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Paul Sellers

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A Lifestyle Woodworker
Updated: 4 hours 35 min ago

Questioning the Cross-grain Rim On Toolboxes

Wed, 02/25/2015 - 8:21am

DSC_0099There 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.

DSC_0013This lid shows evidence of some cracking from restriction from shrinking. Would I mind? Not at all! It’s a toolbox not prissy.


DSC_0024Slight 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. DSC_0006 - Version 2MDF 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.DSC_0002

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. DSC_0010The 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.

DSC_0262This box made about three months ago now shows no signs of degrade at all. DSC_0034Spring clamping like this works brilliantly well. DSC_0126This 2 1/2″ dog will draw both parts immovably together in two hammer blows. DSC_0009Make a few dogs in half an hour and you replace the need for too many clamps. DSC_0097After 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. DSC_0064 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.

The post Questioning the Cross-grain Rim On Toolboxes appeared first on Paul Sellers' Blog.

Categories: Hand Tools

Do You Share Your Workspace?

Tue, 02/24/2015 - 12:04pm

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.P1030972

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? DSC_0377Sometimes 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.P1040042 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

P1020910We 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. P1010781She’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

DSC_0675Through 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.DSC_0225

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. P1030784I 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!

The post Do You Share Your Workspace? appeared first on Paul Sellers' Blog.

Categories: Hand Tools

I Made Another Plane From Wood

Sat, 02/21/2015 - 8:12pm

P1040143I 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.P1040136
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. P1040131I 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.P1040112

The post I Made Another Plane From Wood appeared first on Paul Sellers' Blog.

Categories: Hand Tools

More Meaning Beyond Machining and Hand Work

Fri, 02/20/2015 - 2:29pm

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.IMG_9029 2

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.IMG_9016 2 - Version 2

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. IMG_9050There 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.PICT0031

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!PICT0380_2

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.

The post More Meaning Beyond Machining and Hand Work appeared first on Paul Sellers' Blog.

Categories: Hand Tools

Thoughts on Peace and Safe Working Environs

Thu, 02/19/2015 - 12:42pm

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.PICT0037

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.PICT0082_2

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. PICT0150This 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.PICT0145

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. PICT0048It’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.PICT0027

Oh, the black and whites? All hand work!

The post Thoughts on Peace and Safe Working Environs appeared first on Paul Sellers' Blog.

Categories: Hand Tools

Dovetail Video – The Basics of the Common Dovetail

Thu, 02/19/2015 - 1:11am

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.PICT0145

The post Dovetail Video – The Basics of the Common Dovetail appeared first on Paul Sellers' Blog.

Categories: Hand Tools

Lifting Your Spirits – Working With Your Own Hands!

Tue, 02/17/2015 - 8:56pm

IMG_6298I 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.PICT0006

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. PICT0044I 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.P1020409

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.PICT0082_2 PICT0012 PICT0145 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. PICT0024 PICT0174The 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.PICT0150 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. PICT0238At 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. PICT0380_2 Making a Cello 2 (70) PICT0006_18For 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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Categories: Hand Tools

Can a #3 Plane Compete With Its Wider Big Brothers

Mon, 02/16/2015 - 2:30pm

P1030959So, 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. P1040007My 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.

P1030941I 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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Categories: Hand Tools

Life Skills In Real Woodworking Passed On Yet Again.

Sun, 02/15/2015 - 12:57pm

P1030999I don’t know if my week this week interests anyone else, whether it measures up to a week you might understand or even want to hear about, but I write thinking perhaps it might. These are some of my digital images; a few recorded moments in nine days when we progressed an intent to change. The images were taken from the 1,000 or so I took this week. It’s the quiet pockets of life people live in when they work that I like the most.

P1040078Different things impressed me about these men this week. They all have their own distinct characters, characteristic mannerisms, ways of hammering, chopping, pressing the chisel into the wood and even the unique way they each ask their questions throughout the days. I was tired tonight when I wrapped up the closing two hours, but everyone seemed happy to be saying goodbye. I guess they had mixed feelings goodbyes bring when combined with looking forward to being with family again.


It’s all too easy to isolate 12 men’s lives to a mere woodworking course. But of course you could do a few days on woodworking course anywhere. Why would some of them travel so far from their roots to be here in North Wales? I mean, why pay for travel and stay in a strange place rather be in your own bed and be with family? Every minute, I mean right from the saying hi’s at 9am day one, was like slipping quietly into a lake and swimming in spheres of total creativity. P1040075My part in this was to listen, to listen and watch. Listen to the saws cutting, planes striking the surfaces. Things like that. Every few minutes a moment comes and that special opportunity to invest in restructuring common methods of thought. The bench is an anchor for these men. I hear their questions and give the best answer I can from my lifelong woodworking. For me I must realign my way of life as a maker to teach and train. I invest what I’ve learned and built in the safest possible place I can think of. In a sense it’s more a condition than anything else. When someone wants to become a master of something they prepare a place to receive and store the information. It’s a safe place I’ve found. A protected place. P1040060I see a man on his knees tightening clamps and remind myself that skill begins to build with a single chisel cut, a saw stroke and the placing of a plane on a board of wood. So I look at this week’s memories and see different things that I learned and think back to 1989 when I started seriously teaching people how to work with wood. I said to myself back then that something  had to change.P1030952 Every woodworker I met at that time, without a single exception, was a machine-only guy to a man. It was the result of another man’s influence and a series of TV shows in the USA. So very powerful was this show that woodworkers throughout the US started dressing, talking and acting the same way. Hand tools were left aside, displaced and the new “power tools” started a fashion ever changing with each new battery type, size and casing. The show didn’t birth pictures like these bit it birthed the new era of woodworking whereby woodworkers became machinists. The donned hardhats and eye protection, face shields, dust masks and even respirators with battery packs strapped to their backs or hips. it was funny to watch how much they as the hung their ear protectors around their necks when they started work and wore them for many hours each day.They loved what freedoms the machine gave them.  That is for a little while anyway. P1030696But then something started shifting. Mainly there was the acknowledgement that everything looked like it came out of Home Depot. Kitchen cabinets and garden sheds all looked, well, they all looked the same. You know, like a two by four. Slowly, very slowly, but gradually, woodworkers began looking for something that looked more skilfully made. I’m glad this happened because often you don’t always see what you had until you come close to losing it. It’s then that you really value what you’ve got. P1030784This week was no more than passing on the skills I’ve enjoyed throughout my life and watching men smile dare I say like children. I mean real skills became theirs to walk away with, knowledge too, and such like that. P1030931So with one brick at a time we rebuild the walls of what’s important.

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Categories: Hand Tools

A Day’s Working Unfolded Into a Day Full of Happiness

Sat, 02/14/2015 - 2:10pm

P1030791I opened the workshop door and watched as morning light spread from one bench to another and then another. I’ve seen this most of my work life now, 50 years of early morning entries I suppose. I often stop as soon as I step inside and as I did this morning to soak in the work of yesterday and recapture the last sentence of yesterdays worklife written in something or someone else made. P1030788This morning I saw partly made tables and boxes, chisel trays and Shaker candle boxes. The tools were waiting in clusters at the corner of each of the workbenches I built in the yard of my house over on the Isle of Anglesey when the snows fell, covering each one of them, 12 at the time, and I carried on working despite the cold. Memories build up as you grow more senior in years. I sank the last of my pension into starting New Legacy here in the UK because  I believed in the cause I had held for two decades and that is it’s worth investing in a new generation of people, yet to be born woodworkers, who want to become real woodworkers in their own right. This week I saw the rewards of my investment in the smiles of a shy dozen men who spent an extended week of nine days with me and Phil.P1040022

It’s been one of those amazing week of changing lives and having mine changed in the process of changing the lives of others. The boxes and shelves came together well and tomorrow the tables will all be done or left unglued for travel needs. We’ve had serious discussion, tested out theories and yet still got our work done.P1030973 Friendships were formed and memories made. We shared joy and happiness minute by minute and everyone laughed at different things not the least of which was if I made a mistake.

P1030940This plane, rusted though it was, was the source of much surprise and I will reveal that to you all one day soon I hope. We ran bevel-ups and bevel-downs alongside one another and more surprises came. Why would a #3 Stanley smoother cause such pleasant smiling coupled with surprise? Mid afternoon we sat and chatted and it was all about wood and working it. The feedback at this stage is always valuable and even though have yet 16 hours to conclude my efforts of change, I have already changed 10 men’s lives for life.P1030972

I remember when I lived in the Texas Hill Country 100 miles from the nearest city. Sitting on the limestone bluff above the Dry Frio River on my own at midnight I looked up and was just stunned by what I saw. P1030959P1030961P1030960P1030956P1030953 P1030952 P1030947With no street lights, house lights anywhere to be seen, the unpolluted skies spread out as never before. Stars so near and brighter than ever in my life. You see sometimes we have to switch off the lights to really see just how very bright the night sparkling star-filled skies really are. The classes do that here. No machine in the shop, just 12 men and 12 sets of hand tools. The real power in woodworking is the people who start to see that real woodworking demands hand work. So I doused the candlelights this evening and set off home just euphoric with delight at seeing and being with men smiling and laughing and become friends with one another as they worked wood with no ear protection in a dust-free environment and an exchange of lighthearted banter throughout each of the nine days they’ve been together.P1030990

Good night everyone!

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Categories: Hand Tools

Wooden Planes and All Metal Ones – What’s the Difference Anyway?

Thu, 02/12/2015 - 1:33pm

P1030734…Well let’s talk about the differences in real woodworking.

We began making tables last night. Our classes are very fully and very different in that we operate machine-free for all the nine days of the course. That means planing and sawing surfaces and making joinery so everyone develops real skill. Another difference I decided on 25 years ago was that, beyond basically cutting a couple of joints to break the ice, within an our or two our students begin their first fully dovetailed box replete with a lesson on proper hinge setting, bullnosing roundovers and such like that. I’ll photograph the joints from ten boxes, which for some if not most are their very first dovetail joints cut using hand methods.


Most of my students never turned on a machine and have no desire to either. I think that that’s what has made us so very different. Probably 98% of our students, though from around the world, own no machines and never used them. Very different than say my experience the USA where walking into a wood craft store looking for woodworking instruction and guidance and walk out with a tablesaw, planer, drill press, mortise machine, router and a trailer load of accessories à la Norm mode. The difference does make things easy because they then start off on the right foot. We pretty much start a project right off the bat, suing the project as the vehicle for teaching. It’s fast and very effective and it’s worked for over 5,000 woodworkers who’ve been to my courses.

P1030512Gather in close and soak in the the shared experience of real woodworking.

As we discuss the issues of table making I relate my experiences in making tables and the issues seem less sterile that way. Anecdotes keep everyone interested, but it’s much more than that too. We discuss the whys and wherefores surrounding design, like why is a table never higher than so and so no matter the height of the person. What about aprons and tenon lengths and why are the tenons offset or internally mitred or half-lapped? What about the grain and the configuration, colour, growth rings, medullary rays and why do the medullary cause wood to separate? It’s all highly evocative and stimulates everyone to participate at the around-the-bench-sessions. How about ten different ways to chop a mortise or create a tenon with guaranteed accuracy and how do you get shoulders within a thou’ of the other every time?

P1030669 P1030660

Then we digress a little…

I was amazed this week by the demographic difference between this class and the others I’ve taught as I blogged yesterday. Here’s one added bit of info I though was significant; of the eleven  in the class when we started last Saturday 5 were left handed. The world average for left handers is 10% so here we are at 45% with no left handed benches to offer them. But left-handers are great adapters and they never feel sorry for themselves so they just got on with life and enjoyed the class. It’s harder for me than you might think because I try to given a solution in the left handed language without really speaking it.

…And a Little more…

Someone commented recently about Clifton planes and the engineering standards of the planes Clifton make. I understood what they were concerned about but I do think Clifton planes are well engineered tools. I am often concerned though that planes made on three or four continents now are passing one another as ships and planes (pun intentional) in the night and I wonder how that happened. You now get US made planes made to almost identical standards as UK planes swapping countries and then you get Chinese ones coming in on the triangle to compete. I suppose the UK wants the US market as well as the UK and the US wants the UK market as well as the US. Then of course you have Chinese planes that are not made for the Chinese but for the Woodcraft or Dieter Schmidt customers and so on and so forth. Hard to imagine with German engineering being what it was that it doesn’t have a domestic maker beyond the lower-grade tools made by Kuntz. It’s the same with workbenches these days. Hard to imagine Swedish benches go around the world to woodworkers who buy their wooden workbenches and and so too we see the exchanges of ships in the night again as one US maker supplies a UK catalog and vice versa. It’s all very interesting this thing called global economy. I like the idea of making my own bench in the back garden and seeing it come together from some sticks bought at the local lumber yards. For me and many it’s become all the more real woodworking.

P1030690These two images show the drastic difference between shavings from wooden-bodied planes.


P1030653My students were stunned by the ease with which shavings came from the body of old planes like this. Just stunned!!! P1030622Side by side none of the metal bodied planes came close.


And of course we had fun

Today we tested two  planes after I set them up. A wooden-bodied jack, bevel-down, carbon steel, thin iron, 80-90 years old up alongside a new bevel-up, all metal thick ironed A2. Both freshly sharpened and an equal percentage of left and right-handed users in the testing of them both. The outcome was a resounding astonishment from the participants amazed at the ease and effectiveness of a bevel-down, thin ironed, wood-bodied plane. Does that mean one plane is better than the other? No! It means they’re different. They can be applied differently and it means perhaps we might ask why we have so few wooden planes.

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Categories: Hand Tools

Woodworking Brings Change Brings Life

Wed, 02/11/2015 - 3:19pm

P1030116This is the first nine-day foundational of the year and I wonder of it’s a sign of change as I look at the demographics. It’s rare but this class is all male and the average age has dropped from the mid early 50’s to around the mid 30’s. It’s a low-maintenance class and for the first time ever I think they were all within a few minutes of one another as we closed the door this evening.


They cross from bench to bench from time to time throughout the day and talk about their work, their thoughts and the tools they’re using.They joke with one another and now they are sharing how the were amazed and disappointed. P1030078Gutted and ecstatic and all within a few seconds of each other. It’s nice watching them become friends like this. P1030345Two of the men work for the same organisation in the same building and had even seen each other at work but never knew one another until this week. It’s somewhat surprising but I suppose at least half of them come from other countries and that has been a definite shift from when we held our first classes. P1030459Men born in Tunisia, Lebanon, Austria, Spain, Ireland, Wales and England are all working together with a common love for woodworking bringing them the the New Legacy workshop in a castle in North Wales. Another aspect of the demographic is that five of the ten men want to become woodworkers and include it in their living as part or all of their income producing work. Two if them already are woodworkers. P1030502This is another shift. Before this class most students never saw this as a real possibility, but these men do. P1030494If you listen to them, as they chat back and forth, you hear a heartbeat of woodworking pulsing rhythmically back and forth. The planes are a source of conversation as are the jokes about the Aldi chisels or the poor man’s router. It’s organic, this pulsing beat I mean, just watching and listening and I feel my own spirits soar as I go, “Yes!” this is working, they are listening and they are learning lifestyle is very, very real.

P1030318Yesterday Eddie Flynn made it in to the workshop for a little while. Some of you know Eddie for his volunteer work helping his fellow woodworkers on the woodworkingmasterclasses forums. We had a good old chin wag as he shared some of his vision for establishing a new Men and Sheds group in his region of Liverpool.

P1030411I return to my work testing out some of DMT’s Dia Sharp sharpening plates to see how the grits worked on fifteen chisels and three plane irons. P1030469I also unwrapping two new old-stock Marples wooden planes and then finished off making a square awl with a propane torch and some O1 steel.P1030449I write some passages for the new book and look at the new pictures we have from the photo-shoot last week. Stunning, just stunning. Phil passes me another cup filled with freshly made home ground coffee and I sip  and think to myself, “How is all of this possible?” It’s really happening at last. After three decades fighting my corner for lifestyle woodworking. Three decades dismantling the damage  has proven all the more worth the effort. P1030498New woodworkers are being born and are yet to be born and we are equipping people and making it happen! One million people, one million, will watch or read about our work in using hand tools again this month. Actually, more.  I’m teaching a class and planning two new books that will hopefully bring more and more sense and meaning to woodworkers around the world and it means something. I suppose I shouldn’t really call this going to work.

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Categories: Hand Tools

The Demands of Thick Irons

Tue, 02/10/2015 - 12:43pm

P1030293As  bit of a follow up to last night’s blog post I thought I should add some thoughts. There is a general assumption by many that the whole world has access to what some countries have available to them. For instance today I could most like buy 50 #4 smoothing planes from eBay for under £25 each and have them in my hand by the end of the week. For others, retrofitting a the yoke of a #4 plane is just a question of picking up the phone and saying send me a yoke and here is my CC number. Across the globe, say in Peru or Russia, the Philippines, a man has to find some steel and fashion one from scratch. I was always amazed at just what was available on the two continents I have lived on. When I travelled a little further south or north on the two continents the change was markedly different. Just thoughts really. Wherever we live we always assume what we have is the same elsewhere when the reality is most often very different.

P1030289As you may or may not know, I am not really an advocate of thicker, harder irons because it’s not just a question of removing one iron and then adding another. Not usually. As in Florian’s case, the extra cost is no small amount. 95 Euros is £70 plus shipping. That’s $107 USD for an iron and cap iron, not the whole plane. I do know that advocates selling planes espouse the higher quality of plane cuts with thicker irons as do those who purchased them.P1030181 Ron Hock’s irons are not thick irons and they give the same results with O1 steel as the thick irons do. Actually, they give the same results as the standard irons that came with the plane too. There is only marginal difference in the cut and thrust of planing life. Naturally, when it comes to the the thickness agenda, the physics wins out in that the heavier mass will always absorb more into the body and the sound it makes is better, but when it comes to the cutting edge, where the rubber hits the road or the cutting edge the wood, there isn’t enough difference to justify the additional problems of removing a mass of extra steel in the sharpening process if you use regular O1 or the harder steels of say A2. P1030410Add into the equation, as many now have found out to their own expense, the extra weight, need of a new yoke or retrofit and whether you must now open the throat of the plane and you may well find you’ve spent more on the plane than you would have done on the buying of a new Woodriver, Juuma or Quangsheng or whatever other name applies from foreign climes to your part of the world. Lie Nielsen, Kuntz, Veritas, Anant and so on.

Some wrote to give different perspectives on what’s to be done. Buy a new yoke, extend the yoke and so on. Usually it’s something they can do. They have metal and solder and soldering equipment and space to do it and knowledge and skill and, well, they’re retired and have disposable income and time too. You see the assumptions are too too great. Not everyone has the same provision at hand nor access to the same supplies. As I pointed out before, I can buy a dozen planes in the next ten minutes.P1030297

Today I ran three planes alongside one another and had Florian try them out side by side. The one conclusion we had was that the Bed Rock was too heavy, that the standard Stanley felt best, achieved the same smooth results. It’s interesting to see people’s reaction in the lab of real woodworking so to speak.

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Categories: Hand Tools

Thick Irons – Beware the Unequal Yoke!

Tue, 02/10/2015 - 12:05am

Thicker Irons May Not Always Be Actually Fit For Purpose

P1030175Florian from Vienna is in the Nine-day Foundational Woodworking Class this week here at Penrhyn Castle. He was struggling with his personal plane and asked me to look at it. It was a Stanley #4 plane he had decided to make an upgrade to by retrofitting it with a Clifton iron and a stay-set cap iron, also by Clifton. It seemed that the plane couldn’t be adjusted as it should and that registration of the iron to the sole of the plane was relatively ineffective. The problem wasn’t altogether obvious at first glance and it seemed the overall plane was generally in really good shape after he had spent time restoring it. Additionally, Florian had done the right and necessary research and Dieter Schmidt, purveyor of the Fine Tools Company of Europe, based in Germany, went to great lengths to make certain the information was there to help Florian make an educated choice.

Thicker Irons May Mean Less Engagement

P1030169With the Stanley cutting iron assembly the yoke presents squarely inside the cap iron and through to level with the outside or top side of the standard-fit cap iron. P1030159Here you can see that the yoke doesn’t engage with the cap iron and therefore the yoke cannot advance or withdraw the iron for setting depth.

After a couple of seconds I noticed that the yoke protruding into the rectangular opening on the cap iron seemed to be less engaged than I was used to seeing. I mean it seemed to barely engage at all in the enclosure. I removed the Clifton iron cutting assembly (the combination of the cutting iron and cap iron) and measured the protrusion of the yoke from the face of the frog and found it to measure 4mm. P1030160I measured the protrusion on my own Stanley and found that that one measured 1mm more at a full 5mm. P1030162Considering the extra thickness of the cutting iron now distances the cap iron from the bed of the plane by the additional 1.3mm increase in iron thickness, it soon became clear that even with the best willing in the world, the retrofit wasn’t really fit for purpose, even though no one had done anything wrong. Because of the added cutting iron thickness the yoke cannot give full enclosure as standard with non retrofit irons.

I offered to trade my frog with the added 1mm protrusion on the yoke as a possible solution and indeed that changed the situation acceptably. Trading out the identical frogs was the easiest answer, and that’s what we did. So, anyone retrofitting their Bailey pattern bench planes should be aware of this subtle difference and before ordering should make sure the yoke is at least protruding 5mm past the face of or bed of the frog.

However, then comes a second point I picked up on that’s also worth noting. The difference in the location of the rectangular opening that registers the end of the yoke to facilitate the depth adjustment of the cutting iron assembly is slightly different than that of the original cap iron. Again, at first glance at least, the Stanley and Clifton cap irons both have the rectangular hole for the yoke to stick into and through, but we discovered a small difference. The distance from the tip of the cap iron at the business end by the cutting edge and the rectangular opening on the Stanley and the Clifton is different by 3mm. P1030166P1030167This effectively means the yoke tilts on the forepart of the pivot point quite a bit more; so that the yoke is not square in the opening but tilting forward quite a bit and that’s before the iron is set to take even a thin shaving. The yoke is what presents the cutting edge of the iron at the correct protrusion through the throat of the sole and allows for the adjustability of depth of cut. This means that the yoke engagement, being already drastically lessened, applies less support inside the recess. Again, the effect this has on the plane iron is prevents the adjuster from changing the depth of cut. P1030180The thickness of the Clifton iron is 3.41mm whereas the standard Stanley iron is 2.08mm. P1030178So the engagement in the opening of the cap iron is less than .5mm. These two seemingly small differences, the short protrusion and the tilting yoke,  when combined, drastically affect the retrofit, and, as in this case, renders the upgrade ineffective.

A New and More Equal Yoke?

I suppose the next upgrade for plane retrofits would possibly be a new yoke with an added 2-3mm to compensate for the thicker iron. Even if at 1-1.5mm passing into the rectangular opening the yoke is engaged, I conclude that there is a good possibility that the yoke will wear much more quickly and stop working.

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Categories: Hand Tools

Making Your Own Mallet

Mon, 02/09/2015 - 10:11am

Making a Woodworking Mallet by Hand Part 3 is on YouTube so I hope that you enjoy the work we did to bring this series about. It’s training we’ve taken from the free subscription section of our woodworkingmasterclasses.com series and it’s training woodworkers all around the world to apprehend life-sustaining skills for a lifetime and at the same time keeping the footprint on the world to a minimum. More than even that though, it’s health giving, wellbeing and enjoyment with real exercise all rolled into a world of real woodworking!

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Categories: Hand Tools

Scraper Burnishers That Work

Sun, 02/08/2015 - 11:46am

DSC_0099People often ask me to recommend a burnisher they can buy for forming the turned edge to a scraper. When I suggest just using the back of a chisel or a nail set they seem either unbelieving on the one hand or disappointed on the other. Most often they want a brand, a one-size-fits all and a dedicated-to-task tool. Fact is, until I moved to live in the USA, I never saw a dedicated burnisher for developing a scraper’s cutting edge and never knew such a  thing existed. I thought everyone used the back of a chisel or gouge. That doesn’t mean they didn’t exist in the UK, just that I mixed in the wrong circles.P1020750

I remember when I first sharpened my first scraper. It wasn’t called a card scraper because that was an Americanism too. It was just called a scraper. The old man I was working with was in his 80’s and he pulled out a 1” gouge, stuck it in his mouth and whipped it along the scraper edges half a dozen times with quick successive strokes. Then he peeled off two dozen shavings a foot or so long and the job was done. On the next bench Merlin stopped mid stroke and picked up a 1/2” bevel-edged chisel, stuck it in his mouth in like manner and, using the back bevelled side of the chisel, also pulled up a half dozen strokes and started peeling off more oak shaving from his wood. To me this seemed like magic. DSC_0033Torn grain fibres in pockets of unrest around crotch grain and knots suddenly yielded to the deliberate strokes each man made and what I thought to be irreconcilable damage left from the machine planers or hand planes was immediately transformed into a silky smoothness that felt, well, like glass. So it is with skill when experience is married with real working knowledge and a man after the war years had little money spare for his family needs. Those with low income and higher overhead made do with what they had. The men training me felt nothing about stripping out their carburettors and replacing or restoring worn out parts at the same bench they worked wood on. It was nothing to remove the car wheel, tyre (tire USA) and fix the flat in the yard outside the timber racks. There was something about these men that managed their work and finances without compromising or wasting. Their lives spoke to me in my formative years about doing the best you can with what you have. I learned many a good lesson from them.DSC_0604

I never like the idea of people feeling they must have a special tools when there are often many options. So, you don’t need a custom made burnisher to consolidate the edge to a scraper and turn it to form the hook you need for scraping awkward grain. In reality, almost any steel edge works just fine. I agree there is nothing wrong with owning a special burnisher, I own several myself, but it wasn’t until I came to the US did I buy one. Before then and even today, I often reach for a bevel-edged chisel or the back of a gouge and get back to the work in hand.

P1020742Last week I took four tools and sharpened for corners to a card scraper. The results were the same, as far as I could tell anyway. All four ‘burnishers’ worked just fine. In a matter of seconds I consolidated the steel and turned four new and keen edges. I used my own home made burnisher made from some O1, 3/8″ steel round, a manufactured burnisher, a nail punch and bevel-edged chisel. They each produced a viable cutting edge quickly and easily. And actually, no one feels any better in the process than the other.


I would say one thing with regards to safe handling. My chisels and gouges are usually surgically sharp, so I would suggest keeping a spare chisel or gouge for sharpening a burnisher at an unrefined level of sharpness. DSC_0098The nail punch (set USA) or centre punch has no sharp edges and works fine as does a 10mm (3/8”) twist drill, the safe edge of a file.P1030151 P1030153The nose of a pair of needle-nose pliers, screwdriver blade and a dozen more different tool types.P1030155

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Categories: Hand Tools

Lift off! Add Some Sidekicks for Greater Movability

Fri, 02/06/2015 - 12:02pm

P1030033I went to the shop tonight just to check on a couple of things, change out a flickering fluorescent and deliver a couple of things and I remembered someone asking about my mobile workbenches that work as auxiliary benches to support the different aspects of my work. P1030023One of the last minute jobs tonight was to fit four new castors to my own workbench because I need to move it around more than previously. The question one person had asked me was whether you could put a workbench on castors or whether it compromised the stability of the bench. Fact is, in general anyway, mostly they do, that is unless they allow the bench to sit back down on the legs with no rubber tyres in between. Any level of flex allows negative energy to the bench user. Yesterday I ordered a four-castor set from Axminster here in the UK and true to form they arrived 24 hours later and that’s with free shipping. I have to say these are the simplest of all castors to fit and raising my bench to full mobility is about four clicks and a few paces to get the action I need. The installation relies on two 2” screws per castor through the face and into the leg. In ten minutes I was out of the pit and on the track.


Pressing a simple foot or hand lever integral to the castor system raises each castor fixed to the  bench legs 10mm clear of the floor. The wheels are omni-directional and swivel according to thrust. P1030029My bench is very heavy but the bench moved fine. I will see how it goes over the next few weeks, but the whole assembly is very robust with the lever operation operating on a simply cam.


The shop always looks nice before the classes start. One of my favourite times of day is the evening before a class when the wood is milled and boxed and the benches cleared and floors swept. P1030031Order is always important and tomorrow we have a full nine-day class beginning at 9am. As I locked the shop doors in the castle and drove home the snowdrops were in full spread and the Snowdonia mountains glistened in a pink reflection as the sun settled for the evening.P1030036

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Categories: Hand Tools

Add a Moving Workbench For Versatility

Thu, 02/05/2015 - 12:44pm

I’m used to working from big benches, not massive ones, just long ones and ones that are 3-feet across. In my beginnings at school they were silly little things but when I went to work, on the first day, I was given the corner of a long bench with a very old Record vise. P1030015Of course for most a large bench is a luxury of space and size combined and one I can’t really afford for a few reasons. Actually, not many people can do that either. The fact is that every void gets filled, in my experience, most often with non essentials and working my bench sizing out for practical efficiency has been made simple by my not having a big bench. I rely now on the two moving benches I made a couple of years back. These two make my worklife really work effectively. P1030016I can add one to the length if needed and the other one can go on the opposite side for extra width. When I laid the floor joists down on top of a slate bed in the workshop I built it for solidity and that was mainly for smooth flowing camera work. It’s very rock solid. I also beefed up under where the bench area would be and I am glad I did because even with the extra it still bounces slightly when filming. Of course the camera exaggerates everything. Anyway, the carts hold tool boxes and tools, projects worked on or in progress.P1030020 But the extensions they provide are really handy for larger projects and because they’re identical heights to one another they also sit side by side or end to end for wider or longer issues. The omni-directional wheels work great and are lockable too.  I also like them for photography work and that’s mostly why they’re painted the colour they are. See the clamp holder too. That makes for quick access and good storage too. That’s the reason for the drop down desk as well. I can place the auxiliary workbench tight to the well if or as needed.P1030021

Whereas it is true that the two auxiliary benches don’t take up less space than a large single bench, they offer me versatility. I move them in and out to task and the diversely different tasks I encounter in the everyday life of a workman like me.P1030017

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Categories: Hand Tools

El Afilar Es Un Tema Mas Que Nada Abrasivo

Thu, 02/05/2015 - 9:12am

This is a Spanish translation of Paul’s post Sharpening Is Mostly An Abrasive Issue from 16 December 2014. Thank you Carlos!

traducción del inglés por Carlos J. Collazo 

El título de esta entrada parece ser casi una contradicción. Lo afilado y la abrasión. ¿Como es que funciona eso?

Afilar la mayoría de las herramientas cortantes y bordes cortantes de hojas no es particularmente complejo, pero sí llevará práctica para establecer los patrones del éxito garantizado para los métodos de afilar a pulso que te hacen un experto rápido y eficaz. Frecuentemente, comenzamos a afilar usando un guía de afilado que sí funciona para conseguir el filo cortante que necesitamos. Finalmente, vas a querer más, vas a querer sacar el filo más rápido para poder volver al trabajo verdadero que tanto amas.

Como dije, afilar las herramientas cortantes y hojas cortantes no es complejo realmente, pero puede volverse mas difícil cuando pasas a tipos de acero más duros, como son los de alta velocidad, las aleaciones de aceros duros o los bordes cortantes hechos de tungsteno carbúrico. Es entonces cuando debes cruzar una raya para usar métodos mas industrializados. Entonces los abrasivos y cortadores de diamante combinan con la fuerza y la rapidez que se apoderan para proyectarte al mundo menos agradable de la abrasión industrial y del corte de metal. Así que es aquí donde he decidido hacer una pausa, a fin de presentar pensamientos y sentimientos en la forma mas concisa posible. La opinión es una cosa, y siempre hay mucho de ello, y la experiencia es otra, así que veremos los que pasa en la realidad del trabajo diario, en la mesa de trabajo.

La Experiencia Hace La Diferencia

Lo que he visto a lo largo de mis cinco décadas de afilar a diario y, claro está, de enseñar a los demás por miles como afilar, es mayormente la confusión. Hay mucho conocimiento
“de cráneo”, sí, pero eso parece no haber ayudado realmente porque lo que disipa la confusión son los saberes relacionales. Lo que he experimentado como norma es justo lo confudido que parece estar la gente cuando se trata de lo que en un tiempo era nada mas que un proceso sencillo
de afilar. Mi búsqueda entonces es ver si acaso no debemos mirar a lo que se requiere para lograr sacar el filo y sortear la confusión al desmontar los mitos y el misterio.

En esta época de la sobrecarga de información, he encontrado muy desafiante los excesos de información que pretenden ser consejos técnicos. Lo que la información no te da es la experiencia inmediata con las piedras, abrasivos y compuestos, así que lo que quiero tratar de hacer es usar los 50 años de afilar en la mesa de trabajo a fin de tender un puente y dar consejos que espero tengan sentido. Pienso que puedo ir al grano y podremos regresar a la sencillez que todos necesitamos.

Sobrecarga de Información

Estoy seguro que estaré calificado como entre los sobrecargardores de información para cuando esta entrada sea leída. Disculpas, pero hay que decirlo. Esta semana un estudiante me preguntó acerca de los equipos para afilar y saqué un catálogo popular de herramientas para ayudarle entender cuales sistemas o piedras le servirían mejor. Todo a fin de comparar lo que estaba en oferta y guiarla a tomar decisiones informadas. No importa cuánto lo intenté, no hubo manera que eso siquiera fuera posible.

El presupuesto de la señora era alrededor de £30 máximo. Al hojear el catálogo, uno no se tardaba mucho en notar que £30 no alcanza para mucho si lees lo que tienen para decir del asunto los vendedores y fabricantes. El hecho era que si los escuchabas en cualquier medida, gastarías cientos libras esterlinas mas de lo que realmente necesitas and acabarías con mucho mas de lo que necesitas. Hojeando un poco mas las páginas, de pronto me paró y me preguntó, “Cuánto de todo esto necesito?” Con tantas páginas de solo afilar ella preguntó: Cómo jamás será posible entender una cuestión tan compleja habiendo tantos equipos requeridos para afilar un cincel y un cepillo. Fue en este punto que la paré y conté las 21 llenas páginas y me dí cuenta que la confusión estaba en la gran gama de cachivaches y cosas innecesarias en oferta y si fuera yo un principiante también estaría confundido.

¿Son necesarias las máquinas?

La respuesta rápida es, en general, no, pero es posible que desees tener acceso a una para el trabajo de amolado mas pesado a fin de restaurar o restablecer los filos mal amolados, dañados, o defectuosos. Para eso son útiles. Son muchas las cosas que han cambiado el rostro de la ebanistería y el trabajo de la madera, entre las cuales no se excluye la industrialización de aspectos de artesanía que una vez tomamos por descontado ser manuales. Hoy en día en el afilado, la mayoría de las personas usan un sistema mecánico de amoladura, sea una rueda de amolar electrónica mas simple, con dos ruedas de diferentes grados de grano de muela, un amolador horizontal de enfriamiento por agua y de riego continuo, amoladores verticales y horizontales con correas abrasivas y discos de algún tipo, entre otros casos. Todo esto, por supuesto, abrió una esfera masiva de ventas para que los vendedores vendan las mercancías de los gigantes abrasivos industriales como Norton y 3M y así que cuando tu agregas a esta ecuación los diferentes tipos de piedras y tamaños, los diferentes granos de muela abrasiva de todo nivel y correas y compuestos con sus grados también, pronto acabarás considerando un centenar de productos que a los que son nuevos al mundo del trabajo de madera puedan creer necesarios. Pienso que aquí será un buen punto para decir que en general, cuando tienes cinceles y bordes cortantes en buen estado general, no necesitas ningún tipo de máquina de amolar para afilar tus herramientas de bordes cortantes.

Los catálogos compiten con las viejas marcas al suministrar baratijas y malas copias

Lo que ha pasado con los abrasivos de amolado por máquina también ha pasado en otras frentes, incluso. Ahora tenemos las piedras naturales de agua, de diamantes, una gama monstruosa de piedras sintéticas de diferentes tipos de partículas duras y granos de muela abrasiva demasiado numerosos como para mencionarlos por sus nombres. Además y por encima de eso, hoy en día todo está duplicado. Cuando Asia y el occidente abrieron las rutas de intercambio comercial hacia las fábricas intercontinentales y especialmente a las de Asia, una nueva tendencia comenzó con la réplica de líneas ya establecidas. En unos pocos años, las marcas de copias malas y de baratijas que venían copiando a los originales, llegaron a ser normal, con o sin licencias. La búsqueda para satisfacer lo que era entonces el consumismo occidental a precios convincentes y competitivos, abrió las puertas aún más y las compañías de ventas por catálogo por todo el mundo empezaron a ampliar sus ofertas. Aún las compañías de renombre dieron la espalda al honor de sus antepasados y se aprovecharon de la mano de obra mas barata. Spear and Jackson, Woodcraft, Rockler, e Irwin. Fabricantes de máquinas también tienen bienes y piezas hechas en el mundo anónimo de “en algún lado extranjero”. Los británicos y los americanos y algunos países de la Unión Europea se volvieron excepcionalmente adeptos a copiar ideas y que sus cosas fueran reproducidas en algún lado de las expansivas regiones de Asia a mitad de precio y menos. Eso significó que podían ofrecer ambos niveles uno a la par de otro a fin de poder ofrecerle a su clientela un precio reducido pero mas que todo para aumentar sus propias ganancias y competir. Todo lo que en un tiempo solo venía de lo que podemos quizás describir como un fabricante nacional de renombre, se hizo y de pronto podía conseguirse de otros suministradores “alternativos”, pero ya bajo los nombre de marca  propias de las compañías de ventas por catálogo.

Granos de muela abrasiva dura y blanda, aceros duros y superduros.

La realidad es que los diferentes abrasivos cortan el acero a diferentes velocidades. La diferencia depende de la dureza del acero y de las cualidades de abrasión de los diferentes abrasivos. Elegir un método de abrasión trae confusiones adicionales al ámbito de afilar. Hasta hace cuatro décadas, mas o menos, recuerdo que el afilar era realmente muy sencillo. Por lo general, los artesanos siempre usaban métodos de afilar a mano, y muchos aficionados pero no todos, preferían usar guías de afilado como una opción libre de riesgo y como un tipo de ayuda a la formación hasta que ganaran confianza y competencia afilando a mano libre. Usando las piedras japonesas, que eran mayormente naturales en aquel tiempo, ganó rápidamente en popularidad, principalmente porque los trabajadores en madera occidentales estaban en búsqueda de respuestas. DSC_0003Por alguna razón desconocida, los métodos sencillos de afilar fueron enterrados en algún sitio. Fue como si el arte de afilado, sin importar dónde, de pronto se había perdido, olvidado. Fue alrededor de ese tiempo que los métodos de afilado de piedras japonesas de agua y papel abrasivo (conocido por alguna razón como el método scary-sharp) se popularizó. Ambos métodos de alguna manera llegaron a entenderse como sistemas revolucionarias o sea una respuesta a todo problema de afilado. Por un lado tenías las piedras friables que cortaban rápidamente el acero pero que se fracturaban de superficie rápidamente. Esto entonces llevó a que las piedras tuverian cavidades severas que supuestamente necesitaban de un aplanamiento permanente y en alguna medida eso podría ser verdad. Eso lo examinaremos pronto. Por otro lado, las superficies abrasivas tales como los papeles y películas se rompían fácilmente y eran superficies de corta vida que tenían que cambiarse constantemente. Esto viene siendo un sistema muy caro para el afilado permanente o a largo plazo. Antes de llegar a este punto la mayoría de los trabajadores usaban por toda Europa y por supuesto América del Norte, piedras de afilar en aceite, sintéticas, o naturales. El porqué la gente se volvió descontenta con ellas, esto realmente no lo sé. Estas piedras abrasivas todas funcionaban y bien. Y de hecho, aún funcionan. Si andas corto de dinero, puedes sacar un borde cortante muy bueno con una piedra de afilar Norton de grano combinado y un asentador de cuero. La gran mayoría de los trabajadores que he visto estarían contentos que estos bordes son lo suficientemente buenos para crear buenos trabajos.

¿Y que quiero decir?

Bueno, quiero decir que hay unas y otras concepciones diferentes.  A algunas personas les gusta pasar una hora o dos afilando un borde a fin de sacar alisaduras prístinas en forma de rizo de la luz de un cepillo y que cautivan al usuario. Ellos quieren el cepillo finamente ajustado y nada mas raspar el borde de una tabla. Para ellos es terapéutico y relajante. Eso no tiene en absoluto nada de malo. Luego están aquellos que les encanta cepillar la madera mientras trabajan y crean mas allá o por debajo de la alisadura. Ellos perfeccionan la madera y la alisadura porque están interrelacionados para la ensambladura, la fabricación de paneles, y para nivelar, recortar y demás.

Guías de Afilado

El hecho de que yo nunca ví a un maestro artesano en madera usar un guía de afilado no quiere decir en absoluto que nunca lo usaban o usan. En mi ámbito no hay en absoluto nada de malo con esto por lo menos por principio. Yo uso uno de vez en cuando por diferentes razones y especialmente cuando experimento para el trabajo investigativo en que me comprometo. Sin embargo, para mí, no usar un guía de afilado de ángulo fijo me da mucha mas velocidad, economía de movimiento, tiempo, y por tanto, eficiencia. De igual importancia es el hecho de que me parece demasiado restrictivo con respecto al meneo que siento al usar una guía de ángulo fijo. Ahora bien, todo esto es en mi labor diaria general. Como dije, los guías de afilado sí tienen su lugar. Mira tú, es demasiado mecánico, claro está, pero eso también me previene de afilar para una tarea específica o preferencia particular que tengo, y me da la adaptabilidad total que me gusta y obtengo con el afilado a mano libre. P1010226No depender de los guías de afilado simplifica en cierta manera la tarea, siempre que veas que exige también un desarrollo temprano de destrezas. El problema usualmente es que las personas se sienten incómodas por lo menos al principio, y por lo tanto ellas a menudo se acogen a la guía de afilado. ¿Que pienso yo de esto? Bueno, nunca usé una bicicleta con rueditas de apoyo que yo recuerde, y claro me caía de vez en cuando en las primeras etapas de aprendizaje, pero una vez que llegué a dominar lo de mantener el equilibrio que requería, todo salió fácil. Conociendo tal libertad decidí nunca usar las rueditas de apoyo. Mi recomendación es que te compres quizás uno de los guías menos caras como el (único) que usamos aquí en la escuela. Es lo suficientemente fácil y rápido de configurar, fiable a utilizar, y de duración para toda la vida. También, se pueden comprar por menos de £10. Yo, de aprendiz, fui directo al afilado a mano libre a los 15 años de edad y me quedé con él por 50 años. Tardé como máximo unas pocas horas a lo largo de una semana mas o menos para ya tenerlo para toda la vida.

Espero que la siguiente entrada sobre estas cuestiones sea más interesante y esclarecedor.




The post El Afilar Es Un Tema Mas Que Nada Abrasivo appeared first on Paul Sellers' Blog.

Categories: Hand Tools

So, On Making Tools

Wed, 02/04/2015 - 1:22pm

There’s something about making your own tools, even when you buy the parts from say Lee Valley Veritas or some other resource provider because you’re a woodworker and not a metal worker—not quite yet! Knives and mallets, peeled from a chunk of wood become really special to you. It’s far from second rate to be making your own tools. Few things give greater reward and those with wooden parts take care of the parts we don’t have casting facilitates to make. Also, wood on wood is especially good. Don’t forget that and it’s not an old fashioned nostalgic idea either. Believe me.

When I was almost 16 I made my first moulding plane. A simple enough project now but back then I was uncertain if I could do it. The need was simple enough. When a window frame is made from wood alone we must use drip grooves on certain parts of the sashes and also in the inner corners of the frame itself, to break any possibility of capillary attraction between all parallel or touching surfaces. Simple! It was this measure that prevented the transfer of unwanted water from the outside weather to the inside surfaces of the frame. Remember that these were the pre spongy, squashy rubber days for window and door seals and it worked fine. What I didn’t have was a a plane to make the channels when channels were missed by the machinist or a frame or sash needed hand work because it wasn’t a large enough run to set up for machining.

P1020956This day I asked George if I could use his 1/4” hollow and he answered, “No! Get your own.” I asked Merlin and he said the same, Jim, Jack, Ian? They didn’t have one or wouldn’t loan me. I went back to George and he quietly and kindly said, “There was a point when you using mine was helping you. Continuing will not help you. You have a problem and it’s one you must resolve not by borrowing any more but by making one that’s yours.” He passed me some sycamore, an off-cut from a sycamore countertop we’d just made for a commercial school kitchen, and so I made my first moulding plane. The blade was from a file I softened in the boiler fire and cut down with a hacksaw. It’s still going but it’s in storage somewhere in the USA.P1020961

Buying your tools is not always the best beginning as this story from my past is intended to illustrate. It’s the same with buying new tools because they work straight out of the box. Now then, my reason for saying this is because postponing the learning curve is just putting off you must master as soon as you can. Buy a new and working plane or spokeshave or whatever to get you going. It’s a good plan, but then buy secondhand ones and watch your growth take on wings or even rocket fuel. Its the fastest way to really grow.P1020966

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Categories: Hand Tools


by Dr. Radut