Hand Tool Headlines
The Woodworking Blogs Aggregator
This "aggregator" collects all of the woodworking blogs I read every day - or try to anyway! Enjoy!
Do you have a suggestion for a hand-tool woodworking blog you would like to see here? Tell me via the CONTACT page. Thanks!
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.
I need some help on deciding what direction to go in regards to purchasing a hand plane. There are a few to choose from and just when i thought i may have it figured out another one pops up. Now all i have right now is a standard block plane and an old Stanley no 4 smoothing plane. I have a little bit of a budget but not much. Basically i build tables and book shelves and what not and sell them as a little side project but I’m starting to take it seriously and i would like to flatten and hand joint boards with hand planes because i cant afford a machine jointer or a thickness planer. A lot of what i read online people say to go straight to a no 7 or an 8 but on the other hand a lot are saying buy a no 5 jack plane or a low angle jack plane so you can inter change irons for different tasks. Im an Englishmen like yourself in Canada with Veritas knocking at my door but they are expensive! I do like the sound of their low angled jack plane with the different irons because I’m on a budget but it seems to short for jointing 4-8ft boards. What would your advice be to a 23 year old just starting out?
I had a similar question in my personal email this week when someone, following research online, concluded that for some reason they then needed a bevel-up jack plane as a first-purchase best all-rounder plane. So we can talk about that in a minute but I think that there is a serious problem here leading to equally seriously flawed thinking. I confess feeling a little sad that the reason you wanted to use hand planes was because you couldn’t afford machines. Lets look at long jointer planes.
Unwieldy, awkward, heavy, sluggish and absolutely unnecessary. I think that’s how I might best describe them. Secondly, the reason secondhand ones are always in good condition is because no one ever used them. I have yet to meet any craftsman that ever used them in my 50 years continuous woodworking. That includes the old craftsmen I worked under as an apprentice. None of them had a #7. So who was it who said buy a #7 or a #8. Always remember the saying from Benjamin Franklin quoting Socrates in part, “the first responsibility of every citizen is to question authority.” So, on what basis do people say go for a #7 or 8?
Now then. I cannot give you this experience, but a longer #7 sized wooden jointer plane is a totally different animal altogether. I don’t expect anyone to agree and even anticipate some thinking me to be a crank in what I say next but I have to say it in the name of truth. No modern all-metal plane comes close to a well-made wooden jointer plane. It weighs about the same as metal ones depending on the chunk size of the wood used, but in terms of lightness on the wood it feels like about one eighth the weight and glides so absolutely smoothly.
Personally, I have no use for a plane longer than a #6 max. Totally unnecessary, impractical and difficult to address to the wood. They are never flat because the steel moves all over the place depending on temperatures and such. Surprisingly wooden planes change only minimally by comparison, so the supposed greatest attribute of owning long all metal planes is compromised by the fact that metal planes move when when temperatures change. As I said, most long-soled planes are never actually flat and they also flex very easily under pressure too. Wooden planes do not flex, by the way.
I think buying a bevel-up plane instead of a standard bench plane, be that Bed Rock or Bailey pattern, should be purely a matter of choice and not something based on current trends and then based on erroneous information. In my view one simple fact remains and that is a bevel-up plane will not accomplish a small fraction of the work the bevel-down planes will, but a bevel-down can do everything a bevel-up plane does and of course more. That makes it a no-brainer for me. Of course there are some elements of physics playing their part here and I am not saying owning one as an additional plane to bevel-downs isn’t well worth it, just that bevel-downs win hands down for 99% of all tasks. I should point out here that your using the name “low angled jack plane” automatically means a bevel-up jack plane, for those who might not know.
Of course bevel-up planes are not new to woodworkers. They’ve been around for about 250 years or so. Today’s makers just copied what existed in the Stanley range and added a few improvements of their own that make them functional and some really high end ones do parallel the beauties of the early 1800’s.
I think things have gotten a little silly these days, when it comes to planes and such. I have a list for tomorrow of the planes I would recommend in order.
I see higher education come when people realise they are personally discovering the importance their ‘calling’ has in pursuing life skills. This rite of passage may well be sparked in any realm you enter in pursuit of higher education and it best comes by taking the path less traveled rather than mindlessly following the majority. Vocational calling is hearing and seeing an interest develop no matter your age and no matter where, when or how. It doesn’t mean vocational occupation, vocational education or vocational training in such limited spheres aren’t useful pockets along the path to growth—stepping stones perhaps, they might even be important, but when you enter the all-encompassing realms of answering your calling—Wow! You start to answer the deeper, wider and broader issues of lifestyle reality. Marrying your craft, your art, the order of it, and sharing it with others no matter what, you suddenly become aware that that which you’re impassioned by is a powerful state that steers you and empowers you against any of the adversities you may face on the journey. You are deciding to forsake mere entertainments and pastimes with that made-up mind that enables you to pursue this critical influence on your life with a whole heart, mind, soul and strength. Higher education always takes place beyond college and university and the universe itself when you enter the higher call. Higher education is being absorbed into your vocational calling with a depth that defies all institutions. It starts before university in a mother’s womb and then stretches on throughout life.
Each day I make cuts in wood picked and cut by hands trained to change the raw to the refined and each day passes with the rewards hard work brings. I smell scents others, billions now, will never smell in a lifetime, never. I can do nothing about this life change in culture and neither can a computer taking men to other planets nor a super super smart phone. How rich is that?
I look deep and wait until my thoughts are complete and then search the surface fibres to read grain yet locked inside to find what no one’s seen and then to bring its hidden depths up to the surface. I remember past woods I’ve cut into and planed like notes or messages written to myself that remind me that what I make with my hands is fine enough, but that I can never make the tree I took my wood from.
I prize the trees I’ve severed from its root from the millions that still stand and allow gladness to take its course as I take full measure of my choices. I don’t cut trees I can’t fully use and make into furniture that wouldn’t last 200 years. I remember first the sadness when the trees fell away from me and the cattle rushing from their stock stance staring; bemused by my being. I recall the heavy lifting with chains and ropes the wood I prized for my work and the spring now bent straight under the weight as I ground through the gravel river beds on my way home.
My lifestyle is filled with choices I make to create lasting things of loveliness that make life pleasing that are never disposable and throwaway.
My table emerged from five slabbed boards of oak this week. The woodland the tree came from will replace my taking with ten more over the next hundred years. It’s a legacy you see. Calling, I mean. Wood too and the tools I use as well.
Twenty five years ago I agonised over how I could pass on my skills. I agonised for two weeks day and night and then one day it hit me that crafts like mine are not complicated but simple. And here came the clearest reality ever; with ten hand tools and three joints you can make almost anything from wood. I felt so happy as I wrote down my curriculum and drew pictures and then trained each one of my sons with it. And there’s more. Then I went on and I trained hundreds of other people’s children over 20 or so years without ever a single penny exchanging hands and it worked to the point that dozens of them are earning their living as craftsmen and women in their own right today. And guess what? It never stopped. Personally I have trained 5,500 adults with it and now we are teaching hundreds of thousands following the very same basic premise. How about that!!!!
I used those same ten hand tools with two of those three joints and five boards of oak to make this table over the past week. Hand tools only remember. It’s been fun following my vocational calling again this week. Make craft happen everyone. Follow that calling in your life. Reach out to the coming generations and start with your own children.
Phew! Mowed the grass for the upcoming 9-day workshop starting Friday morning. Can’t have the place looking shabby. Managed to get the box hedging trimmed and clipped in the walled garden too. Everywhere is looking good for the midday walks and that last hour before the gates shut. Flowers look stunning and will be at their peak throughout the next two months.
We just finished off the making of the dining table today so that’s always a great relief. This has been very rewarding for me as it’s been a few years since I made one of these. Soon this will be viewed by thousands of woodworkers who now distance apprentice with us around the world and just knowing that that’s happening every week has unexpectedly been one of the greatest rewards I have ever known.
It’s an amazing thing that I am still apprenticing one on one with people like John, Leah, Sam and Phil, and seeing my craft in such good hands. What a strategy! And the training directly with a class full of students every few weeks, 5,500 so far over the past 20 or so years now. More than that though, now we are also reaching around the world to many multiples of thousands. Training from my background as a mere woodworker is unbelievably special. Who would have thought when this skinny runt of a boy stood in bib and brace overalls that he would outreach using a computer when nothing he knew involved anything but chisels and planes let along there was no such thing as the world wide web. How many people do we possibly reach? We reach over a million people every month. Wow!
Looking forward to Friday. Getting the wood ready tomorrow, shop cleanup. Love it!
I used squared draw-bore pegs on my trestle table last week and some of you asked how it works. Square pegs do work but they are more difficult to cut accurately and deeply. It’s best to use the conventional method using the offset round hole. That means boring the 3/8″ hole through the mortise piece all the way through, inserting the tenon fully down to the shoulder and putting the point of the bit into the hole and centring the point in the tenon piece to mark the tenon. Withdraw the tenon and bore the same sized hole 1/16″ nearer to the shoulder.
Cut a 45-degree cut on each of the corners but not too deep. The distance from the end depends on how deep you can cut the square recess into the mortise piece. 3/16″ is deep enough but deeper works well if the mortise piece is from thicker wood.
Pare down the corners to the shoulder at 45-degrees and along the full length.
The blank will now look like this.
I used a rasp to rough out the rounded corners…
…and then finishing them off with a flat file.
I know I perhaps bang on a little about eBay so perhaps I should qualify my thoughts. It’s not eBay I feel proud of but Britain’s historic contribution in developing and manufacturing the best range of woodworking hand tools for centuries of British woodworkers and woodworking. I look too at what their cutting edges made from in this part of the western world and feel, well, amazed. Of course it’s not just here but around the world. Britain’s been a massive central hub to Europe as a whole and then on to other continents too. I shouldn’t wonder that Britain’s tool history doesn’t have one of the widest outreaches of any country in the world if I think about it. Mostly from a small city called Sheffield, but other cities and towns within a 100 mile radius or so. Quite amazing really, if you think that the population of Sheffield in the mid 1800’s was a mere 180,000. I suppose that might max out somewhere around 30,000 in its workforce. Quite remarkable. Of course it never stopped with the UK supplies alone, its contribution to the past and present world of woodworking was and still is most immense.
Today I find most of the tools I want from eBay. I have never bought anything yet I couldn’t bring up to full working level within a few minutes. A saw takes me 20-30 minutes if rusted a little and dull. A plane might take the same. Imagine, I bought a Woden #78 rabbet plane this week for under £10. Without eBay I would be paying hundreds of pounds more than I do. Here’s a Woden 4 1/2 that came in too. Looks a bit rugged. I like them that way and I like paying £12 for them if I can. In the pre-web days around 1980-85 tools were sold by adverts in mags and tool dealers. We paid much higher prices then than we do now, I can tell you, but that’s not my reasoning at all. I think today we see tools that would have been lost to us, perhaps rotted in rust and mildew. Tools keep coming and there are enough to cycle through for every generation of woodworkers yet to come. How about that. A Sheffield, England legacy no one ever knew would happen and no one ever planned for. Sheffield, despite it’s present tool producing demise, is still supplying the new demand for quality tools from its heirloom treasure trove via eBay. I used my I Sorby today to joint the edges of my oak tabletop. I had sharpened bevel ups and bevel downs and the results were good, but when my Sorby licked the surface of the gnarly knots in the oak I felt happy with my rarest of all finds. I know of only two of these planes. John, my last apprentice, has the other. You should have felt it slicing through impossibilities.
The post Sheffield and eBay-Ancient tools still supplying the here and now appeared first on Paul Sellers' Blog.
This week’s flown by and we accomplished a great deal working every day. I have pretty much finished of the latest project which is a dining table I designed for my son Peter’s wedding back on 2,000 when I made it from some very dark and beautiful Texas black walnut. Making this one took me back to the long days I spent making this and other pieces for their wedding gifts.
You see working with my hands gives me something much more laudable than merely making a living but making memories, making futures, making relationships. I recall all of the details I developed for the design to make it unique. The dovetailed apron carried by two strong-back transition rails carries the whole table trestle-style but with an apron that anchors the top and allows the use of turn buttons. Today we managed the final glue up and that’s always its own great reward.
My joints lay cut so my saws and chisels lie silenced by the completions intersecting each one. They interlock, clasped as fingers interlocked might—no air between tight facets, no space for slackness and gentle, light compression remains. Yes, I glue them together, as the Egyptians did 5,000 years ago. The voice of the man mentoring my training 50 years ago floods my mind many times. “Marry them.” he said. I married my 40 joint parts today for the 150,000th time and locked each to its partner and my table came to rest in an interactive exchange of unity and oneness—a marriage of permanence replaced the diversity of 30 parts and a lifetime of usefulness became an inheritance.
I wrote this blog on making and using a spokeshave blade holder/extender because it was something that enables you to use a honing guide if need be, but also gives the added leverage you really need for applying upper-body pressure as you do in normal sharpening of blades. Without the extender your fingers cannot take such pressure and sharpening becomes tedious. This is especially so for those unaccustomed to sharpening. Some time back we made a video but didn’t post it on YouTube yet so here it is. The extender can be used freehandIt for polishing out on the strop or any other way you want too.
Hope you enjoy it.
The post Spokeshave blade extender to sharpen on YouTube now appeared first on Paul Sellers' Blog.
Today we glue up different things and that includes the dining table we’ve been building for the current woodworkingmasterclasses video series. It’s been a good week so far and by Friday I hope we’ll have this project concluded. Each of the projects we’ve built have been training vehicles to show methods that work as well as machine methods and more often better or impossible by machine. The second episode on planing the rough and waney edged oak for the table top is online at 5pm on WWMC and next week we start the hounds-tooth dovetailed apron. I introduced this as my newest design back in 2010 when I made the table for my son’s wedding present. We’ve made it and sold it since then. Joseph made his first one of these when he was 14 years old and made it from black walnut.
There are a couple of things about this table that are unusual and the joinery has a few features some might find unusual such as the combination of the housing dado, through tenon and protruding roundovers. A bit more of a challenge is the Hounds-tooth dovetail which simply put puts a dovetail inside a dovetail as can be seen here. I have put square pegs in round holes with the protruding rounded ends. It’s unusual because we’ve retained the round properties of the driven peg and the offset round holes inside to draw up the tenon shoulders AND the decorative feature of the squared peg end. We show how to make this very distinct peg that as far as I know is something I developed and has never been shown before anywhere.
Of course it’s all hand work that matters and doing it to camera means that thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people will watch and train using our best kept trade secrets.
I bought these mortise chisels on ebay for £6 each. Hard to imagine, but they are all Marples, virtually unused if used at all, and all top of the Marples-of-old mortising chisel line. Three of them are 5/8” and the other four 1/2”. Unbelievably good value and all with brass ferrules, leather washers, trapezoidal blades and boxwood handles. I want students to experience these and the heavier mortise chisels to assess for themselves how these chisels work. The main advantage of heavyweight chisels is mostly when you dig out deep mortises deeper than say 1 1/2″ or so. The need for deep leverage and enough steel mass to hold up to pressure becomes more important the deeper you go.
Working on the woodworking masterclasses videos build this last week we had sixteen 1/2” mortise holes to chop, four are small but the others are quite large at 4” and 6” long by 1 1/2 deep. You can see my 1/2” bevel-edged chisel alongside the seven I bought for size comparison but there’s more. I chopped some mortises with the larger 1/2” Marples and some with the 1/2” Marples bevel edged one. I chopped some with my Thor 712 38mm driving the chisels and then some using my mallet, which is half as heavy again as my trusted Thor. Have you noticed now how many people are using the Thor hammers for woodworking these days since my blog began? Here is what happened.
The mortise chisel took 17 chisel hammer blows to deliver the depth. The next cut adjacent to the one just made with the large mortise chisel was done with the 1/2” bevel-edged chisel and that took just 6 chisel hammer blows. The bevel-edged chisel was indeed far more effective, efficient and much easier throughout. Just worth considering. No one else will tell you these things.
Much of this of course has to do with Newtons law of equal and opposite forces. Briefly, and from a novice, Newton’s Third Law talks about action and reaction, which basically means that for ever action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
I see higher education come when people realise they are personally discovering the importance ‘calling’ has in pursuing life skills. This rite of passage may well be sparked in any realm you enter in pursuit of higher education and it best comes by taking the path less traveled rather than mindlessly following the majority. Vocational calling is hearing and seeing an interest develop no matter your age and no matter where, when or how. It doesn’t mean vocational occupation, vocational education or vocational training in such limited spheres aren’t useful pockets along the path to growth, stepping stones perhaps, they might even be important, but when you enter the all-encompassing realms of answering your calling–Wow! You start to answer the deeper, wider and broader issues of lifestyle reality. Marrying your craft, your art and sharing it with others no matter what, you suddenly become aware that that which you’re impassioned by is a powerful state that steers you and empowers you against all adversity. You are deciding to forsake mere entertainments and merely interesting things to pass time with with a made-up mind that enables you to pursue craft and the art of work very differently, with a more whole hearted mind, soul and strength experience that lasts decades. Higher education for me is way more than anything that takes place in college and university but the universe itself. That for me is when you enter the Higher call. Higher education is being absorbed into your vocational calling. It starts before any degree course way back in a mother’s womb and then stretches on throughout life.
Sometimes I do wonder why woodworking as a trade or profession is declining. I wonder whether it could ever return for people who like me knew there corner in their early teens. Some say it was easier for me then than those looking for a way of work today, but few really understand the fight it took. Few of us really understand that the consumerism they feel is a right might well be the very thing that’s destroyed craft and the art of work and even life. Where we are today didn’t start with the internet but with the industrialising of people centuries ago. Creating a dynamic by which people worked to buy rather than work to make the things essential to life birthed a way of getting people to work primarily for money.
It’s an interesting reality that there’s more information on woodworking available for free today than ever in the history of woodworking. I realise there’s a problem with too much information and too much wrong information too, but that’s not really where the problem lies. The problem lies mostly in another realm, a realm from where you might least expect it. Education you would think would, well, educate you to better understand the knowledge you are learning of so that you can make an educated decision about your future when in actuality that’s for many of not most far from the case. Education people, parents, counsellors and advisers, experts in the realms of educating young people for adulthood, tell school pupils that to be successful they need a good education, good school results and a university degree to take control of their futures. Somehow education is the empowering force where a universe opens its doors to them. Statistics do get bandied around a lot these days but I think things do show that that’s not so much true but more a fait accompli and that most adults don’t necessarily enjoy their jobs and would if possible change those critical decision-making years to search for work that would increase their levels of fulfilment in the more mature work they end up in. By the time they discover the flawed infrastructure that defined their future, education, they find themselves locked into consumerism because earnings became paramount in a world that lacked interest and stimuli, challenge and discovery. The kind of stuff I’ve had throughout my adulthood. It’s now a fact that over 33% of the technology workforce will change their jobs in the next 12 months and that 45% will plan on moving during that same period. Over 70% believe that they need to change their job to progress their career.
Apparently these workers would remain if the work was interesting and challenging and they had support of good people around them. Another ingredient important to people is open and honest communication between all involved. Few would actually remain for a higher pay scale. Craft work and working with other people in close association seems to me essential to my craft and my own wellbeing.
My hope today is that the work I am doing will influence people enough for them to start thinking cluster-group cooperatives of three to four people starting woodworking businesses, associations or enterprises that are NOT purely money-based but relationships based surrounding likeminded business ambitions where the members earn enough to support their lives, families and lifestyle. Shared workspace, work, studio space and so much more could be the way forward. What do you think. Could some things become a thing of the past if people had an alternative of likeminded artisans and wannabes enough to be creative? I think it could happen.
I find myself testing the truth of good tools at the bench and know some things get harder to find around the world. Finding good tools should get easier but for some small principalities it seems hard if not impossible. How it is in Malaysia or the Philippines I don’t know but all the more our net has now encompassed distant regions of the world yet we do nothing except speak to simplify the art and reality of true workmanship.
I’m amazed that we are finally turning the corner here after half a century when we could never really get a toe hold in the door to reverse the damage of those decades. My work gets easier now by the day as people fight their way off the treadmill in their home towns and home workshops and now all the more enjoy complex woodworking using the simplest methods and simplest of dead ordinary hand tools too. I feel all we’ve ever offered is the reality of simplicity, realness and such.
I like the local level of my work all the more these days too. Perhaps it’s the flaw in me of not wanting to be some kind of rugged individual or the macho character but like those spheres where interdependency thrives and interaction deepens relationships of real value and consequence. I don’t just like it a bit, I like it very much.
Phil’s finishing off a box and has yet to conclude the actual finish on his rocking chair. We all have way too much to do with so little help. We’ve grown all the closer through the vision I have for establishing a crafting cooperative of woodworking craftsmen. You know, a place where we shove machines out so people can work safely together and talk as they work with one another as we do in the everyday of life. Now Sam’s come on board for a season of apprenticeship too. His bench is freestanding solidly squat square on it’s four legs and he should have the superstructure together hopefully tomorrow. He has the well to do yet and then he makes his drawer. I changed some features of this bench to go in my new bench making course and it’s made it really succinct and though this bench has always been my rock solidest design, the small additions make it all the more solid. Sam was able to customise this o
I’ve taught this workshop since I first developed it in the 1990’s. I cannot tell you how many lives it’s changed and continuous to change. When I began my work training others and passing on skills it was from the direct relationship to my craft, an extension of my life as a furniture maker and crafting artisan and never as a teacher. I’m still a maker and always have been even though our outreach as teachers and apprenticers is bigger and more wide reaching than ever before.
The first two classes of the year filled more quickly than ever before which shows the demand for real woodworking is continuing to grow. This is no surprise to me at all, people are looking deeper into their lives in search of meaning and fulfilment. Woodworking has a way of transforming people’s lives and that’s my main goal. Aldo, unfortunately we’ve cut back a little on the number of courses we can offer this year too. Please book your bench-space early if you are planning on coming to North Wales.
Month-long Intensive this year
Many of you asked if we would be holding a month-long intensive again and we ware holding one this year in September. If you are interested in a more intense multi-project furniture making course concluding with the Craftsman-style Rocking Chair or an armed dining chair this course will prove of great value to you. In this course we will be building a large chest to my design. The chest is more cabinet making course for learning the art of raised panel door making by hand, drawer making and making large scaled dovetailed boxes as cabinets. This is a hybrid of my traditional joiner’s tool chest and the cabinet maker’s tool chest you may have seen around my shop or in some the other month-long workshops held here and in the USA. I have changed the design to become a rock solid foundation course in this type of construction. The drawer making has both through and half lap dovetails and sliding dovetailed dividers too. Quite an interesting project throughout.
The coffee table is a trestle-type table made from solid oak. It has a dovetailed apron, my design and very unusual, through tenons and a series of blind tenons to create the pedestal end frames. The techniques used to build this table are transferable to full sized dining tables of the same or similar design.
To ensure all students are similarly skilled and prepared, students must have attended our foundational course or a preparation five-day course planned a few days before the month-long.
Places for this class are limited to eight students only. Please contact the school as early as possible to avoid disappointment and also for additional details if this course is of interest to you. I will gladly answer any questions you might have.
Had I at fifteen been told to make my workbench I know it would have been intensely gratifying. I know too that I could have done it. But waiting a few years and allowing the process of work to change me did something to me. I matured, grew in knowledge and strength. The men had stopped their mocking and jealousies ceased. Today I see how that learning phase equipped me and stood me in better stead. I picked out my wood differently and knew what to look for on my own. My hands and arms were calloused and harder and the tools obeyed each stroke and demand. Building a workbench like mine is simple enough and yet it’s far from simplistic or over simplified. I have made it in different forms but always followed the same basic patterns because others seemed to counter my quest for simplicity.When done I dismantled it and put it back in the hatchback.
I’m glad we filmed the one I made for YouTube in the back garden a few short summers back. It was so real working from two saw horses that way and now we’ve had millions of views as a result of it. Emails each week tell me that my bench now stands on every continent around the world and hundreds if not thousands have been made by men and women and even young children. That’s what makes much of my work simpler without being simplistic and it’s what the real woodworking campaign was all about a few years back. You know what? It’s worked.Now Phil uses the bench as well as students who are 6’2″ tall or over.
Watching Sam make his bench at the bench as it were has been fun for me. Perhaps he too was supposed to wait a few years too but I think not. In a few years he may want to make another, better, more sophisticated one, but this period of mentoring is about him learning through each project to skill-build rapidly in a way no other enterprise or education system offers. I work at my bench, take pics as he works and get on with my work. The shame is I could take ten people like Sam and watch them from my bench in the same way. It’s an easy enough task for me to do that. I’ve done it on and off for decades.Laminated tops work best and you can use almost any wood too
Here’s what I want to say. Building a workbench is a rite of passage for every woodworker. The YouTube series worked to that end. Ut was of course free and it was a strategic quest to expand woodworking knowledge to a massive audience. It was advantaged by the digital age and yet was not at all difficult. the bench wasn’t complex, fancy, made from exotic hardwoods or anything like that, far from it. For me, workbenches need to be dead real. As Sam shapes the parts and fits them, planes, them hand routs them and cuts wedges and stuff like that I have a sense of something happening in the spirit as it were.Sam testing his leg frames into the aprons and fitting the stress wedges. Sam’s bench stands on all fours for the first time. Now he can lay out for the drawer and vise recesses.
Take a piece of iron and tumble it between the anvil and the hammer and make a simple nail can be a reward in itself. Leather worked with an awl, some waxed thread and a skiving head has the same effect, but when you make a tool or a bench and you see the square nail becomes a square awl and the leather a bit roll for you augers something shifts. Clay on the wheel remains clay until it’s fired. Glaze it and it changes all the more. Vitrified, it now holds the content of all that’s poured into it. A rite of passage challenges you and that’s what an apprenticeship should do. Something that transforms a being from one thing into another. The bench is a small portion of it. My apprenticing people is radically different. it’s high-demand in a different way. when a man or a woman chooses this path I give them all I can for a year or so. This parallels five years in a commercial setting. They become changed in tangible ways. This then becomes the foundational stone of their future.Everyone needs a foundation on which to build. Not any foundation but a solid and sure one. Otherwise what you build often crumples under the subsequent stresses and strains that always follow growth. You can’t get this in college or university because the dynamic is different. The rhythms are different and the goals are different. Living craftsmanship isn’t selling work for approval but resting in a secure knowledge that you are a craftsman whether you sell or not. Money never measures success in any real way. Contentment becomes a reality when your work is your calling. Discovering this is critical to wellbeing. You stop chasing pipe dreams and the illusions that brings. Work is a most honourable reality when you know its your calling and there is no substitute for it. You can’t buy it with weekends off, vacations rarely work that well or at least the way we think they should and though rest is important it’s more important to find the right rest which isn’t a concept but a reality. So relational work is not abstract but tangibly held and felt and sensed. You can own it in the sense of possessing it. This is what work is for me. I know, I’m privileged, that’s true, but it also means I had the vision for what work should be and mean to everyone. I held on to it and still hold on to it. I worked for it, when I feel challenged about the future I go back to the foundation of calling I found and feel settled again. It’s not necessarily easy at all, but it’s contenting for me now. So I write not as a writer but as a furniture maker, unskilled in making films but as a furniture maker and I train not as a teacher but as a woodworking furniture making man. Now it’s my turn in my time of life to help others to work for it, find it and live it.
There is no doubt Sam has developed skills quickly over the 30 or so days he’s been here. This week he’ll finish making his first workbench and he has his top laminated up, planed, cut to length and ready to go on the completed leg frames. All the time he meets any and all issues head on and seems undaunted. Because he first learned in our nine-day foundational course I have had nothing to undo in him. So far, too, he’s swept through a series of projects and tomorrow the bench should well stand on four legs. He’s gone for a near 6 footer by 30” wide top. Sam’s 5’10” he has had three heights to test out how he feels over 40 days overall that he’s been woodworking with us. For the first ten days he worked between two benches, one at 38” and the other 46”. Since then he has worked between 38” and 39 1/2”, but mostly he seems to be at 39 1/2”. He and I are the same height.
You know, I have apprenticed so many men and women this way and it really has worked for them and, in terms of my vision for artisan training, it works for me too.
Much of the time what I like is how incomparable the apprentices have been since the 80’s when I started apprenticing people. No two are the same. I can remember every personality and watching them develop as they overcame struggles. I remember the laughs and the tears and the losses and the victories too. Living life off the conveyor belts means growing a lifestyle, living a lifestyle, finding greater contentment with less.
I’m still surprised to see how little it takes to keep things sharp and uncomplicated. I have always fought against complication in everything I write about and work on and work with. One thing is very very clear to me. Sharpening has been made complicated all the more by a mass of choices. The issue is what to buy more than how to sharpen.
Even when I was but fifteen, sharpening for the very first times the saw and plane, a few chisels and a spokeshave, I could see the simplicity of creating a sharp edge to a piece of steel. It was a simple Norton India combination stone back then that developed a convexed bevel on all of the edges. I took the edges and stropped them on my then soft hands as the men did and they laughed and joked as the blades slapped my palm one after the other.
My planes and chisels were sharp enough for working hardwoods and softwoods equally well. People mock me from time to time because I work pine and compare hardness to some of the hardwoods. I find that funny really, that people think softwoods to be soft when many aspects of the softwood are indeed harder than hardwoods like mahogany or sapele, oak, walnut, cherry and others. You see for the main part they discount the knots that are not just hard but intensely brittle. My learning then was that knots in wood remained, were not cut around, discarded for better but fully used. Even from the stones I used and the stropping on my hand, the knots and wood came smooth and level from this simplicity. Since then I’ve moved to new levels, but looking here I see that despite many intrusions, experiments and rabbit trails, my sharpening remains the simplest thing. Once a year I might, just might, use a mechanical grinder on a single blade. Sometimes a chisel corner might break or hidden screw catch an edge to damage my plane. Some such thing to leave a deep chip. Then I might grind it out, but not always.
Here in is the simple thing I’ve retained throughout my working life as a crafting artisan selling nothing more for the main part than the things I made. What you see in the picture at top is what I use to sharpen all of my tools. Nothing more, nothing less. These tools, abrasive plates abrasive compound and files give me pristine, surgically sharp edges as fast or faster than any method I ever saw. It takes me about a minute per chisel, two for a plane iron and the same for a spokeshave. With the saw files I sharpen any saw in under four minutes and the flat file? That’s for my scrapers, axes, froes and some other edge tools.
Oh, the saw files do my auger bits too. Forgot that.
My question is about a Stanley No. 4 plane I just bought on Ebay. I am not sure if I made the right buy. The seller didn’t know when it was from but was guessing 50’s or 60’s. I’ve bought It with what seems to be the original box and manual all of which looks pretty old and authentic to me. The planes you have all seem to have screws on handles and height adjustment screw of bronze/brass. On the one I bought they have a silverish finish. Other differences?
I’ve read on your blog that you preferred the pre 70-era planes – but I didn’t find anywhere exactly why this period.
Personal preferences don’t necessarily mean that the planes won’t work equally well and nickel plating on steel wheels doesn’t mean they won’t work just as well as brass. When restored they all seem to me to work equally well and even the brand new ones can be made to work just fine.
The standards of manufacturing have declined steadily since the 70’s, but the worst aspect of new ones is the low-grade plastic handles that constantly crack, break and need replacement. Stanley seem to have failed to reconcile that the plastic they use doesn’t tolerate lower temperatures so they do readily crack even when the weather in not too much cooler. In winter they crack immediately if you don’t warm the whole plane up a few degrees. This then alters the flatness of the sole so it does impact this aspect of the plane too. Replacing the handles with wooden ones adds to the cost unless you make your own.
Record Irwin 04 planes show pics of nice hardwood handles when you see them on Amazon and eBay, yet the ones they actually sell are ABS plastic too, so it’s not always easy to get a decent plane. It’s always best to really check the descriptions, inspect the photographs and ask questions if using eBay.
Just to make certain everyone understands what the problem is with Nicholson files here are a couple of pics to sure where the problem lies. The three large flat faces to the file are in pretty good shape after filing the saw teeth. They would go on for three or four more saws possibly. The picture above shows the smaller corner of the triangular saw file, the file I actually was using. The problems lie on these narrow cutting faces.
Here is the more general view without enlargement. People often fail to see that it’s not really possibly to make a file with three faces only and have it file into 60-degree angle as with saw teeth because the corner of the intersecting points would simply crack off. File makers create as small a flat as possible along the meeting edges of the three large facets to strengthen the file’s cutting capabilities and also increase longevity. On most saw files it’s this corner that gives out first because it’s basically exposed to the greatest stress, many times more than the larger faces. We expect this when we buy a file and often keep the file and use it for other filing tasks but not saw filing. I keep mine for filing auger bits and small flat faces on other projects. If these edges fracture straightaway as in the case of Nicholson files the economical factor really kicks in and if it cost £10 to file a single saw it’s prohibitive. No one seems to shout about and I think that’s because in our present culture of throwaway saws people may well not know that a file should sharpen 20 to 30 saws if it is indeed a good one. This kind of lost knowledge is how modern-day corporations like Nicholson and many others too prosper.
This picture will help two. See at the beginning of the file you can see two teeth in tact, the third tooth is clearly just snapped off and then another tooth is in tact. This has occurred to a greater or lesser degree along the three corners and so renders the file unusable.
Once the corner is fractured even if parts do hold, the file just will not cut the three facets to a saw gullet, and, yes, I do mean three facets; the back and front of each saw tooth and the very small flat right at the bottom where the two inclines meet.
If Nicholson can’t produce the goods then we should all move on. Also, remember Home Depot (USA) sells these files too. Of course we in other countries can’t buy them for their $3.95 price tag; how about four to five times that? I have bought more files from Home Depot than I can remember, but the last ones I bought two years ago were the worst yet and they were unwilling to acknowledge the trash-status of Nicholson’s stuff. For their business model i suppose they want the return custom and saw files probably don’t rate too highly in the profit scheme of things. Bit like a lost leader for them.
Last week I went to my local hardware store. That’s where I buy my saw files. He stocks Bahco files, which I especially like for saw filing because they cut steel well and they last. Mr Evans’ stocks were down and he had but one double-ended Bahco file left when I wanted a stock. He reached to an upper shelf and pulled out a US Nicholson pack to offer me those. My heart sank of course because I knew how bad Nicholson files of today were. Then I thought, “Wow, here I am on the Isle of Anglesey in Mr Evans hardware store and he thinks Nicholson files are still good files. He hasn’t heard how bad they are. Why would he know any different when he never sharpened a saw in his life and certainly he was selling the files based on the former reputation of Nicholson.” Anyway, I set him right straight off. I said it as quietly and gently as I could.
For 50 years the family shop has been selling Nicholson saw files, even over British made counterparts when they were made in the last century. So, anyway, before I messaged the rest of the world about the now Nicholson low-grade files, I bought one last one. Yesterday I filed a single saw from one end to the other; a good old Philly USA Disston. How sickened I was as I went from one end of the saw to the other. Moving from one end of the 22” long plate the file was worn out on every corner before I reached the other. The file was then useless. That makes Nicholson files so bad I suggest that wholesalers no longer stock Nicholson saw files or recommend them for sharpening saws to their customers.
Nicholson saw files today are really worthless, the worst files I think I have ever used. They are worse now than they were two years ago when I discovered they were flawed versions made in Mexico.
To saw file users my message remains the same. I suggest you buy files made by other makers as Nicholson saw files no longer last, not for even one full saw.
I would never normally post a blog like this, but two years ago I posted on the files and nothing’s shifted. Nicholson still lives on its former reputation. I don’t want anyone to believe that Nicholson produces good files. They are no longer responsible makers.