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The Woodworking Blogs Aggregator
This "aggregator" collects all of the woodworking blogs I read every day - or try to anyway! Enjoy!
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I filed scrapers today, preparing for new work this coming week. I generally sharpen four at once because they get hot and I never liked anything but my fingers, thumbs and the heels of my hands on the steel. They get hot on large surfaces like tabletops so with 16 cutting edges to work with I can rotate them corner for corner and one for the next and my hands keep cool. Cabinet scrapers are different tools that work well but less sensitive and better suite to heavier work and for keeping closer tolerances of surface flatness. Mostly I like using the cabinet scraper for heavier cuts too, even though it works well for closer, refined work when newly sharpened. I like sensing the cutting edge in response to the grain changing beneath the turned edge. I shift to refine my movements second by second, and trace the side of my hand on the surface to guide me according to textures I feel. Here I lift and lower the angle in search of cuts that shift according to the grain. The cuts slice and resist by degrees and I flex with the sensing of change. How diverse this thing called grain but without the scraper I would always be lost because when bevel ups and bevel downs lose it the scraper surely cools it.
In case you are still searching for good flat files of quality I wanted to tell you about quality files I have used on and off for years now. Nope, don’t wind me up, their not Nicholson any more. They are pretty bad as files go—about the worst, and well past their sell-by date these days. I use Bahco files mostly because after Nicholson sold out on the US and stopped making files of lasting quality I went back to European Oberg files. Nicholson used to be almost as good until recent years. For scrapers I use files with 40-44 teeth per inch or there abouts, 10” and 12” long by Bahco Oberg. I think that they are wonderful. I sharpened hard scrapers and softer ones in the four I did today and the Bahco files I used never faltered one bit. I filed square across and then draw-filed and those spirals just peeled off like ribbons in long spirals, leaving almost no burr.Three strokes per edge and I peeled down to 16 pristine square corners in under a few minutes. I like Bahco files because they are made by a Portugese Company and certainly have proven one of the best file manufacturers in Europe. The files are hard and flat. Two good qualities needed for filing scrapers.
There’s not much to this really, and yet there is.
Tomorrow Lea (pronounced Leah) will leave us for the fourth time. She made several things including an unusual replication of the 19th century splay lagged table we made on woodworking masterclasses last year. I think all in all she has been with us for three months now so that’s quite a concentrated period of solid making time. When she returns she will stop in to see her parents in Prague and I said it will be nice that she can show her mother what she made. She said, “Yes, but she will say, ‘Why woodwork?’” Leah smiles at me and then quotes her mother further. “Isn’t woodwork for men?’ ” I’m sure there is significance in the question, but I have learned all too often that people assume one thing when it can be entirely another.
The month has passed quickly for all of us and having Lea here has been wholly enjoyable and it’s because I know for me it’s been because I see something in Lea that may not be obvious to Lea’s mother. I’ve been mentoring Lea through three or four projects this visit. I watched her finish her table, and it’s got complexities in it’s constructs that defy more modern methods. As she worked I saw not only examples of her very fine workmanship; some of the best I’ve seen really, but the hidden beauty of pure resoluteness. What she has is essential to craftsmanship and I think the assumption is that woodworking requires more heavy handedness perhaps more typical of carpentry and joinery whereas Lea worked the whole time with very careful consideration for all that she did. she worked with gentleness and care with firmness and diligence, patience and kindliness. Her thoughtfulness and total attention meant mistakes were almost none. These are characteristics she’d developed by her own personality of self-discipline; characteristics I see but all too rarely in a power-driven world that’s so distorted the face of real craftsmanship. What I liked too is that she would apply the same care and concern to timber-framing, joinery and heavier areas of woodworking. She’s that type of woodworker you see. Anyway, it’s been very fine having her with us.
I asked Sam to stay on for a year or so with us. He said he could and he would. He too shares the same characteristics as Lea does. I will show you what they’ve made soon. Currently he’s making his workbench. It’s a rite of passage for every woodworker.
Phil and I are of course together every day as we work alongside one another most of the time. I think I know I speak for him when I say our lives have been all the more enriched by these two young people.
Short post today.
Sam was coming to us for the month of March, only a week or so left already, but now he will be staying on at the end of the month. I invited him to pursue his training with us as we have empty benches between classes. Tomorrow we’re picking up wood for him to start his 9th project, building his first workbench. I’ll keep you posted over the coming year. Might film some of it too. So, yet another new maker on his way.
I write about hand methods of woodworking and have done so for two decades and more. I started to write about it because it seemed to me something in that era lacked the dynamism I experienced in my daily work and life designing and making. Change to me seemed a long way off, dauntingly impossible if I’m truthful. It seemed then that all of the magazines I wrote for advertised machines on every other page and my articles were lost. Little did I know people would like the counterculture. Other articles used mostly machines for the work. Routed dovetails and dadoes, jigs to guide wood over cutterheads and blades took up most pages and there I was again sandwiched somewhere I had no control over. Things have changed a little. I thought this might give some background to help those more recent to woodworking understand the demise I saw facing my craft. The internet for me was still a decade away. Magazines dominated back then. There wasn’t much of an alternative at all. I started to teach workshops at Woodcraft in San Antonio Texas, to expand the work and reach out to others. Some of you were there. Tool swap meets were another outlet to reach through and of course the New Legacy School of Woodworking is thriving now. The schedule is mostly up and we have but 50-60 spaces only this year. They are going quite quickly already.
When others draw comparisons with what I teach and write about with machine work, I like it. I like to look and think through what they say because it stimulates thought, yes, but it’s also good to get their take on things. I think other perspectives broaden our horizons. When it comes to machine versus hand tool methods I think I’ve thought long enough and hard enough to know what I really feel these days. If you haven’t really mastered woodworking hand skill, I think it might be less likely that everyone can fully understand the feelings I might speak of in blog posts, articles and videos. Some will, not everyone though.
In my work I use machines a little, much less than most full-time woodworkers. The smallest fraction of time if I’m honest. I think it’s always been that way. I know hand tools of every type inside out. I know machines just as well too. I’ve stripped both down to the bare bones and rebuilt them throughout my life. I like both, but hand tools I have found to be the most freeing in my work. It’s unlikely now that I would ever use a router to make a dovetail. never have and never will. I know, never say never. I doubt I will ever use a tablesaw and dado stack to cut housing dadoes either. These methods seem a bit primitive to me now for some reason. Overkill too. You see this is how I feel and not everyone feels the same way. This has nothing to do with my age. It’s to do with my choices.
People see some of my writings and miss my emphasis to dismantle the decades I might consider more an abuse my craft has suffered.
Three times this week people told to me that machine woodworking and hand tool woodworking were just different ways for working wood; two opposite sides of the same coin, if you will. I’m not altogether sure whether they or I understand what that means, but generally this means that two things are so closely aligned or similar to one another with only minimal difference. Often I have heard this through the years and people actually mean something quite different when they say it. Perhaps more that one way is as good as another and we’re really talking about the same thing at the end of the day. I think to myself, quietly, we’re actually not closely allied or aligned at all. I think that maybe some want to believe that a 12” circular saw blade with 80 tungsten carbide tips replete with expansion relief cuts spinning at 3,000 rpm is the same as a handsaw with 200 teeth, but for the life of me I see these as complete opposites entirely. So too that a Stanley hand plane is the same as 20” planer-jointer with a 3-HP motor. They may feel that they are as safe with these pieces of equipment as I am with the saw and plane, but they’re not. No matter how you slice it, they are not flip sides of the same coin.
I don’t think I have ever said that machines are bad, useless, unnecessary or should never be used. I have said that for certain groups, massive groups, the majority of people wanting to work with wood in fact, they are intimidating and should be intimidating and that they are highly invasive, intrusive, noisy, dirty and most often for most woodworkers, unseemly and generally totally unnecessary. Not only that, I’ve proved it.
First of all I think it’s important to identify who woodworkers are and what woodworkers are. Often enough I read and hear that these two coin faces are the same as a journey and the thought is quite nice although rather simplistic to me. On the one hand you drive from A to B by car and arrive there in quick time, dry, comfortably warm and fresh. On the other hand you can walk, smell the flowers, stop when you want and take in the views. You may get wet or cold, ache from time to time but of course that’s all part of the experience. You will also take 20 to 30 time longer to cover the same ground but, hey, more experience is good. But the two are not the same journey even if they go on the same roads and pass the same scenes.
I thought about this seriously and wanted to get back to anyone who has expressed these differences in this way about working wood versus machine operating. I concluded this. Professional carpenters and even furniture makers must mostly use machines and work within the limits of those machines to be efficient and constructive with parameters surrounding costs. They gotta pay the bills. That’s a group we generally call professional woodworkers. On another sphere are people who do not work wood for a living. This is the majority shareholder in the world of woodworking in the west at least. This group massively outnumbers the professional group hundreds to one. This group actually wants to work wood because it finds the whole experience fulfilling, uplifting, rewarding aspirational, inspirational. This is the group I reached out to decades ago and today see emerging as the core element of who I personally do what I do for. This massive group wants to understand the traditions of hand work in woodworking and is prepared to fully invest immersively in everything to make that happen. I love that this is happening and an increasing level every day. It’s an amazing thing that today we are able to help woodworkers learn to master skills not just by the handful any more but by the thousands if not the hundreds of thousands. I love the fact that it matters so much to so many who now feel just the same way I have throughout my life.
When I first started to express my concerns about the demise I saw, magazines were the only outlets by which to make change. The magazines were somewhat hamstrung and unable to truly express any views with much real potency because they were paid by the advertisers and advertisers then and now are predominantly selling machines. Thankfully the articles on hand woodworking gained more and more ground and a steady number of people started to seek out what we were declaring and proving worked. It wasn’t just me, lots of others got on board too. Today, judging by the hundreds upon hundreds of emails and comments and messages I get, people now understand fully that when we talk about machine woodworking we are identifying a highly sophisticated industrial process developed for mass manufacturing. We identify a strategy that’s intended to present machine woodworking as a modern and safe system for domestic use. There isn’t too much focus on the dangers that the processing of material is in the scheme of things.
On another front, it has been refreshing to see how the internet has opened new horizons for the little fish to replace magazines to become the discussion groups and forums on each continent and in each language around the world. Now we get the real philosophy surrounding these diversely different worlds. Yes you must pick through the advertising and such, but then you find a gem and you follow it.
Trying to draw a parallel between the two worlds often shows a more modern view but rarely shows just how distorted perspectives have become. As I said, when I started out on this path it wasn’t really intentional until I saw the intent of the machine makers and mags and then I made it my intentional path to redress those imbalances I encountered. To do that I decided to speak one language only until others learned the language too. Hand tools became my way of connecting with those lost in the more of machine speak. It worked, it’s working and it will always work. Now i am not on my own (I never was really, it just felt like it most of the time). This secured my tenure and people that once wrongly thought my views were against machines started to listen and listen all the more. When people come to the school and see a machined stack of wood they are surprised to hear I have a full machine shop to machine the 500 pieces they see on the bench tops. If I turn on a bandsaw or use a drill driver they make noises as though I have some hidden closet issues, but that’s more because they don’t really associate me with machines. A brief explanation of finding the balance clears everything.
Back to something I said a little earlier. Through the years I discovered that there are indeed different camps, different perspectives and different intentions. Through the early decades of the last century amateurs were distinguished from professionals by the fact that amateurs used more hand tools and took their time to work the wood at weekends because the process was therapeutic, relaxing and an alternative to an otherwise stressful or boring life. Machines were made for industry and workers on machines were known as machinists back then. Something started happening in the 60s where machine manufacturers came out with scaled down models of industrial machines that suited the new home workshops. Mostly this was an American thing, but still highly influential. TV workshops came on the scene and increased people’s confidence enough to take up machine only methods of working wood. They saw now that they could create things without developing the kind of skills necessary for hand work. TV once again had a powerful influence that for decades showed the more modern way and people embraced the machines fully. This then left young people out of the workshop, but we are seeing change come. Suddenly machines had space allocated to them. A massive footprint not commonly available to most living in apartments and small houses, inner cities and high rises. These people too had a penchant to learn woodworking and of course what was available mostly was the New Yankee Workshop with PBS. Did it damage the face of woodworking. Well, perhaps it did and perhaps it didn’t. What it did was whet the appetite for people to get out there and do it themselves. It became something of a stepping stone. Yes, the big machine names were the backers but at least people saw wood being worked. Through the last two decades we saw new doors opening whereby people like myself could reach the new audience previously unattainable. Today we are seeing the resurgence I at one time could only dreamed might happen. I think it’s reaching out like this that we take back lost ground bit by bit. Please join us and tell your friends what you’ve discovered for today’s woodworker. get the youngsters out there with you. Let them join you in becoming a real woodworker in a real woodworking world doing real woodworking with your hands. You will never regret it. Its progressive, it’s real and it’s real power-tool woodworking at its best when you use your own hands, your own renewable energy custom matched to your own energy needs.
Apprenticing people in the way I do means periodic critiquing; I mean several times in any given day. That’s how we grow. Understand that my way of modern-day apprenticing is to take people in and give them a month of my time, or a year of my time or indeed whatever it takes. Generally I perform my own tasks whether that’s designing and making, writing and filming or whatever. That’s a given and a must. Most often they have already gone through a course, be that a short two-day or a longer one. This is usually how we get to know one another, but not always.
If there is a sense of wanting to become a serious woodworker whereby these young people want to make their living from woodworking or at least have some educated stab at it, it usually shows by some level of intenseness. They never stop asking questions, are always looking around at the tools and equipment. They usually need no prodding and they get on with their work and dismiss any distractions. Whereas once they come in for a month at my inviting or their requesting, it is important that I know them first. At least as well as I can.
I don’t charge for this but neither do they get paid either. I train them by their making projects and spend about an hour or two with them when we discuss work, talk about design, motivation, historical perspectives, contrasting machine work with woodwork and try to dismantle the fact that people constantly try to make them one and the same, a flip side of the same coin or whatever, when the two are not really related at all. At best they are very, very distant cousins. I mean, a 3-phase, 2 HP tablesaw with 60 tooth tungsten carbide circular saw blade has absolutely no relationship to a Henry Disston handsaw with 8TPI, no motor and can be resharpened with 6″ extra slim tapered triangular saw file. So, it really works just fine. This is what they asked me for and this is what will give them skill. They grow, live, blossom and they fall in love with their chosen craft. Lifestyle begins to flourish and they start to see that this is an alternative reality. Lea (pronounced Leah) is not intimidated by anything. She feels in control and it costs her loss of earnings to be here. Her work is clean, precise and excellent. So far she has made a rocking chair and my lift up lid tool chest with drawers (Like mine below), not the recent toolbox build, which is much simpler, the complex one with raised panels, half-lap dovetails and so on. She has made a coffee table too. She is currently making the splay legged mahogany table we made two months back on woodworking masterclasses and a wall clock in oak. Oh and she’s managed to slip in some small kitchen projects and the foot stool too. In a couple of weeks time she will return to Slovakia, but she’s planning another stopover for a month later in the year.
You see how it works is I give my days and my shop to these young people if and when I can. They settle in and work without slacking. It puts the brakes on life for them as they explore avenues that are not available anywhere else in the culture we live in. Many of you are now supporting this with contributions to us. We take that money and apply it to these lives. We have in the past always given classes to people to help them experience what they might otherwise never experience. That means that no one is left out because of financial constraints. I started this when I first began teaching these beginner classes in 1995, so for every 8 paying students we give 2 away. No one knows who they are. Sometimes they pay part or the materials if they can or want to. Sometimes there are not applicants.
I’ll talk about Sam’s work in another blog. Today we get together to go to the car boot sale before we work at the castle. Yes. it’s a six-day week. I’ve never worked a five day week in my life.
This first week of training for Lea and Sam moved along at lightning speed and they have several training projects under their belts already. it’s going to be interesting to see just what we can get done throughout this month. I’m still encouraged that this kind of less formal ‘work to change’ strategy is about the best thing we can do to help others become crafting artisans in their own right. We have taken what we’ve learned doing this over the past 20 years and applied to our online work and of course that’s working wonderfully well too. I had a lovely and encouraging letter (email) from a couple in the Himalayan mountains building their own home who are learning from us online and through YouTube. More and more people are dragging out their dad’s and granddad’s toolboxes from storage than ever and finding an old #4 they can restore and use and they’re doing it very successfully too. I really never expected to see over a million views in any given month but it’s a work-to-change experience for everyone. A couple of years ago I used to talk about Real Woodworking being a campaign to get people doing it in more real and tangible ways and less by substitute methods like machine only stuff.The shops quiet and I hear banter and laughs go back and forth between benches.
A few got offended and of course I wasn’t ever saying machines don’t have a place. More that they are highly dangerous, highly intimidating and they take the most massive of mostly unnecessary footprints that will preclude 90% of people from doing it that way. I felt then and now that many people were left outside the workshop because of machines and I also said, “Rightly so.” I wouldn’t have wanted my kids on the other side of a tablesaw or working a chopsaw. It was amazing how many wanted to kick out because of my saying youngsters shouldn’t be near machines or in an environment of machines because of the hazards of machines. Some wrote and said they let their kids use machines from 13 years old. In one year alone I saw a man, a friend from Fort Worth, slice all four fingers clean off on a tablesaw. The other inadvertently trailed his fingers on the end of a board as it passed over the jointer and he too lost three fingers to the second knuckle to the jointer. Just momentary lapses.OK. I know, some of you out there will be right in saying she should be wearing safety glasses. But it is her choice.
I use machines and have done so for 50 years. I know as much about them as I do hand tools and I like them too; they help me from time to time. All I can say is this; all, ALL, woodworking machines are handy and the are ALL fully charged with danger. And what about so called power tools? Well, I have seen enough gnarled fingers from routers to last me a lifetime, but what of such things as drill/drivers? One time a guy caught his thumbnail with a 3/32” drill bit in the battery driven drill/driver. It was only a 14V. The bit caught the nail and pulled the thumb all the way up onto the bit and went all the way through the thumb. Ever had an airmail go in and do a U-turn back out following the grain and into the back of your hand? I used a drill one time that caught in my shirt at the belly and pulled itself in a spin wrapping itself in the shirt until it hit me full in the face and knocked me to the floor with a broken, very bloody, nose. The customer ran upstairs, saw the blood and passed out. Things go wrong with hand tools too, but in my experience, the main difference between a power saw and a handsaw is that when you slip with the handsaw and catch your finger you always stop before you get through the bone.Does he need a dust mask and hearing protection? In some factories they wear chain-mail gloves to protect the hands from bandsaw blades and such. Once you develop real hand skills your work goes faster and you can produce some things, many things, faster than by machine. This works really well when your customers want hand made.
So here in the shop I have a couple of drill-drivers (screw guns), a bandsaw and an extractor and we get on with our ‘work-for-change’. We reach hundreds of thousands around the world who are discovering and rediscovering real woodworking and the Real Woodworking Campaign is of course thriving in the lives of hundreds of thousands now. Those who do get to spend time extra in my workshop with me and Phil know it’s a privilege and they work all the more diligently to become. What they struggle with, we see and guide them through till they come out the other side with some degree of success. The first week has gone really well. We will see what happens in the upcoming week and keep you posted.No machines to make these, no lathe, no router, no noise and no dust masks no ear protection. We talked to each other all day long and every day.
It’s not always easy to accept dings in your work from things like bench dogs and bench stops when the work is pretty much done. There are times when you may not have the luxury of allowing for the possibility of damaging your wood with the prongs too. The pointed prongs might also prevent you from surface planing say a frame with finished outer edges, things like that. An addition I made to the bench provides a buffer that prevents any such digging in and works really well. It’s obviously simple to make, but the steps will guide you anyway.
I raised the prongs from their flush-to-the-bench position and then marked a piece of oak (any wood will work) for the height and width as shown directly from the stop.
I used a 1/4” chisel to get the mortise width.
You can cinch the stop down onto the mortise wall if you want to.
The stop works well square but you may want to plane it slightly out of square so the top edge of the block touches the wood being worked first.
If you are like me and you like to keep the plane registered on both forward and reverse strokes, place a piece of shelf liner between the work and the bench top. This works pretty well most of time.
Over the weekend I installed a new bench stop to my workbench. We had these on the benches when I was a youngster and they worked well. I was glad to see they were still being made though and so I thought I might use one from time to time.
They are quick and easy to install although on the package they say they are to be used in conjunction with a vise dog, but though they can, that wasn’t they way they were intended for use. Bench stops were always placed somewhere near the corner of the bench according to left or right handed use. I installed mine to the left of my vise when I am standing facing the vice. That means as a right-hand dominant person the planing hand is over the bench pushing from my right hand and I have the full length of my bench for supporting the material on the benchtop.
and then recessed the various depths by using the square to guide me after setting the depth to the two different levels.
I refined the recess with the router plane to make it solid and a hair below flush with the benchtop.
The stop allows access inside for screwing it down into the recess.
Once installed it’s a solid stop to plane against but make an allowance for removing any indents in the end grain where it matters.
Oh, I bought the stop from C W Tyzak via eBay for £10.
I held my first class 25 years ago this month in Kerrville, Texas for the Texas Arts and Crafts Council at Steiner University. Five years later I had developed a program that subsequently trained over 5,500 individuals from around the world. Seeing what was missing in our modern world, it became a life quest to establish a viable working program for today’s woodworker, taking into consideration that cultural shifts have redefined what woodworking craft training is. I stepped outside of the mainstream and defied everyone who back then said it wouldn’t work and that it couldn’t work. I wrote articles for half a dozen magazines totally about hand tool woodworking back then and before I knew it we were teaching thousands of woodworkers online and face to face. It’s hard to measure success, and not put a pound or a dollar sign on it, because people often can’t step outside of the paradigm of using money as the only means of gauging a successful venture, but I measure it by how satisfied I feel in my knowing that thousands of people have developed skills they once never thought possible and only dreamed of at best. I gauge whatever success I have gained from the emails we get, emails that say how much we’ve changed the lives of those who write.
Through the classes at New Legacy, people who often picked up a woodworking tool for the first time in their lives end up making this Craftsman-style rocking chair from scratch. These photographs are of of the chair are of students work not mine. This one above is of a man who had only that.
They cut over 40 hand cut mortises and fit each of the tenons by hand. They hand plane every surface and shape the curved surfaces with spokeshaves and scrapers and then they upholster the seat in leather. They do it, not me. This is one of our follow up courses after completing the nine-day Foundational Woodworking Course. Imagine if you will that you never saw a saw or plane in your life and you sit in a chair like this after only 18 days of working wood; that you made it yourself using only your hands and and a handful of hand tools. Then imagine facing you is a dovetailed box, and a wall shelf and an oak table, all of which trained you to make the chair.
I am often asked why I do what I do.
That is why do I write, teach, make furniture, film all of these things that now surround me that mean so much to me, but also to others too. Some years ago I began to see what life was like growing your own food and raising chickens for eggs and meat and using this to teach and train my children the responsibilities of life. My first vegetable patch in 1991 was 3 feet by 10 feet long and soon doubled in size after we harvested our first tomatoes, onions and potatoes. We added squash and salad foods and before long, within a couple of years, we harvested from 80 tomato plants and three 80-foot rows of potatoes. Squash and string beans, cucumbers and peas where just a few of the fruits of our labours. With fresh eggs from 30 chickens and the meat from chickens we raised too, we edged ever closer to a simpler life and a transforming attitude toward the food we ate. The baby steps we took in the beginning were critical to better understand the seasons and cycles of gardening. Miss some things by one day and a crop could be lost, too late, too dry and too much work to lose. Working within the seasons and the times that don’t belong to us became ever important even though a supermarket was but a few miles away. Yes, we could of course buy the food a failed crop might not yield, but the sense of defeat would be ever-present at the check out register. Doing such things yourself, DIY, if you take more to the reliance on growing the essentials of life rather than just the hobby level, declares a deeper quest for more the reality than a mere pastime. I came to a realisation then that this attitude of dependency could also be applied to other areas of life not the least of which was the life I was already living as a craftsman in wood. My work was a lifestyle of woodworking upon which my whole family depended on what I made to sell. And even though it was indeed a business, I knew that I saw my work differently than most anyone I knew and also of the men I ever worked with. I knew though that some of them, no more than two or three, did feel the same way I did. Like me they stopped now and then to look at the chisel slicing inside the wood, allowing the colours and the smells and the sights and the textures time to register in some channel of the brain and then to lock it there for some measure of deeper comfort. On the other hand there were the men I worked with who somehow managed to bruise life itself. Coarseness coursed through their veins and all that they did seemed to come from the face of a hammer with each hammer blow registered in every face of the wood they touched. The miscuts they made with saws and chisels were too many to number and the atmosphere surrounding them seemed always charged with anxiety and stress. Another small group of misfits were the non carers. These were the ones that were good at the work they did but they could take it or leave it. Living only for the weekends, television in the evenings and so on, by the time they were 50 they were already semiretired and had lost interest in any future work that to me grabbed my attention and my vision.
When I first began to teach and train others it came a long time before offering classes on a more structured level. I took in the waifs and strays along the way and worked with them to teach them an alternative reality. Mostly they stayed for a couple of years and built up their skills. Once skilled enough they left to set up their own shops with my encouragement and the craft I passed on to them was a passport to a new and self sustaining life of their own. They left and began selling their work. They built their own shops and sold similar pieces to mine, used my designs until they could design their own and became independent in their own right. For some though it became more the pursuit of wealth and prosperity rather than the simpler lifestyle I preferred. What they learned to do with their hands and became good at they adapted to the machine and became the slave to. It wasn’t that they couldn’t make a decent living from hand work but that somewhere along the way the quest for money became all the more important. It’s a funny thing though because it seemed to me they were never satisfied; they never quite made enough.
You see, seeing the different associations and relationships that people partner with, what inevitably happens is the money becomes central, even takes over, and we leave the lifestyle bit, the real bit, the important bit behind. Soon that translates into dust masks and dust extractors, ear protection and supply and demand. Competitiveness becomes the driving force and before long we find our love for working wood diminished. Though sometimes I failed, I have always avoided this because when you can’t stop, when your breath becomes shallow, when your heart loses its rhythm, when you can’t think for yourself, well, you soon lose the very reason you began woodworking for in the beginning.
There are those who do everything for money, right from the get go. They think of nothing else and measure their success by how much they make in a year and not the lifestyle they live. Mostly they’re people who sell things all the time. What they make is nothing more than what they sell. Nothing wrong with that, but that’s different than the way of life I chose. The reason I do what I do is to help people to add a dynamic to their lives they otherwise might not find. It’s lifestyle part- or full-time and it’s working.
I think it’s true that not everyone can make a living from woodworking, but you know, they can gain the skills that far surpass those of many calling themselves masters and time served. Most of those who follow my blog and my videos, those who write me every day, tell me that their love for woodworking transformed their lives when they began working with hand tools. I knew it would. Those that come to the woodworking school from all around the world are told in the first hour that my goal, my ambition, is to change their lives. I think that 90% plus of them let me know during or after the class that their lives have been changed. Now that I am the age that I am, I measure my success differently. Pulling people off the conveyor belt called life even for a small amount of time has become all the more important. Even this blog has totally changed thousands of people’s lives. People I have never met and never will.
So this morning, in a few short hours, when I wake up I will be thinking of you all. I will meet Sam and Lea and they will make yet another new project to stretch them and expand them. This will be Sam’s sixth in four days and Lea’s, well I have lost track. She has made a tool chest and a coffee table and a rocking chair already. Their lives are being transformed by renewing the way they think. I think this is close to stupendous. I love watching them grow, listening to their questions just as I did my children through their early life in the shop with me every day for two decades. It never stops when you have a burden.
Some time back I wrote a blog on using spring joints for edge joining boards for laminated tops like panels and tables. In that article I showed how to make and use joinery dogs or nail dogs for an alternative method when clamps are scarce. They work amazingly and often better than clamps too.
Here is the video
Sliding bevels can be had on eBay as easy as wink and I have been testing them out for a while. I pretty much know which ones work well but I wanted some up to date info on ones available. The first ones I chose to purchase appeared to look fine; models you might buy on appearance or by a reputable name.
One thing I think is most important is that once the locking mechanism is locked down it should indeed truly lock. If sliding bevels means slipping and shifting beams then that can translate into inaccurate cut and pencil lines and then there’s the risk in transferring angles from one critical point to another.
The first thing I look for in using a sliding bevel is a lock mechanism within itself that requires no second part to cinch everything down. I bought the two shown top right because I thought these might satisfy my requirement. The first one I tried was the Bahco sliding bevel. I was surprised that this tool was made in China first of all. The tool looked solidly built and i slipped the beam back and forth and locked it via the mechanism expecting it to make the beam totally immovable. Not the case at all. What I always wonder, especially with reputable makers, is how they can allow a product to come into the hands of a consumer that simply doesn’t work. I mean why risk their reputation on such incompetence when the product they are having made could actually be made to work in the first place.
I did have high hopes for this one, one because of the price and the other because of the name of the maker. I set the angle and twisted the thumbscrew pinched the beam and it shifted with hardly any pressure at all. I tried many times and even with my strong fingers and thumbs could not lock the beam to the stock. Finally I took a spoon handle inside and realised I was doing the very thing I wanted to avoid and introduced a second entity. The extra leverage made almost no difference. The beam shift was just too soft, too easy and too much. I know it should work and other similar looking products do work, but it doesn’t work well at all.
The second sliding bevel was a third of the price at just over £4 with free shipping and taxes included. This one has a knurled nut lock down that’s made from stainless steel like the Bahco but the stock is made from hardwood that looks like and could be rosewood and stainless steel fitments. The beam has both metric and imperial measurements for measuring and all seemed to be acceptably made until I cinched the setscrew tight and lo and behold it seems about the same as the Bahco. Overall I felt this tool might be a working tool so I cut of the sides of the locking nut on both sides at an angle so that I could apply better leverage and that worked just fine. This took only a couple of minutes to do with a hacksaw and a flat file. I’ll keep this one.
The last one was one I was used to and an old model i have used for a couple of decades made by another maker from the early half of the last century. this one locked down fine, probably because of the good leverage that optimised purchase.
I wonder how many Bahco sliding bevels have been sold to unsuspecting purchasers? Do you think that Bahco cares at all? I think not, but then I have to wonder to myself, why?
The post Bahco Sliding Bevels Keep on Sliding After Lockdown appeared first on Paul Sellers' Blog.
This will be the first in the series over the next few blogs.
Two planes sit side by side, one, a wooden-bodied, handmade individual, the other, cast from iron in lots of hundreds throughout any single day. On the one hand the old wooden plane required well seasoned and dried wood that lay dormant under cover for ten years before working and cycling through began. This handmade wooden one required the much skilled work of a crafting artisan, no, many hours of highly skilled hand work. Castings in the form of iron-bodied planes on the other hand were developed and designed to reduce the necessity of such skill. Once cast, the iron castings were left to ‘season’ for a year in crates to relieve some of the stresses in the metal before the refining and milling processes prepared them to receive the cast iron block we call the frog. It took only a few minutes to make the cast metal planes, that is once the moulds were set up and the right men doing the pour poured the molten metal that would soon become the all metal counterparts we’ve commonly used over the past 150 years. The metal flows like lava to the lowest levels, fills the moulds and after total cooling they are removed from the sand and piled in crates to wait. At some point the plane soles are lifted to milling machines and the work begins to develop meeting points on the inside of the sole where the frog, the central hub governing all of the plane’s future settings, registers on three fixed points inside the mid section of the sole.
The Woden plane below is my longest bench plane in my collection of Woden planes. Woden is not my inept misspelling of ‘wooden’, it’s the name of a Germanic neopagan god, but that’s by the by. The Woden plane is a decent plane that follows the Leonard Bailey patterns of construction, so, whereas Woden is the brand name, Leonard Bailey is the designer and the originator and I have always enjoyed using the Woden planes alongside my Stanleys and Records.
I recently made this wooden plane using the gubbins from a bad eBayed Stanley to make it with. Some decades ago a man I worked with as an apprentice, worked under really, the last man I knew who really did use wooden smoothers, jacks and tri planes, a man then in his late seventies, told me that there was no real evidence to show that a wooden plane didn’t last equally as long as an all metal one. he’s the one that told me you need to bend metal planes to get them to create a straight edge. I found these facts hard to believe at the time, but now I think it more a truth than a falsehood, primarily because the plane soles on longer planes definitely move, no matter the maker, and the patina I see on a beech-bodied plane made in the early 1800’s didn’t happen in a year or two but more like at least ten, twenty, thirty, forty and more. I have seen bench planes worn down half an inch at the toe end and filled in front of the throat with throat closures because of wear and probably this reflected another 20 years of use beyond its life expectancy of three score and ten.
Transitioning from a cast metal plane to any of the wooden planes takes a little adjusting too if indeed like me you have used them for hours every day for 50 years. Using them and gaining experience and skill is very much worth the effort though and it’s in the using of them you discover a worth and value you might never have considered before. Not only do you connect with how craftsmen felt about them when they used them in the centuries past, but you discover responses of wood on wood that it is absolutely impossible to get with any metal plane. It’s an indescribable sweetness that helps you to at last comprehend why old craftsmen in the late 1800s refused the Stanleys and clung to what they had owned and used and understood, fully.
In mainland Europe wooden planes have always proven ever popular and even today many woodworkers, especially in Germanic regions, continue hand work using wooden planes. I suppose herein is the strange anomaly in that the Woden plane was made under the name of a Germanic pagan god for a British market and yet was never sold in mainland Europe to challenge the wooden planemakers. I know this though, that no matter the era of wooden plane making, if you set the wooden plane up correctly, and they are as readily adjustable as the cast metal ones, they are more pleasing to work with and just as effective as any metal one I ever used.
Black and white
I recently completed the making of some wooden planes following two that Marples made in the earlier half of the last century. It’s a funny thing how when you want to emphasise something we might say something like, “Well let me make things black and white for you.”, or, “Put it in black and white.” When colour first came in print form in newspapers I remember the impact it had even though the print job was and I suppose still is deplorable.
I took the colour out here to emphasize something really. I am used to wooden bodied planes. On and off I have used them through the past 50 years and yet I generally go back to my all metal Stanley #4 for the major part of my working in daily life, followed swiftly by my #5, 4 1/2 and 5 1/2. Until recently I preferred the adjustment mechanisms these wonderful planes offered me and yet I do have to say that I always like using wooden bodied planes because of the ease on the wood and lightness in use. I have always liked the standard Stanleys with an emphasis that I do not particularly like thick irons. I prefer the Stanley’s because they are light and strong, hardwearing and indeed equal to the task. I also like to make certain I use what my students and watchers can get their hands on readily and yet I want something that is by no means second rate or a stopgap or in any way inferior in producing top quality work or to leave anyone with the impression that it will work until you can get something better. Stanley planes from before the pre 1970s do that for me and so I feel that I am giving woodworkers what they really need to work wood with. If anyone then simply wants to spend money on a better engineered plane, and that’s their personal preference, then that is their choice. But at least I have done my part in saying there is no need to spend more unless you just want to, prefer to or personally feel you need to. I have also done my best in defending the good name of one of the best engineering entrepreneurs in the history of plane making. A man who designed a plane from scratch and was able to patent his design because it was brand new.
Over the past few weeks we filmed making wooden planes and incorporating the body with a retrofitted adjustment facility in the form of the Stanley (or Record) frog, replete with matching cutting iron assembly unit. Marples did this in the early half of the last century. These planes were preferred by woodworking class workshops in many schools because boys could handle the lighter weight better and they of course offered the same adjustability the all metal versions were then offering as the current way forward.
I made my first one from non hardwearing pine as a prototype, using a scrap of stud for my material. It took me half an hour (minus the handle) and when I offered it to the wood, even for the first time, shavings shot through the throat and skyward like a popped cork from a champagne bottle, even though the setting was way too deep. I was absolutely stunned. I have to say it, it even felt better then the Marples beech original. It felt spunky, spritely, versatile, light and easy; oh, so easy! It made me wish I had had it to build my tool chest with.
Last week we finished up the video work on building this plane in the Jack plane size. You can in fact make a smoother, a jack and a tri plane and simply reinstall the same frog and iron into one or the other as you please if you want or you can buy in secondhand frogs the price of which just shot through the roof on eBay I am sure by the time you read this post. At the time of writing I just bought five frogs for £15 — $23.
The thing about building this plane and retrofitting the frog to fit is that the sole of the plane with its 45-degree slope acts as the extension for support directly behind the cutting-iron assembly unit and thereby necessitates cutting the frog slope down. Otherwise it will be further necessary to thin the sole directly behind where the frog might normally extend to on the sole, which in turn leaves a thinner aspect to the sole than you might want. I feel that in wood this might be a tad too thin, but then again perhaps not, whereas in the cast metal soles this works well. I am just saying that you can take the extra effort to shape the sole to receive the whole frog if you wish so as to retain the frog for interchangeability using both the original metal-cast plane and your new wooden ones.
So the next series on my blog will be about building the wooden plane above and how to build one from scratch. We will tie this in with the videos on woodworking masterclasses.com. Remember that all tool making and technique videos are always free to subscribers who have registered with us and that this too is a free subscription. You will receive n email from time to time, maybe three time a year or so, but nothing more than an odd update that might interest you.
We are also putting up another free two-part video series on making winding sticks starting next week so you may want to catch that one too.
Oh, and by the way, we are working videoing the tool cupboard like the one in my shop but a scaled down size. You will be able to scale yours either way and we hope to be able to show how you can size one to suit you and your tools too.
There are concerns about the type of lid fixing to the toolboxes we made where the lid is skirted crosswise to the main long axis of the grain of the lid with a lip covering the end grain at each end of the lid in the traditional manner. I understand the comments and the concerns, but then again, it’s not so much perhaps an exam piece but a near replication of something that has been common practice for centuries and so there I almost rest my case, well, initially at least, and with no pun intended.This lid shows evidence of some cracking from restriction from shrinking. Would I mind? Not at all! It’s a toolbox not prissy.
Slight evidence of end shrinkage but all is still stout and strong and the cracks are very small and short too. N problem on a ship bound the Americas!!
On all of my toolboxes and tool chests I use frame-and-panel, a method also very traditional, but of course it would be pointless to do a replication if you change everything because a better way was devised. The reality here is that no modern woodworker came up with a better way beyond reconstituting the materials common to the craft like a Pringle chip so that it stacks up in the box as sheet goods do and use MDF to get around the issues of expansion and contraction. Of course the life span of most MDF goods are not what we were promised when magazines in the late 70’s in the US were saying MDF was the new miracle material that could be a great substitute for wood and one that could be routed, sanded and stained and would change our need and use of wood. MDF was never a real alternative in furniture making for real woodworking but machine-only woodworking mostly; that is except for those building in ways to limit life expectancy and create fashionable and mostly but not always disposable product.
Putting ourselves in the place of men building boxes like these shown above, from the centuries before, helps us to place ourselves in true realms of realness when working people knew no such thing as the luxury of leisure time, disposability and short shelf-life furniture pieces. They didn’t buy wood as we would from Home Depot or B&Q in S4S sections pre planed and such. Boxes like these had no counterpart in the form of plastic alternatives and people traveled the globe, boxes in tow, stowing their chattels in cases just like these to contain some of their most valued possessions, not the least of which were indeed the tools of a man’s trade. For some, this traveling container was purely a transitional step to one of the colonies and a new life. When I moved to migrate to the USA I made twenty 3/4” plywood boxes glued and screwed together and skinned each side with 1/2” plywood. Strong and watertight, half of them were filled with my tools and the other half treasured family stuff. These boxes became cupboards and shelves in my shop and as far as I know are still wherever they were screwed to the walls in different workshops I left behind me as I moved on.
For others intent on protecting their tools in previous centuries it was more important to make something that was lightweight and strong and built to last. These boxes fulfilled their existence as being fit for purpose and, though perhaps in an era of unknown and uncertain futures, unable to predict what would happen, they have proven themselves worthy of total respect in the fact that we are using them now a hundred or hundreds of years later on. The boxes traveled continents and supported craftsmen through two world wars. They transported tools to and from work places and kept them safe in workshops too. No small thing and especially so when I think that I own several of them and still use them today for keeping and protecting my personal tool collections.
It’s interesting to see the responses people have had and the discussions issuing forth and yet no one actually acknowledged that hundreds of thousands of chests were built and used just like those shown here over at least four centuries. Was it that no one knew what we knew today? Not at all. Woodworkers did what was necessary. It took much more work to create the more sophisticated framed panels that also date back through at least half a millennia. This system was developed to make doors that would not shrink too much and panels that remained solid and constrained in a massive range of situations. Security was the key issue in eras when people really valued even the smallest of possessions in a none disposable or fashionable age. That meant that chests had to be durable, strong and fit for purpose at the very least.This box made about three months ago now shows no signs of degrade at all. Spring clamping like this works brilliantly well. This 2 1/2″ dog will draw both parts immovably together in two hammer blows. Make a few dogs in half an hour and you replace the need for too many clamps. After more than a century the top and the rim are still in solid condition.
I have noticed how much more people do obsess about things like expansion and contraction. I noticed this when I wrote on spring clamping wood where some people said I had it the wrong way around and I should really not have clamped the ends with a clamp at each end but with the one clamp in the middle and a slight concave rather than a convex along the edges of the conjoined boards. In actual fact you can do it whichever way you want, slight convex or concave. Back in history people used the nail dogs I showed extensively, which defies everything the naysayers said. Now then, that said, there are considerations in that people today live in an era of total air-conditioned immersion, where everything is conditioned to a certain dryness and temperature. The ends of boards supposedly dry out faster than say the mid section of a tabletop or, as in this case, a chest top. That’s not so interactively concerning when you nail on the end piece though over longterm exchanges of moisture can become an issue and might in some cases become problematic. But the problems can be adverse either way. I think too that gluing and nailing can occasionally be a problem because it is very rigid and immoveable but rarely is it actually so, and especially in Britain where we have pretty regular levels of humidity. The glue does seal the end grain pretty well and prevents the ingress of moisture except in long terms of exposure or immersion. In the US there are other considerations such as the differences I found between east and west Texas, Arizona and Arkansas. It’s simple enough as I said at the time. Keep the wood in the same conditions it will be living in if possible, let them acclimate, and then get on with the build. Your box will most likely be fine. Here and in other situations, people who believe this will usually never risk making a toolbox like this, even though it’s more likely to work out than not. It’s a shame really because the toolbox may never do what they’re fearful of at all.
It’s an interesting question most loners shrug off because they like their own space and being alone. Whether that’s completely true they may not actually know, they may just think that’s what they like. Living successfully in both camps there are some things everyone should consider.
Over the decades I have had long expanses of sharing my workspace with others and having others share my space. What the considerations are only become evident when you actually do it. I can enjoy having another or others in the shop and then when they are not there I can enjoy that too. You have to have some parameters in place to create harmony around where and how you work. Peace is always of paramount importance and that means different things for different people but without peace and even quiet and loneness at appropriate times productive time is often lost and that’s when it can become very costly in finance, productivity and peace too. It’s often easier to be alone and that’s one of the things creative people often consciously decide. Is it selfish? Sometimes it is and sometimes it’s not. Selfishness is very much a part of modern culture. People live all the more unselfish spheres and the choice is all the more theirs. Life is easier not to share than to share, not to be partnered than partnered, not to be married to anything is more the choice today than the other. I have been married to my work all of my life. Why? Because without work I am very much undone. By work I find wellbeing for myself and for my family. By work I find meaning for my life and find myself not searching for a little break away or looking forward to Fridays and not Mondays. I never don’t look forward to Mondays and never look forward to Fridays as two distinct days when life stops and starts. At least in the last 30 plus years that has been the case. Work gives me great satisfaction and I have consciously worked at it to make it work that way.
Sharing my Workspace
We made some changes to the shop over the past few days. Improvements all around really. After cleaning up and putting stuff back after the class last week we then we planned what we must get through to progress some new ideas. I generally work together with others every day most days for all or part of the day and currently I’m planning a new design for a keep-safe keepsake box; a box where you can keep things stowed safely with a keyed lock but not one to stop things being stolen or burned, just something you can turn a key on with a lockable drawer for keeping say a current journal in, personal or private notes to yourself or others you don’t want to lose and perhaps something you don’t want to share with others at this or that particular time. It’s my wife’s suggestion and it’s a concept I like the idea of. What I will do is make it using some patterns I incorporated into the White House designs we built back in 2008/9; cross-banding, ebony enclosing the President Harrison oak, stuff like that. I’ll make the knobs we made from ebony with inset Harrison oak and an ebony ‘eye’—to show how I came up with that aspect of my design too. It may well be our first veneer work for woodworkingmasterclasses training, so I’m looking forward to that. It’s also a lethe video so that will be interesting too. We also have a new clock design we’re thinking of doing too. This has veneer work too. So, as everything we film gets prototyped, Phil and I have a few days of building ahead of us. You see I share my daily workspace with Phil. Currently, as I type, I am in Oxford with Joseph working on some ideas for the business to develop and expand as far as the outreach we want for future woodworkers worldwide. Something that makes our work all the more exclusively inclusive of others despite the quest people seem bent on to always become, well, more independent.
In a little over a week or so Leah B will be back with us from Slovakia to spend a month of working wood with us for a month. She has the mahogany table to finish and then some other pieces too. She will be making some planes and tools and then a furniture piece too. this is my investment of my workspace in her. It will build her up. She’ll grow as she always has. Remember she was here when she spent a month making the rocking chair and the toolbox and the coffee table. That’s what this blog is about. Sharing your workspace, time, wood and tools with others and making friends creates a future for others I think. Yes, everyone has to make a living and especially those younger ones starting out. If you look into the lives of many woodworkers there are those intent on making it their lifestyle and become true woodworkers and then there are those who gimmick there way in. I like the former because they are more real somehow. I like realness.
Another woodworker coming in to share space is Sam who was on a previous course too. He too will be making and learning and changing direction to become a woodworker looking for a serious future.
I got many emails from joiners and carpenters last week after my blog about becoming skilled rather than a mere machinist. Most of them wanted real woodworking and went to college, learned some hand skills and such, trained up on machines and got their NVQs for machining and then started pumping wood incessantly into machines month after month. They were indeed dispirited but their new and soulless bosses didn’t want real woodworkers they just wanted to push them as buttons in their mass making mechanisms.
Of course the classes we give, some paid for and some not, becomes an inclusive sphere for a dozen people to share their experience and experiences too. Classes have been and are still a big part of my lifestyle.
I’ve been experimenting with alternative sharpening methods too, recently. Not new, a bit different and the results are remarkable and the whole system of sharpenings will cost a few pennies to get you back to work or fully functioning with a good cutting edge even when you never sharpened a thing before in your life.
Back to sharing space
Through the years I have definitely found that woodworking is best, very best, when it’s mostly shared. There are two or three ways I find myself sharing woodworking, maybe four or five. The most important to me is sharing a workshop. Not a mutually equal shop, where it’s a democratic vote for content and activity, but one where we each have our own creative space but can share time and occupation hours with others. Because democracy is mostly “two wolves and a lamb voting on who should be eaten”, I’ve found cooperatives may seem like a great idea, but rarely do they really work out in the long term. Some do, though, but not many. I may have learned that the hard way in the last few years, but I did learn.
With a workshop it’s important not to have anyone vote on your creative workspace, what you can and can’t make and how you make it, but some ground rules should be established right off the bat. For instance my shop is a hand tool shop but I have a bandsaw there for occasional dimensioning. For me a rule is necessary beforehand saying no mass-making machinery but an occasional use one can be considered. A bandsaw or something like that works well. Routers too would be restricted to periodic use once every so often by agreement, perhaps. You know, for some difficult moulding or something, but never for routing out say hinge recesses and such mind-numbing stuff. You see shared space always needs someone who takes the ultimate responsibility; usually the lessor or owner. This then gives a basis for sharing without allowing anyone adding liberties or worse still taking over your life and your working environment. Pre existing terms can be set to eliminate confusion and disputes down the road but expect the unexpected.
Sharing workspace needs always to be as positive an experience as possible and smiles across a workshop floor from one creative space to another or a nod of approval and a helping hand in both directions should always be the ultimate goal. It’s not always on a space-for-rent basis. I don’t charge rent to people who come in generally. If and when that happens people often feel they re buying rights to do whatever they want. They can end up destroying all peace and any sense of wellbeing for others. I suppose if I went to a larger shop and wanted to offset expenses I might consider such a thing, but it adds complexities you often don’t need. I think better to expect a little help now and again works best. A good reason for sharing workspace is to share space and enjoy camaraderie. Another is to pass on your skills too. That’s as good a reason as any. One key advantage of having a hand-tools only and a machine-free workshop environment is of course liability. The risk factor of injury is only a fraction of a woodworking machine shop, conversation is always possible and everyone can breath clean air, hear clear words and see through clean lenses. Priceless!
I made a recording for a generation yet to be born ’bout making a plane by hand with no machine from wood and when I was done it felt right, the plane I made, in lightness on the wood, not baring down, not forcing but gliding so smoothly in my hand like the swan on the lake seems untrained and wild yet unstrained and mild.
It is good to still feel so small a thing can make your senses sing and settle with such contentment inside; the glide, the ride the shaving’s rise to greet and wrap around your hand, your wrist. I don’t know if it’s even possible to describe such things in a world that no longer trusts such feelings still exist inside a man of sixty-five but I try, I try.
Some of you expressed surprise in my using machines for long and extended days for manufacturing. That was a past life for me. One day I rebelled and said never again. I will never go back there.
In the same way some lament lost family, lost countrymen and lost comrades, I lament the sense of wellbeing many may never know without my working to share what I have been so blessed with. I know I am not the only one and that there are many ways to reach a goal and not just mine.
Perhaps this song will help amplify my concerns as you read.
The thoughts I express in my blog are not from the standpoint of someone working wood part time and standing at a machine for an your or two a week or a month but those of a man feeling a sense of lostness and searching for a door of escape when day after day and week after week and even year after years he stood feeding a machine with wood.
You see I’m not really an amateur in the sense of part time, nor a hobbyist in the sense of not having to earn my living and support a family, I am and always was a man who worked hard, diligently, full-time, most time to support and provide in a single wage. It was a joint choice between me and my wife. We both chose that. It wasn’t that my wife didn’t work it was that we were indeed partners for a lifetime together in this thing called life and we wanted to spend as much time in our lives jointly together without selling ourselves to a company. Guess what??? It worked. We’ve spent our lives working together and living together and travelling together, raising our five children together and guess another what??? We neither of us went to to higher education, neither of us had a career and we both feel a sense of wonder and fulfilment, contentment and happiness.
When I worked the industrial world it was a small step. I bought a small bandsaw I liked. Then I bought a DeWalt radial arm saw and several times almost lost a hand. What a dangerous machine that is. As I gathered more machines I became industrial, respected, admired. I mass made things and step by step I started losing my love for work and for my craft. I suppose this is a true thing here, I never felt more lost and alone than when I was standing at a router table shoving wood into it. Eyes covered with protective lenses, ears isolating me from life, the dust mask and the noise separated me from life itself. Spindle moulders hummed all the more with a monstrous power compared to routers and the air moved rapidly surrounding the machine air I was breathing despite my mask. I ached to take it all off. I recall days when my lungs coughed up black stuff, when I was a younger man because the bosses only gave us a surgical mask. Idris Owen was a wretched man, a conservative MP and a massive snob of a man who was a disgrace of a man and to his father’s hard-earned name. He drove in in a Rolls Royce Silver Cloud and would not buy masks or any extractors for the men at work. There were days when the shop was so thick with dust; oak, mahogany, even asbestos, we could scarcely see one another. One day I rebelled and said I would never work for another man again and apart from an odd time of shortage I have stayed within an engineered lifestyle I put together piece by piece just like the pieces of furniture I build; solid, dovetailed, tenoned and pegged. I bought oak from small mills and shared conversations with the millers on purpose so I would know his family, his wife and his children. I saw them born and I made many a casket for their parents and even their babies stillborn. I dovetailed the corners and created a place of peace and rest at the close of their lives. I’ve made these things alongside the fine pieces where I sometimes see President Obama leaning on them or standing by them in the Cabinet Room of the White House. I don’t like to think that some people are on a conveyor belt that they can’t get off that has nothing to do with woodworking at all but has the same soul-destroying effect. But indeed I know they are and they are searching for the same way out I was once searching for and found. Many are following the blog these days that search for their own way out. The keyboard lost its spark after just a few months in the “real world” the nerve endings were sending signals but they ignored them at forst. The aching wrists and the fingers and then the fabric became scratchier on their wrists, soon painful. Before long they had something called carpal tunnel syndrome. A syndrome??? An abnormal coincidence of events occurring at one time. You know what? Going off the amount of emails and messages and texts and such that I get, there are thousands upon thousands of people who know something’s very wrong and they cannot, they cannot make the change. But that’s why we say what we say and do what we do in anticipation that one day change will come and we are paving the way in thought and deed and it will mean much to many and they will step by step have found changes that made the difference to their wellbeing and they will be building skills that are outside the remit of mass-manufacturing and mass-media and mass-education and mass-sterility. They will be creating a life they can live in and live with and share with and create an alternative reality.
A man said to me last week when I had a nine-day class that he could no longer work because he became ill from computerised living. Imagine that. He could not work. He found that he had tight breath the whole day long for fears and realities of industrial pressures inside him. How would he survive? Earn a living? He kept going until something snapped. The day came when he could no longer function and he felt he had failed on many fronts. He had to face family and friends, colleagues and associates, bosses and so on. He was highly gifted, highly skilled yet this day brought him to his knees. I know people that feel this way but they have children and wives and family and friends and they must keep face. There is no alternative for them you see because politicians and educationalists and global industrialists don’t understand what makes a man and a woman tick. They don’t understand that there is a ticking clock in every person and that something inside them says I must be worth something more than this, surely!
So I write my blog not to compare a machine to a hand tool but to question why choose a mass manufacturing method if you really love woodworking? I write it to say you will find greater levels of fulfilment if you do it yourself whether you use a machine or your hand skills. Do I care if some prefer machines to hand tools. No, I just never liked my life as a machinist and saw that about 80% of woodworkers felt the same way, felt intimidated and even felt like they should push themselves to accept the machine as some sort of badge of merit if they could just conquer the anxieties and intimidation. You see they just couldn’t find the mentor to show them the alternative and that’s why I do it. It’s because I think it brings healing to many a weary soul somewhere, anywhere, that just spends every day bored to death feeling they are mindlessly punching keys on a keyboard, or stacking shelves or pushing stop and start buttons on an assembly line and I do it in the hope that it does have deeper meaning to some who can see that it’s nothing to do with speed and efficiency but quality of life and love and care. I post to inspire and write to encourage and know you think about these things yourselves.
Thanks for your response to the previous post
It was refreshing to see the response to the blog post on Lifting Your Spirits, here and on Facebook too. I can see why people have such a mix of feelings and passions about issues regarding machines versus hand tools and so on. I’m certain it’s because many of us feel defensive of whichever path we’re on and I think I see much of the dilemma too. Woodworking has changed in the last half century and I’ve been a part of watching the changes that transformed it from being a man’s occupation to perhaps more a pastime, an interest and a hobby. I have never liked the terms like these particularly, primarily because I have always thought they somehow diminish the significance they actually have for people. Aside from that, I, like most people I know, never had time to pass nor time for a hobby. I have always considered woodworking to be a more serious issue and that’s because it has been the way I earn my living.
Over the more recent decades I have seen that woodworking can hardly be distilled into any particular camp and all the more so since the online presence of forums bringing every blend and hybrid to the table for sampling. New terms are used many of which are terms only but the practices are the same; a bit like the outer casing of a DeWalt drill changes but the gubbins inside remains principally the same. We’re forced to buy a new one every year not because the drill driver is worn out but the battery stops charging and the battery costs almost as much as a new drill driver. It’s a funny thing how fashion has invaded my craft. Ten years ago we had 12-volt drill drivers. Turn up on the job site today with any thing less than 18-volts and you’d likely be laughed off the site. I’m glad I left that world behind by choice and remained true to my goal in pursuing craft and skill. I changed the bandsaw blade on my 40 year old bandsaw today and enjoyed seeing the tension tighten the band to the wheels for some strange reasoning. just rambling again.
Machine woodworking—a highly charged situation
I do see what tugs at people working outside of the craft to earn their corn and feed their families but wanting leisure time to be filled with wood and working it. Not many readers here are woodworkers earning their living from their work. They have scant time at weekends to be creative and like to accomplish what they make as quickly as possible. The machine reduces labour time drastically for them and enables them to maximise the levels of accomplishment they want to within the allocated space we call recreation time. Slicing up the pie of time a weekend gives them between weekend chores around the house, car washing, mowing grass, cleaning house, time with family and some rest and relaxation too means woodworking (or any other craft creativity) is slotted in as best it can be. Machines do cut wood fast and minimise what many would refer to as wasted time. Many say it also drastically reduces the skill levels you need too. Here in is the rub for many. Machines do cut time costs down, but then you must figure some other cost thingies into the equation. Machines themselves don’t come cheap and it’s not just the cost of the machines themselves that I mean. Yes, there will not be too much change from £2,500 for four or five half decent machines whether you buy new or secondhand. But machines cost much in space too and boy do they quickly eat that up; I mean they do take up a lot of dedicated space; like a massive footprint of occupation around which you must constantly trip and tiptoe. Then there is what I call the hidden occupation. This is the one where the atmosphere you live and breath is totally charged; occupied if you will by a fine filtering extraction doesn’t quite grab. This becomes all the more consuming in confined spaces. After just one hour a filter of fine dust starts coating your glasses and the surface of your skin, your clothes and your hair. The walls gradually develop a layer and thin cobwebs hitherto unseen start taking on their own external levels of dust-cholesterol. Your longs and bronchi too no doubt if you’re not very careful. The invasion of noise from one machine then synchronises the extractor (collector) and before you know it therein is yet another invader of precious space so there is no place for others to occupy your creative space with you either. I mean who wants to stand in a shop with a dust mask on and hearing protectors and such like that. These are all things by which I start to examine something we call quality of life.
The competition between hand methods and machines
My US cousins might be surprised by the fact that here in the UK very few woodworkers have a machine shop. Many if not most have no machines at all. They just can’t give up the all too valuable space. Actually, I know a lot of US friends in woodworking that have no machines either, mostly because they live in an apartment or a rental house though. Mainland Europe is the same as the UK I think. I’d be interested to hear from 100 Europeans to see how many have a machine shop. Personally, I do own machines. I have a chopsaw, tablesaw, planer/jointer, drill press and three bandsaws. Most of my machines are old models, maybe 50 years old. They are not what we might call heavy industrial models, but they are for serious professional use say in a small one- or two-man shop. I can’t recall the last time I used the mortiser even though it is a very nice one, but the other machines I use every other week or so I suppose. I can go a month and not turn any of them on. Some of this is probably due to lack of space, but mostly it’s personal preference. The big questioning for me has and always will be why do people feel that there is a competition between hand methods and machines? Why do people think machines are always so much more efficient for everything when that’s not always the case? Why do people feel hand tools are old fashioned, highly demanding and slow… so very slow? You see you have to consider other factors when you use one method over another. Hand tools do demand skills and many woodworkers, amateurs and professionals (professional meaning they earn their living from carpentry of some type) no longer have these skills to rely on. I think that that’s why they tend to avoid them and use machines. It’s not generally the case that they use the machines because they couldn’t survive using hand methods, that’s been my experience, but that they just never developed any sort of hand skills at all. They mostly never had the opportunity. I think that it’s true to say that machines need more a level of confidence and less so skill as such. Of course they cut wood into sections super fast. No one denies that at all, but then there is the constant concern for noise, dust, personal health and the health of others and the safety and wellbeing of user and materials. I have talked to many part-time woodworkers, male, female, young old, and in most cases they feel ill-equipped to work with machines. “Very intimidated”, is a common phrase as to how they feel about them, and rightly so. They feel highly challenged by them and I understand that because they are dangerous. It takes a long time to feel truly competent and thereby comfortable with using machines. They do demand a high price when it comes to peace and wellbeing.
Oh, the black and whites? All hand work!
We made a video last year on how I cut the common dovetail by hand. It’s simple and easy enough using oak so here is the link.
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I find my interests shift between places where hand work and craft lift my spirits and machines seem less at home. I suppose machines always have seemed so invasive; an intrusion into the world where few men I ever met saw them as necessary but more forced onto them and they forced into using them. The two World Wars changed craft work and made it more a compulsion to drop standards and reshape shapes into a utilitarianism that was supposed to be a temporary lapsing of standards but ultimately replaced loveliness in the same way loveliness no longer exists when a tool is stamped out with moulded blue or red or yellow and black handles. My spirits lift when I see a brass back on a saw and then they fall when I see a resin moulded handle or spline because something inside me seems to break.
Seldom do we realise how easily our craft lives have been invaded by plastics in all their different forms and it’s all the harder when we know that wood grows with such loveliness to replace itself. I must admit that plastic rarely seems rightly looking in my workshop. In my photographs I tend to hide the plastic containers that hold my Stevia extract and so too the occasional plastic handled chisels I use for some of my research and testing. I haven’t found a chisel hammer that betters my Thorex 712 with its nylon handle and screw-in replacement heads and so I accept it in photographs, but my old mallet made from cedar elm in Texas looks always to be in place. It’s a bit like a slot-headed screw always seems right but the cross headed ones invade with the machines to interrupt the view somehow and obtrude my whole environment like a black plastic bag hanging from a naked oak waiting for the spring leaf to come.
When I’m working I’m always searching for the right place to keep things in harmony and so I fight constantly against the disorder that comes through the invasion of plastics. I find myself fighting the invasion of its colours too. In many ways I like black and white in my photographs because there seems such a greatness of harmony. But I like colour. I love it. You know, there is a dislike for what is now referred to as “brown” furniture. Do you know what I mean? The mahoganies and the darkly stained oaks. I understand that, but then I also see what people do to “redo” it with splashes of antiquing and my heart seems to stop when I see something lovely engulfed by mindlessness. Did you ever see a young deer hanging dead in a barbed wire fence and wonder the agony, or one running wildly between the headlights ahead of your car? This is what I mean by invasiveness; a disharmony of content.
Some things we do invade our workplace and so our creativity and the spheres in which we design and make what we make. We should dwell more on the whys and the invasiveness when a router screams for hours to make what was simply developed with a chisels and a saw. In times past I stood for eight and more hours in a given day at a router and a bandsaw. Yes, it’s true. In Britain we use a term I didn’t hear in the US in all my 23 years there. It was the term ‘soul-destroying work’. That’s what we called the type of work I was doing for a season to feed my family and pay my bills, but I had a vision for becoming a free man one day.
Feeding the machine’s incessant demand for more and more and more slowed down as I grew older and regained control. My skills grew and the ease of work came from my hands more readily. I was able to dismantle the intrusion piece by piece you see, as I understood what was soul-destroying and saw what the invasion was. The quest for success was no longer how much I made but how I made and what I made and with what I made. Here I found peace as I sliced my handsaw down a long board and made rails for a clock. Here I found peace as I sharpened my chisels and carved wood until a tenon quietly emerged from chips on my benchtop. I understood the harmony of marriage when the tenon slid inside its mortise and the dovetails interlocked to marry for life. I began to understand what dedication meant. That the parts to a piece become dedicated, formed to fill an exact place and inextricable from the whole. I understood at last that my hands were forming things intended and fitly framed and formed in loveliness. At last I knew I had become an artisan in love with his work and a man who saw his work not as something he deserved to have but a privilege. This was the point of transition into a world where my spirits would lift each time I placed the saw on the elm board and severed away the waste with each hard stroke. I no longer cursed the work, and the plane seemed to move with great sweetness to smooth out the kerf marks the saw left. My hands traced the surface I made a thousand times in a day and more and the machine no longer drives me to destroy the soul of my working.
I once watched my son make a violin where no machine blade touched the wood. For weeks he worked and I watched him as he shaped each part. This was a reward to me to see. I like to watch the craftsman work his wood, to carve out a voice. The demands for cheap instruments came from the West and machines makes them in Asia to sell for £150. This is soul-destroying work. The violin made this way has no soul and the eyes and the hands and the mind are filled only with sadness I think.
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So, if you ever wondered about the #3 smoothing plane you’ll discover yet another Leonard Bailey wonder of plane making. Over the past few days, because we keep a couple for students with smaller hands and less upper shoulder muscle mass, I tried out the plane with the ten ‘musclemen’ in the class last week. I knew what I knew, but I wanted to see how and what they felt. That’s what all the smiles and the raised hands were all about.
In relation to the #4 plane the #3 is slightly smaller, not too much but just a bit. It’s a bit like the #4 1/2 to the #4 but the opposite way in that the iron is 1 3/4” wide instead of 2”. My hands are fairly normal, perhaps leaning towards large, but not massively so. My thoughts are these. #3 planes are not lesser planes in any way with regard to functionality than say the #4 and the #4 1/2. In fact they equal or even surpass the slightly wider versions because they pack that certain compact punchiness the heavier counterparts often lack.
I bought this £2 car boot find and restored it while the class was working. It’s the one above. They are not so common as the #4 I know, but they are still common enough to see them filter through eBay regularly enough. Handles and totes are usually a good fit for me so I think they will indeed fit most hands. You will pay a higher price for a number three, but it will be worth it.
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