. The fan pushes chips back into the dust collector bag on it’s own.

Infeed and Outfeed Tables

The DW735 comes with infeed and outfeed tables.  Don’t hesitate to adjust them if you have an issue with snipe. Keep them cleaned and occasionally waxed to make material feed as easily as possible.


When a tool takes a more aggressive cut at the beginning or the end of a work piece than it does in the middle, we call that snipe. Snipe occurs because the workpiece doesn’t have uniform support, because the roller bar at the front forces the workpiece up into the cutterhead until it passes it and comes into contact with the second roller. Likewise snipe can occur at the end of the work piece after it loses contact with the first roller.

I’ve fought snipe from day 1 with my Dewalt 735.  As I said: don’t hesitate to adjust the infeed and outfeed table.  Adjusting them to a higher angle can reduce or eliminate snipe.  Feed work pieces end or next to each other in order to support each other as they pass through the blade and rollers.  Use sacrificial scrap at the beginning and end of your passes to transfer the snipe to junk wood. If none of that works, consider building a planer sled.


The DW735 will require some maintenance. You’ll want to keep it clean, and you’ll want to periodically clean or flip the blades. The top cover of the planer is easily removed.  So is the plastic airflow component that directs ships from the cutter head to the dust collection port. Once these plastic parts are removed, you’ve got direct overhead access to the blade.  The blades are easily removed using the included star-head tool that tucks into the top cover when it’s not being used.

Summary: Recommended, with Conditions

I like my Dewalt DW735 planer. It’s gotten me through some of my favorite projects, including planing three beefy sections of douglas fir for my Roubo benchtop.  But I didn’t always feel that way about it.  The stock DW735 felt underpowered to me. It wasn’t until I upgraded the planer with a Shelix Byrd helical cutter head that I really felt like the DW735 was a quality tool.  So while I reocmmend the Dewalt DW735 for a hobbyist workship, I also recommend upgrading the cutter as soon as you can afford to do so!

Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack Plane

Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack Plane

Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack Plane Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack Plane
$ 245.00 In stock Updated January 19, 2020 at 7:50 AM
Low Angle Jack Plane by Lie Nielson Toolworks Buy Now

There’s just something about using a well-made and well-tuned hand plane.  The tactile feedback. Those whisper-thin shavings. Oh… you don’t know what I’m talking about?  The only hand planes you’ve used are turd hand-me-downs that tire you out and marr your work? I’ve been there. And the Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack Plane changed the way I felt about hand planes.

I was a jaded and frustrated when it came to hand planes and hand tool & hybrid woodworking in general. Hand tools remained a mystery to me.

When I tried Lie Nielson’s low angle jack the secret was revealed: my tools were garbage and I didn’t know how to make them not-garbage. The very concept of a hand plane is inspiring in it’s simplicity: a chisel locked in a flat bed which hogs away material or take delicate, gossamer-thin shavings.  Like everything Lie Nielson does, they distilled and perfected the jack plane form.

Here’s my advice to you: make your first hand plane a good one. Experience how a plane should work first. Then you’ll have a better frame of reference to judge whether a plane, new or used, is quality or junk.

You can’t go wrong with making the Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack plane the first hand plane in your tool chest.

Side Profile of Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack Plane

Side Profile of Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack Plane

How I Discovered the Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack

I owned several planes before the Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack.  Of course I had several knock-offs of the quintessential Stanley 4 1/2 Smoothing Plane. I also own a Stanley Block Plane, and an old Stanley #2 Transitional Jointer that I restored and improved with a new blade from Veritas. All but the restored jointer were basically pointy, work-gouging garbage.

Back in June 2015 the wife and I were in the neighborhood of Lie Nielson’s facility and I couldn’t miss the opportunity to try them out.  Lie Nielson’s small show room is setup with work benches and tools inviting you to test their quality and craftsmanship. From the moment I stuck a scrap in a leg vice and attacked it with the jack plane, it won me over. In fact attack it the wrong word. It was a delicate caress that extracted a gossimar-thin shaving the likes of which I had only seen in one of those Japanese hand plane porn videos.

This plane is visible in about every other article in Popular Woodworking. So it’s not like I’m passing on some great secret. But the Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack is a terrific tool, worth all the pennies they charge and then some.

Tool Quality and Workmanship

Unlike some lower-cost planes a Lie Nielson is ready out of the box. They tell you to sharpen the iron, but if I’m being honest the factory grind on the plane iron was better than anything I had ever experienced. The sole is flat. The depth adjuster is solid but easy to manipulate. The front knob turns and loosens the shoe which allows for mouth adjustments.  This is one adjustment that you can’t appreciate until you use it. The narrower the mouth, the less tear-out you’ll experience.

Having known nothing but knock-offs and dirty hand-me-downs, the fit and finish of the Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack is immediately impressive.

Each detail feels tight and polished. The adjustments don’t just give out as you work. All the knobs and screws are tight, with none of the looseness or wobble you might experience in an inferior plane. All adjustments are incredibly easy to make.

One other thing I love–and I suppose it’s one of the qualities that makes a jack a jack–is the weight.  The low angle jack plane is hefty enough that the size and weight of the plane really improves the cut and helps to keep the tool against the work piece. But it’s not so heavy as to kick your ass as you use it.

Top View of the Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack Plane

Top View of the Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack Plane


Like I said: my base for comparison was a cabinet full of trash planes. When I used the Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack for the first time in their show room, I finally understood the magic of a well-tuned hand plane.

When I received mine in the mail about a week later, it did not disappoint. Even though I didn’t bother to sharpen the blade it immediately cut better than any other plane that I owned. The jack does just as well at taking aggressive cross-grain passes as with a scrub plane as it does taking whisper-thin shaving when setup and used as a finishing tool.  I’ve used the Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack to plane to chamfer end grain too. It works just fine, but the size does make it a little bit awkward for this sort of work.

Results over Time

Over time the front knob has gotten difficult to turn.  I think I can attribute this to the fact that I don’t store my planes safely. While they’re not directly exposed to the elements, my workshop is an uninsulated, non climate-controlled shed. And as often as I use this tool, it’s usually sitting on my workbench. There’s every chance the mechanism took on some moister or something.  After I put some effort into loosening it once, it’s pretty good again for a while.


Lie Nielson sells a bunch of additional blades and accessories for the Low Angle Jack Plane, which can offer you more bang for the buck. They offer a toothed blade for aggressive stock removal.  They offer a scraping blade.  Various sources suggest buying multiple blades and grinding them to different angles for different uses.  I haven’t done any of this and I can’t speak to the efficacy of different blades or bevel angles on this tool, but they are available. I’m particularly curious about the scraping blade, as I don’t own a good scraper right now.

Plane Iron for Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack Plane

The plane iron for Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack Plane. The fact that the iron has a slot that captures the depth adjustment unfortunately means that you can’t slip in any old plane iron.

Summary: I Would Buy This Plane Every Damned Time

I’m not being overly hyperbolic when I say the Lie Nielson Jack Plane changed the way I think about hand tools. Before I bought one hand planes felt mysterious. Every time I touched one I gouged my work and felt as if there was some secret that actual woodworkers weren’t telling me.

Nope. Turns out my tools just sucked, or weren’t properly tuned.

Putting my hands on a Lie Nielson Low Angle Jack Plane gave me a good frame of reference for hand plane quality and has actually helped me to tune those old hand planes to a state of functionality, if not the state of workshop nirvana that I reach each time I use the low angle jack.  I actually find myself turning to my low angle jack to do tasks that could be performed quicker with a router, because it’s so pleasant to use.

Given the chance I would buy this tool over-and-over again.  I can’t recommend it enough.