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Paul Sellers

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A Lifestyle Woodworker
Updated: 1 hour 11 min ago

Sharpening Can Is Mostly An Abrasive Issue

Tue, 12/16/2014 - 1:27am

The title of this post seems almost a contradiction of terms. Sharpness and abrasion; how does that work?

Sharpening most cutting tools and cutting blade edges is not particularly complex but it will take practice to establish patterns of guaranteed success for the freehand sharpening methods that make you expertly fast and effective. Oftentimes we start out sharpening using a honing guide and that does work to get to the cutting edge we need. Eventually though, you will want more, you will want to get the edge faster so you can get on with the real work you love to do. DSC_0009As I said, sharpening cutting tools and cutting blades is not really complex, but it can be made more difficult when you move into harder steel types like high-speed steel and hard steel alloys or cutting edges made with superimposed tips and edges like tungsten carbide. That’s when you must cross a line to use more industrial methods. Then commercial abrasives and diamond cutters combine with power and speed and take over to project you into the less pleasant world of industrial abrading and metal cutting. So, it’s here that I’ve decided to take some time out, to present thoughts and feelings as concisely as possible. Opinion is one thing and there’s always lots of that, experience another, so let’s see what happens in the reality of daily, at-the-bench working. 

Experiencing makes a difference

What I’ve seen over my five decades of daily sharpening and of course teaching others to sharpen by the thousands is mostly confusion. Yes, there’s lots of head knowledge, but that seems not to have really helped because it’s relational knowledge that dispels confusion. What I have experienced as normal is just how confused people seem to be when it comes to what was once simply a simple sharpening process. My quest then is to see if we shouldn’t look at what it takes to get to the cutting edge and circumvent the confusion by myth-busting some of the mystery. In the age of information overload I found it quite challenging penetrating the excesses of information purporting to be technical advice. What the information doesn’t give you is experiencing the stones and the abrasives and the compounds, so what I want to try to do is use 50 years of sharpening at the bench to bridge the gap and give advice I hope will make sense. I think I can cut to the quick and we can return to the simplicity we all need.

Information overload

I’m sure I’ll be ranked amongst the information overloaders by the time this post is read, sorry for that, but it has to be said. A student this week asked me about sharpening equipment and I pulled out a popular catalog of tools to help her understand which systems or stones would work best for her. To compare what was offered and guide her into making educated decisions. Try as I might, here was no way that that was even possible.

The lady’s budget was around £30 max. Thumbing through the pages it didn’t take long to see that £30 doesn’t go very far if you read what the salespeople and manufacturers have to say on the matter. Fact was, if you listened to them at all, you’d spend hundreds more than you really need to and end up with many times more than you need into the bargain. A little more thumbing through the pages and she stopped me and asked, “How much of this do I need? With so many pages on just sharpening she asked how would it ever be possible to understand so complex an issue with so much equipment necessary to sharpen a chisel and a plane. It was at this point that I stopped her and counted the 21 packed pages and I realised the confusion was the array of unnecessary stuff available and were I a beginner I too would be confused.

Are Machines Necessary?

The quick answer is, generally, no, but you might want access to one for heavier grinding work to restore badly ground, damaged or flawed edges from time to time. They are useful for that.  Many things have changed the face of woodworking not the least of which is the industrialising of craft aspects we once took for granted to be hand work. In sharpening today most people use a mechanical system of grinding, be that a simpler electronic grinding wheel with two different grit-grade wheels, a horizontal grinder flushed continuously with water cooling, vertical and horizontal grinders with abrasive belts and discs of some kind and so on and so on. This of course opened a massive sphere of sales for sellers to sell the wares of the industrial abrasive giants like Norton and 3M and so when you add into this equation different stone types and sizes, different grits of every level and belts and compounds graded out too you can soon end up considering a hundred products those new to woodworking might think to be necessary. I think this is a good point to say that in general, when you have chisels and cutting edges in general good condition, you don’t need any kind of mechanical machine grinding to sharpen your edge tools.

Catalogs compete with the old brand names by  supplying knockoffs 

What has happened with machine grinding abrasives has also happened on other fronts too. Now we have natural water stones, diamond stones, a monstrous range of man-made stones in diversely different grits and particulate types too numerous to mention. Over and above that you now have everything doubled up. When Asia and the west opened up the interexchange trade routes to intercontinental and especially Asian factories, new trend began with the replication of established lines. In a few short years knock-off brands copying the originals was normalised with and without licenses. The quest to satisfy what was then Western consumerism at compelling competitive pricing,open new the floodgates all the wider and catalog companies across the globe began to swell their offerings. Even the reputable companies sold out the honour of their forebears to take advantage of the cheaper labourers. Spear and Jackson, Woodcraft, Rockler and Irwin. Machine makers too have goods and parts made in the anonymous world of “somewhere abroad”. The Brits and Americans and some EU countries became exceptionally good at copycatting ideas and having their stuff replicated somewhere in the expansed regions of Asia at half the price and less. That meant they could run both levels side by side to offer some price break to their customers but mostly to increase their own profits and compete. Everything made that at one time only came from what we might describe as say a reputable domestic maker suddenly became available from other ’alternative’ suppliers, but, now, under the catalog companies own brand names.

Hard grits, soft grits, hard steels and super hard steels

The reality is that different abrasives cut steels at different rates and speeds. The variance depends on the hardness of the steel and the abrading qualities of the different abrasives. Picking the abrading method introduces additional confusion into the arena of sharpening. Up until about four decades ago I recall that sharpening was really quite simple. Craftsmen always generally used freehand sharpening methods and most, not all, amateurs preferred to use risk-free honing guides as a sort of training aid until they gained confidence and competency free handing. Using Japanese stones, mostly natural stones back then, gained rapid popularity, mostly because western woodworkers were looking for answers. DSC_0003For some unknown reason simple sharpening methods were buried somewhere. It was as if the art of sharpening, no matter where, had suddenly become lost; forgotten. It was about that time that Japanese water stones and abrasive paper methods of sharpening (known for some reason as the scary-sharp method) became popularised. Both methods were seen somehow as revolutionary systems; an answer to all sharpening problems. On the one hand you had friable stones that cut steel fast but surface-fractured rapidly. This then led to severely hollowed out stones that supposedly needed permanent flattening and in some measure that might be true. We’ll look at that soon. On the other hand abrasive surfaces such as abrasive papers and films tore easily and were short lived surfaces needing constant replacement. This proves a very expensive system for permanent or longterm sharpening. Before this point most workmen used oil-filled man-made or natural sharpening stones throughout Europe and of course North America. Why people became disgruntled with them I don’t really know. These abrasive stones all worked and worked well and, actually, they still do. If you don’t have much money you can get a very good cutting edge with a Norton combination stone and a leather strop. Most working men I have ever known would be content that these edges are good enough for creating good work. 

So what am I saying?

Well, I’m saying that there are different camps. Some people like to spend an hour or two sharpening an edge to take pristine shavings that ripple from the throat of a plane and mesmerise the plane user. They want the plane finely adjusted and nothing more than shaving the edge of a piece of wood. To them it’s therapeutic and relaxing. Nothing at all wrong with that. Then there are those who love planing their wood as they work and create beyond or beneath the shaving. They perfect the wood and the shaving because they are interrelated for joinery, for panel making and for levelling and trimming and such. 

Honing guides

The fact that I never saw a master woodworking craftsman use a honing guide doesn’t at all mean they never did or do. In my purview there is nothing at all wrong with that in principle at least. I use one from time to time for different reasons and especially when experimenting for the research work I engage in. However, for me, not using a fixed angle honing guide gives me much greater speed, economy of movement and time and thereby efficiency. Equally important is I find it too restrictive in terms of the motion and movement I feel using a fixed angle guide. Now that’s in my general day to day work. As I said, honing guides do have their place. You see it’s too mechanical, yes, but then it also prevents me from honing either to task or for a particular preference I have that gives me the total versatility I enjoy and get from free-hand sharpening. P1010226Not relying on the honing guides does in some ways simplify the task as long as you see that it also demands the early development of skill. The problem usually is people don’t feel uncomfortable with it at least at first and therefore they often reach for the honing guide first. What’s my thought on this? Well, I never rode a bike with training wheels on that I can recall, and of course I came off from time to time in the early stages of learning, but once I mastered the balancing aspect it took I was very free. Knowing such freedom gave me the determination never to return to the training wheels. My recommendation is that you might want to buy one of the less expensive guides like the one and only one we use here at the school. It’s quick and easy enough to set up, reliable to use and lifelong. It can also be had for under about £10. I, as an apprentice, went straight to freehand sharpening at 15 and stayed with it for 50 years. It took me a few hours max over a week or so and I had it for life.

I hope that the next post on these issues will be more interesting and enlightening.

The post Sharpening Can Is Mostly An Abrasive Issue appeared first on Paul Sellers' Blog.

Categories: Hand Tools

Q&A’s – Interview With John Winter

Sat, 12/13/2014 - 11:21am

DSC_0011I thought these questions I asked John might be interesting as well as helpful and especially to any young and aspiring woodworkers around the world. I learned many years ago that when any young person captures a vision for his and her life, a unique mechanism engages and all the synapses somehow begin to form coordinates by which he and she can map out a course to achieve life as crafting artisan.

Some things have yet to happen for John, and to me he seems so well equipped  for his age because he really gave himself to his work. We already miss him here in North Wales, but watching all the parts of his life past, present and future will I know prove rewarding.


How long have you known PS?

I’ve known Paul since 2007.

How did you get to know him?

My dad became quite close friends with him, and since both my dad and I love working with our hands, the opportunity arose for us to learn from Paul how to make a workbench.

How did you get an apprenticeship with Paul?

It was only in 2011, once I had finished school and didn’t know what next step I would take that I decided to accept Paul’s offer he had made some time back for me to learn the trade from him.

DSC_0052How long was it for?

The duration of my apprenticeship was just under two years, which I completed in two ten month long stages.

What did you learn the most from your time in the apprenticeship?

I believe that out of everything I leaned during my apprenticeship, one of the most important things is to have a clear vision of what I want to do with my craft and why I’m doing it. Though there are some crucial elements in furniture making, including the sharpness of the tools and the precision required to achieve the desired level of craftsmanship, I realised that if I don’t know the reason to why I’m doing it, and if I have no clear direction to follow, then there’s not much point pursuing it as a career.

What work do you want to do in the future?

I’ve always liked teaching. Only when the person has a passion for learning of course, so in the future I would really like to teach woodworking. I don’t quite know exactly what specifically, what audience or even to what purpose, but there’s a lot for me to do for now, so I’ll be thinking all these things through this year and we shall see later on where I take my craft.DSC_0152

How do envisage your life unfolding as a craftsman?

I know that what I have to do now without a doubt is to put all my skills into practice, and over the course of the next few months, focus on designing and making various pieces of furniture to gain confidence and experience. I will also be trying out some of the different types of wood I can get hold of fairly locally, and find out a bit more about the materials available and also the styles of furniture common to this area.

What will you see as important now that you have skills?

Having learnt so many different skills and techniques, I will be spending more time concentrating on the designing aspect, which I’ve not really paid too much attention to. I feel like now is a good opportunity to experiment with different styles, and designs; you make a piece and then you want to change an aspect of it, make it in a different wood, try out different finishes…So this next stage will be a time to think, make, observe, push myself and not conform myself to ‘make a piece, sell a piece’. Even though I may have to do that to be able to continue in this challenge of a route I chose, which I don’t think ever ends.

DSC_0075In Argentina, when you return, do you think that you can actually earn your living using more traditional methods?

There’s a significant advantage for me in Argentina, and that is that people pay a lot more attention to the quality of furniture in general, more so than I’ve noticed in the UK at least. People really do consider the durability of a piece of furniture. Therefore there’s a higher percentage of the population willing to pay more for a quality product, which works to my advantage. And in that sense, I think it’s very reasonable to plan on making a living from making and selling furniture, knowing of course that I will have to use some machine methods for most of the stock preparation, but practically the rest I’ll be using exclusively hand tools methods. Another thing I understood this year is that if I really want to make it as a furniture maker, I have to be willing to work many more hours and for less money. And I suppose that’s true of anyone who wants to work for themselves. But it’s so different to working for someone else that it’s not a burden, but a joy, so long as you love doing what you do.

What are your plans for the first year of your return?

For now I think the best way to start is to set myself short term targets so that by the end of 2015 I’ll have a good variety of pieces made and finished, both to acquire the practice and to have a portfolio of my work to start promoting my furniture.


Are there many woodworkers and furniture makers where you will be living?

I know, there are a lot of people doing general carpentry in the area, using nothing but machines, and those making furniture have also taken mass manufacturing methods. There are very few who know how to use hand tools, and obviously there is nowhere near the amount of quality hand tools like there is in the UK. So far I haven’t seen or heard of anyone making fine furniture, using traditional methods.

The post Q&A’s – Interview With John Winter appeared first on Paul Sellers' Blog.

Categories: Hand Tools

Oh My! Who Can Deny Small Businesses Are Highly Potent??

Fri, 12/12/2014 - 9:50am

I thought that this might pique your interest no matter where you are in the world. Small businesses are important to every economy and we should keep pursuing a return of craft education into schools, alongside design and technology, but encourage educators and politicians to consider craft and art more deeply than ever before. I say this because these two spheres usually only respond to economic statistics and not the other aspects art and craft have on our wellbeing and welfare.


The post Oh My! Who Can Deny Small Businesses Are Highly Potent?? appeared first on Paul Sellers' Blog.

Categories: Hand Tools

Primitive Sharpening From Times Past

Thu, 12/11/2014 - 2:23pm

Every newcomer to woodworking soon begins to see that there are tools used for working the wood and then there are tools and related pieces of equipment for working the cutting edges of the tools themselves. This equipment makes them cut the wood to greater and lesser degrees of effectiveness. Whereas it’s all to easy to diss the past to say we are now the best, you cannot dismiss past quality and say we are better today than ever because few examples of modern work come near in matching the regular works of craftsmen past.

DSC_0007In recent decades I have seen some developments that many of you will know nothing of but I think is important enough to write of periodically regarding sharpening edge tools. By edge tools I  mean every plane iron type, chisels and spokeshaves. Edge tools  with single-sided bevels. Sharpening such tools of course predates our modern-day internet world by hundreds of years, even to earlier millennia when iron sharpened iron all the more. Through the centuries past I see woodwork of every type that ranges from simple carved effigies to complex carvings, complex inlays to simple ones. Creating edges that mate gapless along entire lengths with such tight preciseness no air or glue lines existed takes skill in using the tools and skilled sensitivity to achieve the sharpness it takes to cut wood so flawlessly. This is of course in no way new and has nothing to do with the specialist equipment we have and enjoy today.DSC_0006

This week I bought a range of western oilstones on eBay. Some were more expensive than others but mostly they were inexpensive and all were secondhand. They all had something in common that it would indeed be easy for woodworkers to see as seriously flawed and something that needs a mega-amount of attention. I want to look at them and try them and show the results on different woods. The stones I bought are all 60 years old or more. 


Growing up I worked with men who all had different oilstones. I mean different in levels of fineness, in stone types and such like that. None of them used water stones and as far as I knew back then they didn’t exist in the UK. Every stone back then and throughout the ensuing years from 1960 to 1985 were well hollowed out and by that I mean utterly dished to an even curve the full length of the stones anywhere between 1/8” to 1/4” deep. DSC_0006Now the question for me as an ordinary, unrefined working man wanting to help my fellow man is did it matter that every stone I ever saw except new ones were indeed hollowed? I feel sort f glad to be able to say with all honesty that it was very apparent that it did not. Why was that? Why for centuries were stones hollowed out along their length and yet standards of workmanship remained exemplary of the very highest standards? For me, the question keeps coming back to me; where, why, when and how did we start along the path of micro-bevels, water stones, diamond plates, dead flatness within thousandths of an inch and other such minutia? I’ll let you know how it goes.

The post Primitive Sharpening From Times Past appeared first on Paul Sellers' Blog.

Categories: Hand Tools

Changing the Shape of Ash Chisel Handles

Mon, 12/08/2014 - 12:24pm

Ash Chisel Handles Are Still Great

Wooden handles are always preferred to plastic ones, at least that’s how I feel and that’s how most people feel, and and yet manufacturers of mass-market chisels seem intent on supplying only plastic handled ones with metal caps to protect the plastic from hammer blows. Plastic does of course hold up well, but, somehow, seeing the steel caps to me seems as though it launches the user into a different sphere of workmanship and I hear carpenters from time to time say they like the metal capped ones “because you can really beat on them and you can’t hurt them.”

On the other hand you might see boxwood as the choice wood for chisels because it’s so hard and long-lasting yet I think I see more chisels with split boxwood handles than any other. So, that begs the question, just what is the difference and the best choice wood for chisel handles?

DSC_0007 2Traditionally the three most common handles for chisels in the UK has always been beech, ash and box. These three woods reach back centuries with ash being the most common handle of all. In the US there’s an additional choice and that’s hornbeam which is extremely durable too.DSC_0018

Recently, John bought an Ashley Iles gouge that split with the first gentle blow and it took a bit of reconciling with the supplier and with Ashley Iles too. Eventually he got it sorted but ended up doing all the replacement work himself, but that’s another story. That said, tanged chisels still prove the best choice for me as we do in fact spend as much time pulling on the handle as we do shoving and  tapping it. That means we want the handle to stay connected to the metal bit and tangs do stay holding inside the handle better than sockets. Don’t be deceived by thinking socketed chisels don’t split and tanged handles always do either. Socketed chisels have their own annoying problems too. If you do decide to buy an old chisel and the handle is not split, the chances are it will never split. You must decide if you want a handle that stays in place or one that pops out of the socket regularly enough to be annoying.

When I first discovered the German chisels made for Aldi and Lidl I had to take a second look because they were made using ash for the handle. I was surprised that they hadn’t gone the plastic and metal route because, after all, they are mass-manufactured. I was also very glad to see that they had indeed chosen ash because ash is about the best general chisel handle that seems to be the one that doesn’t generally split.


In a moment of up-cycling madness I decided to see what I could get from the existing Aldi and Lidl ash handles; to see if what I ended up with was a viable improvement in any way at all, but I wanted to make it doable without any specialised equipment such as a lathe and turning tools. Now it wasn’t at all because the chisel needed a functionality upgrade but  simply to improve the overall appearance. I wanted to change the looks with the tools I had.

DSC_0003 DSC_0004

To remove the chintzy looking steel hoop and ferrule that cheapen the appearance I used a nail punch and tapped from each side. I was surprised how readily they came away as they are pressed on onto a shallow groove. I didn’t want to drill into the dimpled hoop because I wanted to keep as much original wood as possible.


To remove the ferrule I had to first remove the handle from the chisel. At first I used the same nail punch but found it pierced the ferrule and so used flat head screw driver (pic above) which worked best for this as it distributes the pressure over a wider area.DSC_0001

The nail punch quickly separated the ferrule working it from opposite sides.


With the ferrule removed I used the rasp to create a leading edge to receive the ferrule.


I continued to fit the  brass ferrule by using the fine rasp to reduce the diameter of the wood. Once the ferrule fits far enough onto the end, about half way to two thirds on, I start tapping the ferrule onto the end. I follow marks on the wood as reference bruising to work my cuts to with a chisel. I keep trying the ferrule as I don’t want it to be loose at all but dead tight so that it must be finally hammered on.

With the ferrule secure and in place I use a flat file to file the ferrule flush with the endgrain of the handle.


The two recessed sides are nice to have as they help present the chisel to the work squarely and improve grip. I kept them in the chisel and simply removed the signage etc with a card scraper.


I used a spokeshave for the initial shaping and to redefine what I felt would make a better shaped chisel minus the metal hoop. By carefully removing the waste i just left enough to shape the final shape with the fine rasp.

Now that the shape is established I used the thin and flexible card scraper to clear off all rasp marks before final sanding with 240-grit sandpaper.


Knocking off the handle from the tang wasn’t hard either, although it was positively firm. You can see that the tang is indeed robust, which accounts for why we’ve never had a single chisel break or even bend slightly. Brass really improves the appearance of the chisel when compared to the original.


Another thing that proves the quality of ash as a handle wood for chisels is that, though the ferrules are unusually thin, and through shrinkage might be loose, the wood has never split on a single chiseling action in the school. All of my ash handled chisels are in good shape too. Where most ash chisels fail is not through the wood being a flawed choice but some brute beating on it with a heavy steel hammer. All metal hammers are hard on wooden handles including brass, copper and especially steel ones. Now there are some cutesy little ones with stumpy, curvy handles I’ve seen around. Not really too sure about them though.

DSC_0021 DSC_0024

The finished chisel shaping looks appropriate now and I like how it looks and feels.


A scrape and some sanding finishes all the shaping work in preparation for applying finish.

DSC_0015 2

I apply three coats of shellac and coloured the first coat to take away some of the stark whiteness. A coat of wax paste polish makes it feel good to touch and I have good working chisels I can work with in comfort.

I have always felt the these chisels were well designed as far as ergonomics go. The best really. My changes did improve the feel a little more, but so marginally I could almost say it was unnecessary. But this is what ergonomic design is about. The chisels we generally accept as traditional were designed to come straight from the lathe. It was fast and effective to produce them this way and took only seconds per chisel handle. The Aldi/Lidl chisels are indeed turned and turned out in a heartbeat by rotating the blank into a cutter head. The simple flats scalloped top and underside added an ergonomic advantage over other chisels that create a near perfect chisel handle.


The post Changing the Shape of Ash Chisel Handles appeared first on Paul Sellers' Blog.

Categories: Hand Tools

Questions Answered – On Brace and Bits

Fri, 12/05/2014 - 11:20am

Hi Paul,

I did a quick search on your blog and can’t find any information on brace and bits. I wonder if you have any thoughts on what to look for/brands to pick/avoid when choosing a second hand brace and bit. It might make a good idea for a future blog post?




Thanks for this question Matt. Brace and bits don’t take the limelight too often any more because of the power drivers everyone reaches for so readily. There is a silent strength to the brace and bit that quietly takes it’s place in the hand tool shop that so readily does the work steadily and without the buzz of Dewalt, Makita or Milwaukee. Most of the time the brace and bit will create cleaner work than the power tools will simply because they are cutting and slicing more readily and without the excesses you get with power equipment.

A good brace is virtually indestructible. I have owned one of mine for fifty years and it will go for another fifty I am sure. There are things to look for and necessary for them to work well.


The parts to the brace need light, periodic oiling. Often this is neglected in finding a secondhand brace. The centre handle works well if oiled and a drop in the gap will ensure it stays moveable.


The pad here has an oil hole and two or three drops works fine there too.


The bits need to be in good shape and so here are some pictures to show flawed bits and what to look for when you buy.


Here the ratchet needs regular oiling too.


Inside the chuck are two jaws held with a spring that opens up the jaws to receive the square bits.

DSC_0032 DSC_0033

Turning the handle tightens jaws.


The pointed snail shown above has a spiral that pulls the bit into the wood. When it’s broken and blunt it usually will not pull into the wood. When it’s gone it chews away the wood and wont centre.

DSC_0054 DSC_0046

Above the spurs are broken off as you can see. They do not score and cut the entrance to the hole or the wall and the surface on the outside is always fractured and torn.

DSC_0057 DSC_0058

Here is a larger bit with the same problem.


Compare the two holes here. On the one hand the 1/4” bit has no spurs and the hole is spewed out. The same sized bit with spurs cuts a clean wall and clean rim.


Here is an auger bit made for a power driver.

DSC_0051 DSC_0050These bits work well in a swing (hand) brace too and although they have a a single spur they do cut a clean walled hole with a clean rim.  Another thing is that they are readily available, cut as well and give good results. Rather than not have bits I think it is better to have one or two of these around to work with.


These two traditional pattern bits are both patterns commonly made. One is referred to as a jennings pattern, that’s the one with a steady and even twist, and the fast cut or Irwin pattern. Some say that the Jennings pattern works best and stays more steady in the hole as you bore. I find that that’s true, but the other still works fine.


here is how we generally use the brace and bit. There are other holds too.

The post Questions Answered – On Brace and Bits appeared first on Paul Sellers' Blog.

Categories: Hand Tools

Questions Answered – Box-storing a Combination Square

Thu, 12/04/2014 - 1:49pm

I thought that this question was interesting and of interest in terms of what do you do with a treasured square.


I just bought a Starrett combination square and I want to keep it safe apart from using it at work. How do you keep your square safe? Perhaps is there a nice little box or something like that? I often read that a drop on the floor isn’t good for the accuracy.

Someone responded by saying, “Why don’t you make a box for it? Not rocket science – ply and glue, thin foam interior optional.” . Of course he could. Fact is though, it does depend on your individual circumstances.


I have used a Rabone Chesterman combination square for 50 years, the same one I mean, and it’s still accurate and serves me well even though it’s been dropped from time to time and I wince when it does. For me it’s impractical not to have my square on the benchtop and accessible every minute of the day. The well in the bench really keeps it safe much of the time and that’s  partly why I prefer benches with a well in them over flat tops. A box for a full-time woodworker like myself would be useless really as we use them minute by minute for layout, creating knifewalls and checking the work periodically. If it’s not going to be used for a week or so I put it in a till in my toolbox and it stays there until needed.DSC_0022

Most of us like to make boxes for tools and for some little used tools I think that can work, plough planes and irons and such, but not the square. Of course if you are using the square once a week and want to protect it from damp and so on a box with rust inhibiting flake sachets work best.

The post Questions Answered – Box-storing a Combination Square appeared first on Paul Sellers' Blog.

Categories: Hand Tools

A New and Alternative Reality – That’s Hand Tool Woodworking

Wed, 12/03/2014 - 2:07pm

DSC_0041It’s been good to watch John grow. I have lost track of the number of apprentices I’ve worked with through the past 50 years but it’s always been my greatest reward watching them come, work hard and then become their own man as it were. The shop will feel empty for a few weeks even if a new apprentice arrived. No apprentice ever replaces a former one because they are always of course unique beings and therefore irreplaceable when you live your work in an alternative life-changing reality.DSC_0582 I talked with a friend today who may be the new trainee. She tells me of people in her spheres of woodworking who repeatedly advise her that hand woodworking with hand tools won’t pay the bills because you can’t compete. Of course they can’t really advise her because they wouldn’t understand lifestyle woodworking using alternative methods and systems to the traditions of machines. If she comes she won’t replace John because she isn’t supposed to.DSC_0592

You see hand tools isn’t just old but very new and, to those new to it, innovative. That’s what makes what we do so ultra fascinating and new. Not many woodworking machinists know hand tools or know about them at all, and especially is that the case in commerce. It’s funny how that they always feel so equipped and informed to advise people like Lea that methods used by people like me don’t work too well and you can’t make your living from it using those methods. Don’t you think that that’s, well, somewhat biased. Machine woodworking using machines is really not new at all but old, very old even. DSC_0015The Shakers at Hancock, Massachusetts date back to the late 1700’s and they used machines throughout their work including circular bench saws, bandsaws, planers, thicknessers and indeed mortise machines. Most were driven by water and they used water turbines to drive the shafts and they took the power off a central line to drive the individual machines. They were highly productive. But they also ran hand tools alongside their machines and the evidence of hand work is always in every piece they made. So tell me why hand tools and machine work can’t work or hand work alone can’t work? Whether the machines are driven by waterwheel, water turbine, steam, air or an electric motor, the machine is now and has been for two hundred years and more a traditional method of working wood.DSC_0038

The interesting thing for me is to see just how many woodworkers are becoming increasingly more fascinated by the methods we teach. Most of what I teach I have developed through trying to find out. Every day I find things out that are new to me Things I suspect others knew but never passed on. I teach the future to new woodworkers emerging who will carry on the awe-inspiring work that I do and may well make a living from what I teach in the future years when things become local again and communities start making things with their hands and enjoy it.

Go on, tell me that these guys aren’t fascinated with a stick of wood and few hand tools!DSC_0040

The post A New and Alternative Reality – That’s Hand Tool Woodworking appeared first on Paul Sellers' Blog.

Categories: Hand Tools

Removing the Hurdles and Building On Future Generations

Mon, 12/01/2014 - 2:23pm

DSC_0048My students stand awkwardly around my bench and start asking me about the tools they should look for starting out. It’s usually the case at the start of every class I teach. I think it makes sense because they don’t see fancy tools around my bench but mostly common ones, they seem bemused or unbelieving, but then I realise it’s not unbelief but surprise. That’s interesting, is it possible that something old and simpler trumps the more technically advanced and highly refined? Is it possible that wood gurus giving tool reviews in mags and those selling tools are trumping them up and indeed dissing the old models disingenuously. Well, fact is, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is what works in front of them and that’s what makes what I do work. I’m not selling tools and equipment and when the £2 chisel slices the wood with pristine cuts they feel totally empowered and in just minutes their eyes open wide and they understand.


Dismantling the work of the sometimes disingenuous is ever easier and seeing those lesser planes and chisels parallel the work the best of the rest can do I see the wow factor reversed so that the wow plane is more a junker Stanley with plastic handles and a nickel plated adjuster. The shavings twist off the cutting edge with each successive swipe and before you know it we’ve enabled another half dozen woodworkers to equip their shop with tools that really work and work exceptionally. Currently, looking at eBay a few minutes ago, I can buy half a dozen buy-it-now Stanleys for under £20 plus shipping of about £5. Now that’s a lifetime-plane even for someone like me that works their plane hard for several hours in any given day. I think that that’s a pretty good default position if you think about it and that’s what I want in my craft for others. I want woodworking to return to its former state as an inclusive not an exclusive craft and that’s  making woodworking available to everyone.DSC_0069

Thick and thin irons, hard and harder steels, specially made steel alloys for plane bodies all have their place, of course they do, but when you’re starting out you just don’t know what you really want let alone truly need. That’s why I’m here. I’ve used every plane there is and what I share isn’t the merenes off opinion. You see things like this matter and that’s why we do what we do. I say we because more and more people are thinking along these lines and that means woodworking is indeed becoming more and more inclusively real. So, today we talked through the misunderstandings and the misrepresentations and misconceptions of things like water stones and scary sharp systems to dismantle the erroneous message now circling the globe. What all woodworkers really need more of is simple and not complex so we keep it simple as can be and very real.


Countering the profound strongholds in the ever growing transfer of power in hand methods of woodworking is becoming more and more workable. I love the reality this insider knowledge brings to my students and that they feel more equipped than ever to take charge of how they choose to work with powerless power. It’s important to pass on the truths so that when they leave in a week’s time they will look at planes and chisels differently. They will know that systems sold in magazines and catalogs do indeed work and even have truth in them but they will also know to question the sources with swinging sales tags and look a little more deeply knowing that they watched the ordinary produce the amazing and there is nothing pricey in sight.


I think steps in training are important so we make a spatula to look into what we cannot see. The millions upon millions of elongated cells that make wood what it is are diverse yet we , they, must understand what they cannot always see in the fullness needed to understand it. The diverse cuts with saws and chisels and spokeshaves needed to shape a spatula are the beginning of understanding and this is more fundamentally important than anything I know. As to a spoon, well, I taught them techniques necessary to make a violin and a guitar neck as well as carving out the belly and back of a violin. They just didn’t know it at first. soon a spoon emerges from an angular block of oak and yes it was hard on the hands and the arms to say nothing of the fingers, but when we wrapped up and swept the floor I felt like we crossed over into a new sphere that hitherto they’d never experienced.DSC_0160

John’s a ways down the road and leaves me and my work in two days. Well, he doesn’t leave me so much as take me with him in the edge of the cutting tools and the ways he knows to adjust them to task. He’s got wooden bodied planes fine tuned to perfection and says he has yet to find any metal bodied planes to match them. Of course my work finds meaning in recognising the break that severed people from the connection to the real issues. Machining wood severs the connection between man and tools and man and wood. My work is now living in him thousands of others and he takes it on to another continent. I’m fulfilled. That’s my work succeeding and being passed on as students and apprentices move  gain the working knowledge they need to become real woodworkers.

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Categories: Hand Tools

Make Life Changes in Working Wood

Fri, 11/28/2014 - 3:13pm

P1010039Time at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford

I poised the lens of my newest camera within 9” of the most well preserved and valuable pieces of workmanship ever produced in wood. It was made 300 years ago to become one of if not the most well made violins ever made. Some might see its wealth in its saleable value at auction but of course its real worth is that it represented the life and lifestyle of a lifestyle instrument maker who worked to carve voices from wood. This alone impresses me beyond measure. The base price of this masterpiece violin? Start somewhere around £10,000,000 and then expect to pay much more. It will never be sold again. P1010076The “Messiah” stands isolated and encased from all other instruments. The case allows people like me to circle the instrument 360-degrees and to see detail we never saw the like of before. Surrounded by many stringed instruments, brothers and sisters, uncles, aunts and grandparents, the Messiah stands exclusive, yet the hope of its maker was the honour of sharing its own unique voice in the presence of many sympathetic strings. P1010075When you understand this, you that such isolation is rarity itself. Working wood in isolation is often enjoyed and I enjoy this from time to time, perhaps a few days apart, a week or a month, but the greatest joy is when makers work alongside one another, together, and with the common cause of restoring the craft to its former fulness for creative artisans to take back the real power of real woodworking. that’s what I believe in you see. Hand work with hand tools isn’t primitive, old fashioned, nostalgic, reenacted fantasy. The Messiah had a purpose and so too the preservation of this instrument. You see, thankfully, no machine, no router or power sander, no power carver will ever produce what a man did 300 years ago with a handful of hand tools. Just think about what we are doing; not just doing, changing and transforming. Did you know that this month we will reach nearly 1,000,000 if not more woodworkers worldwide with a message of long-needed change and every month this number increases as people change the ways they work wood and find the ever-deepening realms, spheres if you will, of real woodworking.P1010070 The Middle One is a Strad Guitar

I wonder which ones of you will pursue your interest to become another Antonio Stradivarius? Who will make an instrument from pieces of spruce and maple or a guitar the like of which there is no other? I am pretty sure of one thing, and you can demonise me as a Luddite, it’s unlikely to be work with a computer numerical controlled because it’s not a man or a woman that creates the actual work but a machine. As we rebuild the future and restore the lost realms that defy the flawed concepts of machine-only woodworking we will wee new things emerge. P1010074Go on, develop real skill, you owe it to the future. Imagine your first new boat, a kayak, a piece for the White House that starts with a sketch on a pad as you sit one Tuesday afternoon in a recliner and you stand inside the Cabinet Room with your mates having your picture taken. Undo the damage and master skill. At the very worst you’ll enjoy working wood like never before and we will be backing you all the way.

For more on the above instruments go to Ashmolean Museum.

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Categories: Hand Tools

Ending An Apprenticeship Marks a New Life In Artisanry

Thu, 11/27/2014 - 3:16pm

DSC_0007Sometimes, when things seem to be ending…


…you start to see it’s only just beginning.


In some ways I have been in this place before. Training an apprentice can be hard. You take in a young man and work with him. He learns and becomes smart. You work with him some more and he becomes smarter than you and before you know it he’s learned to fly his own plane. In just a few days I have been forewarning you that my apprentice and friend  John Winter returns to Patagonia. He is no longer an apprentice but more a journeyman setting out fully equipped and able to travel forward into his new life as a craftsman.



My dovetails fit perfectly with no flawed lines or alignments. I expect that and they always do. Having made about many dozens of thousands they should be. I use no guides and they need no chiseling after the saw cuts to make them fit. Of course pine compresses differently to walnut and cherry and especially other hard, dense-grained woods like rosewood or cocobolo, so these are perhaps the easiest of all. Herein lies one subtle difference between machine cut joints and hand tools and it’s one most people including 99% of woodworkers who use machines for their joinery miss. Using hand tools allows me to micro-adjust the tolerances between the components so that I take full advantage of the natural properties of the different species and indeed the different densities of wood within the wood type itself too. The wood adjacent to knots is denser than the regular straight grain of knot-free wood. I again adjust for this in my joinery too, especially around dovetails and such.


Filming the current series of the toolbox build obviously entails thinking ahead and having made so many such boxes through the years, compared to others, this box is an excellent starter project for new woodworkers. That is as long as you know a couple of tricks of the trade to settle the joints and seat them solidly in the glue up. Here is the issue; working with pine is much different than many if not all the hardwoods. Generally, hardwoods have growth rings in the same way softwoods do. DSC_0157The difference is that hardwoods are more evenly dense across the individual growth rings and across the periods of growth when more rapid growth takes place over longer periods as in times when there were droughts or heavy rain and good warmth during a period of growth. In other words, when plantation grown woods grow without canopy and over say a 50 year span, you might have two decades of good and steady rain and warmth that caused more rapid growth. DSC_0166The expanse of wood in this growth period shows in the growth rings and you will find the softer spring and summer growth say in softwoods such as pine and spruce, fir and so on, is generally softer on average so that the growth that took place either side of that faster growth might be as much as half the growth and the growth rings are much tighter and the discrepancy of hardness between the hard and softer aspect much less. DSC_0011Months or even years later, when, we are cutting our joints,this varied density can influence our decisions as we cut the dovetails. Interesting, I think. So, when we glue up we recognise problem areas resulting from the absorption of moisture from the glue. We also recognise that joints need a little lead in to stop grain from collapsing under the pressure. These are what we address in the films and it’s important when you have large multiples of dovetails all swelling at the same time.


As John Winter has been making his joints, I too have been making mine in the last toolbox we make in the actual filming of the project. He planes his joints and I plane mine. He kneels on the floor and straddles his box, or climbs atop the bench (health and safety freakout) whilst I work out my strategy on the benchtop and in the vise. His outside is more complex to plane whereas mine is much simpler. DSC_0020Pine is more prone to tear than are hardwoods like oak and mahogany, but we both get there and the boxes both are look good now as they near completion and the marks are all planed off. My dovetails were of course easier to work. In a couple of hours I was done and the glue up went quickly as we filmed them closing. Next we add the protective trim to the skirting and rim and this is an amazing transformation of rigidity to the overall. That’s the next filming session. In the meantime I have a six-day class starting on Monday. I’m looking forward to this as it’s already full of enthusiastic people wanting to learn.

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Categories: Hand Tools

Happy Thanksgiving USA!

Thu, 11/27/2014 - 10:37am

To my friends around the world but especially to the USA where I have spent so many happy years. This one really taxed my carving skills today!

DSC_0010I do hope that you all have a wonderfilled day with your families and friends everyone. It’s a US tradition it’s true, but its one I have enjoyed with my family for 26 years now too. Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

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Categories: Hand Tools

An Emerging Craftsman — John Winter

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 12:53am

DSC_0013 2The past couple of days are indelibly impressed in my inner being having watched John work on his toolbox to create something so uniquely him. There’s a saying we hear often, “You have to see it to believe,” but I might favour a slight shift and say, “It’s got to be seen to believe it.” His hands move so quickly now, deftly, responsively sensing the wood beneath the tool’s edge. He twists in minute degrees of realignment and the wood responds submissively to the pressures he flexes and suddenly a joint fits as he presses the two parts together. The hammer drives them deep until all the air between them is gone and so too the glue that presses out along the joining lines. I feel the weight of responsibility as I toss advise from my bench and then I step in close to tell him something no one else knows when they drive a wide array of dovetails together. DSC_0031I speak quietly of the method he knows nothing of. I tell him the two corners cannot unite with the tight tolerances he has perfected each tail and pin with, but there is a method, only one, we use that few will know anything of. We use it and the joints settle to perfection. I share this secret in the next video series on making a traditional joiner’s toolbox. It eliminates the inevitable glue freeze and corner fracture normally associated with so many dovetails in one lineup. All the way through John’s being here I have shared everything I know with him and I have watched him drive himself all the deeper into his working knowledge. I don’t believe this ends with wood or woodworking tools and his skills. He’s developed the deep and ever-deepening insights into a world craft and the art of craftwork alone holds.DSC_0053 2 I remember the day I too crossed the threshold of knowledge that somehow defies the academic and the analysis — the day I know I consciously and subconsciously possessed my craft and knew that no one and nothing could take away what I then understood. Being absorbed into the art of work, discovering the art in your craft being applied to all areas of your worklife, means there are no separations to piecemeal your creativity by the starts and stops of commerce. The machines and machinery of industrialism’s buzzers and whistle warnings, unions, employers, fellow employees and things that often subvert creation itself are all left behind. Discovering these things and living in them is a rare and marvellous way.


As the dovetails formed through many days, with spaces between bouts, a rhythm developed. It’s the rhythm of an uninterrupted confidence craftsmanship alone seems destined always to hold. A rhythmic pulse beats its steady beat in pace with each stroke the saw cuts  and severs and I see dovetails forming in the reflection of his eyes. DSC_0069The chequered contrast between the tan of oak and the brown mahogany spaced intermittently reminds me of how thankful I am for wood and woodlands and the forests that so richly reward us but, and all the more, watching as an emerging craftsman becomes ever creative with his own hands for me is icing on the cake.

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Categories: Hand Tools

More Sharpening Knife Notes

Tue, 11/25/2014 - 10:36am

From pocket knives to kitchen knives and just about any knife you care to name, a simple method to use is a piece of 3/4” piece of wood on the benchtop and an EZE-Lap diamond paddle.


DSC_0082By placing the knife on the piece of wood with the edge just overhanging the edge and placing the face of the diamond paddle on the knife edge you will near enough replicate the angle of the original primary bevel of the knife. For longer knives I add a strip of thin wood behind the knife using superglue to attach it. Then I butt the knife up against it to prevent it slipping as the knife has more leverage. Adding shelf liner helps with slippage too.DSC_0086Rubbing back and forth along the edge or using circular motions the bevel is established.DSC_0082 If you want a steeper bevel to add a secondary bevel to match the original Stanley secondary bevel, add a 5/16” shim and then use the same medium hone a superfine hone as shown.DSC_0016 Do the same to the opposite side and your knife is ready to use. For a fully honed edge strop on the leather using buffing compound.


These drawings should help understand.

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Categories: Hand Tools

Sharpen up!

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 1:36pm

Knives often seem problematic to many both in the holding of them at the right bevel angle and to maintain bevel angle consistency. I have made different types of guides and jigs for students to use because of this but generally freehand my own because it’s quicker and I can. With this jig we hold the knife rigid and move a paddle faced with a million diamonds to one or both sides of the bevel depending on preference. I have always double bevelled my knife because of course I’m used to it, but there really is no need for a double bevel to form the edge for the type of work we woodworkers do. A two-sided bevel means we angle the knife to compensate the bevel against a straightedge and develop a vertical knifewall. Dead simple. But you can simply have a single sided bevel, left or right, to suit dominance, and that will work well.DSC_0060

If the knife you have is mine, that’s the Stanley folding pocket knife, and it has two bevels, just sharpen up from one side as shown in this instructional. Forget the other side. Eventually the blade will be a single bevel on the one side and the combo of the flat face and the bevel will make a 30-degree bevel.


Mark a depth line 4 mill (1/8″) from one edge as shown and…


DSC_0037 DSC_0038 DSC_0039 DSC_0041… by marking the blade angle on the outer surface to guide the depth on both edges cut Cut to the lines to create the saw kerf to a similar angle just deep enough so that the blade pops out parallel to the edge as shown.


Use a fine dovetail saw to cut a kerf into the endgrain of a piece of wood 2” or so wide.


 The kerf should now hold the blade by the knife handle in the holder.


Bevel the edge with a shallow cut following the kerf to guide you. The angle should be shallow enough not to hinder the paddle we use to abrade with.


Cut the block to length.


Glue the block to a longer 2” wide block (I just used cheap superglue) and set a 30-degree angle to an finder and mark the angle onto the new block now called the carrier. The knife blade in place will help establish distance for the legalists who think it matters.

Cut the angle of 30-degrees with a tenon saw.


Anchor the carrier in the vise and slide the knife into the kerf held by the handle.

Place the paddle abrader onto the slope of the carriage and rub in a circular motion until a burr occurs along the edge opposite edge to the bevel you are abrading. Change paddles from coarse to fine and then onto the superfine paddle.


Once done the blade is good for any woodworking. Any burr will break off in the first cuts you make but you can always refine the cut further with a strop and buffing compound freehand if you wish.

This is the best system I know of and knife sharpening takes only seconds to develop. I am using the usual and preferred EZE-Lap paddles coarse, fine and superfine.

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Categories: Hand Tools

Nine Days of Working Wood

Sun, 11/23/2014 - 12:38am

Another class concludes today and then in another short week’s time I hold my last foundational course for this year. Nine more woodworkers are freed from the constraints of mass-making because they now know sharpness to levels they never knew before. Truth sets people free and when you know it you know it. When the bank tellers trains they only ever touch real notes. After months of handling good notes, a bum note touches their fingertips and it feels so slightly different but it’s enough to stop them. Looking at the note further the note looks and feels the same. You see inside they know what they know what they know and they cannot dent that something feels different. That’s the nature and reality of truth. No matter what, my students now know what sharp is. They’re free indeed and their newfound freedom is for a lifetime.DSC_0008

Class  finishes today

I have taught this class and other similar classes to over 5,000 new and seasoned woodworkers who came from worldwide destinations. That is, I have personally stood within a few feet of each of the 5000 persons I have taught. The course is mine. I developed it in its entirety and pushed it through to the point that it became the springboard into more advanced levels of woodworking where people began making their own boats, canoes, violins and cellos and guitars. Many became furniture makers in their own right. It’s provided the rite of passage from the unknown to the known, from the amatuer to the professional and most woodworkers I have known discover a whole world of real, and I mean real woodworking as opposed to simply machining wood.


This week has been a week of reflection for me. Reflecting on the woodworking culture and the work I do as a 65-year-old maker come January 4th 2015. The work I do has become so second nature to me that most things I do I do automatically and even without any conscious thought at all. In fact, thinking would for certain disrupt the fluidity of movement to my work and for sure the speed with which I generally work.  Mental gymnastics have no place in the measured steps I take throughout a given day and so This is what I pass on to my students working a short distance from me or standing and sitting around my bench as I work or teach or just chat.

DSC_0017This week was very inspirational for me. I think perhaps one of the most inspiring ever. Its not hard to put my finger on what it was. The full class of men seemed to know no barriers.  From day one they related to one another without the usual social fetters and competitive spirits I have always had to dismantle over the years. In some ways they seemed more like children in that they sponged up the information, asked genuine questions without allowing intimidation or self consciousness hinder them. The whole nine days have been pure harmony and personalities blended in seamless continuity every second of every day. Seeing the parts come together, I mean the joints mostly, and hearing the banter between benches, seeing them care for one another and the general repartee and such made me all the more grateful that we host these classes in my workshop.

DSC_0013Boxes and shelves and now tables are about done. Today we glue up the final parts and at mid afternoon most of the students will be done and probably ready to leave to be reunited with their normal life. By tonight they will have pretty much mastered the planes and chisels, saws and scrapers, spokeshaves  and much more sufficient to never feel ill-equipped again. I love this thought. The thought that they will for the rest of their lives be able to chop mortise and tenons and make near perfect dovetails with a handful of simple and inexpensive tools they can but and restore from eBay for under about £150. They will never be under the illusion presented by sales reps and catalogs again. They now know exactly what to takes to work wood. Their confidence levels are about a thousand time more than they were a few days ago and half of them I predict will become serious woodworkers and some may even earn their living from it sometime in the near  future. Imagine that. Now that’s success. Another thing I am grateful for and ever conscious of is that seven of them came from distant countries. Even language didn’t separate the camaraderie that permeated the days and evening we spent together.

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Categories: Hand Tools

Profit in Self-employed Woodworking?

Thu, 11/20/2014 - 3:24pm


I very much enjoy reading your blog Paul. I went to college to train as a furniture maker after I left school but was unable to find suitable work so re trained as a carpenter (don’t worry I don’t sharpen chisels with a belt sander) your blog is like a window into my dream job. I just can’t see how it could be possible I look on line for things that I could make in spare time , it just seems like there’s so little profit with the price of timber and a society that can’t tell the difference between Ikea or oak furniture land and craftsman made pieces . Any ideas ?


I think celebrate the freedom we have to live outside the box of educators and plan a career in spheres of creativity that actually defy many constrictive practices and extraneous input. Now we can move forward. Being self employed and in creativity also defies banks who treat you exactly the opposite and really don’t want you sitting on their office seat if you work as a woodworker. Anyway, being self employed  takes guts, critical thinking, risk, initiative, entrepreneurialism and generally these essentials don’t fit people that give up. Now I’m not saying you gave up so much as perhaps the time was wrong and now it’s more right than it was then. You won’t find many successful businessmen or women teaching in educational establishments because they were successful but because they were not successful. Same in schools too often. Those that found their sphere of creativity and became successful live in realms that have nothing to do with money or, more likely, money happens as a byproduct to lifestyle craftsmanship.  See, what banker hinges his bets on risk takers, free thinkers and those inspired by  people like PS. People occupying these creative spheres defy quantification and yet the business world is made up of a massive section politics and economics cannot quite ignore. Join the team and enter the world of small businesses.


Remember this as you look forward to your future. Many colleges and woodworking schools may have something small to offer, but its usually smaller than they make out. You’re convinced (by them and others around you) that they are the gateway to your future and it may be true to some level but not for the reasons they and you might think.  The qualification often doesn’t match the reality of real life and that’s probably in some measure what you discovered after going to college. You joined the ranks of many thousands and then you thought the problem was you or the circumstances. Fact is when you are young and inexperienced in life in the real working world of wood, which is not college, people, customers and businesses that might further engage take a lot of persuading to trust in you because they have very little to go off.

DSC_0194 Colleges and schools do indeed make promises that rarely pan out in actual jobs or career paths for furniture makers as far as I have seen over the past couple of decades. Like many sources of misinformation they flounder all the more as they rely on ancient models. It’s mostly about bums on seats I am afraid and you pay for it. Now, before you give up, this then leaves me with a lot of hope because if anything this gives us face to face reality for our situation.DSC_0187

I doubt that apprenticeships will ever return in the fulness they once did except when craftsmen and women find a space in their workshop to add in someone who they believe they can help. That’s what I and others have done for decades. Often of course, to do this, we have to work outside of our comfort zone because trainees often take too much of our time for very little return. Make no bones about this. As I said I doubt that apprenticeships will be as available as they were in my day, not without some radical transformation in global economics back to more sustainable local changes we can live and work in and with. Now there is something you can believe in.DSC_0272

I have always liked challenges and when I made my mind up to be a furniture maker making pieces I decided many things not the least of which was that it was my responsibility to find and educate my customers, not to sell them furniture like a salesman. Generally customers find us because they are already on the lookout for something we have. Sales is not a nice job for a creative crafting artisan.  I decided that years ago – decades. Soon, when you see you have a good product, you also see that there is no need to manipulate them or use any stories to bolster your case and that absolute honesty is essentially our responsibility too. We craftsmen and women should always make sure we have an honestly made product that never compromises forested lands resulting in deforestation, prices that are always just and fair, staff always paid appropriately according to skill levels and that the presentation of a finished item always represents appropriate quality according to price. My work always carries a lifetime guarantee that I will always repair a piece if the damage results from negligent workmanship or materials. I have never been back to a piece in 50 years that I can recall. I always stick to my estimates even when it costs me if it’s because of my own failure.DSC_0043

But above all of that, I have been a lifestyle woodworker as a furniture maker and woodturner and the emphasis here is lifestyle. Lifestyle for me means more than anything; that I came to a point where I chose to continue in my craft and that economics, social recognition, political movements and so on could not influence me to change. That means I no longer had the choice to do or be something else. I was going to make my craft work as a provision for me and my family even if that meant I would work twice as long for half as much as the expectations others might have as employees.DSC_0047

Though my life has changed somewhat over very recent years, 95% of my working life over a 50 year span has been as a producing craftsman. Even now I still make several pieces in any given month. My chosen and self imposed lifestyle of woodworking can always be applied to all crafts requiring skilled work as a lifestyles and this includes gardening for food and small animal husbandry, farming and market gardening. It’s not really to do with the costs of materials but educating our customers and elevating the meaning of craft so that they feel inclined to support a lifestyle.

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Categories: Hand Tools

The Rhythmic Pulse of Handwork – Not For Sale

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 2:45pm

DSC_0015The days pass fast with the class and already we are half way through with four days left. Last night we all ate Chinese at the Eastern Orient and today we completed the third project, so tomorrow it’s table making and all that that entails. The conversations we had were interesting. There is much soul searching for everyone because inside we all sense a lostness in our culture and it expresses itself with a definite search in the conversations for something we can identify as meaning. In many ways I feel contented with most aspects of who I am and what I do and this is because I found my calling early on in life. Others feel that too but not many. Perhaps as few as one in ten thousand people. Now even though I did answer the call in my mid teens, that doesn’t mean others didn’t influence me to forsake it or digress from it, but the strength of the call was indeed critical to my wellbeing and not just a sense of wellbeing. I always returned to my craft as a working artisan.


There is nothing wrong with lamenting that losses we know have taken place, but we must then seek to fill the empty place, the space of occupation, with whatever matters to us. With that which means something to us. You see, that’s what craftsmanship and craft work is. It’s not something just mere, it’s substance and meaning – substantial and meaningful.

DSC_0052John’s tool chest is going well with many finely cut dovetails in oak and mahogany from secondhand furniture pieces. The mahogany is stunningly rich and dark and I see why furniture makers loved working it so much. Watching John’s progress has been so rewarding for me. His skills and confidence are stronger now and he’s unwavering in every cut he makes. The saws and chisels glide through the wood it’s true, but it’s more than that. He never pretends at all, which is what’s refreshing in this day and age. Not needing to prove himself to anyone makes him such a free artisan. Realness is a gift you see. You don’t need to pick through things when friends are open with you, and that’s what has been so refreshing having him here. DSC_0010I sat watching John as I worked from my own bench. He cut dovetails as I cut mine. Atmospheric synchrony between workmen became common to me and I still own that right and will until I can no longer work the way I do. How you explain such a thing to machinists or people who only punch keyboards is not possible without tools and a workshop and a bench and other workers working on their benchwork. Is it some kind of rite of passage? Absolutely. DSC_0002There’s a rhythmic pulse to such work and a resonance many, no, most, will never know unless we take hold of things to make change. It’s a sort of private communion unshared in our new age of pretence and pretend, simulated virtuality and CNC guided mechanisms that so systematically destroy what we’ve felt throughout the last few days. You see I’m conditioned by what I describe, I’m conditioned to it and it’s a condition I truly love to be surrounded in because it has depth and meaning to me. It was woven and knitted into the very fibre of my being before anyone knew what my DNA was or that it even existed. As long as I pass it on two the ensuing generations I will never cease to hear it, to see it or to feel, smell and taste it. You can’t can it. bottle it, but it or sell it. It’s priceless.DSC_0027

Herein is rhyme, reason and rhythm.

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Categories: Hand Tools

Using Your New Timber Dogs

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 2:27pm

To use the dogs

By preparing the edges in the usual manner of two boards side by side and face to face in the vise, plane the edges jointly.


You can create a long but very shallow camber, a slight taper from the centre to one outer edge, or two straight edges in readiness for glue up. Hollows don’t work with timber dogs alone but you can add a clamp or two to the centre section and still save on clamps.DSC_0123

With the edges prepped according to desire, glue along one edge.


Now start the dog on one side piece, squeeze the edge together near to the end and penetrate the opposite piece with the other pin. DSC_0126Drive the dog into the wood. The pressure from the driven dog will open the opposite end considerably but hand pressure readily pulls the two parted pieces back together.DSC_0124

Turn end for end and start the second dog in the same way.


Pull the adjacent board close and start the second end of the dog. Place on the edge of the bench and tighten the dog, alternating end to end until the joint fully closes.


Leave to dry until the glue is cured.

More on using them tomorrow.

The post Using Your New Timber Dogs appeared first on Paul Sellers' Blog.

Categories: Hand Tools

Making Your Own Timber Dogs

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 9:04am

DSC_0009They are not really used much any more but at one time they were a mainstay in the workshop of many woodworking trades ranging from boatbuilders to furniture makers and joiners to coopers. That said, they are very handy to have around and well worth making half a dozen.
Some timber dogs were 2 feet long and some as small as 3/4”. Mostly they were blacksmith made, but now the trade is not generally available to us so we can make our own from flat bar stock as I show here.


The best use of the dogs is to glue up boards and use the dogs to apply pressure from both ends of the boards. This transfers pressure along the glue line. Generally, though not always, we make an allowance to compensate for the material we lose in leaving holes in the endgrain. That’s when the end grain will be visible after construction is completed. The picture below shows what I mean.


In a previous blog I showed how these dogs worked best if there was a slight camber to one or both meeting edges of the boards being jointed. It doesn’t need to be a camber but just a shaving to give a taper along the edge of one or both board edges. Either way works fine.

If you are concerned about end grain shrinkage on the outer edges along the edge grain then I wouldn’t unless you are using green wood or wood that has a higher moisture content than you should be using. If the wood shrinks at the ends faster than the mid section can release its moisture it can cause an issue, but, as said, this is usually the result of inadequate drying or seasoning in the first place. When moisture levels are around say 8-12% there should be no issue. Conversely, if moisture intake at the ends is heightened because of location, kitchen or bathroom, a hollow along the joint line can certainly cause issues as the mid section can’t absorb moisture as fast as the ends. Whichever way you go, remember to advise your customer or the recipient of the piece not to leave the piece near to a heat source which can also mean a window in full sun, heating radiators and fire stoves and hot air blowers for central heating.

Making the dogs

To make the dogs I used some O1 steel, but mild steel will work fine. In my case I made the dogs from 3mm x 25mm x 62mm (1/8” x 1” x 2 1/2”) long rolled bar stock.


I laid out my cut lines on the bar before cutting to length. That way I have the extra length for holding on to for the bulk of the work. The scriber in the end of the stock of the combination square works well, but you can use any sharp steel point. I also used a marking gauge for the long depth line, to keep me parallel.


The drawing above gives my recommended cut lines. Notice that they don’t come to a point as yet. I draw out the tips between two hammer heads but make sure you take safety precautions such as safety glasses.

Sequence for layout lines.

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I used a centre punch to pinpoint the position of drilled holes to the two internal corners.

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I used a 5mm (3/16”) twist drill to drill out the corners.


I first used a junior hacksaw to cut along the angled pins.


I used a coping saw to turn the corner.


I then cut out more waste to facilitate the extra width of the hacksaw blade…


…and cut along the length with the hacksaw again.


DSC_0052I removed another section to facilitate the hacksaw blade.

DSC_0053To neaten up my cuts (not actually necessary for functionality) I used a smooth flat file to all hacksawn surfaces.

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I drew out the steel points from both outside faces and the inside edge of the pins. They don’t really need to be sharp. Thats up to you.

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Drawing out lengthens the pins by 1/8″.


You can forget the drawing out and file to a near point if you prefer to.

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Categories: Hand Tools


by Dr. Radut