Article Author: Dean Bielanowski  

Workshop Essentials for Under $30!
This ongoing column of Mini-reviews will highlight some tried and tested
workshop items that cost less than $30 each.
No workshop should be without them!
If they don't get the seal of approval, you will not see them here!

For under $20 you can buy yourself a good deal less frustration, and a great deal more safety with Bench Dog's Blade-Loc blade changing tool. Previously in the OnlineToolReviews workshop we wedged a block of wood under the teeth of the blade to hold it still while we loosened the arbor nut. Like many who have tried this, it just doesn't feel entirely safe. We then found out about the Blade-Loc and ordered one up to see if it was worthy of a workshop essentials rating. It can only be used safely on 10" blades and works by wedging the blade on several "teeth" molded into the inside of the Blade-Loc tool. You simply place the Blade-Loc over the blade and raise the blade up until it just starts to lift the Blade-Loc off the table. Then while holding the Blade Loc firmly down, you can safely begin to loosen the arbor nut on the saw. It certainly provides an added safety benefit as your hands are kept well away from the sharp teeth of the blade, and it also helps protect the blade teeth where other methods may place them at risk of damage. It certainly gets our tick of approval as a Workshop Essential. We bought ours through Amazon, but they may be available at your local woodworking outlet.

Rockler Insty-Drive Sets
We couldn't illustrate how the Insty-Drive set worked with just one image, so we borrowed the animated graphic above from the Rockler website. We ordered up the basic 5-piece #8 countersink set from Rockler to see whether it would reduce the time and effort of swapping drill and driver bits in projects where a lot of pre-drilling and driving of screws is needed. While they offer much larger sets, and in different sizes, we didn't want to invest the hard earned dollars if the system would not work for us. So armed with the basic 5-piece set, we used it to help construct a new clamp rack for the shop. You can pretty much see how the system works from the graphic above so I won't explain how it works, however, if you don't have multiple drills loaded up with the different bits needed to complete the job, or don't want to carry multiple tools around the workplace/workshop, then the ability of the Insty-Drive system from Rockler to quickly switch between a countersinking bit and a driving bit without having the loosen the chuck, switch bits and retighten the chuck again is obvious. It would probably cut down your working time by as much as 80% and that's handy for woodworkers of any level. The basic 5-piece set will consume US$21.99 and their are many additions or bits that you can add separately later on if you require them. This item gets our stamp of approval simply because it works, and more importantly, it saves you time that can be used to finish that project faster, and get started on the next. The Insty-Drive range is available from all Rockler outlets, or if you don't have one of those close by, online ordering is available from the Rockler website.  

Olson Saw Blade Lubricant
Good bandsaw blades can cost a fair amount of money, and we often tend to neglect them a little more than our tablesaw or jointer blades. For US$4.99, you can have yourself a blade lubricant stick that will go a long way to preserving the quality and life of your bandsaw blades. Simply apply gentle pressure to the bandsaw blade while it is running with the lubricant stick to give it a small coat of the special blend of oils and waxes. These help to keep the blade cooler during a cut and prevent clogging of the blade teeth. We experienced better blade performance and longer blade life since purchasing this item many months ago for the shop. It's an inexpensive way to keep both your bandsaw and scroll saw (even coping saw) blades in better functioning condition.
Olson manufactures it, but it can be hard to find in stores. We bought it at Rockler.
Veritas Tool Setting Gauge
If you own a tablesaw, bandsaw, router or any other tool where precise depth setting is needed, then you owe yourself a Veritas Tool Setting Gauge. This handy little device will quickly measure a setting of 1/8" right up to 1 7/8", with plenty of setting steps in between. The wide base on top and bottom ensures complete stability when setting tablesaw blade height and the weight of the unit ensures it will remain in place and not fall over. It is accurate to 0.005" and can also be used to set your fence for smaller cuts. We found it to be excellent for router bit height setting on our router table. The only downside we can see is that Veritas is yet to make a metric version for the other half of the world! At US$29.95 from Lee Valley, it passes our workshop essential checklist for quality, durability and plain old good value with flying colors, or is that flying numbers?
Johnson Structo-Cast Rafter Angle Square
This great little square is designed for aiding in rafter angle work, however, it makes an awesome little tool for any serious woodworker. Constructed of high-impact plastic, the 7" square with permanent molded graduations gets a lot of use in our shop assisting with setting both 90-degree and 45-degree angles on the tablesaw, jointer fence, bandsaw table, drill press table and more. It is very accurate and the extended faces on one edge mean you can butt it up easily to any workpiece to give you an accurate angle measure. You may have seen Norm Abram from the New Yankee Workshop use a similar square to reference 90 degree shelf construction and to line up the pieces while he toenails brads after glue-up. This square is perfect for that job. What we like most is that the physical size of the square is not too large, so it can be used easily for the above mentioned machinery setups without hitting anything or being too cumbersome to hold, although it is limited if trying to scribe marks on wide pieces of wood because of its small size. The 7" measure and 0-90 degree angle measuring graduations are handy for many purposes. The small booklet that comes with the square provides valuable information on rafter angles, if you happen to need it for such a task. For around US$10, the Johnson Structo-Cast 7" Rafter Angle Square is a an essential workshop tool that won't break the bank!

4" Quick Connector
If you don't have a ducted workshop or permanent dust collection system in place, and move your dust collector around the shop hooking it up to each machine as needed, then a 4" Quick Connector can be quite an essential item. Many larger machines like cabinet saws, jointers or planers have 4" dust ports and the tapered end of the quick connector allows a friction fit to these dust outlets, meaning you can quickly connect your collector up to any 4" port in seconds, and remove it even faster. No need to muck around with hose clamps or spend wasted time trying to get your hose onto the port. A must-have item for those with mobile dust collection systems, and inexpensive at around US$5-$10 each. These can be hard to find. But you can get them from Hartville Tool in the USA > Click Here
Magnetic Drill Press Speed Chart
For $1.99 this magnetic speed chart, which attaches magnetically to your drill press is an invaluable tool. While there are some great speed charts that can be found online, usually you have to print them out and store them in a bulky folder, or have it laminated and hanging off your drill press. This handy little chart provides speed guides for twist, brad point and Forstner bits, as well as a pilot hole chart for both hardwoods and softwoods over a range of different screw sizes. We find this item to be very useful in the shop, and the best part is, we never lose it! Always there, ready to be referenced. A steal at that price. The Magnetic Drill press Speed Chart is manufactured by Rockler and is available here

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