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An aggregate of many different woodworking blog feeds from across the 'net all in one place! These are my favorite blogs that I read everyday...
There is an event in the USA that will shortly unfold with regards to the final work of Aldren Watson.
Over recent months Aldren’s daughter, Clyde Watson, as been working to make Aldrens as yet unpublished book, Waterfront New York, ready for release later this year and we thought this new legacy to be something everyone should know about. You can preorder the book via the attached here. Please visit Aldren’s website for an introduction and perhaps glimpse one of my most favourite illustrating authors. You wont regret it.
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Finishing Your Projects Following Mine
There is no doubt in my mind, woodworkers love working with wood, using hand tools and even like to use machines for some of the time. What they do not seem to like too much from what I have learned is no surprise to me. They do not generally like finishing their work. Why is that? Well, I always ask woodworkers what they feel is the most difficult challenge they face in their woodworking. This is my conclusion. In almost all cases they feel inadequate to the task. With so many finish choices available they feel confused as to which finish will work best and therefore inadequate to choose the right finish. With such limited experience and so many different products sold for finishing. Again intimidation seems to them a high risk possibility of failure in that they might fail their project by making the wrong choices or applying the finish with little experience and unskilled hands.
Two Finishes – Simple and Effective
We are working on a series of finishing videos to help minimise failure and take out the possibility of risk and so show simple techniques that minimise risks associated with being a winner at the finish line. This week we concluded filming using two finishes and some techniques on finishing for our upcoming woodworking masterclasses online broadcast. When we made the workbench stools (that are the same as bar stools but ultra hand made and ultra comfortable too) series a few weeks ago we said that we would do this and the stools are ideal pieces for developing skills. Here are the results of this weeks videos. I am happy with the way they turned out and my hope is that finishing and trying techniques will be less intimidating for everyone. I ordered my milk paint from The Old Fashioned Milk paint Company, a long-standing company with masses of experience in this unique and wonderful finish. The second finish I chose is Danish oil. This transparent finish is quick and simple and really a good finish for things like chairs and stools. See for yourself how these two finishes came out.
I acquired more tenon saws on eBay and was surprised at the quality I got. Reworking them was interesting and the outcome my reward. It is still amazing what you can get for under £20. John purchased a very nice I Sorby 1 1/4” bevel-edged chisel he has wanted for some time and will be doing the restoration over the next few days. We have been looking at chisels in greater depth too, as you might tell from some of my recent blogs. I am revamping the Aldi chisels and have decided to see just what it takes to make them top notch for under £3 each including the price of the chisel. I have more yet to offer but I think that you will be surprised with the outcome. Separating the chisel blade from the handle is simpler than I thought even though the two parts are very solidly united with a twist free and unbreakable grip to the handle. The tang is not tapered or traditionally shaped or made in any way. It is substantive though. It’s indeed unusual in that the octagonal tang fits into a carefully sized hole that compresses under the pressure of the hard corners of the tang’s hexagon. That tang was solidly embedded. It took a shift and hammer blows to drive the shaft from the tang.
I worked on this one 3/4” blade, flattened the flat side, refined the bevel and of course shaped the bevel with its refined convex bevel. I like the bevel’s size, not too thin at the edge of the bevel, nicely tapered and enough steel to give me confidence. We’ll show you progress as we go.
Buying Tools Secondhand
Ebay differs from conventional secondhand sellers, flea markets, garage sales and so on. You don’t pick up the tool, twist it around, flex the steel or ping it with a flicked finger to hear solidity, as you do on location with the seller in front of you. So, just what do you need to look for when you buy your secondhand or new on eBay?
There is vernacular used on eBay that should pop up a red flag. I literally just went through some of the terms currently used on eBay this evening. Here are my brief thoughts:
Vintage – is the single most common and acceptable term used in connection with anything old on eBay, but just because that’s so, don’t necessarily think it means everything you see or even anything at all. You should look for additional corroboration in the tool itself, split nuts, brass instead of steel studs, zinc-plate substitutes, handle shapes, wood and steel colour and things like this. “Old’ and “vintage” mean different things to different people. Sellers frequently use these two terms, but it is your responsibility as the possible buyer to try as much as possible to authenticate the reality behind the claims. Vintage and old are relative terms and mean absolutely nothing on eBay.
Antique – is less acceptable as a legit term because of context and accountability. If we were to follow the US Customs law for a definition half the saws would be removed. US Customs law states an antique must be 100 years old prior to the date of purchase. In the UK we generally accept the same term as acceptable. Saws that look old because of greasy dirt and grime doesn’t mean old, antique or vintage at all. Follow the criteria for Vintage above.
Rare – does not mean rare in most cases. It can mean the seller didn’t see one before but it is likely the seller is limited in actual knowledge. You must do your own research before buying, to see if rare fits the particular tool you are looking at. Tools can be more scarce than rare.
Superior, Primitive, Early, Old, Very fine, Fine and so on – are all relevant terms on eBay. Adjectives like these have become quite generic, sometimes they do substitute for truth and honesty but mostly they are little more than bulking.
Drop-dead Stunning – These terms are more irritating than reality. Overseas sellers mostly adopt these types of openings. Look beyond the opening statement to the start price and then at the shipping costs. It’s here that reality hits.
Check for location – Overseas shipping can be prohibitive. Many costs are indeed highly inflated, most often because the seller can’t be bothered offering the real shipping costs or they don’t want to fill out customs, package for overseas and so on. I do click the button for the country I am in before I begin my searching unless that restricts me for some reason. Most often it is as irritating to find the seller is in the US it is for buyers in the US.
Images of Deception – are easy to manipulate the way we perceive the product. Honest images are the most helpful. As an example, some saws are shot from the end toward the handle. This makes the saw look longer than it is. One image of a gents saw regularly sold on ebay gets me every time. It looks like a 10’ saw yet it is only 6”; not a saw I would buy. It’s an attractive image, well taken, good colour and sharp. I can’t really fault the picture at all, but it still looks 4” longer than it is.
Pitting, cracks, chips dents are sometimes described as “the usual” and sometimes not shown in images. This can be deceptive, not always, but I think more often than not. Just look at the image and ask yourself the right questions. I am sure that often enough the images are not intended to deceive, but being open to the possibility helps to see things more realistically.
Some sellers often use old images of tools that are not current to the new. I have found many makers and distributors using images of former products to sell current products that look similar but are not the same. Marples chisels sold by distributors are often sold with the old bluechip chisel image even though when you receive them they will say Irwin Marples on them. That’s because the old ones were made in Sheffield by Record Marples using Sheffield steel and the current ones are made in Asia. The profits for Irwin Marples, which should be Irwin really tripled when they went to overseas manufacturing because they kept the brand without the integrity of the former company that was bought out. Other companies do the same. I have exposed Nicholson US, the manufacturer of files who’s long-standing reputation meant nothing to the current owners and this is proved by their making the files south of the border in Mexico. There are more.
Penrhyn Castle opens to the public for its 2014 season
This weekend was the busiest in several months as Penrhyn Castle opens up its massive gates to the new 2014 season. Our Spring break makes everywhere full of children, parents and grandparents and the first openings of bright daffodils tinge the grassy slopes to castle with yellow tips. In two weeks these slopes and beyond Penrhyn Castle will be ablaze with golden yellow and I will tramp the woods to find new growth, fresh changes other wildlife there as the season of spring unfolds yet again.
These are the bluebells everyone loves so much. They’re not out for another month or two but when they are you just stop and stare
The National Trust is mandated to protect entrusted properties for the benefit of the public and for conservation and goes to great extremes on both fronts to make the properties accessible to the public. Penrhyn Castle makes its own declaration of a personal wealth steeped in local and international history as it stands sentinel over the Menai Straits and the open seas beyond. Of course it’s past bears no resemblance on life surrounding the castle today. Talking with one of the surviving Pennant family members who’s family once lived in the castle, I was told that at one time, when the castle had a skeleton staff in the opening decade of 1900’s, the castle had 86 full- and part-time staff to take care of a family of four people living in the castle. The surrounding farmland as far as the eye can see in any direction just about was owned by the Pennant family and the surrounding land beyond the castle walls was leased out with the many dozens of farm housings and buildings to tenant farmers. The accomplishment was quite remarkable. Add to all of that the industry of quarrying, railway systems, docks and shipping and you see why they say the quarries of Dinorwic “Roofed the World.” that surrounded it http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dinorwic_Quarry and you see an industrious world that created the wealth and the separation betwixt the worker and the wealthy.
Tree-hugging? No, just checking the girth of this gigantic Chestnut tree
Walking through the quiet woods and the long, narrow paths of extinction, where the railway tracks once ran back and forth from the quarries to the docks, you can’t help but feel the earth move in a memory recording life pulsing in the earth. The track now loses interest as a cycleway up into the mountains. Though it’s a pleasant enough walk or bike ride that way, the thought of belching coal smoke and steam has a certain energy to it that may not be PC but I’d love to see it for myself just for a day. As a young climber I spent my weekends on the craggy climbs and on mountain support too. The youth hostels were full of climbers and young hippies. The industry of the region was hard as it was in industry throughout the working areas of Britain. Now it’s just a trace of what was. The docks do have working vessels that still transport slate and slate waste for road base and pathways and such. Some search the mussel beds for seafood product, but for the main part all of that is minimal compared to the weekend sailing vessels, boat sales and so on. I like seeing the boat builders working on the boats when I am down there though. We talk tools and wood and vessels as we break from the routine to find common ground. Even in the quarry museum there is a lot to take in. Pattern makers used their skills to make massive castings for interconnecting cogs used in pulley systems and water-driven wheels that then drove the machinery and equipment.
Local to the castle area there’s the village where I live, which was once owned by the Pennants as part of the estate. A self sufficient village with orchards and bee hives, gardens for vegetables, chickens, and livestock for meat, dairy, eggs and so on. It’s a pleasant place now deprived of its former life self sustained within families living there and so alien to today’s world of mass-grown food and excess.
Something seems evident to me and that is that when I see all the old chisels made by people like Marples, the handles are always bonded by rust to the sockets and they take real effort to separate them. Something else seems evident to me too. The cone on this Marples is turned to fit straight from the lathe and stops short of bottoming out by 5mm. Notice too that the wooden cone fit so tight before bottoming at the entrance to the cone that it pared back the wood toward the shoulder of the handle. My suggestion here is that this handle was dried right down to the lowest percentage. When it was first driven on to the steel it could only tighten and swell into its permanent hole. The surface was rough-turned not slick and hard-polished, that’s evident. The gap as I said is the safety margin allowing perfected tightness. Neat, clean, effective.
I hear of Japanese chisels, that they use laminating blacksmithing techniques to fuse two metal hardnesses for strength and durability to the tool. It’s a tradition sustained in a culture passed down and preserved in its doing. Here is a chisel I own that’s laminated, laminated by a Sheffield blacksmith in the steely heart of England’s industrious revolution. Sockets were forged in two ways I know of. Some were formed by opening the red hot steel from a mass using drawing out methods and some were flattened and wrapped and then forge-welded where the two flanges came back together in the wrap. Laminating the hard to the softer but stronger gave the same durable qualities of a top-quality chisel. Isaac Greaves made this chisel sometime in the early 1800’s. You can see the line of lamination at about 1/8” at the points. A file glances of the steel on the flat face but grips the topside. The wood is immoveable from the socket. The hoop too is inseparable. Rust plays its part in both.
Hammer forged blacksmithed chisels rarely came out to the exact size and so, like most of those I have owned, this one measures 1/32” oversize. Engineers boast in thousandths, few of them can forge a chisel like this one.
I own sets of chisels that are at the upper end of expensive. I wanted to test them out over a longer period than magazines do for reviews. Magazine reviews are paid for, all be it indirectly, by advertisers advertising in the same magazines. Anyway, some sets are dangerous and have safety issues, others have buckled-edge problems and others fracture along the edge when you chop pine with them. Most old chisels have none of these problems and so too, I have found, chisels at the mid to lower end of the market. Imports too have changed from once producing unreliable chisels to more reliable ones. The steel striking buttons on chisels that enable people to strike steel on steel with heavy claw hammers – I’m not sure who these were made for really.
There are always implications in the physical that have deeper implications in life; beyond what we can see I mean. Our consumerism causes abandonment in every sphere of life. If it didn’t, landfill would lessen overnight and and the decision to buy a dining table would be determined by whether it would last last through a century or so and not mere and artificial cost. The richer in stuff we become, the more we toss out, the bigger the acreage for dumped stuff and the deeper our failure would be toward others without. At the car boot yeterday morning, my turn for a Saturday off, or an hour anyway, I picked up a few bits that didn’t break the bank at all, had no slick, triple-layer packaging and no shipping costs to boot. I almost didn’t go but was so glad I did cos there in a bucket of another man’s junk was an I Sorby miniature brace that was in great nick, almost unused and a very rare treasure indeed. This is not just a short-sweep swing brace but smaller in scale all around. I love miniature tools; child’s sized tools, not junk stuff. 75 pence wasn’t too much to pay and pulling it from under broken wrenches and bent screwdrivers was more a rescue mission for me. I had not seen that it was a Sorby until I got it home. I did like the obvious quality of the tool and the feel of age it had though. Anyway, I will keep it for a full kit I want to put together for my grandkids to use when they come over. Any #1′s going for a song anywhere?
My newest addition is an I Sorby swing brace
I bought a couple of gouges and a 1/2” socketed chisel that came to life in the workshop and then there were other pieces from different stalls that seemed like orphans needing a good home somewhere. The full sized braces are almost always there, but we still use them often enough in our work because they offer a good alternative to battery-powered stuff. Counting the turns gives a guaranteed hole depth. One turn is usually 1/16” once the spur hits the surface and so four turns (called sweeps) takes you in 1/4” deep from surface to the bottom of the hole recess.
My mother was a dressmaker from being 13-years old when she began her apprenticeship in Ghent, Belgium until she was 70. Scissors were precious tools to her and I learned of their value and to sharpen and set them from working with her. One tap too many and the shears were too tight for a week. Most people might not notice, but to her it mattered. These scissor types are often discarded models these days but I still like them. So, anyway, I started to sharpen them on a Trend diamond sharpening plate, the ones with the diamond pattern across the surface. I haven’t used this plate type too much because I like the EZE-Lap well enough, and also the DMT. Sharpening the scissors on the diamond patterned side I noticed that the diamonds were starting to sloughing off. I doubt whether I have used this plate for more than an hour tops since I got it so it was quite troubling for so new a product. I went back to the EZE- Lap plates to sharpen and they scissors soon worked like new again. I realise now that the problem may be with the area creating the diamond pattern bordering the electroplated diamonds, where there is only the zinc plating between the steel being sharpened and the steel plate supporting the diamonds and the electroplating.
The marking gauges with wooden thumbscrews are among my favourites still. They lock well, better than metal and plastic, and they just last for ever. This one looks OK here, but it was ugly before I reworked the surfaces, backed out the pin and worked on the stock with my rasp and plane. By the way, the best way to back out the pin is cinch it tight in a drill-driver and back it out with a careful pull stroke. Someone had cut the wood right by the pin, so it was quite unsupported. I wanted to keep the pin so repositioning was a simple step of refiling a four sided point and using the pointed pin as an exact sized drill bit. This cleaned off the rust and as soon as the pin point protruded just a hair I stopped. I then hammer-tapped the pin through so that it bites securely to the walls of the hole to the remaining depth. This minimizes the risk of splitting, which can happen otherwise.
I’ll spare you the details of a cast iron pipe wrench and the Eclipse Junior hacksaw.
Several of you have emailed to ask about your socketed chisels made by Stanley and Lie Nielsen, what I feel about them and why the handles come loose from the steel sockets. First of all, the early Stanley models were are good chisels made with good steel and wood. Everything that Lie Nielsen makes is top quality and that really goes without saying. So, there is no question of quality.
With regards to the currently-made Stanley sweetheart 750 range of chisels supposedly made in Sheffield UK, I doubt that they are, but we don’t really know. The last time I contacted Stanley to see if I could see where their, “Stanley of Sheffield UK Making High-end Planes again” planes were made, they said that, “They are not made in the UK, they are made in our plant in Mexico.” When I pointed out the dishonest presentation in the magazine press releases going viral they responded, “Stanley has an office in Sheffield, nothing is made here any more.” Now I don’t know if this still holds true but perhaps if anyone does know they can let me know.
Things you should know about socketed chisels regardless of the maker
Socketed chisels didn’t start with Stanley and it doesn’t seem they will end with them. Blacksmiths of old made them back in the 1600’s and on through to the early 1900’s. Here the core essentials:
This socketed chisel was made by Marples
- The thing they rely on is that the conical end of the handle that fits into the socket should not bottom out in the bottom of the socket housing it. In other words, the point of the cone shouldn’t reach to far down and thus stop the tapered mating to the walls of the steel socket. If it does, or you suspect it does, take of 2mm or so from the point.
- The tapered fit should be like a morse taper on a drill chuck or lathe drive. Any wobble gives sway to wear and a loose fit will worsen. You can rechuck the handle for corrective work if needed or fare it as best you can with a flat file, carefully.
- It’s important that the shoulder line between the chisel handle and the opening end of the socket remains separated by a margin great or small. 2mm is good but more works too. You can return the handle to the lathe and remove more of the shoulder if needed. Stay away from the cone shaping if it seems to match the inside of the chisel cone.
- The cone relies on a good initial whack to ‘seat’ the cone. usually they stay, but they can come loose at times.
- Wood is a breathing material and expands with moisture. If the cone is shaped when the wood has higher moisture content it will turn loose as it shrinks. This can a be difficult to control. Ideally moisture content should be low during manufacture, but that still doesn’t stop exchanges taking place after purchase and therein lies the real reason we have an ongoing problem with this chisel type. Buying a set of chisels in Washington state and taking them to west texas and Arizona means the handles will fall loose from the socket. Not much you can do about that, but they should reseat with a good whack if the above criteria are looked at in your analysis.
Thank you for all your responses to the previous blog. I often feel a little hesitant to post blogs like this because I know so many of you work in mundane commercialism and difficult soul-destroying jobs without the option to change your circumstances. I understand this and hope I can make a difference long term. Don’t give up. The important thing is to see the manipulation of life by people like Henry Ford, politicians (some of whom never did a lick of real work in their lives but talk a lot about it), economic strategists, educationalists and so on. The interconnection between them all gives understanding as to the powers they hold to progress agendas without any real accountability. It may seem a little paranoid but when we don’t see the cross-pollination between these areas we get caught up in the games and are always chess pieces being moved from one square to another. The dynamic that drives people in their pursuit of so called happiness is often illusionary; little more than a few greenbacks dangling just far enough away to walk us into utopia – literally ‘no place’. If what I have had these past decades is no place then that’s great. Many are driven by a vain hope of high wages, more power, social standing and recognition. Finding contentment at the end of a chisel seems stupid to some, “Get a life!” some might say, yet to me, seeing a piece of furniture emerge from a handful of rough-sawn planks by my workbench somehow carries deep, enriching meaning. I have put food on my table and raised my children from a one-wage income family throughout my married life. Times can be lean, but the outcome is a lived life. My workshop is my classroom. Working with my hands I learn about life, the relationships life working brings to me and passes to others. When I worry about working for a living I have put the cart before the horse. I live to work not work to live. If I feel down, it is always when I am not working with my hands. As soon as I feel down, which is very rare, I walk through the woods to my workshop, pull out the tools and the project I am working on, and suddenly life makes much sense. I think of the problems I need to resolve while I am working and suddenly, as a joint comes together, I find answers that resolve what bothered me outside the work I am doing. Now I can deal with that too.
This is a desk of mine. I designed in 2008, just before I designed two unique designs for the Permanent Collection of the White House
Today we worked in our various spheres of creativity. I am done with bookshelves, Phil is done with his stool and John is making the handles for his tool chest. Next week we all start anew on fresh projects I suppose. Phil already started his. We have some clean up to do but that doesn’t take long and John already has the tools ready for the next class starting on the 15 March. Besides the work we must do in making and building, filming, writing, drawing, planning designing, we all found time for tool restoration. repairing split nuts on old tenon saws, recutting saw teeth, fettling different planes and so on. I think many people would like to live close to a workbench and do this kind of work.
I hope that one day we will indeed see a revival where people local to us will say I’ll save up for having my next computer desk or dining table made by hand by a local craftsman using real tools, real skills from real wood.
That they will say, “Forget IKEA and Walmart, I want something that will last a hundred years.” I think that is is more a question of getting people to think differently. Spending time with people, customers or not, and explaining what the difficulties are and showing why it makes sense to by solid stuff.
Look beyond the superficial, underneath the smooth and shiny veneer of melamine ( can’t believe that stuff has been around as long as it has) to see what you are really buying. What good is a 1 year warranty on a fiberboard computer desk. Yes, if you don’t move it for a year, it will stay together. It’s after that that people should be looking at. I made a computer desk five years ago (the one third down from the top above) It will last for a hundred years because of the solid wood and the methods of joinery I used. it can be refinished in a few minutes and without stripping it.
Yesterday Phil finished his workbench stool and it looks very nice now he’s done. I was just about to finish the last of five bookshelves as a medley of useful shelves scaleable as options for people to build and John hinged the lid to the tool chest he has been building. All of this was yesterday and all of this is to say completion is critical to our wellbeing and its something Henry Ford deprived his workforce of as he introduced methods of production line manufacturing that destroyed the reward of being skilled and honest engineers, farmers and craftsmen. This all happened exactly 10o years ago. I know the ten million model T Fords that became possible from his conveyor belt mechanics meant “about everyone (would) have one.”; it remains to be evaluated whether we or our children will pay far more than we ever though possible for four wheels and a box, but for the factory mechanics he employed as wage slaves, their skills had to be dumbed down to an assembly line moving at six feet per minute so that they were specialised for speed assembly. That’s what everything you own right now is based on and that’s why people pursue fulfillment outside of work. Conveyor belts reign in every walk of life today. Hospital beds and bus queues, carpenters in construction and check out counters and checkers, Big Mac stuff and everything else is about quantity and down time so we can live cheap in cheapened life, but, in tiny clusters around the globe, are individuals who stopped, ask themselves a handful of questions, pushed the red emergency stop button and reevaluated what they felt was important enough to push, stop and get off.
This blog is about the completion most people rarely find but can have in some measure if they pursue it
I have never wholly understood what it is about the words, “It is finished.” that I always say at the end of a project, and that seems such a reward in and of itself, but somehow there comes with it a sense of joy-filled completion when nothing is to be added to it or taken away from it. It’s that quality completion you feel when you have put all of your efforts into the work and the final effort stands in bright light before you.
Fixing your mistakes
Many people say to me that the art of being a craftsman is “knowing how to fix your mistakes.” That’s not true, yet it’s common enough that I think many find comfort not being on their own in their mistakes. So, if it consoles them, let it be. Of course we all do make mistakes, but the art in being a craftsman is to learn from earlier mistakes and not repeat them. the art of being a craftsman is to anticipate what might go wrong, think critically throughout the work and conclude the work well.
When I work on a piece things do happen that go wrong. You plane a piece of wood and the grain tears even though you were indeed careful to look at the grain direction, followed the “cathedral lines” and such. Life is like wood, it comes with knots in it. Wood splits unintentionally and in the wrong direction, again not a mistake. Woodworking is more about fixing natural occurrences and knowing wood well enough to anticipate happenings that can impair the quality of what we are making. I think that the art of being a craftsman is working through critical problems and knowing what to do with a material that changes as you are working it. It’s about constraining it, reducing it and minimizing its ability to distort after the project is completed. It’s not about resorting to using materials like MDF and engineered boards that substitute for that which makes wood wood.
Phil has many other responsibilities as well as woodworking, but it is critical his wellbeing to make and complete all that he does. We do not mass-make anything in our workshop. That means sanity and enjoyment, peace and fulfillment. As he pulled his stool to the bench and sat to work on his computer yesterday I sensed his sense of fulfillment as he smiled across the shop floor at me sitting on my workbench stool. John was fitting his lid to the tool chest ready for the hinge recessing he was about to do. He set his new I Sorby plane carefully to level the box rims. There too was another completion in that his plane was fully restored and functioning. All of these completions mean wellbeing and fulfillment as we banter back and forth throughout the day. For me it was snugging up the last back panel with the vee-jointed T&G boards installed within the framework and turning the last twist on the clamp before I left the shop. I glanced back as we turned off the lights and caught a quick glimpse of the panel in the evening light from the castle workshop window. I wanted to take picture of what I felt, but I knew it couldn’t capture that swell of completion in my chest. Imagine feeling that way after fifty years of making things out of wood!
John bought some chisels from the car boot sale last week. Pennies go a long way in scrap tool bins here and for a pound or two you can walk away with a bag full of tools. There can be no doubt William Marples of old was the single most productive tool maker in Sheffield and when you see the Shamrock logo stamped, embossed or print labeled on old tools you can buy with confidence knowing that it will be a lifetime tool. I own four or five sets of bevel-edged chisels rising in 1/8” increments from 1/8” to 1” and then on up 1/4” intervals up to 2”. I use the lesser sizes every day. I posted on a chisel the other day in the one about brass and steel and boxwood. What makes a good chisel depends on the work type. I’d like to look at expectations. I know that many woodworkers believe massive mortise chisels are the best way to go for mortising holes in woods like pine and oak and mahogany. They were indeed designed for that purpose in a period when mortises were chopped out by bench joiners and cabinet makers (UK for furniture maker) using only hand methods. Where the chisel types cross over is not always definitive. Mortise chisels weigh in at three to four times that of a bevel-edged chisel. The handles are twice to three times the size and the steel massively increases by four to five times the bulk in comparing the same two chisel types. Why do I generally not use the different types? Well, mostly it isn’t so much to do with much more than practicalities. Yes, I do cut all of my joinery by hand as a common rule. If I am at my bench I use the well with a tray of about ten chisels in in the everyday of life and that takes space. Were I to add in other chisel types I would soon be catering to more tools than I really care to. That translates into tool maintenance too. Time and space are at a premium around the workbench so I choose the most practical set that have other uses too. I can chop, pare and do other things with the bevel-edged chisels throughout my day. When I have a larger amount of deeper mortises to cut, I will bring in a heavier gauge chisel. Usually a mortise chisel.
These are some of my accumulated chisels. About a third of what I have I think. In general, everyday use I rely on about half a dozen bevelled-edge chisels with boxwood handles.
Mortise chisels are robustly strong with features designed for easier registration and alignment whereby the thickness and wideness of the chisel chops ever deeper into the mortise holes and the walls keep the chisel well aligned as the deepening process of chopping continues to depth. The significance of chisel thickness becomes more evident as the deepening holes require more leverage and generally it’s here that I make a delineation between work types and woodworker types. Joinery became more specialised and separated from general carpentry when the two crafts, joinery and cabinet making (furniture making and not American box building for kitchens) emerged as greater speciality crafts demanding more refined levels of workmanship. Joiners in general joinery making staircases, doors, window frames and so on tended to use mortise chisels, firmer chisels and registered chisels. All heavier, squarer chisel types than the bevel-edged chisels we tend to see more commonly and prefer today. You should not dismiss the positioning of the thicker bevel ‘knee’ in relation to the long axis of the mortise chisels. This chief fulcrum of the mortise chisel is what we use for leveraging out the waste wood from mortises. No other chisel works quite the same and especially is this so when we work on deep mortises more than one, two and three spits deep. A spit is the distance from the chisel tip to the ‘knee’ of the bevel. Usually about 30mm.
On mortise chisels of the type shown here it’s easy to think that the heavy handle was purely for striking with a heavy mallet. Wheres there is truth in that, that wasn’t so much the reason as was the grip needed for levering the waste from the deeper mortises. and the need for the oval handle. As mortise chisels were best designed with oval handles., the oval required more wood mass and so the handle was larger to accomadate that. The bolster of this type of chisel was larger to absorb the pressure of heavy mallet blows and so the large handles stood their ground even until today when Ashley Iles as far as I know are the only supplier of UK-made mortise chisels of this type in the world. The sole supplier in the US is here:
These square edged more lightly made carpentry chisels are rarely made today. Few joiners work with hand tools and carpenters too rely on machine cuts and the ripping claw of a hammer to beat out any needed recesses. Slewing the skilsaw from side to side finishes off the cut and the chisel remains in the tool pouch as much as possible.
When I was a joiner’s apprentice, many firmer chisels lay on the bench in the usual sizes. The common use was chopping mortises and fitting tenons. The half inch was good for filling holes and flaws like that with wood filler and then leveling off with the side corner of the chisel edge. Most of the joiners I knew kept a couple f firmer chisels for that. The firmer chisel was also preferred by school woodworking classes of the day. The added corners reduced the risk of bending and breaking by insensitive 13 year old boys proving their strength. But in the long term I think it was as much the square corners that felt awkward and clunky that saw off the firmer chisel. I don’t know that I ever used one for very long. I always reached for the bevel edged chisels over any and all others.
Large Registered Sash Mortise chisels were used in English joinery and especially so for window and door making, frames and so on.
Try to remember that joiners made mostly windows and doors and then frames to house them. Sliding sash windows and casements had many a dozen mortise joints in one frame or sash, often small and compact mortise and tenons made from moulded sash stock. The larger mortise chisels were impractical for some of this work and so we used firmer and registered sash chisels that were better suited to this type of work. I made hundreds of window frames each few months as an apprentice. Much of the work was machined, but some of the work was quicker by hand and that’s when we used square edged chisels like firmer and sash mortise chisels.
Bevel-edged chisels do deserve respect. These are some of mine.
Furniture makers tended more toward the bevel-edged chisel across the width range to usually 1 1/2”. In fact, I rarely saw any other type used by furniture makers making their living from their work. I am speaking of people using the chisels regularly and include myself and those I have trained through the decades. I don’t believe this is copycat influence so much as the lightweight streamlining demanded by more fine and exacting work, whether that be joinery and furniture making or fine instrument making for musical instruments. Remember too that early woodworking provided some fairly complex wooden projects such as storage and carrying and display cases, stands for measuring instruments, tripods, telescopes, silverware and flatware cases and a million other pieces of treenware. There was a real demand for fine work revolving around the bevelled edge chisel, which with its extremely slender tapered bevels could slide into narrow spaces and between wood grain like no other. These cutting edges along the long side bevels of the chisel felt only minimal resistance. The internal corners of joints were accessed to allow precisely cut corners and to pare back the end- and face grain of all joints. Paring surfaces becomes clearly traceable with a bevel-edged chisel and this makes the work operation highly sensitive and pleasant. I have chopped mortises with bevel-edged chisels for 50 years. I have also enjoyed mortise chisels for this too – and firmer chisels.
I hasten to add a note here regarding the stupid fashions created by tool manufacturers for the construction trades to beat on with waffle head hammers. Most of the original plastic handle chisels were indeed indestructible. Carpentry had a respectable name and carpenters building homes were regarded as careful workers. As fashion encroached into the building trades to create fashion clothing and tools and equipment for the building trades. we saw a decline in the quality and refinements that no longer represent the tool of the craftsman at all.
I generally use different makers of bevel edged chisels – several of them
I once used the older, British-made Record-Marples blue-chip chisels when they first came out in the 1960’s, as well as the two-tone yellow and red models of the same era. I still use them for general carpentry work around the house and in the shop but prefer not to promote them because people confuse them with the current Irwin Marples models that are not UK made. The old models were very robust and stout alternatives to wooden handled models and less expensive on an apprentices wage back then. You can still get secondhand sets and individual chisels on eBay at reasonable prices but don’t be conned by look-alikes sold on eBay as new chisels under the Irwin-Record banner. These sellers use the old model images to sell Irwin’s Asian models. I liked the more squarish handles of these old Record Marples chisels. I think they enable good registration and adjustability and they don’t roll away from me or onto the floor.
Aldi bevel-edged chisels as an options
I have blogged on the Aldi chisels too many times now I suppose, but the reason I have is that I think they solve a cost issue for new, young and or impoverished woodworkers without compromising quality and functionality. Yes, I suppose they could be more refined, but this is more aesthetic to function than functional entirety itself. Fact is you can refine them yourself by changing the ferrules, refining the handles and polishing out the steel. The handle shapes are very practical and offer the same functionality you get with squarish plastic handles and they enable the same good registration and adjustments as the blue ones I mentioned. These chisels parallel the Two Cherries brand of chisels in terms of handle shape, length ratios etc but at a small fraction of the price.
Older Marples models of bevel-edged chisels
Marples chisels, the boxwood bevelled edge ones, are and will always be my favourites I think. There are several other makers you can buy besides these that are also excellent makers of the same era, but the prolific manufacturing of marples means they are the most readily available secondhand chisels from outlets like eBay. Why do I like them so much? Well, it’s not so much that they are perfected. They are not. I do like the handles even though round handles are not necessarily the very best. I love boxwood though and that’s a definite plus for me. With care, no steel or indeed metal hammers of any type, they will last a lifetime and then plus some. In terms of worth, they are worth about £30 each really, but you can often buy them for a fraction of this. I just bought two on ebay for £8.90 plus £3 shipping. Not too much really. The thing I like the most about the steel is not refinement of the surfaces but the slender length and thinness near to the cutting edge. They enter the wood readily and trim my joinery with and across the grain with ease.
Both John and Phil have been buying up rarer tool bargains via eBay again. Phil found an R Groves 8” dovetail saw identical to one of mine that he needs to recut teeth in after some poor sharpening by some former owner. He will have an excellent saw when he’s done with it though. He has nice tools to work with these days.
When John came in to the UK three weeks ago he admired my I Sorby jack and amazingly he may have bought the only other I Sorby 5 1/2 Jack plane on the planet. I at first thought that I had the only one in existence but John proved me wrong by finding the second one last week on eBay. His was grungy but underneath it was in good shape. I have two jacks to my collection of users. An I Sorby #4 and an I Sorby #4 1/2. There is no doubt as to their scarcity. I have seen only three of these planes in my 50 years of working wood. they are well made planes and I think celebrate the engineering work of Leonard Bailey by their fine engineering standards. I again hasten to add that these planes still have the thinner irons that never chatter as is the case with their Stanley and Record counterparts. I love these planes. Sadly the makers died out with their planes, but evidently there are some examples here to attest to their quality.
I do use my Sorby planes most days for different functions of planing and like the weight to length ratio which are similar to Record’s. I would like an I Sorby #4 1/2 but don’t actually need one. I have the #4 though. I feel this is slightly under par compared to the other Sorby’s.
Sometime back, in the canyons of my mind, I said we would do a blog or a video on making a French cleat. Why it’s called a French cleat I doubt anyone knows, but I will hold to the term in anticipation that a Frenchman did indeed hang a cabinet from a wall somewhere in a French colony or even France. Here in Wales I made a cleat. Would it be a Welsh cleat? I only knew this as a Reverse or Split cleat. All three would be correct terminology and there may be others too. A cleat is a common enough woodworking term. Things are “cleated together” if a cleat of 1 x 2″ wood traverses two boards or more across any joined edges and they are nailed through all components with nails. Nails are also referred to as cleats. You get cleats in sports boots, sports shoes and cobbled boots and clogs of different types; nails driven and bent over are sometimes called cleats and then there is a common stick of wood called a cleat that undergirds a shelf or mantle to strengthen and attach them to the wall as an anchor.
The concept of the French cleat is indeed a simple one and you can buy commercially made metal cleats that allow two parts of metal to interlock and so hang panels as large as 5’ x 10’ from castle walls. That is how the walls of my workshop display panels were hung when we had the Slavery Exhibition here in my workshop at Penrhyn Castle a few years ago. Wooden cleats on clocks and shelves full of books and heavy items resolve concerns of adequacy. A French cleat, or even two or three, will hold things securely to the wall by an interlocked method that makes the cleat almost unnoticed when the project is hung in place if you pick your cleated positioning well.
Sizing is determined mostly by the ability to securely screw the cleat to the wall and leave sufficient wood around the screw head to preserve the integrity. The screws can be left visible or concealed behind a wooden plug of like wood. That choice is yours.
Another aspect of the French cleat is that the cleat can go directly under a jointed or housed shelf, or, if the unit has a back to it, fixed entirely out of sight behind and to the back altogether. The main advantage of the French cleat is that the cleat can be fixed to the wall without holding the weight of the object being hung.
First I cut the cleat wood from flat stock 21mm by 38mm (7/8” x 1 1/2”). I use my fingers as a parallel guide to the edge, eyeball about one third the width,12mm (1/2”), and run the line. I then turn the cleat side to side and run the same line from the opposite edge and the opposite face.
To fix the cleat to the underside of the shelf I cut two recesses near the ends of the cleat. I give a little space around the screw. These recesses and the screws are not seen when the shelf is hung in place.
Cut the recesses as shown with a sharp chisel. Take care with along-the-grain-cuts as they are near to the edge and can split if the mallet blows or pressure is too much. Go gently and in small bites. That’s my advice.
Hanging the Shelf
Choose the position you want to hang the shelf and calculate the position of the reverse cleat. This is best done having someone hold the shelf and marking the underside of the cleat and the inside faces of the sides of the shelf itself. If on your own, hold the shelf in place and do the same, trying to feel how it will look. his usually works fine.
The shelf unit should now hang just fine. If you want to fix the two parts of the cleat to each other, screw through the top and the top cleat into the cleat fixed to the wall. This is not generally necessary, but, in a public place or a place with young children, you may want the added security measure.
Some tools mean more to me than others. I do like real brass, folded backs on tenon saws and dovetail saws over steel and none-folded brass backs, composite handles and backs and so on. They pinch the steel plate, you see, and allow 95% resolution to the out-of-straightness issues in a bent and buckled plate. Other plates in milled and punched backs cannot be straightened, but then again, of course, they may never buckle. Buckling is usually caused by pinched-back saws. So, my conclusion is that I like folded backs because they have weight, solidity and substance. Unlike planes, saws with backs benefit from weight and stiffness. These two saws are highly refined and rested designs perfected individually by master tool designers and makers 250 years earlier. They evolved if you will in and through the only pinnacle period of fine woodworking when the very finest tools were made. That doesn’t mean these saws were the best saws ever made. They weren’t. Better saws were made a hundred years before these came into being. But they are nice saws. – working class!
This is a chisel I bought and almost discarded. It cost me 30 pence and the handle was split. It’s boxwood, the most premium of all chisel woods bar none, I think. The ferrule is brass and the chisel forged steel. These ingredients make perfect chisels. I have been testing chisels from four countries and three continents. Those at the highest end have had flaws I cannot work with. They defy remedial work because either the designs are flawed or the materials are flawed. Buying this low-cost chisel proved a good buy, but why is that so. Well, it didn’t look good at first. The back, the large flat face, had pitting in it, which can be difficult to get through. Over the years the ferrule loosened. I waited and when the wood was thoroughly dried down in my shop, removed the ferrule, which slipped from the wood nicely. I used West systems epoxy inside the ferrule to bridge the gap twixt brass and wood. Rock-solidity resulted. The thinness of the steel makes the chisel a remarkable work piece to work with. I never used a 1 1/4, bevel-edged chisel so finely made. Never would I have realized that I would reach for this chisel when I bought it but I wouldn’t trade it for any other. Not one of them could come close, I don’t think.
Jointing the edges for the tabletop using a low angle jointer is a new experience but soon the tabletops were glued up and ready for the last day of the table class tomorrow. Fitting the joints and seating the shoulder lines become a surgical operation. Eventually they fit and fit perfectly and all the tenons fit snugly into the mortises too. The clamps close off the union and the internal mitres never seen sit side by side. Shaping the arches and the legs begins next. I watch from my corner as I work my own work, three bookcases and a fourth one on the way parallel the video series we started launching. I want other options for people to build.
Tomorrow is the final day of class. Though there is still much to do. the tables will be done by tomorrow at five.
Meanwhile I bought two old 14” tenon saws for their handles, plate and brass backs on eBay. The plates on both were bad, I mean bad, but I knew that when I bought them. I really liked them for their age and the quality of what was in these very ‘vintage’ saws.
It’s all very well straightening a saw with a steady curve along the plate or blade. I quick, positive whack on the full length of the spline on the bench top almost always corrects the problem. Failing that, hold the saw by the handle upside down and a few taps with a hammer can usually straighten out unwanted curves and buckles. What you cannot do is tap or whack the spline to take out kinks where the steel plate has been physically kinked by someone standing on the plate while elevated or dropping something angular and heavy on it. This is much more problematic.
Kinked plates are sometimes brought into the shop to see if there is any remedy that can restore it. Whereas some may occasionally seem worthy of consideration, others make you shake your head. I think these two saws were beyond most of the work I have in mind, but it takes only a few minutes to see if you can indeed restore a plate.
With a kinked saw it is best to remove the handle and the spline from the plate. Then you can see exactly where the plate lies when out of tension with the handle and the spline.
Once the spline is removed the plate will be very floppy. Some kinks can indeed be kinked the opposite way by a sharp bend the opposite way right on the same crease.
Bad bends the same. Because the steel is indeed spring steel, you may have to really bend the saw hard to restore a flat plate. One of my saw plates was too badly bent in multiple directions to restore so I removed all set by hammering the teeth between two hammer faces and reversed the teeth and the top and sank the tooth side into the brass spline. I will recut the new teeth tomorrow. This worked until I saw a split in the plate right beneath the spline. I removed the plate once more, cut off 1/4” and restored it to the spline once more. Part of the restoration process was to planish the plate adjacent to the kinks. This took out the kinks and left me with a slightly dished plate. I then worked the plate gradually until it was flat. When the plate was returned to spline there was a very slight curve along the length. Only a fraction of what was before and so slight it makes no noticeable difference to the saws functionality at all.
Restoring the plate into the slit of the spline when the spline is closed requires care not to buckle the plate and so cause another different kind of kink. I’ve seen this happen too. Start at one end, the end with the handle is best, and work carefully along the full length. It’s necessary or advisable to bottom out the plate against the back of folded spline. The straightness of the plate of this type of tenon saw relies on the brass (or steel if a steel backed saw) spline ‘pinching’ the saw plate all along its contact line.
Phil finally glued up his workbench stool and started refining the final shape of his seat. John is almost done with the drawer making to his tool chest that will become my shop camera box apparently. I need somewhere to dump my camera quickly and safely throughout the workday. Cameras and dust, bumps, knocks and slips don’t do to well.
Seems to me sometimes that what was once ordinary and common is now more a sort of coffee-obsessing where discussing replaces making and tasting the coffee itself. I think you know the type of thing. Two or three people start talking about their favourite coffee and the conversation heightens in pitch as each party obsesses about what they like the most in a coffee until the discussion diversifies into what water should be used and what temperature the water should reach before perking the coffee. Does alluminium influence the flavour more than stainless steel and are paper filters better than even silk? Sharpening the edges of chisels and planes seems to drive up the passion for many woodworkers and with so many options we feel free to try its easy to become somewhat obsessed with that very simple task called sharpening. I overheard two men talking about their chisels and the sharpness they took them to. Bragging they could shave their arms seemed more a goal than shaving wood and indeed, traveling around woodworking shows I have seen how people seem to think that the shaving is the end result and not so much the smoothness of the surface below the plane or the levelling of components forming the door or frame. Other conversations crop up surrounding which is the best plane and of course the challenge here is whether the Bed Rock is better than the Bailey or the Record the Stanley. Both are quite equal. Both do the same thing and both weigh about the same. The results of the Bailey equal the Bed Rock and so too the Stanley the Record.
I was asked recently about the #6 plane . What did I think its role was and how is it placed in the stable of planes with regard to its use and functionality? I think my answer is simple. Long planes still have their place in today’s woodworking world but are less important to us than they might have been in previous decades and centuries. They may well return to the bench and tool chest as people start considering issues of craftsmanship, developing skill and wanting higher levels of fulfillment as they work their bodies, develop muscle and relieve tensions from work-related stress by the whole body and mind experience at the workbench. Many too, thankfully and more importantly, are considering the reality that children are mostly left out of the workshop if machines are the dominant mechanism for working the wood. They want their kids to be included in the workshop not excluded. Machines do exclude kids from the workshop because of the inherent dangers surrounding them. I agree with this. I can see that machining could become less used and thereby less intrusive in home woodworking as we progress our rediscovery of real woodworking and the development of a more renaissance approach to mastery of skill. If or perhaps I should say as that happens, longer planes may well return to the workbench and so too young people using them to advantage their work. I think though that they will discover a good #5 and 5 1/2 will do all that they need to straighten their work. I rarely reach for anything longer these days.The metal-cast plane is indeed here to stay. I think because there are so many Stanley and Record 4’s and 4 1/2’s available now that the internet market is also here to stay. Who would have thought such a thing? I feel grateful for eBay because even the rare finds turn up there from time to time. Planes that might never have seen the light of day. I do wish that one of the high end makers would have invested in making a really nice, new #4 and 4 1/2 Bailey pattern plane even if it was the same price as a Bed Rock. Imagine a nice Bronze lever cap with Leonard Bailey’s name somewhere on it in recognition of his immense contribution to the world of working wood planes. If I could have found a nice lightweight Bailey-pattern plane well made to the tight tolerances some modern makers strive for with the Bed Rock I would have most certainly bought one, or even a couple. Even at the higher price the Bed Rocks sell for. My Stanleys and Records last about a hundred years of daily use it seems. Why don’t today’s makers make them still? There were no Bed Rocks around to compete with them I suppose. Bed Rocks were never a part of the British woodworking scene. Not until Clico came out with the Clifton range of planes that is.
Thank you for your responses to the blog about woodworking on the weekends. I was of a mind not to post it, but then felt that I should and did. The important thing is to keep whatever time you can spare beyond your work and family as a special time of re-creation. A time when you can rest from the pressures of work, spend quality time with your family and then dedicate some re-creational time making this things that help your family. I don;t care if it’s a lifetime cutting board, a spoon, a spatula or a bedroom suite. My dream came true each time my sons came in the workshop to make their first spatula and use a spokeshave to do it. Seeing them grow to make benches and mallets as part of their income-producing life in their teen years meant they were working to standards of excellence and then suddenly their are selling pieces of furniture or making a violin. I equipped them by passing on my skills to them. Now, in my daily life, I am equipping others. It’s empowerment that translates into humanity, family, shared life, shared space and much, much more. My weekends are seven days a week. The weekend is Sunday evening. Why, because I found my fulfilling work passing on what I have to others regardless of their background, age, gender, religion or whatever else causes barriers.
Today I worked hard all day. I am currently teaching a nine-day class here at my Penrhyn Castle workshop and I am straining to make certain I pass on the essentials. The foundation must be right. Sharpening, the right tools, the right joints. Thinking through things and the reasons we do what we do. Five decades ago western woodworkers used western tools, western techniques. Someone introduced Japanese saws and suddenly the western tools were abandoned. Gradually people returned to their western heritage and kept some Japanese tools as well, a few anyway. It was very much a marketing strategy in the same way coining the term “power tools” became the new description of machines. It kind of softened the invasion and made it sort of , well, harmless. Once you could persuade the majority that using machines was just a natural progression from the hard work of hand tools (which most of it wasn’t) to using a more advanced system that freed you from needing skill, you were on a winner. For many, the evolutionary process left the same sort of emptiness people felt working with the same factory machines they used at work and after a few decades they suddenly started waking up to the fact they they too could develop their own real skill, become real woodworkers of quality with knowledge and pride.
I am so glad that we have turned the tide and become more independent of the “power tool” trap. Stemming the tide was critical to the preservation of true skill in the lives of those who love the craft the most and that is you. Amatuer woodworking seems to me the best and only way to preserve skill and the reason is this. Woodworkers who love to work with their hands can continue developing their skills even though the demand for what they make may be declining in terms of finding a customer base. I actually don’t believe that to be the case, but I also know that people can earn better living standards in jobs they do to make money and practice their craft working in their spare time whenever they can. My hope one day is to see more and more people not going in to work but working where they live, being able to stop at 11am and walk into their garage for an hour or two doing something with their hands and then going back to income-producing work. More and more people are working from home than ever before. They are not wasting time in traffic queues, two hours a day traveling to and from work and an hour for lunch away from home and family.
We do tend to see industrialism and working in a global economy as somehow normality and proudly use words like global and sustainable growth to somehow depict real progress. Well, back to the bench for me and sanity. John blew it today and what would have been perfect ended up flawed. He told me I could blog on it and show you where he went wrong so that you would never do the same. I did this some decades ago but my bosses were less forgiving and nailed it to the beam above me. To remind me of wedge orientation. I wouldn’t have posted this if John hadn’t wanted you not to make the same mistake when you make your mistake.
John decorated one of my new bookcases with essential shop supplies. He liked the green of the coffee grinder and the green of the matte that he drinks.
Penrhyn Castle opens its manorial doors to the public again next week, so if you want to see some majestic woodworking stop by the National Trust and see what makes this incredible place such a terrific tourist attraction. I posted on a tour I took you though on my blog here some time back, but nothing is better than the feel and atmosphere of the real thing. Book into a B&B for a long weekend and spend some time discovering North Wales. For those in the US, fly into Manchester and discover the heart of the iIndustrial Revolution for yourself and then come to North Wales and see wales in all its glory. Better still, consider coming to one of my nine-day foundational courses. Stay for two weeks and take in the sights either side of the class. You WILL love it!
I think about people escaping their place of work on Friday evenings traveling home and thinking of the weekend when they can wear different clothes, pick times to work, what to work on do what I do during the week. It’s as much in the planning as in the doing. Thinking through the stages, weighing up the materials available, a trip to the lumberyard.
Saturdays somehow grab meaninglessness from the midweek workdays and translates us into depths of meaning we often can’t describe with words. The saw rips along thin lines with strong, intense strokes and the waste falls away. For me, I look at the kerf as I cut and see 1/2” travel with each stroke 26” stroke. The wood is 72” and so I make around 150 full length passes of the saw into the board. Then, a few minutes pass from one exercise period to my next. I lift the plane, the jack, and brace my back leg as I push the plane to start straightening the edge and soon the wood feels clean and straight and, well, lovely. I can’t imagine it’s easy to cram family life and woodworking into a couple of days but most people do it that way.
Woodworking with machines is really nothing like woodworking by hand. For the main part they are quite unrelated spheres unless you do what some are now calling hybrid woodworking. Bit silly some might say, but, really, I think that that might be nearer to reality than some might think. I see more and more woodworkers reaching for hand tools than ever before in the last five or six decades. The machines seem to have lost a little of their early 80s “power” and woodworkers started searching for a bit more depth, more skill and more fulfillment. There is a marked difference between UK amateurs and our US counterparts. If I ask ten students in the UK whether they have a machine set up, you know, planer, jointer, tablesaw, chopsaw, bandsaw. almost always, no hands go up and there are no nods. In the US it’s tended to be nearer the opposite. Many reasons account for this. The UK didn’t have its Norm Abram equivalent nor a New Yankee Workshop back in 1989. Machines never took off like in the US and, frankly, the UK magazines fell far short when it came to inspiring the new-genre woodworker. Space is more of a premium than in the US and of course there was no Woodcraft or Rockler chain of woodworking stores. I think US enthusiasm did influence the UK woodworking scene, especially some of the magazines, but other spheres too. It’s funny really, US woodworkers tended to look to the UK for aspects of woodworking while the UK looked to the US. On the British front we had John Makepiece and Alan Peters and in the US we had Sam Maloof and Jim Krenov. There were others, of course, but somehow these men breathed life into woodworking. They were able to impart something more substantive and had a staying power that gave others resolve to become more, question more and even achieve more. They seemed to see the importance of passing on what they had. I do think that people were supposed to go beyond copying their designs, but it did get people going in a new direction and that was important.
Today was a full day. The saws and planes scarcely stopped. I am on my final bookshelf unit. Tomorrow I return to the sapele tool chest I’ve been building and hopefully those in the nine-day class will begin making their oak tables. Confidence levels increase by the hour and even though there are some setbacks, the work keeps progressing so I feel content in what we are achieving.
Today was another busy day. My square checked my work relentlessly and legalistically. Seeds fell from the Giant Sequoia cone onto my benchtop and I wondered how a tree 50-80-meters high could grow from so small a seed.
This small section of European redwood is 124 years old this year; there’s 2 3/4” of growth from its centre of origin to the outside of the sapwood. 1890 since its seed fell to the earth and started searching through soil to tap into the forest floor somewhere inside Northern Europe. How people can despise pine I cannot know. This grain grows in dense, tightly formed rings and I stop myself from work at my bench to look at the life there. Common pine. Should I treat it without respect. Friends have asked me to make caskets from this wood and when they died I dovetailed the corners as I would a well-made box of any kind. The pine wood returns to the earth as do the friends I lost over the years. The wooden handles and the calico lining seem fitting somehow. Unpretentious. The Sequoiadendron giganteum has tiny seeds .5mm thick, 3.5mm across and 4.5mm long (1/64” x 5/32” x 3/16”). The seeds lie inside cracks in cones that have beautiful markings and in the seed itself there is crimson speckling few if any ever see.
My class is going well. We start another project tomorrow and we talk about many things related to wood. We sharpen planes and chisels of course and when we begin working in oak we cover scrapers and planing techniques for oak that we must at least consider. The dovetails came out really nice. Not mine, theirs. Mine came out fine too, but I have made a few now, many hundreds at least. Phil’s workbench stool is almost done and soon John will start his drawers for the tool chest. They do many other things too, don’t forget. My own tool chest is glued up and the top and bottom panels with the raised panels is ready to glue up tomorrow so I too will be starting drawers. I also have a another bookcase to build, so I will do that one this week too. Lots going on.
We don’t think about it much, not enough anyway, but life is all about seed and growth, death, birth, regeneration. We should dwell on life more than we do. That seed is something else when you think about it. Imagine, 280 feet into the sky! How about that!
The square doesn’t seem to do much and yet everything I do at the bench depends on the most undervalued tool I have. In this article I tell you that it has never been more than three feet from my hands in 50 years. I hope this interests you.
There’s an intenseness when the square is lifted from the workbench. Intervals of evaluation become ever critical to our emerging work and so every step we take is checked according to the square. My square remains an arm’s length or less from me. It never goes away and of course I make few moves and no cuts without it. If it’s not there my work stops. Nothing I do starts or ends without it, so until its replaced back to nearby I search.
I measure my own accuracy as diligently as I can and always within minutes of my previous test. The cuts start with a knifewall, a cross-grain cut from my knife running along the square. Judgement heightens all consideration when it’s placed to the work. Muscles close off an eye and the other adjusts contractions to align my sight. Muscles swell in flexed domes and each sinew draws the work tight to the square. It’s a quick check, accurate, exact. I forget my muscles as they lock in my upper body. Lower muscles flex to support this fixedness. Movement is slight, so slight. I lose nothing as align myself. My honesty is tested. Honesty to my work, myself and those who rely on my tests.
From the square the chisel follows a cut line made by my knife Nothing is at all left to randomness. So too the plane parallels the invisible lines I draw by eye. An extension through which I cast my eye to for twist, cup and bow. I continue moving minute by minute moving between the plane and the square until I feel satisfied. Nothing goes unchecked but the risk lessens if my strokes are placed accurately. Of all the tools I own my Rabone Chesterman, the one I bought when I was 15 or 16, has never left my side. Imagine that after 50 full years being with me for 10 hours every day. There are not many of any one of you out there that can say such a thing. There will be some though. I look at the square from time to time. Somehow I forget it’s there, but when it’s missing I search and oh how I search. You may not feel what I feel when my square has slipped away for a few minutes. When it is missing, it’s never for longer than that.
I just thought you might be interested in how I feel about my Rabone Chesterman 12” combination square.