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The Indian DIY & Woodworker

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The Story of my Journey as a Hobbyist Woodworker in IndiaIndranil Banerjienoreply@blogger.comBlogger185125TheIndianDiyWoodworkerhttps://feedburner.google.com
Updated: 31 min 58 sec ago

The Big Deal about Chopping Boards

Thu, 01/11/2018 - 8:44pm
Chopping boards for healthy living

In meat shops all over India, butchers still use a tree stump, usually from the Neem (Azadirachta indica) tree as a butcher's block. There is a reason for this: end grain wood self-heals and lasts a long time. Moreover, the natural oils in the wood of trees such as Neem are anti-bacterial.

There has been a shift towards plastic chopping boards in recent times because they are easier to clean and handle. However, they seem to have a problem: knife cuts scour deep fine lines on the plastic which can get clogged with minute quantities of food matter.

Even a minute quantity of food matter lodged inside the fine cuts in a chopping board will spoil and breed moulds and bacteria, including toxic ones that could cause chronic digestive ailments.

This is one reason many people today are going back to using wooden chopping boards particularly the end-grain ones, which are very durable and inhibit the growth of bacteria and fungi.

I have gone back to using wooden chopping boards but never got around to making an end grain board. I used regular Pine for making my kitchen boards which is not such a bad alternative.

Recently, I picked up a thick cross section of Neem which I decided to turn into a chopping board. Some of the cracks required filling with epoxy and the bark had to be taken off. The top and sides were smoothed by several hours of serious sanding.

Filling cracks with epoxy
After a lot of sanding

Adding pads

Paraffin - a food safe oil

Pouring Paraffin

Paraffin soaked

In Use

I attached four rubber pads in the base to and finished it with Paraffin Oil purchased at the local chemist. Paraffin oil has medicinal uses and is food safe. A bottle costs about Rs 150. I allowed the oil to soak in and dry in the sun for a few hours. It was then ready for use.

My wife was somewhat unnerved by the appearance of this rather large chopping board (three inches thick and two feet at its widest). She argued it would be difficult to move around but I assured her she would get used to it.

In retrospect it does seem rather large and takes up quite a bit of counter space. But the good thing is it will probably last us a lifetime!

Indranil Banerjie
12 January 2018
Categories: Hand Tools

Manmeet "Lucky" Singh Guitar maker

Sun, 12/10/2017 - 1:50am
Manmeet "Lucky" Singh, Luthier

Shadipur is a crowded, largely working class, locality in west Delhi adjoining the industrial districts of Naraina and Kirti Nagar. Its narrow streets perpetually crowded with autos, two-wheelers and rickshaws are lined with endless shops, eateries and hawkers. Down its narrow alleys are houses that seem to touch each other and allow nothing wider than a scooter or motorbike to pass through.

Manmeet Singh, better known as "Lucky", leads me down one of these alleys where the noise of the street recedes and sunlight is cut off by the overhang of closely built brick and cement houses. He unlocks a steel door and ushers me into his 10 by 20 feet workshop.

The little windowless workshop is crammed with carefully bundled stacks of wood of various species. He collects different types of wood, and lots of it. For, Lucky is a luthier; at 23, he is perhaps one of the country's youngest and already a pro known for his finishing skills.

Measuring a pattern for a guitar body

He got into guitar making after his mother accidentally broke his guitar. "I repaired the guitar and liked the process", recalls Lucky. "I first began to repair guitars for local music shops and then started making them."

He has been making guitars for just 3 years and already his basic models of acoustic guitars sell for Rs 25,000. He makes one or two guitars a month and supplements his income by taking up spray finishing work and procuring exotic local varieties of wood for guitar makers and wood suppliers.

Ukulele with Cocobolo back

The first part of the process is to acquire great wood, he explains. "You cannot finish something that is not great in the first place", he explains in Hindi.

This is one reason why he spends a lot of his time - an average of three days a week- at the city timber markets. At Kirti Nagar timber market near where he lives, everyone seems to know Lucky. He dives into the shops to quickly inspect what is available. If something catches his eye, he is instantly on to it.

Bookmatched Babool

At one shop, we came across a couple of logs of a local timber called Jungle Jalebi. I later learnt this wood is Pithecellobium dulce also known as Monkeypod. It is dense and difficult to saw. Lucky thought one of the logs would produce some great burl.

He snapped a few photographs of the log and sent it to one his mates in Mumbai who exports exotic Indian woods for guitar makers around the world. The reply came back almost instantly and in the affirmative. The next thing I know Lucky was fishing out money to reserve the log for re-sawing later.

Lucky's little workshop stashed with wood

"Two or three of us share the wood I find", Lucky explained. "That way I can get what I want without having to block a lot of money for an entire log."

This way, he has managed to build up a small but impressive collection of a wide variety of wood, including Purpleheart, Cocobolo, Black Siris, Mango, Indian Mahogany, Sapele, Bubinga, Spanish Cedar and so on.

A beautiful local species called Siris

He gets the wood cut into quarter inch thick pieces and brings them back to his workshop where he uses a shop made drum sander to bring them down further to a final of 2 to 3 millimetres.

The pieces are cut into various shapes and joined together with thin splines. The sides are moulded in forms of various shapes and sizes made of MDF. The neck is made separately and later attached to the body.

Mango wood guitar finished with lacquer

Where he excels is in the finishing. He has an air compressor spray system at home and does the finishing there in a veranda as his workshop is too tiny and enclosed for spraying. He also has a shop made buffing machine which uses various types of cloth wheels.

"The glow in the finish comes from depth", he says. "The only way you can know it has worked is from seeing the final product. If there isn't enough depth in the finish, then it isn't done."

An accoustic guitar made of Indian Mahogany by Lucky

The best thing I liked about Lucky was his insatiable curiosity about different kinds of wood, finishes and work methods. He keeps visiting the larger paint dealers to know about the latest kinds of finishes, paints, fillers and so on. He seems to be constantly absorbing information.

A self-taught guitar maker, Lucky Singh seems to be vastly enjoying the learning curve he is on. His insatiable curiosity about everything involving his art will ensure that he grows to be a great craftsman someday soon.

Indranil Banerjie
10 December 2017
Categories: Hand Tools

My Best Buys of 2017

Tue, 12/05/2017 - 9:33pm

Looking back on 2017, I realized I haven’t bought a single power tool this year. This is partly because I already have a number of power tools and partly because these days I seem to prefer hand tools.
In general, my tool seeking capacity has greatly diminished. I seem to have most of what I need. Yes, there is always a secret hankering for some special, usually expensive, item but nothing I cannot shrug off.

So, what did I buy during the year? A lot of hardware, little accessories and a handful of very useful tools.

A friend brought a small Stanley pocket knife, the kind Paul Sellers uses, from the States. It cost about $10 and is well worth the price. Have a sharp edge that gets into tight corners and does the job of marking very well.

Stanley 10-049 Locking Blade Pocket Knife

The other nifty tool I bought on amazon.com was a carbide scraper. This tool is perfect for scraping glue from joints, especially a glued-up panel. I have blunted too many chisels and plane blades getting rid of hardened glue and an alternative was urgently required. This one cost me quite a bit after paying shipping and import duty - $45 or so. Seems an enormous amount for a scraper but believe me it has already proved its worth.

Bahco 665 Premium Ergonomic Carbide Scraper

I also ordered three Japanese chisels (3mm, 6mm and 25mm) from toolsfromjapan.com. In all it came to about Rs 4,800 (shipping included). The ones I got were the cheapest, called Maruya oire-nomi or regular chisels. This is an economy brand but the blades are outstanding - made of hard “white steel laminated to a soft steel main body, red oak handle and plain steel hoop.” The tips are sharp as hell and can be re-sharpened very quickly. Absolutely stupendous chisels! I got them for finer work, cleaning dovetails and so on.

Japanese economy grade chisels

I find most Japanese woodworking blades to be of the highest order. The laminated steel blades of Japanese plane irons and chisels are extraordinary: superbly sharp but relatively easy to hone.

Perhaps my best purchase was a Cabinet Scraper made by Veritas (www.leevalley.com). This tool cost me US $69 and was carried to India by a relative.  Veritas is a Canadian company that makes some of the world’s best hand tools. The precision and care that goes into the making of each of their tools is remarkable.

Veritas® Cabinet Scraper

A cabinet scraper is very much like a regular hand-held scraper except its blades are honed at a different angle. It is also much more ergonomic than regular scrapers. I purchased this because I often find complex grain almost impossible to hand plane without tear out. The alternative is sanding but that can be a tedious process. The cabinet scraper is an excellent tool for finishing surfaces.

When I looked back at my tool purchases this year, I realise they are modest. But what pleases me no end is that my needs too have become modest. Caring for a small set of good quality tools is preferable to a heap of mediocre ones most of which will lie unused.

In 2018, I will be looking for ways to procure two tools I have long set my mind on acquiring. One is a long Western style rip saw - the 24 or 26-inch beauties with shaped handles - and the other a pre-WW II Stanley number 4. Both tools are available on Ebay from time to time but shipping to India is very expensive and many sellers just don’t ship to India. 

Until then I have enough tools and a heap of timber to fashion.

Indranil Banerjie
6 December 2017
Categories: Hand Tools

Project - Making Clocks

Wed, 10/25/2017 - 9:53pm
Making wooden clocks are fun and relatively easy. This month I have been making several clocks to gift people in the festival season.

At the core of clock making is the clock movement which does the job of moving the hands and showing time accurately. In earlier times, the movement would be a complex mechanical contraption whereas today it is a small electronic device called Quartz movement. This is why most clock dials have Quartz printed on them.

These movements are widely available in India. However, I would advise woodworkers here to avoid buying them from amazon.in as the prices being charged there are ridiculous - anything between Rs 150 and 700 or more for a 70 rupee movement!


Some of the better Quartz clock movement makers include Seiko (Japan), Takane (USA) and Hermle (Germany). A number of Chinese companies also make clock movements, many of which are of excellent quality and give accurate time. The better movements are however more robust and reliable.

The Takane movements, for example, come with a 10-year warranty and is rated to last 10 years. The better movements are difficult to procure in India while the Chinese ones are easily available for seventy rupees or so a piece from Chinese e-commerce sites such as aliexpress.com.

The better and far more expensive clocks are made with mechanical clock movements which require winding. Clock connoisseurs prefer these types of clocks as opposed to those run by Quartz movements. Very few companies make mechanical movements these days and those that do charge a lot. Its far simpler to use Quartz movements, especially for hobbyists.

The Quartz movement is enclosed in a small plastic box that must be familiar to most people these days as virtually all our clocks have a similar mechanism. A shaft sticks out of the movement and this is where the hour, minute and seconds hands are attached. A standard AA battery is required to power the movement.


While choosing a clock movement ensure the length of the shaft is appropriate for the material you plan to use as a dial and its backing. If the shaft is not long enough, it will not stick out as required. Most shafts are pretty short - about an eighth of an inch - and will not pass through quarter inch plywood. The first few movements I bought had these short shafts and I had to rout a recess in the plywood to mount the movement.

Some movements come with shafts that are as long as three quarters of an inch. This might not be appropriate for a thin dial mounted on 6mm or quarter inch plywood as it would stick out too much and look strange when the clock hands are mounted. In other words, the shaft length should match the thickness of the dial material.

The movement is put in place by pushing the shaft through a hole in the dial and securing it with a small nut that is supplied with the movement. The clock hands are attached after the nut.


In its simplest form, a clock can be made by attaching the clock movement to a plywood board through which a hole has been drilled. A clock dial and numbers could be painted on the plywood and hung on the wall. This is a fun and easy project especially for children and requires zero skill.


Attractive clock dials can also be printed with an inkjet or laser printer. There are plenty of free designs available on the Internet and for slightly more creative people designing great looking clock dials could be a project in itself. The other alternative is to purchase clock dials printed on metal and plastic. I bought some printed on brass sheets to give my clocks a traditional look.


Traditionally clock makers have fabricated elaborate casings to mount the dial and clock mechanism. All kinds of ornaments and embellishments were used to decorate them. Some are masterpieces sold by auctioneers such as Christies for lakhs of rupees.

I have made some simple designs for clock casings and am trying out different ones. I find clock making quite absorbing and satisfying. Apart from designs, it allows me to experiment with different finishes and colours. The process is only limited by one's imagination.



Indranil Banerjie
26 October 2017
Categories: Hand Tools

Hand Tools - Sharpening with Japanese Ceramic Stones

Wed, 10/11/2017 - 5:47am
Blade and Honing Guide

I am a happy man! I have discovered a great regime for sharpening my plane irons and chisels. I use a honing guide, a simple Eclipse type one that costs about a thousand rupees. It takes just a few seconds to fit a blade and the results are consistent and repeatable. I find that if I use the same honing guide and the same angle on a particular blade, the bevel presented to the stone is consistent and requires very little effort to re-sharpen.

My regime requires the use of three moderately expensive Japanese ceramic stones:
the Sigma Power 400 grit (Rs 2900), Sigma Power #1000 (Rs 2200) and a Naniwa Ebi #8000 (Rs 3400). The prices quoted are for stones from toolsfromjapan.com and exclusive of shipping charges.

I follow this procedure for maintenance sharpening:
1. Fit the blade in a honing guide
2. Do initial honing on #400 stone to raise a burr. About 100 strokes.
2. Refine edge on #1,000 stone - 50 strokes
3. Polish edge on #8,000 stone - about 25 strokes

And Voila, the blade is super sharp once again.
Max time 5 minutes.

Japanese Ceramic stones: Sigma Power #1000 (left), Sigma Power #400 (Centre) and Naniwa Ebi #8000 (Right)

The key to this is the Sigma Power 400 stone which cuts like the devil and is way faster than diamond stones or sandpaper. The Sigma stones work exceptionally well with India made plane blades and the harder Chrome Vanadium chisel steels. Indian plane irons are usually if not exclusively made of EN42 steel, also popularly known as Spring steel. It takes forever to sharpen Spring steel blades on sandpaper and Diamond plates too are not great at taking down this steel. Sigma Power appears to have been designed to wear down this steel in no time at all. It is a marvellous piece of work and hugely reduces sharpening time and encourages me to keep my blades razor sharp. It's so easy.

The downside is the cost - buying the three stones will cost about Rs 10,000. Not a small sum to drop on sharpening supplies. But for the serious woodworker there are few alternatives. Sandpaper in the long run is extremely expensive and so are Diamond stones. Clearly there is a cost for maintaining super sharp blades.

Local Indian carpenters get by with a Rs 180 stone - one could go that route and add a strop with polishing compound. I have, however, tested the sharpness of those blades and the ones sharpened with Japanese ceramic stones; there is really no comparison. Local carpenters use a lot of forces while planing and chiselling which is completely unnecessary if the blades are super sharp. There is also the question of the final quality of a planed surface. The grit at which a blade is honed at will determine the smoothness of the planed surface - no question as it is a direct relationship.

Thin shavings can arise only out of the mouth of a super sharp plane

In other words, if someone is going to invest in hand tools for woodworking, I would advise they keep the number of tools to a minimum but spend on good sharpening stones.

It is better to have just three or four hand planes (Jack, Jointer, Smoother and Block) and about 6 chisels of different widths and a set of good stones. It is worth it if you can stop work and re-sharpen for just 5 minutes and then get back on the job.

I have been flattening small 15 inches square panels in between other work and my sharp planes are a huge help. They are quick, clean and satisfying. Nothing like a good sharpening regime!

Indranil Banerjie
11 October 2017
Categories: Hand Tools