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This is a collection of all the different blogs I (try to) read. A whole bunch! If you have any comments or suggestions feel free to use the CONTACT page to get a hold of me. Thanks!
I think it’s important to understand that amateurism is very alive and thriving in lives that so defy external pressures others impose with business plans, commercial-isms and faceless partnering with sharks and rogues in suits, ties, enforced dressiness and all else. These artisans invest great portions of their free time to develop and grow their skills. It is something I love to invest large chunks of my life in to bring about change and now I see that its gathering its own momentum as all such investments have a habit of doing .
Amateurism has pureness that needs no support, no self-elevation beyond the doing of it in the and working with hand tools equips us to split off from the herd into a wholeness of sustainable sufficiency that defies our being called mere professionals. Because someone masters reading and other such natural ways of communicating with our friends and family and associates; because we learn to form clear sentences and speak our minds, doesn’t mean we became professional speakers, even though we do it well and all the time. We don’t dub them professional readers and speakers. So it is with craft, skill, art and such things naturally occurring through due diligence. We have no need to prove ourselves by selling to a high bidder. We just sell as we need. We sell to take care of our families of course, but then we make to share our skills in finished works that extend our lives into the lives of others, technically our customers but mostly people we may not have known but became friends with as we designed and built their pieces. My customers were always welcomed as the build took place. Delivery was one of the greatest joys of course. But then, also, there is the making of things for our families and our parents and our children and grandchildren.
Sometimes, often, alone in my workshop, when my hip leans into the bench, and my arms reach forward into yet another cut, and then over and beyond my working, there slowly wells inside the cleanness of silent praise work alone brings, where work itself becomes the very essence of worship, and the thought inside rises into words of Thank You; edging gently into the silence surrounding me for fear of losing the pureness of amateurism. It’s here where I sense my amateurism reaches the very Source of life and it’s here that peace rests on me. This happens in the process of living out your work.
Sam’s work came together this week as he made his third set of dovetails for his third box—his joiner’s traveling toolbox. Each corner looks this way. The door and back panel are glued up twist-free and the panels he raised with a #4 Stanley came quickly. It’s the three joints and ten hand tools a man and a woman needs to make almost anything from wood. His apprenticing is working well. It defies what our modern world calls apprenticeship these days. No machine will touch his work beyond the wood we buy that’s milled smooth or rough cut to dimensional levels. He doesn’t strain in aspiration toward the machine as a measure of his arriving or his confirming. He knows machines often interfere with the senses in the same way the computer destroys the senses with artificiality and the shop bot denies a man his learning to carve and shape wood into leaves and sweeps from a gouge edge or a tenon and a dovetail from the chisel and the saw.
Sarah came in to finish off some work she needed guidance with. She’s a serious woodworker with serious goals and little time spare to make and be. The time she spends woodworking defies peer pressure as does my work with Sam and Phil and John, Lea B and others along the way. We don’t always make to sell but to do and to be. That doesn’t at all mean selling is something wrong and unnecessary, just that we see it for what it is and that’s a means of exchange rather than the ultimate goal some have in life of being rich and well off to the point that work becomes unnecessary. Earning is down there in the list somewhere, of course it is, but learning to live within your means has the greater reward indeed. These are simple limits we see as important.
Sarah works hard when she comes in. Remember Lea B too, from Slovakia, she does the same. I like to watch the carefulness some people have when they work; those that put love into the work they do reap greater benefit minute by minute. I like seeing the way the chisel rests against the cheek of a tenon to pare away a thousandth. It takes skill that doesn’t usually happen straightaway. These things take time to learn so that force always becomes more measured and meted accurately to the task and when resistance is met it’s seldom harshness and brutishness that develops fine work but care with kindness. The chisel shifts askew to alter it’s path slightly and fibres part, sliced cell by cell by sliced cell. The fibres peel away in upward scrolls and ribbons and the work reveals the hand of a master. This is the work of the amateur. His work, her work, coexists responsively as each sense directs the work. Such things are priceless, non commercial, transparently honest and highly revealing. I think it’s being a master craftsman you see. Of course there is no such thing as a master craftsman because too many things exist to master, but it’s a better title than being a professional.
Anyway, our future extends into changing lives of those who aspire to become fully qualified amateurs. No certificate or diploma exists for this. You need no exam to qualify your work. You see Sam’s work is exemplary of a level of workmanship few professionals actually have. That’s not to say that none do at all. Most professionals I know that do achieve such levels are true amateurs too.
We should never really rely on the professionals for keeping woodworking alive or passing on the skills because most of them do use dumbed down methods to make their work work. There is more to it than that. personally, I am an amateur because i have never done it just for money but for the passion and love for it. Ask my wife and my children.
You want to become a woodworker. Your thoughts at work cushion you from the hard harshness of your two-dimensional work as you mentally enter the three-dimensional world of the wood you will work with your hands for an hour this evening or over the weekend. In your mind you remember looking back at the project as you close the door and darkness closes over the shed, the garage or the basement shop. The shadows outline the shapes of the legs you fashioned with your spokeshave and you catch the last scent of the wood as the door wafts the essence of wood and oils, paste waxes, resin and all manner of other such smells that make wood work for you. This is the validation of your life and status as an amateur woodworker—never despise it. This is the essence of being a real woodworker.
Guard against losing such things.
Commerce has a way of invading many of the things that started with the love of it. Guard when others plant the seed and say you could make your living from this. They usually see dollar signs and not the fact that you love the other world you’ve created for your personal sanity and wellbeing. Most of them can never see or understand what you are doing nor the why of it. Be careful that you don’t sell yourself and the very thing you love in pursuit of something that might cause disaffection down the road because of pressures you might not realise you’ve allowed to creep in.
The innocence and purity of amateurism
Amateurism is a quality seldom measured or understood by friends and family, work colleagues and business associates. Whether you can make more money than you already are has supplanted any sense of wellbeing you might get from mere manual work. This is especially true of most educators at the higher echelon of academia from what I have seen. Yet to live and work with your hands, following the unknown aspirations yet to unfold, translates a person into a truly unique world with unquantifiable values. Working through these past decades, dismantling the ever-invasive industrialism that has become so very pervasive, has very much been my goal. Mass-making equipment had its way for a season, about half a century or more, and it rampantly displaced real woodworking for the majority. Every attemptI made to balance out the invasion was met with resistance over the three decades. It was a great challenge at first getting serious woodworkers to understand what we were doing, but gradually we have succeeded. Now, on the other side so to speak, I look back and think just how well worth it it was. Today there are more hand tool woodworkers than ever in the last 50 years. Mostly this is because so many people made the paradigm shift from unquestioningly accepting the status quo and the asking questioning the whole evolutionary process from true hand work to machines. I mean, apart from the interest some people have in technology and making a robot mechanism make something with precision, most of the woodworkers I meet started to pursue woodworking and discovered that the professionals in woodworking stores led them only to machines and related equipment they could sell to them. Remember the router rarely ends with the machine. From there you must buy expensive route bits, special bearings, router tables and fences, appropriate guides, safety equipment and such like that. It was here that I realised something was dying. The things I took for granted in recessing hinges and chopping mortises by hand were deemed dead and past, yet I knew that I could cut dovetails and mortise and tenons with much greater levels of fulfilment and confidence to say nothing of safety using hand tools and methods than I ever could with machines. I also knew that I could do many things much faster if you took into account set up time, clean up time and additional sanding and correction time to correct the flawed surfaces and even damage machines left.
Over these past few years, a decade or so, I have especially seen how my work is now radically changing the lives of those who love woodworking and how I have influenced the changes in attitudes too. The health benefits from workouts at the bench planing boards of course have been immeasurable. What about the wellbeing mentally of mechanical math, geometry and other engineering problem solving. Listen everyone, woodworking is changing. It’s no longer just the stage of entertainers selling machine methods but people’s lives investing in becoming. I see some of the more really refined wood and craftwork these days that sets the amateur way above the professionals because not only does their work exemplify high standards of workmanship but they actually use real skill to do it. As long as we lead people along this path, craftsmanship thrives on into future generations. These dovetails are Sam’s third ever box. Each corner is the same. His mortise and tenons for the doors and the back frame above are as perfect too. He’s making one of my Joiner’s traveling toolboxes (below). Currently he’s an amateur. An apprentice. I hope he never becomes a professional. I’m an amateur and always have been. I just get pad for it. What’s the difference between an amateur and a professional. An amateur does it whether he or she gets paid for it or not. A professional only does it for money. That said, I know many “professionals” that are amateurs. Anyway, the toolbox is one I have used all of my life. I redesigned it with additional features that far surpass the ones made in the last century. I have about seven or eight of them now, including the one I made when I was 16 years old in the back of the wood stacks. Yes, I felt ashamed because it was dishonest gain, but I have changed and would not do what I was encouraged to do back then. But it was the foreman, Jack, that gave me the four pieces of wood for the box and he showed me how to lay out the dovetails too. Then he said, “Theres a bench at the back of the wood stack, go there for half an hour in the mornings when you get in and make yer box.” So that’s what I did. Back then we glued and nailed the dovetails. It was a common practice to allow the glue to go off and the reason was it needed no clamps. I was very much the amateur in the truest sense of the word. I loved it then as I do today.
Making money is not a bad thing to work for, don’t get me wrong and don’t think I am judging anyone. Yes, there are those who do what they do only for money. That’s their choice. I never thought money could buy what I strove for to make life enriching and ever-fulfilling because my work was a large part of what made life so rewarding. My work enabled me to be working from home, be with my family as they grew and see everyone of my children through the formative years of their lives…all the more fulfilment. Then it allowed me to train them and teach them woodworking. Through all of this you start to see the knock on effect. And, what reward. Anyway, you don’t have to do it all day as I have unless you truly feel led in that direction; evenings, weekends, days off all work. In the brief periods when I had to do something else, I still worked with wood for four hours a day and all through the weekends. We built two homes from the ground up and then built the furniture, restored at least four or five houses and much more too.
Keep amateurism pure and alive.
It’s truly a heart issue everyone. Professionals don’t really read my blog I am sure. Reaching out to amateurs has been my greatest reward, let me tell you.
The post Amateurism thrives as the real power behind woodworking appeared first on Paul Sellers' Blog.
I’m often asked how to create sliding dovetails. I mean people who want to make an immoveable joint across the full width of wide boards with as near flawless accuracy as possible. Now I have seen many sliding dovetails thought my lifetime of working wood but the flaw levels in one part or another were always too high. Of course there are such things as routed dovetails but that’s where the machine does it not you. Aside from that, I could never bring myself to use a router to make dovetails.Visit the Hancock Shaker Museum if you ever get chance. You will not regret it.
Two years ago I spent some time in the Hancock Shaker Museum. Although everything there was 200 years old, and perhaps it was old fashioned, there was something so intriguing about the standards of workmanship in hidden gems throughout the museum. I spent more time looking under and upwards, inside and behind than just in familiar ways we normally look at things. Anyway, I am replicating one of these in some beautiful cherry I just bought in. It does have a couple of unique features you won’t want to miss and that are not obvious. So you can follow this build with us if you like.This is one of mine. It’s not yet finished bit closely fitted.
Whereas over the past half century people sought modern ways of making and designing, and most woodworkers lost much of the type of connection people like the Shakers had with their work, it’s amazing to see a new-genre woodworker believing in hand work and the benefits that brings to life Instead of their designs being conformed to the limits of their machines they are discovering what I have had for 50 years. It’s a lovely thing to see something like a hand-cut sliding dovetail come together with a handful of simple hand tools. I don’t mean gappy ones but perfectly married ones with pristine shoulder lines and meeting surfaces as tight as tight can be.
We will be showing the methods I use to do this via woodworkingmasterclasses.com and YouTube too as usual. I will work up a blog on it too for those who like the typed instructions.
This tenon is straight off the saw. It’s had not trimming at all and I like it because of the fineness of the cheeks and the shoulder lines. When I pull it between my fingers and thumb i can barely feel any discernible surface discrepancy even though I can see saw lines from the kerf. I wanted to perfect my bowsaw recently and that meant working on the blade I wanted to use too. I think the results were pristine. It’s hard for a tenon saw man to turn to another saw type after five decades. I love the British back saws I must admit. Hard to beat I think. The Japanese pull-stroke saws made heavy inroads to dissuade people from the western saw and almost succeeded, but I think that’s shifted a little now, thankfully, and I am glad. I want a saw I can sharpen and a saw I feel comfortable telling people they can learn to sharpen too. Between you and me I really like the combination of the bow or frame saws and the back saw in it’s different types and options. This week has been very profitable in the developments we have made surrounding the use of different hand tools. We are making woodworking doable for the less fortunate working on a shoestring budget and also for this who can afford everything. I feel to be one of if not the most fortunate woodworkers in the world today because of what we are able to do in reaching out to people worldwide.
My first thoughts on making the dining table a few weeks back now was that there were features to it that were unique yet perhaps not obvious really. So I put the design together with that in mind and wrote down the details, made drawings and cutting lists. The design is out there now for posterity. I suppose that’s the functionality the internet brings to postmodernity. In times past the design would have been lost in a pile of magazines in a cellar or attic. It’s true when I say that the best way to preserve a seed is not to store it in a jar in a dark cellar somewhere but to plant it. Some say it’s only a matter of a few years when magazines will disappear. I suppose that’s probably true, I don’t know. I do know that we are personally reaching hundreds of thousands of woodworkers worldwide
The goal in making the table as with all we do on woodworkingmasterclasses.com is training, apprenticing, preserving seeds, planting them and ensuring that all we know is living in the lives of woodworkers around the world. There are two levels of membership, free subscription and paid. The paid is £10 per month.
We showed how to hand plane rough-sawn, wide boards with waney edges. Boards that would have at one time been common to people like me. You know something, it’s not so bad knowing how to do such a thing with hand planes, some winding sticks and such. Actually, dare I say it, it’s an enjoyable task. Even for an older man like me it’s still enjoyable. So for a young person and anyone in between it should be seriously enjoyable too.
The recessed tenons through the apron mortises are intentional to transfer most of the pressure from the tenons alone to the housing dadoes. The stability this adds is remarkable. These prevent any twisting under pressure. Why would there be pressure. Well, the table can be upended to sweep or clean under the table. It’s quite easy and light to do because it cantilevers at a certain point. It works.
The positions of the columns are set to allow comfort to the end occupancy and so too the first seater to each of the corners. The table seats 8 people by the way. I placed the uprights close to one another to ensure accuracy to the shoulder lines of all of the tenons. Any slight deviation telegraphs through the work and shows flowed workmanship instantly. It’s an exam if you will.
When it comes to the cross bearers at the top of the column uprights we also have close joinery where accuracy is of paramount importance. So we have a version of the hounds-tooth dovetail to the corners and cross bearers a little way away. Synchrony is what this project is all about. I’m glad we did it.
At the moment we are working on a project with sliding dovetails. Cherry is a premium wood to work in.
I’m never sure about some things but this week I was restoring an older Stanley enjoying myself seeing the rust disappear and helping the students to see the process and the results. Everything went well and the iron was slightly bellied on the flat side and was bent near to the top so we took it to task. Over the years I have learned a few new tricks and have changed a few of my own views too. Here are some thoughts you might want to consider.I slightly dished this iron to get the belly out of the way. You can also see the line of the lamination.
Firstly, and I have already said this elsewhere, plane irons need not be dead flat at all.
Secondly, they need not be replaced with any other make of iron and certainly not thicker ones.
Thirdly, if they are bellied they need not be abraded to flatness.
Fourthly, if they are hollow they are ready to go and need minimal restorative work beyond minor abrading and polishing out along the back of the cutting edge.
There, I have just saved you an hour or two’s work.
It puts an end to ruler tricks and even scary sharp flattening faces. Save the time and energy for what you love in woodworking rather than busy work.
But for this blog I wanted to say at last I have come across an obvious laminated English-made Stanley plane iron in the one I bought recently on eBay.
I am used to laminated irons in old plane irons used in wooden planes of old but it is indeed a rarity here in the UK to come across a laminated iron like the one here.
I contacted Patrick Leach at superior works and he offered this:
Stanley did make laminated irons.
I don’t know the exact time frame, but they stopped ca.
1930 (my best recollection).
The earlier ones, pre-1920, are the easiest to
Some ca.WWI, and earlier, Stanley literature notes the
laminated irons, as well as touting their superiority for
grinding/honing due to their thinner cross-section (when
compared to the standard thicker irons of the era).
Anyway, it really takes a keen edge and seems so far to last well too.
I can’t really say that I like or dislike carving spoons with special knives and I suppose it has something to do with who I am as a furniture maker working in a workshop at a bench. I’ve made and sold thousands of wooden spoons and of course I’ve also taught hundreds if not thousands to make them. My methods revolve around fully dry wood and not green wood and mostly my materials come from scraps from flat boards rather than riven and split limbs. My tools are conventional woodworking tools used by different crafts. In this case the bowsaw for roughing out, the gouge for scalloping and shaping and the spokeshave for refining and truing the shape. I used a couple of card scrapers to finish of the shaping and the spoon is ready to go in about half an hour to an hour–ready to sell really.
I prefer these tools to knives mostly because they do it so well. Cherry makes a good spoon, one of the best. I used a gouge today to carve out a large cherry spoon. It takes so little time with a gouge. The great benefit is you can fully carve the spoon from fully dried wood. when wood is dry of course it’s fully hard and in about five minutes a large bowl is full carved and scalloped to almost perfect symmetry. Another advantage of course is the spoon is ready for sale and further drying is needed and there is therefore no wait time sell your spoons.
This large spoon came from the bowsaw, the spokeshave and the scraper. I like the concept of carving spoons with hook knives, but they don’t work to well on fully dried and seasoned wood like this. It’s the gouge and the spokeshave that makes the big difference. The leverage you get with the gouge means more power to you. Using a mallet or chisel hammer means the depth comes in a a minute and refinement in two or three more. Another great advantage of course is your hands are always behind the cutting edge. Perfect for getting children into spoon carving effectively, productively and all the more important, safely.
I used a wooden spokeshave for this one and cherry is a wondrous wood to work with these two tools. As I said, it’s hard, resilient, dense-grained and very lovely with its rich honey colour and swirling grain patterns. Much more lovely than many other softer hardwoods. It means that all of the scraps from my furniture making become lifetime spoons, spatulas, garlic boards and much more.
Of course as a furniture maker I am using slabbed wood and not riven and split limbs. The sections clamp well in the vise or to the bench top. I never liked sitting sown to work and have stood within two feet of a bench vise for fifty years six days a week and 8-10 hours a day on average. mUch better for your back than shaving horses I think.
The cherry when dry or green cuts very nicely with my bowsaw and so the main shape can be cut readily and then also the bulk of the waste comes away in a heartbeat. I suppose the remaining shaping comes from the spokeshave in a few more minutes work. When the wood is dry of course it is the very best. I use a 1/2” bandsaw metal cutting blade with 14 teeth per inch. These blades will cut thousands of linear feet and last me for about three years of use unless I somehow damage the blade. Not too likely. I buy a bandsaw blade and snap them to length. I get six bowsaw blades for £16 so that’s £2.60 a piece.
This question comes up fairly often and this is the how-to that works best. It works on the modern versions of blade-as-sole spokeshaves equally well. It’s not a difficult task but the tangs get in the way of conventional bevel-up sharpening, as you might with planes and chisels, so it’s is easiest to be done bevel up.
Making abrasive paddles
Typically sharpening work is the work of a narrow abrasive whetstone. Because the traditional spokeshave blade is not necessarily dead straight or flat but slightly curved along the length and slightly hollow on the flat underside face, a narrower stone works well. An inch or less works fine. Most likely you won’t have one and so it work well to use abrasive paper on a wooden paddle like the ones shown.
First you need to make the paddles, which are quickly made with strips of abrasive paper adhered to thin paddles of 6mm x 20mm x 175mm (1/4” by 3/4” by 7”) long scrap wood. I use double sided tape such as mounting tape to attach the abrasive and I do both sides of the paddle for economy. The yellow paddle is 120-grit. This is coarse enough for corrective work but for most work this may well be sufficient for establishing a cutting edge too. I keep one spokeshave with a blade with a coarser sharpening for the roughing out work. If you have only one spokeshave then you can simply hone to a more polished level as needed. You can use finer grits of paper to refine the bevel. In my case I used the EZE-Lap diamond hones in medium, fine and superfine grits. That’s somewhere around 400-1200.
To remove the cutting iron by tapping the tangs evenly alternating from one side to the other until it’s free.
How much the blade has already been sharpened affects the angle of presentation of the abrasive paddle to the blade. You must first establish the bevel angle for presenting the abrasive paddles to the steel and then grinding away is quick and simple. Place the blade on a support block as shown with the cutting edge aligned right on the corner edge of the block and then place the paddle of abrasive on the blade as shown and with the opposite end on the bench.
To determine the general angle of presentation move the paddle forwards or backwards against the cutting edge without abrading until the paddle hits both the back edge and the front edge of the blade simultaneously.
Now, by moving the paddle in short circular motions about 2 cm (3/4”) up or down and no more, with the opposite end of the paddle on the bench top, you can establish the correcting bevel to the steel.
Move across the bevel from one end of the cutting bevel to the other using these circular motions until the whole bevel is evenly abraded. This will establish a slight camber to the bevel and by carefully watching the bevel it should be nice and symmetrical too. Keep going until you feel a slight burr to the opposite, underside of the cutting iron, along the full length. Work as evenly as possible if the bevel is in good shape. If it’s way off, apply more strokes to even out discrepancy. Generally, even a bad iron takes only a few minutes to establish the bevel correction.
It’s worth mentioning here that so far the work done including making the paddles is not more than ten minutes.
Subsequent honing continues using finer grits of paper on paddles or the EZE-Lap diamond hone. Do both sides of the blade. On the underside keep the honing as flat as possible, spanning any hollow there is as shown below.
Further refining of the bevel can be done with a leather strip charged with buffing compound and hooked over the abrasive paddle like this. Or you can use a flat piece of wood instead. Just charge the surface of the wood with the buffing compound.
The opposite side of the blade, the flat face, often needs surfacing too. This usually means abrading through surface defections until the surface is clear of pitting and broken edges. Use the same sequence of paddles but not the leather strop.
This time use a piece of flat wood charged with buffing compound. Push the paddle flat across the blade in one direction only, otherwise the cutting edge will cut into the paddle.
Usually around 30 strokes works to polish out the blade. From here on it is unlikely you will need to do this again. It’s a one shot restoration process.
Tap the blade back into the spokeshave and start work.
In mastering hand tool work I learned early on in the 1960’s that there’s a rhythm to the life of lived craftsmanship that’s governed by internal chemistry, muscle memory and reflex actions. We don’t need to understand how they work but we must allow their governance to give our bodies the rhythm that paces our day. Pacing is very much a part of hand work and herein lies the key difference between the machinist and the woodworker. Craftwork like mine is a uniting association of hand-eye coordination that demands cooperation. Hand work automatically demands all of the senses engage in some measure in craftwork and it’s this that separates me from anxiety and stress because I find such saneness in it. There are of course dozens of different rhythms and many of which we will never understand but rhythms they are. Just to put some perspective on this I took something I wrote in my new book I thought might be of interest.
“The weight of a mallet must be lifted and dropped to the chisel with a quick and rhythmic arm and wrist movement. At around 60 vertical mallet stroke lifts per minute equalling 3,600 strokes in an hour, and with a 2 lb mallet, that’s 7,200 lbs of lifting in an hour ( well over 3 metric tons or both the short or long tons) driven with the exact force to deliver each blow to an inch diameter. A momentum grows and the whole dynamic of shape and size needs to match the craftsman. Here you see the marriage of the mallet to the hand of the man that made the mallet. It’s an until-death-do-us-part marriage you see.”
Saw strokes, hammer blows, planes strokes by the thousands all have rhythm and poser. The neat thing is that I see a joint come together and the wood get smoothed. I see a door trimmed and hinged step by step and when my day is done all of the rhythms come together like a symphony. I live for this.
It’s obvious from your responses to different posts which ones appeal to a larger percentage and one of the highest is working with your hands and earning all or some percentage of your living from being a woodworker. I know the goal is to make your living which of course is important, but dismantling the goal of making money alone has been the most difficult aspect of my work.
Through the decades of working as a furniture maker I have always made a living, so just what does that mean. I think I have worked for myself and to my own schedule most of my life. That has never once meant nine to five. It’s never been a five day week and it’s never been a guaranteed weekly wage. How about going two months with no pay? How bout 6 1/2 days a week and how about 14 hours in any given day. Disappointed? Well, I don’t know I would have traded it for an hour or two traveling to work during rush hour to start and end my day. I know I enjoyed walking from the house through to the workshop at 7am and not wasting time anxiously trying to get to work on time. I was already there.
I have only used a computer for a short time really, compared to others, I had to learn, but nothing I have ever done on one compares to working from 7am until 9 or 10 pm making something from wood. Is that silly? I know, “Paul, Get a life!” Well, there isn’t a day of it I would change, really. Can you believe that? I’m not really talking about odd days like that in a given month or so. More a pretty normal day. I’m grateful to my wife. She was with me the whole time and never asked me to “get a real job.” Funny thing really. She never saw her life as separate from mine. We were always together and united in our vision for family life, family business and being together in the day to day of life. I liked it when she brought tea and biscuits out mid morning and we sat in the garden and talked about work, the children, the customers, shipping out projects and then the things surrounding us in the garden, in the house and simple things like that. We did that a couple of time s a day and then always had lunch together too. We didn’t ever talk about having our own space or private time out, stuff like that. She was never interested in woodworking and never really worked with me that way, but we understood this was the life we wanted for our family life. Family being together kind of counters some of the effects the Industrial Revolution has in our today’s-world as best we can. It’s reversing some of the negatives, keeping the best of the past, uniting it with the present and living it with the loves of your life. In my case my wife, my children, my grandchildren and my friends. And of course woodworking, metal working, leather working, painting and drawing, writing photography and watching life around me in nests and trees and fields and woods.I designed a pair of these Mesquite credenzas for the Permanent Collection of the White House in 2008/9 and delivered them too. I met President G.W. Bush and his wife in the process.
The ambitions we have are often different and so they should be. My goal was to be self employed being a woodworker and making my designs. Some of my designs were worth more than a mere day’s pay and I charged for both my labour rate plus the design according to its worth. But I engineered a path leading away from making things purely on the basis of money because I realised there had to be something more rewarding and that meant getting back to why I became a woodworker you see. I was fifteen when I started this and it was what I wanted to do. I didn’t start working to make an income but to work with wood. I didn’t need money, didn’t do it for money and yet the fascination of working wood motivated me more than anything else. And guess what? When I wake up every morning, that’s after 50 years of daily woodworking, it still fascinates me. When and if I did it for money and when I did make money in larger amounts than normal I felt something died. I even lost interest sometimes. I became aware that my love for woodworking was my first and foremost motivation and it was rewarding and fulfilling to return to the place where woodworking could hold the content of something I really cared for. Of course there is something honest about earning income and paying your way. I could make money from my work and still enjoy woodworking. Even when I worked twice as long and twice as hard as others might expect of themselves, my work gave me great reward. The saying, “Don’t work hard work smart.” means nothing to me. I don’t agree with it. I love hard work that includes critical thinking ending in results. Stepping outside the dream others have for you or even try to impose on any vision you have can sometimes take a tough stance but starting to live to establish new ideals can lead to looking back and say it’s been real is well worth it.
I started making things from wood with nails to hold the pieces after seeing my dad clutching a handful of 4” ovals making me and my siblings a go-cart from an old mahogany table. Clenching the pointed nails now protruding over and sending them back seemed the cleverest thing to me and two three-foot pieces gave use a five-foot chassis in a matter of a few hammer blows. Two cross members, one fixed and one pivoting on a bolt in the centre held two sets of pram wheels and I knew freedoms I’d never known before. No, not on the the four-wheeler! It was the hammer and nails, my introduction to woodworking and the power of nailed wood.
From there my go cart made frantic trips to the bottom field and the tip (city dump) where the trucks lined up filled with thee worlds rubbish. Loaded with everything from old wardrobes to new offcuts of plywood I loaded my cart and wheeled it home and my dad and I nailed stuff together to make ‘furniture’ for the house. I’d found two cans of gloss paint, light green and pink and he taught me to paint too. From these all too brief encounters I became the happy maker of things from wood and the painter of things from wood. At fifteen I entered into my apprenticeship and 50 years later I’ve made hundreds of thousands of hand cut dovetails, mortise and tenons and many more joint types; possibly as many or even more than any man living. I’m not claiming that, but it’s possible in today’s world were machines have indeed taken over.
This last week I watched different people being trained or who I had trained working in my workshop and thought how amazing to have seen 5,500 people standing at my benches being transformed and changed to think differently about wood. I remembered some of how it began and seeing men standing with sons waiting by a bandsaw ready to cut out shapes and wondering why. I took them to my workbench and introduced the mallet and the chisel and a tenon saw and suddenly the line and queueing stopped and the fathers and sons engaged in the real work of real woodworking and real relationships with wood and one another started developing. These are the ways that young people become woodworkers and fine furniture makers. Dad’s engage with their children when they use hand methods that, yes, they have dangers, open doors at the right age in the right place just when it’s needed. What I teach today began with a handful of dads trying to connect with a generation that many are losing all the more to two thumbs tapping smart bits of glass and plastic in pretend worlds everyone would have seen for what to really is at one time. When some pursue dreams of wealth and prosperity, others discover their hands were made to create something real. Relate to the real world, reconnect when their little and one day you’ll make a go-cart with them or a cello. One day you’ll see them making coffee tables as wedding gifts for their brother’s wedding gift, wooden spoons, mallets and workbenches for a living and a guitar, a violin and a cello they can play. No matter how good the computer and the the smart phone apps, they are not smart enough to compete with what I enjoyed in watching my sons around me in the workshop for these past 30 years.
This man is Rhodri Owen. He came to me three years ago and did a nine day class. The he invested in another class. He left that class and gave up his job to start working on his own as a lifestyle woodworker. His workshop was his grandfather’s and he took it over and started building furniture. It’s been a struggle, yes, but he’s become a woodworker. How ’bout that! Real woodworking.
It’s been a good week all around. I recovered from last weeks nine-day foundational class last week and got to spend some time with friends finishing up rocking chairs. I am close to concluding one of my own if I could just find that little extra time for myself, which as they say in Texas, “This ain’t gonna happen.” Sam had taken a few days to finish up some stuff at home and he started making one of my joiner’s toolboxes for the new tools he’s been acquiring. He did finish a very beautiful bench and took that home the week before the class because we were running out of space. That’s the trouble with all of this building.
Phil and I played catchup on emails, scheduling the wide range of stuff we need to get through and working out we can do everything. It was productive though, whatever that means.
We use these useful tools for finessing spindles and even for paint stripping of spindles if needed. They can be sharpened over and over for decades and they will work better than anything of you have awkward grain. You can create just about any radius you want with just a round file and the tool takes only a few minutes to make.
I think this is the last one at this point.
The joiner’s axe split cuts all manner of joinery and may seem old fashioned and especially so to today’s carpenter-joiner. Even though I am a furniture maker I knew many furniture makers who never hesitated to pull out an axe to advance their work. This was true of shopfitters I worked with too. It was nothing to watch such men scribe wood to plaster, stone and brick to within a millimetre and finish off with a spokeshave or plane until a playing card or less would fit between the scribed board and the surface it was scribed to. In the days I am talking of no one used caulk for gap filling because such gaps never existed except in the roughest of buildings. Caulking is common place today. In the last home my sons and I and friends built in the US the painter who painted the interior came to me after I had built and fitted the cabinets and finished out the trim work and said he had used only three tubes of caulk in the whole house. He said normally they used dozens of tubes. Mostly I used an axe on the backs of skirting boards to fit them to the floors and to the walls, removing any cupping ensured the boards laid dead flat to the sheetrock and such. An axe can hollow the back of a board 6” wide in a heart beat and do a lot more too.
To conclude this series I went to the bricks with my plugs. Here in the UK all older houses were built with brick throughout and that includes all interior walls. That could be 600 linear feet on a smaller home with three bedrooms and double or triple that on a Victorian detached. Skirting boards in old homes were 7” deep and more so two row double-deckers of plugs were needed every two to three bricks, which were and still are 9” long. That could translate into a thousand hand chopped plugs just for skirting boards. Additionally, internal doors were held within casings and frames and these frames too were held in place using the exact same wooden plugs but in this case the plugs were 4 1/2” wide instead of 3”. Each door frame had 4-6 plugs each side. 12-20 doorways relied on these plugs so here we have another 120-240 plugs. Then stairways too were anchored to the brick walls using plugs to attach the stair string to. The plugs followed along the top and bottom edges. There is of course much more to this but wall plates and fascia boards, barge boards and wooden gutters lead-lined and downspouts of cast iron and lead owed their security to these humble wooden wall plugs.
Once the plugs are are cut to rough shape they are generally cut to fit the individual plug holes using the same axe to customise the fits. This’ll sound tedious but it’s not really. We nailed a scrap board to the top of a sawhorse too protect it from the axe cuts and could chop and plug a room every two bricks apart in under an hour. Once plugged and cut the skirting boards could be length-cut, cope-cut to internal corners and floor scribed in another hour. Hammer nailing was fast enough too. I know, a Hilti gun would do the work more quickly, but this work had a quality a Hilti gun just cannot give.
The plug cut this way in the form of a twist means that as the plug is driven into its gap, with the back face of the axe ensuring a full-width-of-the-plug contact, it twists into its gap under the force. Once in place and under tension this way the plug remains irretrievably lodged in place.
Here I fit the plug to close exactness. and remove the corners to give the corners at width a leading edge.
I then drive the plug almost to full depth and cut the plug about a 1/4” shy of full depth with the panel saw.
This protects the saw teeth from close proximity to the bricks and prevents scoring the saw plate at all. It also protects the teeth of the saw too.
The plug now cut can be driven flush with the rear of the axe head. Once flush, or proud if to be plastered, skirting boards, frames and cabinets can be securely fitted and fixed using nails or screws.
Here is recorded the Paul Sellers’ history and method behind the humble wall plug.
Most axes I’ve seen others use and picked up have rarely been sharp. Do I judge by this? I suppose I do if it’s a joiner’s axe and not a kindling axe or a felling axe. Joiner’s axes are working edges mostly and sharpened to the same level as a chisel or a plane. I do keep a couple for wedges though and these can be dull because they continue the start work of the splitting axe if say you are parting wood.
An axe splits straight grained tenons and housings quickly and can be used for paring when used two-handedly like this, to pare down to the lines. As a young man site work relied on the axe for much work including the removal of half an inch from an odd sized refit door. I made many a tenon for a large door frame this way too; cut the shoulders with the handsaw and then spit cut and pare. It was fast and effective in woods like redwood pine and oak. Woods we used a lot.
Here a recessed housing is shoulder cut and then chopped to remove the bulk of the waste in a matter of a minute or so. Today’s carpenter makes a few cuts side by side across the grain and to depth with a skilsaw and then switches to the ripping claw of a claw hammer to rough down close before paring with a stubby chisel. It takes about the same time, but it’s funny how the latter still seems excessive and cruder to me than the well-tuned axe. Perhaps it’s the screams of the skilsaw, the need for electricity and the excess of all of that somehow.
Here is how a plug is cut. Notice the thumb is not hooked and hanging over the top of the plug piece but tucked out of the way. First I chop one corner section of the ‘propellor’ as shown…Thumbs wrong here!
… and then I turn it around and chop the opposite side.
I then turn it end for end and so do the same. This makes two plugs in each length of pine. The plug is generally driven between the bricks, left shy of full depth, cut off with the panel saw, and then hammered home with the back of the axe.Woodworking is as much about texture and life recorded in the wood as it is about speed and efficiency. It’s lifestyle.
In restoration of the old Victorian houses I always cut a hundred rough-cut plugs at a time and then fitted each one on my knees to the relevant opening for a perfect tailored fit. We only used dry wood left by the pot bellied stove for a day to make sure there was no shrinkage once driven.
These plugs were more than a mere friction fit or a beaten in wedge. They were well thought through and strategised by men who cared about life and longevity. We can look at how these work next.
It’s hard to describe changing lives and being changed. I taught my first foundational course in 1989. I developed it and copied nothing. No one helped me and it unfolded a strategy from a craftsman’s perspective. So I’ve done this course for well over two decades with 5,500 people.
Tonight felt settled, very settled. The chairside table is the last part of my Foundational Course and nine days of pure woodworking. We laughed of course, watched each other work from time to time, and it seemed, well, somehow clean, unique, exact and innocent that few things I know of could replicate our immersed sharing. Over the past ten days or so we have come to know one another. I’m here with everyone each day all day long and not brought in for an odd lecture here and there like a guru. I spend time listening and and some times I interject and others I watch to see what they do to resolve the issue themselves. struggling is harmless but then there are times when a hand pulls us up. The banter goes back and forth and we laugh a lot, share a lot and encourage one another as needed. I like to draw when I am in the class. It takes no concentration and I can keep connected with the sounds and the questions that ensure things are right. I’m afraid we are only able to hold four more of these nine-day Foundationals this year.
Here is the joiner’s axe (UK spelling). It’s perfectly shaped in every way and it’s mine. A joiner’s axe is not a green axe or a carving axe but it carves and shapes wood as well in most cases too. It’s not a felling axe because of its size but you could fell with it on a smaller scale. A joiner’s axe is used to split wood but we never called it a hatchet because it was an axe. Perhaps a hatchet always seemed more like a dulled ax used to split wood by dull force whereas my axes are always sharpened for a prime cutting edge because it wasn’t generally used for firewood splitting as with a kindling axe. I noticed the first use of the term hatchet for me was in the US, hence my spelling of the word ax momentarily above. My wood splitting days began with fire starter wood at about 8 years old. I picked up fruit boxes from the greengrocers who seemed always glad to get rid of them and gave me an orange for each box I took. That was a prize for me. Fruit was not on our menu and mister Hannah knew our family needs for food. The family axe hit the concrete regularly enough and eventually reached a point where it was indestructibly rounded to a 1/8” radius. It worked fine because nails and stapled wire holding the boxes together responded well to the same axe edge. It was the all-rounder for chopping firewood in the hands of an awkward boy and an ideal tool for me to discover the best way to understand how wood splits. And so my woodworking days began.
The joiner’s axe for a Brit fulfils many a unique purpose not the least of which are wall plugs used for fixing wide skirting boards to plastered brick walls. The plugs are propellor shaped so that they twist into brick gaps as the are both driven in and dry out.
The joiner’s axe is a scribing tool that removes stock fast from the edge of architraves in internal corners and then scribes skirting boards to awkward floorboards and such like that. The tusk tenons are bulked-out with the axe as are large housings and tenons. There is much more to shaping a joiner’s axe than meets the eye. It’s the most versatile axe I know of. It’s beautiful really.
Joiners use axes for roughing out work of every kind and any woodworker should seriously consider the owning of a good joiner’s axe. This of course becomes especially so for rough shaping all sorts of furniture parts including table legs of every shape. In the absence of machines, the axe reduces stock more rapidly than almost any other hand tool, but all the more when I use it for rough-shaping different styles of table legs. I use mine to cut tapered legs as much as by bandsaw and more complex shapes including beidermeier. For work away from the bench and when electricity is beyond reach, say for site work and such, an axe can cut an arch, points to posts and pegs. We’d take half an inch off the width of a door in the pre skill-saw days and of course combining this with a plane it went fast.
Anyway, get a joiner’s axe and get used to using one.
Oh, axes are not for children though. Pass it on.
A man, well, a new friend really, asked me today if I were to start a business and keep my current job going for income whether I would just make one of something or more than one. I think not just one if starting out as an unknown. I believe in small batch productions and believe people like choices too. I’d prefer to see a few designs and several in each design using different woods and wood combinations. Batch production economises our work and maximises efficiency, mostly in the machine realm, because we generally cut second and third items to the same dimensions at a small fraction of the cost because of set-up time. When it comes to hand work of course the time-saving factor doesn’t generally stack up the same way and so it doesn’t change as much but it does still help. Going to shows with a wide variety of goods can often be less dynamic than taking several of each kind—perhaps in different woods, colours and finishes. Having one of each really offers only the choice you take to the shows or sales venues whereas colour and wood adds choice and a sense of the customer being involved in the choosing process. Generally speaking I think taking several of the same product also shows the confidence you have in what you’ve made. Also, I think too much can be too invasive. Giving space to your product in a world of mass choices sets your work out for greater clarity and visibility and dispels duplicity.
Can you make a living from woodworking?
This question comes up frequently enough and over recent years I’ve personally heard four magazine editors tell me that no one can make a living from woodworking. I have heard this from other quarters too. I find it tiresome when I hear it but there you are. In this I would say how very wrong they are. Of course we, me and they, move in completely different realms, different circles and have different aspirations too. I’d rather be self employed and determine how, where and when I work even if it means working twice as long and twice as hard as everyone else. They’re tasked for advertising media sales and most often know very little about business spheres beyond that or for that matter, beyond one or two of them maybe, much about woodworking in real terms either. For me it was never a question of whether I could or whether I would or how much I can make but making it work for me and my family. You can of course make a decent living making product from wood provided what you set your sights on is realistic. You must strategise to that end and work your plan into a lived and vibrant reality. Cutting boards and walking canes of beauty sell well for good prices and I’ve proved that in my own life. Picture frames framing fine art work and graduation certificates have higher value than mass-made high quality ones when customers know you or have met you and know that you made them by hand.
Personally I don’t listen to anyone telling me I can’t make and sell furniture enough to make a living from because of course I can. I think everyone can provided they’ve paid the price to become competent woodworkers. You don’t really need a nine-month course to do this and it may not even help you too much, though it might. Just develop some basic skills and get going. As you progress be contented and don’t despise small things at all. They can quickly become bread and butter. With such small things you can establish income, open new relationships, become known. You don’t need to stack up a multi-thousand pound debt or expense to do any of this. You just develop as you go and go further and further as you grow.
Furniture pieces made to the right design and to a good standard will always sell. It’s not complex at all, but it will take time, even a few years, to get the cycle of customers going to support you. You have to work to that end, but the work is well worth it if you want to become true to yourself and attain to lifestyle woodworking. It all begins with mastering skills. There is of course much more to this conversation. Perhaps we should continue.
I use saw and flat files of different types considerably because we have fifty student saws that need sharpening regularly and of course if a saw file barely sharpens a single saw nowadays that makes DIY saw sharpening prohibitively expensive. I bought three of Nicholson’s files two weeks ago to make sure they were still consistently bad and nothing’s changed. They are still made in Mexico not the USA and quality is still substandard. I only managed to get down two thirds of the length of a 22″ panel saw with 10 PPI before having to rotate to a fresh corner of the file to do the rest. They are £8 a pop here in the UK so that makes them three times the USA price for a 6” extra slim taper. Anyway, I did this to make sure I wasn’t misinforming you as to the the demise of quality in the Nicholson files and I am not. So my thoughts on files are that as far as a decent file goes I have found other makers of saw files for saw sharpening that work well and I have tested three types out that work well. Here `i want to talk about the Bahco saw files and also their flat files which I use for sharpening scrapers and topping saw teeth.
Here in the UK Workshop Heaven carries the fullest range of Bahco saw files and flat files. There are many US suppliers too
Understanding the dynamic of saw files is important and many file makers like Nicholson seem to have lost their way if not their moral obligation to the USA as a US company once providing good value, quality product. Losing their connection to past working knowledge of what their forefathers worked hard to establish is a sad thing because a good reputation is hard earned and second to none. Many distributors also isolate themselves from accountability via eBay and other online sales outlets. If they choose to be non accountable that’s up to them. I am sure many sales outlets actually like the fact that the Nicholson company producing inferior files instead of the superior ones they were once known for. Radically shortening the working life of their files means customers will return all the sooner as there is no longer a generation that understands that at one time a Nicholson saw file would sharpen a saw 30 times or thereabouts depending on the hardness of the steel in the saw plate being sharpened. Nowadays that has been reduced to possibly two or three but more likely one or two.
Six-sided files with six cutting faces
Putting the files under magnifying lens does help to see what’s happening at the cutting edge on the files and in the past I talked about there being six sides or facets to a triangular or three-sided saw file and not three as it seems — three large facets and three small or, actually, narrow ones at the corners. Without these as working edges the files would not work because the edge is too narrow and fragile to retain viable cutting edges. In other words you cannot just take the three flat faces and make a saw file that way. You must have six. These files are different than three-square or three-sided files used in engineering. Some of these files have what we call a safe edge; a corner that’s made specifically not to cut internal corners but cuts into the faces forming the internal corners for refinement of some kind.
File tooth profile of files
Files are made with a series traversing the face of the file with parallel teeth. Each of these teeth are formed with two bevels to them. One is the steep and deep cut that creates the main gullet by forming a vee groove across the working face of the file at a 60-65-degree angle. The second cut refines the back of each file tooth with a secondary bevel that then creates a back relief cut to first strengthen what would otherwise be a weak cutting edge and then provide a relief at the back of the cutting edge. Whereas the back bevel resolves one problem of a weak edge, it also creates it’s own problem if the back bevel is level with the long axis if the file. This back bevel of a few degrees allows the file to cut the steel without riding the work. Without this back relief the file would not work.
The problem I have found with many files is that the narrower edge forming the corner edge-fractures during use, often this happens on the first few strokes in the saw sharpening process because of the stress placed on so narrow an edge. A file is a high-demand piece of equipment. If the edge is too soft then it won’t cut and because it dulls or turns immediately. If on the other hand it’s too hard then it will edge fracture on the tips or the whole tooth will simply break away. Either way, the file is rendered useless for saw filing because the bottom of the gullet where the front and back of the teeth interconnect must also be filed and that’s the reason that the saw file facets are interconnected by the narrow flat face.
Inconsistent hardness is another problem affecting the files. This results in localised and intermittent fracturing along this narrow edge of the saw file too, which then causes difficulty through jerkiness in the strokes. Because you can’t necessarily see the narrow edge, you can’t understand why it’s happening and it’s this edge that Nicholson files are now best known for in terms of fracturing and breaking off of teeth. Occasionally, even on good files, a corner will have all the teeth fractured during manufacture and end up being sold. This is just hard luck for you, but usually the other two corners will be fine. On the Bahco files the corner teeth are usually clearly defined and well shaped with a good flat, chisel-type cut over the narrow width. Other files seem quite random and this means that the small corner can be less than useless.
I recently had to advise people not to buy the Bahco sliding bevel if they were looking for a tool that worked. The beam didn’t lock at all in the stock and slipped all over the place on the 20 or so I tried out. Bahco were quick to respond but offering me another sliding bevel didn’t resolve the issue for me. With their saw files however I have found them to be consistent through the years. Here are my choices for the four saw files I generally find take care of all my working needs for saw sharpening. I also have a couple of 10” single cut flat files for sharpening scrapers and topping (jointing) teeth and other metal working needs. I do like Bahco Oberg single cut files and I use a couple for my sharpening needs. As far as files go I do enjoy the Bahco files. Here are the ones I use most:
Bahco 4-187-07-2-0 — X Slim 175mm (7″)
Bahco 4-188-06-2-0 — XX Slim 150mm (6″)
Bahco 4-190-07-2-0 — XX Slim 150mm (6″) Double ended
Bahco 4-188-05-2-0 — XX Slim 125mm (5″)
Bahco Oberg 143-10-1-0 250mm (10″) Millsaw Bastard Single-cut flat file
Bahco Oberg 138-10-1-0 250mm (10″) Millsaw Single-cut flat file
Bahco Oberg 1-100-12-2-0 300mm (12″) Hand Hand Second-cut flat file
As far as long planes go
The longest plane I use is a #6, bevel-down Bailey-pattern plane, even though I own full ranges of bench planes in wood and metal types and by different makers, new and old. For the main part they don’t get used past the #6. So, occasionally, about once a year, and for no good reason really, other than I like it to feel wanted, I use a #6. This is for definite the longest plane I ever use. If, if, I were to use a longer plane I would most likely pick a wooden bodied plane rather than a metal-bodied one and if I were planing for thicknessing, say some tabletop boards, as I am here, I would rarely use anything longer than a jack plane. It’s not an age thing, nor a muscle thing but a sensing thing. I know a wooden plane takes about one third the effort a metal one takes and so I would tend yo use a longer wooden one because they do remove stock much much more easily and, though perhaps as heavy their metal counterparts they move much more lightly and swiftly over the wood, even with a heavy set. Because I am basically training new woodworkers I tend to use what they can get hold of at a reasonable price and encourage them to find older planes and tools to restore because this speeds up what they must best understand to be true to their chosen craft. There is no better way to understand a plane than to take it apart and restore and sharpen it from a flawed condition. Also, in my view, there is no point paying top dollar to avoid what they must face in just a few hours after purchasing what are expensive tools. New planes need restoration work and set up and often even straight from the box. That was standard when I was a boy buying new tools. Today many makers put effort into getting the planes set up, but in transit things move through vibration. That’s a fact.
I could never steer someone towards #7 or 8 plane that here in the UK would cost $630 for a high-end US model and $500 for a high-end UK model. If I haven’t used one but six times in fifty years of daily at-the-bench woodworking for a living how can I possibly suggest someone new to woodworking should buy one? Certainly I would never use a bevel-up or low-angle jack for this work even though I own some and like them for certain work.
I think craft work in woodworking is very different today than it was for me starting out. Woodworking for me was never a hobby or pastime because paid or not I always took working seriously no matter what I did. I think most woodworkers I know as amateurs are indeed some of the most serious woodworkers I know. They are also some of the best, the most contentious and the most sharingly hospitable. Many professionals fit into the category of amateur woodworkers with this as the definition. Most types of woodworking has become of greater interest to amatuer woodworkers who are generally as proficient with hand work (if not more) than many if not most so called professionals; proportionally that is. And amateur woodworkers outnumber professionals by many hundreds to one. Tool makers and sales outlets indeed target amateur woodworkers more than professionals but they also give tools to professionals to get them to use them if they are public figures. We stopped accepting tools three or four years ago because we felt it would compromise our work testing tools and giving our findings here.
Two or more camps in woodworking
I see that today there are two main woodworking camps and there is nothing wrong with either. On the one hand you have people like myself, craftsmen who worked most if not all their working life making their living from custom-built furniture making and working primarily with hand tools. I, like others, pick up tools where I can, when I can if I like the look of them and usually will only haggle for the right price if I feel the price is too high. I don’t waste money on buying planes because they look pretty or even well made but I do like seeing nice planes from time to time and see nothing wrong with people who like to do that. And it’s here you meet other people who have a different perspective. These are the people who admire good looking planes and can simply enjoy the collecting of them by buying them outright from makers, engineers mostly, that make very admirable planes and tools. Now both categories of planes work; that’s the seek-and-find type where you buy what you can afford secondhand, and then the higher-dollar so called premium ones brand new that usually but not always work straight from the box. This alone adds appeal and especially to new users. It postpones the learning curve as I said, and most of the people I have trained are often glad to have got stuck into learning how to sharpen and adjust their planes straight from the beginning because within an hour or so of use they’ve usually got it.
So this becomes a personal choice and I think a personal-preference issue because most old planes that have no particular collector value and no really redeeming qualities apart from working well can do everything a new plane will do and dare I say even more sometimes. You will read in some of the comments that you need fine planes to create fine work and I feel that that’s true. But, really, what you actually need is perhaps any well-known maker type that’s well-tuned and sharp to create fine work. Not really high-end at all. These include just about any older Stanley and Record planes say pre 1960’s depending on the makers. In terms of purchasing bench planes in the bench plane category my recommended list goes as follows:
#4 Bailey-pattern Smoothing plane by Stanley, Woden or Record pre-1970’s and you can include Clifton, Lie Nielsen and Veritas if you want to pay more and own a heavy or new plane.
#5 Bailey-pattern Jack plane by Stanley, Woden or Record pre-1970’s and you can include Clifton, Lie Nielsen and Veritas if you want to pay more and own a heavy or new plane.
#4 1/2 Bailey-pattern Smoothing plane Stanley, Woden or Record pre-1970’s and you can include Clifton, Lie Nielsen and Veritas if you want to pay more and own a heavy or new plane.
#5 1/2 Bailey-pattern Smoothing plane Stanley, Woden or Record pre-1970’s and you can include Clifton, Lie Nielsen and Veritas if you want to pay more and own a heavy or new plane.
#3 Bailey-pattern Smoothing plane by Stanley, Woden or Record pre-1970’s and you can include Clifton, Lie Nielsen and Veritas if you want to pay more and own a heavy or new plane.
Wooden Jack plane in good working condition with no throat closure repairs
Followed then by a non bench plane plane:
Veritas Bevel-up Jack plane
Bevel-up planes are nice to own, and it’s here I will give the same answer I gave to the other couple of emails I got this week if that’s OK. Personally I find these planes are quite limited in bench work, to the point that for the most part they are not what I might call essential planes. Some espouse the advantage of having different blades or being able to change the bevel angle for different tasks according to grain. I find that establishing techniques works much more effectively for dealing with awkward grains than changing bevels or irons. I haven’t found any difficult grain I couldn’t deal with using a regular bench plane, a scraper or two and then a couple of other tricks too. You only get technique by working in the field so to speak. You can get great results with a#3, 4, 4 1/2, 5 and a 5 1/2 for smoothing and jack plane work such as surface planing and edge jointing. Perfect in fact. That said, I do like bevel-up jack planes for some limited work. Length of wood makes almost no difference so all the theories I’ve seen over the years haven’t really held water for me. When they go wrong though it’s often too late, it’s often when you least expect it and it’s often in places you least want it to happen. In such cases the bevel-down planes will often but not always repair the deep rooted damage that quite regularly occurs as torn surface grain. Remember too that for those of us not selling or engineering planes but using them in the day to day of life use wood not at all designated to give perfect results at sales venues. 75% of the time wood responds adversely at the cutting edge and salesmen give the impression that their planes plane anything and everything thrown at them. They demo with hard maple and state they are indeed planing “hard maple”, which is a wonderful wood to plane with great results almost every time. They use curly maple to show the planes work even on wild grain, but curly maple generally planes quite well and often wonderfully too. This is especially true if you spend half an hour tweaking and fine tuning the plane ready for the show. Do the same with your more ordinary planes and you will get parallel results, even using thin irons and no retrofits. You see, at the bench, life’s really quite different. I say all of this to add some balance to those searching for the reality at the working end of the plane and at the bench in daily life.