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Today I fitted all of the tenons back to their original sockets and made them snug as they should have been. I also added a pair of rails 3” below the long top rails. My joints were as tight as always and you can see that they hold the frame very well. This serves to add the strength I would have got had the top rail been wider. I will add a shelf here for book storage and such; perhaps a good place to stow my drawing board and tee square. It strengthened the overall carcass tremendously by the time it was all done and now I can sating and finish the unfinished parts to the golden oak colour. Beyond that I just need to turn some new knobs for the drawer and the support pulls and my work will be done.
This is the crystallised glue scraped from the mortise hole.
Here is a comments question someone asked and I thought my answer might add more light for consideration.
Out of interest, I’ve used Cascamite on a couple of projects in the past, none of which are 70 years old, obviously. The adhesive is known for setting glass hard, and glass brittle, hence in the boat building trade it’s only used where it can be backed up with a secondary mechanical fix, such as a screw. Otherwise it’s epoxy resin and not much else.
In your experience is this failure more to do with poor joinery or would the glue have failed in this manner over time regardless?
Good question, Jon. I noticed that all of the joints had failed in some measure. That’s 14 mortise and tenons. The reasons may vary but one thing I did feel was that shrinkage in a tenon can split along the glue line if the mortise wood is not moving or shrinkage taking place at a parallel rate and time. In other words both sections of wood should be dry to the same level at the point of union. If tenon wood is drier than mortise wood that would be fine, but we furniture makers generally use wood from the same batch and uniform in moisture levels. These joints were surprisingly poor even though the actual forming of them was very good. I repaired and glued up the whole framework this evening and was very happy with the eventual outcome as I left for home.
All in all it was the joinery I felt contributed most to the failure, and though there is of course something of value in using glues that allow splitting on the glue line for repair work to take place, for new and non-conservation furniture work I will continue with PVA and/or animal glues and perhaps use the Cascamite for outdoor work. Then again, I think that the newer PVA waterproofs seem to be holding their own these days.
Here you can see a design flaw or a wrong decision on the part of the maker. I conclude what happened was that he made the mortises keeping extra length on until after glue up and then cut the length down flush with the tops of the aprons. He allowed only 1/8” between tenon top and leg top. Not really enough. He bevelled the top corners after cutting the legs to final length. I like the concept and visual appearance where the top cabinet fits to the base frame but they would it would have been better increasing the apron width and also leaving more meat at the top of the mortise pocket between the top of the tenon and the top of the leg. I am sure all would have been OK had the glue or joinery not failed, but all joinery details and sizing should be decided on with repair and restoration being considered as possible after long-term usage. I always consider my joints might one day be X-rayed for authenticity or establishing details inside. It’s just vanity really.
I dismantled another piece this week and that was an oak fall-front writing desk I bought a few weeks ago. The desk is simple enough and made from solid oak and that was why I bought it. If I don’t like the desk or the style then the oak was worth the price I paid and more. I felt the desk worthy of saving and restoring and the top portion of you recall was made with mitred dovetails that hid the dovetails completely within the mitres. This aspect of the work was very neat and precise. I had however been a little troubled with the mortise and tenoned framework of the stand the desk was anchored to because two or three joints were loose and the desk’s upper weight seemed to readily part the shoulders. As I decided to take the frame apart my concerns were confirmed and suspicions verified.
Parting the joints I heard a sort of crunching crumbly sound not dissimilar to animal glue but I also knew the colour to be another glue I had used 50 years ago as a boy. Those I worked with touted this as one of the best glues and I accepted what they said to be true. Looking at it now I have shifted my opinion in some measure.
The glue he used
Cascamite is a synthetic resin used as an adhesive for general joinery usually for joints that are exposed to outdoors; windows and doors, door frames and so on. It was used on glue lines too where long edges were jointed for laminations. Cascamite is generally sold as a powder you mixed with water to a consistent thickness or viscosity and sets up during the cure which gives it its gap filling properties. It’s said to be suitable for load bearing and laminating. It leaves a clear glue line and will not discolour hardwood, its also mould resistant. After the glue is mixed you need to work with it quickly as it can quite rapidly change from thick liquid to a solid jelly and in about 6 hours (temperature dependent) sets rock hard. It’s touted as having excellent well proven adhesive for joinery, cabinet work or boat building and I know that to has its place, but seeing this piece 70 years on I feel questioning as to its long term efficacy.
Because the tenon thickness was undersized according to the mortise, a full width gap was evident on almost every one of the wide faces of the tenons. This surprised me because the overall piece was well executed. It shows the significant impact good joinery has on longevity and that glue generally cannot substitute for the levels of accuracy it demands. This for me is where harmony becomes evident in the word joinery which has its root in the word harmos. Now the tenons were all dead to size or slightly over width. Very different than thickness. You can use the extra width for tightness here but it substitutes for the real art of joinery. many joinery companies (or the staff machinists and assemblers) use foaming adhesives such as polyurethane glues to expand around the joints. This is only a temporary gap-filling fix (pun intended) for poor workmanship and the missing craftsmanship that’s become standard in the industry. It lasts long enough for the guarantees of a year or so but not really good practice.
I glued on the thin slither, jokingly called “special shim joinery” when I was a boy who made a bad joint, which pushed the other face to fully engage with the wall of the mortise too.
Inside the holes the glue was both brittle and fractured. it flicked of readily and was easily removed with the corner of an old chisel. So to chiselling off the glue from the faces of the tenon. I decided to thicken the tenons by adding thin veneers to the face of the tenons and then fitting the tenons back to the relevant mortise holes. I am also considering adding a mid rail along the long length to increase stability. I think wider top rails was an answer to the problem too. The weight of the top box is to much for flex in the legs. An inch extra and rightly fitted tenons would have meant no joint failure.
It’s interesting to see the two tenons used in tandem. Again forethought by the craftsman and his regard for ensuring the integrity surrounding the tenon and mortise. He wanted to keep the fibres as connected as possible and keep strength between the walls of the mortises. This decision came as a result of the width of the tenon because the wider the tenon the longer the mortise hole.
It is common practice to use twin tenons at around 6” in width. So when you approach that width you begin thinking of what use a piece will be used for and also what stresses will be placed on the piece too. In this case the drop leaf flaps are to create a larger table for sitting at and yet the table cannot be used that way when the flaps are down. This then suggests that the flaps are usually down to create more space around the table when not in dining use but perhaps still useful for preparing for other aspects of family life or to fill an otherwise empty space.
The table itself when the flaps are down is relatively narrow at just two feet over all. With a leg between the knees the table seats six or eight if some are children. Tables get pull and pushed into place quite frequently to create work areas, passages and flow for other needs. Pulling tables on carpets is hard on the joints. Lots of leverage and only a small jointed area to resist stress. These are often the breaking points with the tenons holding but the outer wall of the mortise giving way and resulting in a split. Especially is this so if no glue is used but only a draw-bore peg. This was well known on tables and not a problem on doors. Draw bore was not used on this table and so suggests the use of clamping and this then helps in the dating too. Although it was common enough to devise wedged clamping systems requiring only boards and wedges, long screw-threaded clamps were relatively unknown prior to the late 1800s. That doesn’t mean they weren’t invented at all, it meant that the accuracy in machining to cut threads was still in the developmental stages both in the US and the UK. My namesake, an inventor mechanic named William Sellers, worked diligently towards dissecting non-standardised threading and sizing of the age to produce a standard by which threading would be reliable and so to the British engineer Joseph Whitworth of Whitworth-thread fame who also endeavoured to establish a standard for measuring and creating threads.
In all cases of sound M&T joinery the mortise hole surrounds the tenon on four sides. When the tenon is used in the middle of a stile or leg there may be two, three or four sides of the tenon sporting shoulders. When one or more shoulder is missing the tenon is usually referred to as a barefaced tenon and in this case the longer pine aprons have a shoulder missing on the large face of the twin tenons. This is relatively unusual on tables as tables are commonly apt to accomodate both front and back shoulders as in the short aprons. It’s not uncommon to have shoulders of different depth however. That way you can push the limits in favour of stronger joinery, which only the craftsman can determine according to his discernment.
Factors surrounding this joinery revolved around the swing-out arms that support the flaps. These are indeed wide flaps at a foot wide. Quite heavy really. The need for them to be recessed away from the front edge pushed the mortise hole back toward the rear inside corner of the leg. It was a careful consideration and well though through in terms of sizing and distance and so on. This is true of apron sizing too. The width of the leaves meant unhindered seating arrangement at least along the flap edges. More problematic in the short apron space, but no problem for children with a leg either side of the leg or indeed a child sat in the middle and older siblings near the corners. All thoughts really.
By now you will see the critical thinking every craftsman had in developing a piece. it is most likely that this piece was more functional than decorative in that there are no decorative features to the table at al except for inside tapers to the legs. Even this was most likely a functional consideration. Thicker around the joint areas and thinner to the foot for access, sweeping and cleaning and of course swinging legs in and out of spaces to sit at a chair. In those earlier days of design the craftsman was constantly engaged in decisions minute by minute when he designed his work. The decisions were at the bench and in the home or workplace, office and so on. The design, this particular design, was most likely not a one off but a pattern developed through many years. That’s also true of todays developers in designing their pieces. Artisans place their work considerations at the forefront in establishing the form they will build to. Function is of course paramount unless you cross over into realms of art. In this case the art was designing a functional piece.
The bottom of the mortise holes, or inside the enclosure, were trapped two pine shavings. Not significant at all but interesting in some cases. In times past I have found shavings between the cap iron and the cutting iron that told me the last work of the man and the plane.
In the bottom of the mortises the chopping is indeed choppy and not smoothly executed. In fact they come surprisingly close to the outside faces and in one case on 1/16” remained between the bottom and the outside face; a near flaw. I noticed that the inside walls were very smoothly cut and suspect that they were cuts with mortising chisels of one type or another and not firmer chisels. The sizing was 13/32” and corresponded to to the tenons. that may sound obvious but it’s not always the case as in some cases craftsmen did undersize tenon thickness for speed and relied on other a draw bore pin or tenon width to be tight. This sped up the process for those under pressure from their masters. The width the tenons are set to show no underside shoulder and this is common with pieces where the shoulder is unseen. It’s quicker and easier and any shrinkage that might show as a gap is of no consequence because you would need to be bent over on your knees to connect to this. Sometimes, however, I do use shoulders here because it’s good exercise for my students in establishing skilful shoulder cutting.
My next part in this will be examining the making and using of the knuckle joints. Hand cut and no machines. Fascinatingly accurate and effective underpinning!
Dismantling furniture gives meaning to the present and so we better understand out craft and piece together the missing pieces in the puzzle of what has gradually disappeared. I like finding chisel cuts and plane marks because they reflect a richly textured craft culture evidenced in honest workmanship. It’s something machines will never leave or if they do it will likely be in burn marks in saw kerfs and routed moulds and dadoes. I watch a machine cut the wall of a recess and it often leaves a perfect square wall straight as can be. It’s boring to watch and has no character really. Every cut comes out the same and when it’s done the machine user knows he didn’t do it. I don’t believe we will be undoing CNC router-cut work and feel too much at all. Why? There’s no character to it. It has only the dullness of machine passes and not the record of a man’s hand as in this table.
When I open up joints and dismantle pieces for repair or because I want the wood for something else, I can spend many hours recording and researching to learn from my mentors in previous centuries. When one thing touches another it leaves a trace of itself on the other and in woodworking it’s no different. One of my favourite aspects of my work is undoing the work of my predecessors in woodworking. I think last week I mentioned that John bought a four foot square mahogany table because I told him that the wood alone was worth many times more than the £35 they were asking. I was glad he did. John dismantled the physical parts yesterday. Today I dismantled the methods and examined the cuts and slices and traces left by the tools in the wood. The parts were as a message pad to me. Grain, cuts with sharp-edged tools, different signs told me how every cut was made and also about the tools used themselves. What I take for granted is not necessarily obvious to everyone and I realise that. I can tell the difference between a single bevel knife cut and a two bevel knife cut and the difference between a knife wall and a cutting gauge cut too. Spokeshave cuts and plane cuts and chisel cuts are all identifiable if you know what to look for and I can tell when pre cuts are made to facilitate additional chops with a mallet and chisel. In other words I know how craftsmen created things because of my own working as a master craftsman of 50 years. By this I unlock the past and understand from silent works the sharpness and dullness of their tools, the direction of cuts and the choices of techniques. Let me walk you through this just a little here.
The joinery on this table is simple to make and specifically designed with great care and insightful craftsman knowledge. Firstly the joinery is traditional. Twin mortise and tenon joints create the typical intersecting of legs and aprons to form the framework undergirding the tabletop and drop leaves. The twin coplanar tenons are at first glance perhaps less pristine than you might expect or even like or admire, but in essence you can’t help but respect the standards as you see the economic steps he took to make the joints interlock with tightness and to very specific measurements. For instance, the tenons and mortises were all 13/32” – a small amount over 3/8” and of course a non-metric 10mm +. The faces of the tenons were planed and the two cheeks dead parallel with a vernier. The surfaces look rough on the inside but that’s more the glue residue and not the inaccuracy of tool work.
Look at the rough chisel work between the two tenons. This was of course pre-coping saw days but not pre bow saw. In this case the two tenon widths were cut down with a tenon saw and then a 1” firmer chisel is used to chop from each side by first placing the tenon cheek on an elevated block and chopping. First removing the waste with a rough cut say 1/8” from the line reduces resistance when the final cuts are made and hence the cut through is made with a single blow from nosed and then a second meeting cut from the other. No clean up took place.
Now let’s look at the width of the tenons. On all of the tenon widths there is compression bruising that shows that the tenons were deliberately cut over width by a surprising amount. In this case the depressed internal surfaces are 1/16” compressed. That seems a lot to me, but then I noticed the compression was deeper on the two softwood aprons and a lot less on the hardwood mahogany ones where compression is less. So, this tells me that the craftsmen made conscious assent to factors inherent to the different wood species and judged the work accordingly. What was he considering? He judged compressibility, spring, strength, fracture capacity, denseness, hardness and perhaps things I might not yet know of.
Notice too that on the entry point along the edges of the tenon he created lead in along the edge to ensure the corners don’t snag on the mortise internal walls. It’s something I have always done because I too was trained to do the same.
The shoulders of the tenons are undercut for ease and speed and to ensure that the outer rim of the shoulder closes up to the leg without any hindrance. I prefer not to do this as a practice, but sometimes it happens through injudicious cutting. Shoulder-lines for the tenons were knifewall cuts and not cleaned up with a shoulder plane at all. The faces of tenons were all planed level and smooth with no evidence of chisel work. Does that mean they were all sawn or just planed? Not at all. It means both chisel and saw cuts were refined with a rebate plane at least 1 1/4” wide and probably wider.
Looking at the mortised legs I was pleasantly surprised by the composition of mortises in relation to the leg. The mortises were not equally placed as would be more normal. The mortises on the short apron are set 5/16” from the outside face and then the long apron is set 7/16” from the inside face.This positioning allowed a full length tenon to both aprons but offsetting the long apron allowed for the knuckle-hinged folding support for the drop leaves to fold out of the way when the flaps were placed down and stowed.
All of the cuts were pristine for the main part. I mean very sharp cuts from hard steel. Both chopped and pared cuts with and across the grain were were clean cutting and so well cut all pores were fully open. This should not surprise anyone. We have made no advances in sharpness in the past two centuries that I know of.
I think that sometimes I have been grateful for machines and I realise their real value when woods have difficult grain. I remember one time passing a most beautiful treasure of mesquite burl into my planer for a second pass of 1/64th. Not a heavy cut at all. The first pass had worked fine and I was passing it through oriented the same way as previously. The piece entered fine and then suddenly exploded every bit of it somewhere into the cutterhead. Nothing came out the other side and 16″ by 5” wide of 1/2” mesquite burl that should have made a perfectly book matched lid was obliterated. That’s not so rare an occurrence as it might seem and that’s why many users of thinner stock use planes and scrapers rather then machine planers to thickness their stock down to final sizing. I know that many guitar makers use thickness sanders to gain the thickness to exactness but I also know that Marty Macica resolves his work as I do using hand methods and no sanding. This is because he feels the sanding dust fills the grain pores with dust that deadens sound. Marty is teaching a new guitar-making workshop later this year in New York and you can see him do that here.
Resuming from my blog a couple of days ago here. My mesquite pile had now ceased to lose weight. In summertime Hill Country Texas that means it’s as dry as you will get it and that’s when I like to start putting my final thoughts on paper. The most economical way to use rarer woods is to create veneers from them. Our modern take on that is of course that veneers are somehow cheating us out of the real thing and to some degree that’s quite true. IKEA and others use thin veneers to mask what’s underneath and they might tell us it’s to save the rain forests, which of course is untrue. Most modern goods with surface veneers are usually super thin. So thin in fact you can see through them to the light sub-woods underneath. What mass makers want is something that feels and looks like real wood for its warmth and appearance and at the same time controllability to pass it through machines for tight tolerances. Adding stain to equalize colour and tone gives them and us the illusion of real and we unwittingly buy into a built-in obsolescence product. This is less true of hand crafting artisans who want the control MDF offers, but creative ways of using veneers. Box makers often use this and I recall the most prodigious UK furniture makers SilverLining making doors for the Russian Embassy in London using MDF for some massive doors that were veneered with some very special veneering to the faces. Many top-notch makers use MDF. I chose ot to do this and find ways of veneering with solid wood as a substrate. It can be done but it takes careful consideration every time.
The piece I designed had many features I chose from my early signature details. The rails separating the drawers comprised hidden aspects to the internal joinery but through tenons cross-wedged on the outside. I have always liked this feature because it visibly shows the contained tenon within the mortise and the compression within that creates a lock to the dovetailed tenon.
Inside the tenoned area I created a housing 3/32” deep. I wanted to support the rear of the rail. In the scheme of things all joinery necessitates one part to to be reduced in some measure to fit into another. I considered two types of mortise and tenon joints and chose one for different reasons. Here are the two options I thought to consider. The one on the left is a single through tenon. The one to the right is a twin tenon. I rejected this for this particular piece but used it in other work later. I felt that the joint with twin mortices took too much wood way. It made the joint area weaker, but I decided this based on my knowledge of mesquite and knowing it’s brittle nature. using a single tenon meant I could move the tenon further from the front edge of the side panel and increase the strength that way.
The cross wedging needs much care too because the wood either side of the wedge needs to retain continuity along the length of the rail. The wedges are not too long and must not be driven into the rail beyond the depth of the saw kerf. I start my wedge the same width as the kerf, that way the the wedge immediately parts the narrow section of the wedge to press it into the widened aspect of the mortise. I forgot to tell you that the outer aspect of the mortise to the top and bottom are widened with a sharp chisel. You can see this in the drawing. It’s always important to consider joinery in terms of its reductive parts. Widening a tenon means less wood surrounding the mortise. Reduce the size of the tenon too much and you have a weaker tendon. Reduce it too much and you destroy the efficacy of the tenon in favour of the mortise. Joinery is about finding balance and seeking harmony between two married parts. Each relies on the other, which is why when I was young the men always referred to “marrying” the various parts. It’s a reductive process you see, but one part cannot be reduced so much as to be weaker at the cost of the other.
Someone asked me to write about my past works and I am reluctant because I have no decent images of what I made nor pictures of me making what I made. I am a dinosaur from the pre-digital era. If I go back too far, say the 1970’s and 80’s , I have almost no photographs, and the ones I have are now stored in Texas in the USA. In the next lines I will describe making a chest of drawers I made and eventually to a man in Houston. I will describe my doubts and my emotions and try to express something you and others might or might not understand. It’s a series. Too long for one post given my always ever-diminishing time.
This piece is a piece I made and sold to a Houston lawyer; for his boardroom centrepiece. It’s not a large piece, quite diminutive for a Texas lawyer, but it had punch and spoke much about Texas wood so few can ever understand because it’s unlikely they will ever see it or know it as I have. I lived in south Texas when I met two men who were cutting mesquite trees and milling it into boards to sell as rough sawn lumber. These two men built my first USA home for me and were both carpenters cum timber saw millers at weekends. I regularly bought mesquite wood from the two men over the first months when I arrived and one day they came to me bright-eyed with a truckload of “something special.”
It would be hard to describe the wood without you thinking I was exaggerating. I don’t know if I could ever find such quality again. As we stood and examined the woodcut it was as if I invaded their excitement, got caught up in it and found myself twirling with them. I think that it was the first time I had seen two adult men, basically cowboys in the true sense of the word, who for the first time in their lives felt the extreme heights of discovery that was no different than those discovering the redwoods of California or the mahoganies of South America. My hands slipped quietly over the poser covered boards and the intense cat-claw figuring popped and popped and popped in 3D reality as I uncovered the grain beneath. Back then I [paid $2 a board foot for mesquite if it was nice and of course ot was always nice. The rough sawn boards were cut to 1 1/8”, 30” wide and sequence cut through and through. The stack was burl or cat-claw for about 40” long and I could see would yield about half of what I saw in useable wood. They invaded my space and sense of discovery with a swift interjection of, “We want $6 a board foot and there’s 120 board feet here.” $720 was hard to come by for me but we cut a deal of half down and half when I sold whatever I made from it or pay up in full if nothing was sold in six months. It worked. I made 10 meat boards and sold them for a $100 each from the non-usable sections because they “Shure looked purdy” to everyone that came by the studio over the next few weeks.
The wood had been dried in a solar kiln Bobby had and then acclimated in the Texas summer sun under tin. Mesquite is the most forgiving wood for drying there is. No other wood comes close. Distinctive features about mesquite is its canary yellow sapwood against the deep reddish purple brown heartwood. Even the sapwood was very highly figured and I was able to work some stunning centre book-matchings using the sap wood as the jewel in the centre. I have done this many times with this and other woods and it looks quite unique and lovely. Here below are some similar panels I used for the White House cabinets to show what I liked in the formation of panels but the woods shown in no way parallel the quality of what I had down in Uvalde and reagan Wells in Texas.
Mesquite panels made with book-matched centre field and skirted with an oak and ebony frieze and an outer band of mesquite crossbanding.
I continued the acclimation process for about a year under my carport where I stored other woods. it’s a mistake to use such wood too soon after purchase. Seasoning is something we have lost and most people call kiln drying seasoning but that’s really not what it is at all.
The White House pieces I designed and then made for the Permanent Collection in 2009
Often I would sit out in the car port and stare at my boards, pull them apart and stare at them. I didn’t want a commission piece to be made from them, I wanted to design a piece for them. I think the process often goes this way for me. processing the thoughts rather than the wood. making the thoughts fit the wood rather than the other way around. it’s something of a luxury to do this but it allows me to step outside of business and consider wood more than perhaps commission work does. All too often commissions have price limits and deadlines. making some pieces without a sale using wood no one else has ever seen allows a privilege to happen that can never be explained. I don’t say all pieces should be that way. Such things are the laughter and the joy that come periodically in life to separate joy from hardship so that contrast separates us from the monotony and the mundane to create spheres of happiness and to explore those unchartered realms of the unknown. Wood like this, and of course other precious woods are jewels where our mind explores passages over weeks and months until we plumb the depths as best this finite mind can and fathom hitherto unreached and untapped depths before we begin to consider how parts begin to fit together in dimensions of unity you felt but never knew existed. This was what happened when Joseph and I made a voice come from wooden parts in a cello we made. Your mind races as never before and your muscles and sinews flex and twist your arms and legs according to each beat your heart takes and makes and trembles for. The chisel, the plane and saw explore as no machine can ever explore. The rhythm starts like a fast pulse starts to pump and you embrace the straining conditions you might never otherwise embrace. And all the time this happens the wood is still; it just lies motionless, stickered in unconsciousness not knowing the plans you developing and forming shapes by every impulse in your sensing mind.
This week is yet to happen and last week has gone completely. Life unfolds day by day and week by week and how we fill this space we call life or time or the actual space itself matters. I talked to an archaeologist today who asked me many sincere and healthy questions about how my life works. I told her that it was both simple and complex but it was one I engineered as best I could and despite invasions constantly from people I invite into my workshop via the opening of my door each day, I like what I do. A rope barrier hangs between me and the visitors and in general I can control my engagement with people by looking up and smiling, smiling and getting on with my work or just plain keeping my head down and working. I can close the door if I choose to but mostly choose not to. I want to share my life with people most of the time, but I confess sometimes enjoying not talking and looking around but just engaging with my work. I suppose I might consider myself selfish were I to close the door on the world. Where else would people see someone working with their hands and be able to stand in an entryway hearing sounds they never heard before and smelling wood they never smelt before?Where else would they watch a man make a dovetail joint on a drawer being made or a plane swipe off the name of a child from a piece of pine to become a wristlet? You see, my life is unique. So unique is my life I actually don’t know a working man in my region who leaves the door open for visitors to stand inside his shop, ask questions and things like that. Being a married, family man, I like to see families come in and spend a little time here. I like seeing the children’s faces and hear their questions and the answers the parents give, whether they are right or wrong. If I kept the door open and the router running (if I had one) and the tablesaw (if I had one) or the chopsaw (if I had one), how would that happen. I said it before and I will say it again, machines seem to create an insurmountable barrier between children coming into the workshop. I am sad sometimes when I wonder if my craft will actually die before they hear sounds I hear all day long, but then I nudge myself and say keep pressing. I know one thing for certain. The art and craft of woodworking will not come to children through the doors of a machine shop and woodcraft and the art of craftsmanship will be continued through the lives of those working wood using hand methods and that’s what keeps my doors open wide and the children standing there asking me wonderful questions.
Some days seem quite ordinary and I suppose that they are really. John and I ate breakfast and went to the car boot sale a mile from the house. It was quiet but we bought a few things between us as we walked around the booths and aisles. I had wanted a hand cranked grinder for some time but couldn’t find the one I wanted and then there it was lying rejected on a concrete floor. £7 seemed a good price to pay of it worked and it did. I found an old mahogany table 4’ square in two 1’ laminations with 1’ drop leave all 4’ long. It had aprons and square tapered legs so we bought it for £35. The wood was lovely of course. It will make a fine tool box or something more practical than a table with wide drop leaves to wide to sit at. Another Stanley brace and a very nice wooden spokeshave seemed most ordinary and then I saw two nicely made panel gauges I thought should belong to someone other than Bill the vendor selling them…mostly because they were nicely not ordinary in that setting. I should have bought them really…to give them the home they deserved.
This wasn’t the one we bought but it was there at the sale
Back at the shop the table seemed quite settled when someone walked in and said that they really liked the table. The table had nice mahogany but the design was as I said, quite ordinary. Soon it will be a most beautiful something.
I cut these notches with an ordinary knife and a chisel. They sliced the wood neatly and exactly as I placed the square on the increment marks I wanted. The inclined incisions are critically important to my goal, yet my goal is quite ordinary. It took a while to develop this and when it was done it was less to me than the effort I put in to achieve it. John sharpened more tools and we talked the whole time about things that mattered to him and then things that mattered to me. Mostly we shared the same pockets were what we liked we enjoyed over a coffee and the same music.
People drifted in and out all week as all of these things that are ordinary to us occurred minute by minute. I think that it’s a true thing that when we do things over and over for a length of time, like slicing notches for an hour, they become ordinary to us. What’s ordinary to me is often extraordinary to those who come from somewhere ordinary to them. Surely that’s an important thing to grasp. Two small girls came in to the workshop. Elena and Lucy. They were lovely to visit with and so too their parents. I wrote their names neatly on an ordinary piece of pine in pencil and then erased them with my plane. The shavings were quite thick and I showed them how I had erased their names from the pine block. They were amused and perhaps a little sad to see their names disappear with one swipe until I pulled the shavings and the names from the throat of the plane and curled them around their wrists. I don’t know what a pine bookmark shaving will mean to them in their future, but their young noses will remind them of some ordinary minutes with an ordinary man when a name disappeared and reappeared for them to keep. I concluded that there is nothing wrong with an ordinary day shared with ordinary people because ordinary things we do with our hands affect us all very greatly.
I don’t believe it is unrealistic to derive your full income from being a woodworker no matter where you are in the world. It does seem that some governments have legislated protectionism into its governance for different reasons and not the least of which is ensuring protection for the customer or should I say consumer. Germany seems to be ahead of the game on one hand, with extreme levels of legislative controls, whereas here in Britain, whoever picks up a claw hammer or a drawknife can call him or herself a carpenter, chair bodger or the total escapist ‘green’ woodworker. I must admit I do like the freedom we enjoy in deciding to make change. The fact is that, for the main part anyway, if we are no good, and our products inadequately made, we will most likely go under before we cause any real distress. In other words we survive by being fit – that’s making products fit for purpose, not the dog-eat-dog survivalism we left our corporate jobs for.
Anyone offering an honest piece of work will indeed stand out and the quality of work always sets us apart because, no matter the background, it seems to me that a percentage of people always seem to recognise quality workmanship. I recall a furniture maker in Texas lowering a car onto four of his small oak tables made with traditional joinery to prove the value of what he had. The legs sank into the earth 3” but the joints held and the car stayed there for three days. He sold tables and other pieces throughout the weekend and established himself as a fine furniture maker based on his educating strategy. He never had to do that again, but that was what it took to persuade people that his work was different.
I strongly think that we woodworkers need to give more insights into what sets us apart and whereas the car trick was a bit over the top, and it is unlikely that most of us could indeed offer such an exhibition, we can’t usually just expect people in todays world to understand what we are bringing to the market.
In my workshop I have several joints sitting out in the visitors area for people to look at. These joints tell a story and especially is it of value in relating to what might otherwise not be seen inside the jointed areas of say a table or a chest. Dovetails especially seem to impress people.
This week three people from China came in to see my work. The older man was a woodworker also and he was happy to see what we were working on. He seemed a modest man, humble in spirit and expressing only appreciation without saying a word. His wife too seemed of a similar disposition. The daughter, in her mid twenties, assertively insisted that I could sell my work and “make a lot of money.” It seemed to this confident visitor that I had never thought of that and now at almost 65 I needed someone to help me see where I had failed myself.
So, it is important to educate your future customers. This can be done in different ways. Video is much simpler now than ever and a short film can show you at work making the joinery. You can also demonstrate at the workbench at craft show venues as I did for decades. This really works well. I once saw a man demonstrating carving a ball and claw chair leg at a show and people stood there for half an hour totally glued to his demo. Creative work is always electric and of course you can print a brochure of what goes into your work to support any audiovisual you might have there too. Drawings of Mortise and tenons and explanations of which joints you used where. Before many minutes pass people are asking questions and most days when people come into my shop they are asking if this or that is for sale and how much would it cost to have something made.
It is important to take your work to an audience of you don’t have a venue to work from that shows your work. In every shop I have owned I have always set up a reception area showing my work. Sharing what I do is as important to me as the actual making of it. It’s here that I engage the most and it’s here I can best explain my ambitions and goals and indeed my life as a lifestyle woodworker. There will always be a percentage of people who want to buy a piece knowing it was carefully made by hand. I’m not saying it’s an easy passage being a maker, designer, marketer and salesperson, but somehow it seems so much more relational and you develop something so much more substantive when people know that the piece in front of them didn’t come from a factory or from another country or continent.
A few weeks ago I turned some new chisel handles I needed to upcycle an old wooden plane into new life. We made a video to show how and have a second video soon for how to fit step-fit the tang into the handle.
Here is the video. Hope you enjoy it.
We have another planned for a turned hexagonal handle soon too.
For decades and through over a century we’ve seen disparity in thinking through what educationalists, economists and of course politicians present to us through media we have no real understanding of whether they present truth or bias toward things we might not understand the bias of. Through these long decades the people I speak of together with unions, local councillors, governors and so on some how manage more to split society and categorise determinate courses for people without recognising them as much more than statistics. This in turn directly affects the art of real craft and apprenticing and training future craftspeople for worklife outside of anything they control. In recent months I pointed out that people ask me how much I sell my this or that piece of work for. I say the rocking chair costs $6500 and the next question is, “How long does it take to make?” I say I can make one comfortably in two six-day weeks. Immediately I get locked into their only way of evaluating who and what I am and why I do what i do. They have no sense of how long a design takes to develop or how skilled I am or, really, economy and I am evaluated as to whether I am worth knowing or not. Bit like someone asking the same question and receiving the answer, “I’m a doctor.” or, “I am an architect.” Again, two occupations accepted as worthy of note and evaluated as worth knowing. “I work a fork lift.” Doesn’t really grab you as much and so to many other spheres of life. Rethinking things through these past weeks I thought you might like to see a piece I used in a blog I posted 4 1/2 years ago here.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4UI think it’s worthy of resurrecting because the message says so much. Let me know what you think.
I think it might be true that many people suffer a period or periods of depression in a given lifetime. Wellbeing is hard to quantify and with so many working people gainfully employed in meaningless or should I say more mindless work it’s not going to get any better going forward. Politicians of course speak from their vast experience in politics where underlings feed more and more statistics to them so that they can reconstruct their manipulations from the previous debris they caused in education and the governed welfare of the populous. Meanwhile in quiet backwaters around the world more and more people say quietly to themselves, “Whoa, I don’t think that this is me!” Today I worked all the more to get my book together and while I did this Kat and Joseph continued their coffee table and Phil worked on repairing some stools he bought from the car boot sale.
John took care of everyone as usual and in between sharpening tools and serving me with coffee he worked on his stuff too. It’s busy at the castle with visitors from around the world. They drift in and out but not without realising something’s wrong. They have never quite seen anything like what they see in the workshop. They see hands working and people talking as they work. Could it be that the real world outside that they just stepped out of is not the real world but one of fantasy? Could it be that they just stepped into the real world for just a brief moment?
Everything surrounding structures like the castle is more linked to the archaic past. Most are like museums and no matter which way you dress it up they all look very much the same with the same speak and the same displays. Generally they are mostly presented as the past in a way that offsets the disparity between the rich owners of the properties and the poor that made them tick. Not much you can say about the upstairs-downstairs difference, but I must say that when they come into the workshop and see everyone working there, an almost magical sensing happens where the best of the past unites with the present and some gives bright hope for a future that defies the colleges and universities, health and welfare entities, politics and education and so on. Yes, it’s here that we did switch off the conveyor belt for them. They stop thinking about their thumbs on their cell phones, their software engineering jobs and the mindlessness of work. They even leave their cell phone cameras in their pockets for fear of somehow invading what they discovered because somehow they just know inside that what they see is very real. Unbelievably there is a ‘wow!’ thing factorising reality they simply cannot explain or understand and though we tell them who we are and what we believe, they start to assimilate everything for themselves knowing that what they see could be very relevant in the future again. In other words they store it away and treasure it as if it were valuable. For me the word relevant should be reviewed and placed on the page as ‘real event’. Their ears are pricked up like a spaniel when the gun goes off. The eyes spark, the face points and the nose engages and suddenly they imbibe something that drugs and alcohol, and conversation and explanation cannot bring to them. Suddenly something seems to make so much sense and even though they don’t believe this could ever be possible for them, they still feel a hope for the future. So, I ask myself just what is it that people feel they want to connect to? What is it that halts them in their visit that causes them not to smile or laugh, ask questions or whatever, but suspends them in a long and wide gaze. The planes keep stroking the wood and the saws sever the waste from the wanted. Those working look up momentarily but keep to the work. There are no computers guiding routers. If there were they wouldn’t even walk in. I smile at their internal smiles and the sparkle in their eyes that defy the indifference and the bemusing. I love to think that they would embrace what we have if they just had the opportunity, but then I think about the thing called economy and then I think about the polity and then I think about the educational providers and I see why it all stopped.
I personally think that woodworking almost stopped when it got so caught up in the same a consumerism and then, thankfully, things seemed to change and people asked “Why?” eBay came along too and thankfully we could find the tools that were hidden in dark cellars all over the western world. People asked questions and answers started to emerge when we looked into those old mothballed museum entities and saw that these old tools made some of the finest woodworking ever created and that that was before the age of industrialism and mass manufacturing, globalisation and the depletion of craftsmanship – it was even before the age of the machine and the router! The wake up call went out and people responded one by one. They were bored with the machine only world of working wood and other crafts and aspects of life too. They started growing food and baking, raising chickens and eating organic again, but this time it became know as self sufficient and then sustainable culture and so that’s what happens when someone walks into a workshop and sees ten people working with their own hands with tools that are about 100 years old and that don’t cost much but really, really work.
I say all of this to say that that’s why we do what we do and it’s working!
My Week Was Mixed, Different, Refreshing, Inspiring, Hopeful
I left early from my tiny village Saturday morning and traveled the mountain passes, past many lakes to another village to be a part of something I hope never dies. Bedgellert held its annual horticultural and craft fair in the village community centre. We judged the work and ate lunch together and then the villagers and holiday makers came in to see what people grew and baked and made and drew and painted and craft was kept alive by people who felt creative work is worth their effort.
Looking at the Creative Work of Others
I visited some art and craft workshops in town and sales places you could buy from too. It was discouraging in some places to see hand made wooden spoons for £1.50 and original paintings and art framed for under £100. I came back and made my frame for a painting Joseph bought me of a Jay and felt thankful that I could own my own work and make frames for people I like and even sell my frames to people I don’t know. It’s my lifestyle.
Joseph and Kat came in to make a coffee table promised as a gift for friends that married last week. It made me glad that my kids can do things like that and like to. It’s lifestyle you see. Joseph’s a good furniture maker. He can make anything. The oak came from stock I keep around all of the time. It’s my bank; or should I say it’s the bank of a lifestyle woodworker. It’s been that way for forty years now and it’s not likely to change at this point in my lifestyle. I liked seeing them working together. It’s a sort of fulfilled dream to see my children able to work this way if they want to. My skills live in my children. How much more can I ask for. Does that mean they have to be woodworkers? Of course not. It means they are woodworkers. It’s got nothing to do with it being a job. How primitive. It’s to do with choices, abilities, skills, critical thinking, living beliefs, thriving, nurturing being.
John too has been making all week. His tools are coming together and he wen to the car boot yet again and picked up this saw for £5 and lots of other tools that looked ugly but ready to be restored for his kit for another fiver. Square awl and gouges. Lots of stuff really. He’s got to cut off all of the teeth and recut them but he can do it. in about an hour he’ll have an old saw restored that will last him a hundred years more. Imaging a lifetime saw for under £10. You see here is another lifestyle woodworker and craftsman emerging.
I Love the Welsh Mountain Villages and the Rivers that Pass through Them
Sharing your life with your friends is important. Mick and Sally Alexander are the ones that asked me to judge at the craft show in Bedgellert in the mountains. The town is lovely and we all sat and ate lunch together after the judging. Mick loves working wood even though he got involved a little later in life.
He has a sense of therapy from the work and ends up feeling well when he’s done. Wellbeing matters and lifestyle is a choice not luck. You choose how you live whether it’s easy or not. now, that said, I know for some of you this may not be possible and my heart goes out to you. I hope that something might change so you too, if you want, can find a lifestyle of working wood or whatever you feel the calling too.
Sharing a Love for Woodworking Hand Tools
John bought me a 12” drawknife he thought I might like and I do like it. It’s a Marples drawknife and it reworked the bevel unit it fit my intent. I regret leaving most of my tools in Texas and New York because I would like to show you what I have used for five decades. I love them of course, you will not meet many woodworkers and especially teaching craftsmen that have they tools I have and can say they’ve used them for so long. One day they will go to my children and my grandchildren most likely. i buy tools frequently to make certain I have enough to supply those I love with good tools. Do you do that.? I hope so. they will love your gift as they grow and learn from you. It’s about lifestyle and life choices you see.
Reducing the Highs to reach the Lows
Of course you know I restored the flatness to my benchtop. That was a good job done and one I planned on doing now for a few weeks. I really enjoyed it and it felt good to work at again. Seeing Joseph and Kat gluing up the coffee table gift gave me joy and it was here that John brought his two-handed invention to test out. of course this was some fun we often have during the day. Laughter makes the heart glad. I believe in that really, seasons, times that matter – there is a time to be born, and a time to die; I think in part it goes like this; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…
Lifestyle starts with one person thinking just a slightly different though. Expanding the thought can result in options that can become opportunities careers advisors never heard f and school administrators never heard of and politicians note often dismiss than consider. It can keep expanding and people can take a fresh look at the real life they own from a different perspective and think about their future. I love that, don’t you.
Oh, this is me and my daughter. We spent the afternoon and evening together with my five grandsons and Joseph and Kat and my Wife, Liz and John. We goofed around a bit, spent time in the workshop at Penrhyn Castle and ate supper together.
It’s Only 32″ by 5’0″ and it Works Well
Though I use this bench because its narrower size and short length better suits filming for Woodworking Masterclasses, I certainly haven’t found the wider flat surface any great advantage at all and I sorely miss my well and two-sided benchtop work surfaces. Occasionally someone will comment that the flaw in the well stow for tools is covering the tools with a project and so blinding access to the tools. If you really think through this you will see that the concern is quite silly. 95% of work revolves directly around the vise and the immediate surface surrounding it. The mid-section of the well area is of little consequence as an actual work area until you are perhaps planing or scraping a large surface such as a tabletop or frame of some type. In such cases I think ahead and move what I might need to an accessible part of the well and get on with the work. Simple.
On this workbench I added the well after I had made the workbench because at the time of making I only needed a smaller bench to travel with me from time to time; to demonstrate at show venues or to teach from in other locations. Otherwise I need time to get used to lesser benches and that can be frustrating.
I find it most useful for stowing gauges and screwdrivers upright through holes in the bottom. They are ready to hand and easily stored.
Some say the same for the drawer in the apron but…
…the advantage of having a handy place for non-conformist tools offsets any and all occasional first-world problems. Also, you can find flaw with any design, but, working from my experience, I find that automatic forward planning, thinking ahead, making decisions as I work into my future is all part of the craftsman’s mode of constant processing and critical thinking. It’s what separates him from a world of theorising and non craft working. Without it work life is hard. The well and the drawer/s work almost all of the time. I would say about 98% for both combined. That makes it most practical compared to not having either. My tools with round handles never roll off the bench or around the bench top. My whole bench top working area is always free to work on and the mid section of well area is clear for me to span with large wood sections, frames and so on.
Though I almost never use bench dogs as such because of my clamp-in-the-vise systems they may as well be in the bench as an added option if needed. I retrofitted a non-dogged vise with a brass dog in the wood and it works really as well as the built in models I have used with no compromise.
These tills are excellent us of space as you can see. I can pull the whole till out and place it on the benchtop to work from or pull tools as needed. The only issue I have is that occasionally a student will be intrigued by them just before a lecture and pull on one. because they are so short front to back, 7” or so, they pull on them and the whole thing drops the contents to the floor. This is a more recent phenomena surrounding over familiarity, as in my day no one would ever, ever have touched anything of a craftsman’s and especially his tool chest, tool tills, drawers or whatever. Very disrespectful all around.
The top is only 60mm (2 3/8”) thick, leaving the well deep enough for chisels and squares and many of my other tools. On my other bench, my big bench, the well is an inch or so deeper and that means my plane (lying on its side, heaven forbid) can be stowed in the bench if I need too. Amazingly, though the top is so thin and made from pine it is rigidly inflexible and does not bounce anywhere at all, at all. It is redwood pine from Northern Europe. Don’t be misled into believing benches must be made from hardwoods or indeed fancy woods. That’s not the case. I do like hardwood benches too. Beech, ash, oak, maple all make good benches, but pine works as well for me and most benches in Britain were indeed always made from softwoods except school benches for children that were usually made from beech.
This bench does everything I need as a joinery bench. It is immovably stable, rock solid to work from and though only pine is used it still takes two people to lift and move it and even then they need to be stoutly built. The added well is by no means a compromise. I can reach it easily and retrieve tools as needed. I quite like the way it feels under heavy weights and even when the vise is fully extended it will not tip in any direction. On push strokes toward the vise with a big saw or planing and scraping across the benchtop it remains put. that’s what I want from a workbench. I think the bench really does need the five foot length. Any shorter and they tend to scoot in the direction you are pushing in along=the-bench strokes.
Using any wood for a workbench will almost certainly be affected by exchanges of moisture in the atmosphere being sucked into and released from the wood even though the laminations should hold just fine. This then changes the flatness of the top because, depending on the way the wood orients in relation to the annual rings, different sections expand differently. Sometimes the difference is greater on one piece than another and its this that then causes undulation in the surface. When that happens it can be annoying and especially so if the work in hand depends on flatness. Making my picture frames is a point in case, both for the frames as I assemble the components for fitting and testing the mitres but also for the shooting board because it shouldn’t rock.
In my experience bench tops move and especially so if the benchtop is thick and wide. An unavoidable dilemma for bench makers and users. By wide I mean generally about 16” and wider. By thick I mean from an inch and a half and on up. In actuality all tops move regardless of thickness and width but it becomes accentuated in larger sections of wood. Thin tops such as those we use for a regular tabletop rarely show much movement at all, but this of course is not suitable for benchtop work. Although the work area requiring thick and heavy mass is actually more localised to the area nearest the vise area of the bench, the remainder of the bench top being the same thickness adds stability, equality of weight and thickness and this in turn adds the uniqueness we workers of wood depend on. Without it we feel totally ill-equipped for work. Oh, it is worth noting that movement takes place in the first year or so. The urge to flatten sooner should be avoided otherwise you will end up doing it two or three times. I would wait for a couple of years and then do it. After that time wood becomes less elastic and movement slows down. It stabilises you see. This is a form of conditioning we used to call seasoning. It works to wait and allow nature to do its thing.
Flattening the benchtop on wider benches is simple enough. In this case I used a #5 jack plane for the whole process and in a few minutes the highs hit the bottom of the lows and I was left straightening to perfection. This benchtop was made from Northern European redwood pine. The bench is dead rigid and does not flex to unevenness in the floor. That means the benchtop should be untwisted as I t won’t change like lesser benches. It also means that any twist should be corrected through planing. I checked mine with two pieces of plywood stood on edge. Straightening the ends with the jack cross grain gave me a starting point. I stood the ply pieces on edge and eyed the two tops to see if I was in wind.
There was a small amount of twist so I levelled the two extremes until no twist was evident. I did the same in the mode section and then straightened all points in between and finished with long with-the-grain strokes for final smoothness with the #4 smoother.
I remove the corners just a tad to make sure there are no weak edges otherwise they break off anyway.
Easy enough to plane all round and once true I got rid of the whiteness for my photography and filming needs by using an outdoor water-based stain finish from Sandolin using three thin coats. I roll on the finish with a 4” sponge roller for speed but these leaves suction bumps like minute polka dots in the surface as a texture.
To remove this I then draw the sponge in fixed position (so it doesn’t roll) by jamming the roller with my finger and pulling from end to end of the bench. This evens out the surface so I can still see the grain clearly.
Another thing I added in the finished refinished top is two inserts with a “V’ channel notching to accomodate saw cuts each side of the vise. The saw kerf causes this anyway so I may as well add the recess. Dovetailing it in and gluing it in place means it will hold fast but I can readily replace in a few years time of needed.
It smooths out the appearance and means the saw catches less on the corners that rip and look ugly.
Tomorrow night will be Reddit night for me. I’m looking forward to three hours of Question and Answer time on reddit.com/r/woodworking so get your questions ready for tomorrow evening. I will be there answering your questions between 9 and 12 P.M. UK and so wherever you are in the world here is a link to set your time.
I am hoping that this will be a profitable time for everybody and that we will build more into the future of woodworking.
Banks, Bank Managers and Your Personal Account Manager May Not be Able to Answer Your Future
I recently wrote on my FaceBook page that “He who frames the issue determines the outcome.”. I think that that is true. I have had dealings with banks and other enterprises handling business issues and money and for the main part always came away feeling like the apple I bit into looked good on the outside but was rotten inside. Banks have of course shown their true colours here in Britain over the past decade or so and that didn’t happen without some deep-rooted badness in the core essential at the heart of banking. If you are in the business of making money without actually making anything we should ask how can the outcome be any different? When someone starts to think about starting to own their own business it’s usually because they want is to take a measure of control in how their lives work into the future. For woodworkers and other crafting artisans they generally want to make things beautiful to grace their and others homes, give lovely hand made gifts, be creative with their children and friends and then make some income or a way of making a living in the future. I have a friend in Texas who paddles his own canoe, literally, around the shores of a massive lake to pick up driftwood of ashe juniper surrounding the shore line of the lake. He reshapes them into ducks and carves shaped toys from them and sells them at craft shows and he’s done that for 30 years. he also makes trains and trucks from other woods too, but the point is he framed his life, became a lifestyle woodworker and got off the corporate ladder early enough to carve out a life he liked to live. Now he’s retired and he still continues his work but now he has the control he wants and does what he does because he wants to.
Try to imagine walking into the bank ad asking for £20,000 to buy a canoe, some machines and have say 6 months working capital for such a project. They’d send you away first of all and say come up with a business plan, jump through a few hoops and see of you can rely on some other social media things, family money and work out an online marketing strategy like a website design and such. All stuff you could have manage without their input but you feel better because these are the experts in money matters. Well, woodworking is good DIY and so too are these things I speak of. It’s surprising how little it can really take to start your own woodworking business if you have a little vision for it.
There are many ways of starting a business, but they all take a little forethought and planning to ensure startup success as early as possible. Planning such things is both part of the process and, dare I say, very ENJOYABLE! Remember that success is measured by how much money you make only by other people. Don’t use that as the benchmark. Yes, you want to be financially responsible, but measure the success by more important things. Your sense of being in control. Your sense of wellbeing by spending carefully without money excess rather than borrowed excess you will be paying back for decades is payment enough. All too often I hear of people applying for some kind of funding to ‘get going‘ and especially do I see banks somehow declaring whether a model will work or not. Try to remember that banks don’t like risk and especially backing something they don’t understand. Banks do not understand crafting artisans and they can be demoralising when you have an idea that you might like working with your hands and making beautiful things. Banks do however understand that crafting artisans are rarely good business people if they, they banks, define what good business is. Remember banks are ONLY in the business of making money and they ALWAYS make money off people who actually have ideas, who work hard and need a way of exchanging money for goods they need and goods they are selling.
Can a Bank Understand This?
If you can finance your business yourself by continuing in income-producing work then that becomes a better business model until you have proven your income earning capacity by selling what you make. By then you won’t need a cash injection and in many cases I have seen people borrow money for equipment that will make more goods cheaper thinking making more for less is good business. That usually was not the goal in the beginning. they wanted to work for themselves and ended up working for the bank and the staff they feel obliged to care for. I don’t think that that’s what you were looking for. Be true to your original vision. If that’s not what you want, pick up a copy of Financial Times and read no further. Remember that, for some of us at least, making money is or at least can be secondary to the lifestyle we want to carve out for ourselves. Banks don’t understand that you will gladly work 80 hours a week over seven days making £10 an hour rather than £20 and hour for 40 if it’s the lifestyle you are working for first. I have often worked such long days and weeks to make my life happen the way I want it to and have no regrets at all because my workshop was important to my home life and I could be with my family.
This week I made some beautiful hand made picture frames and although I am not going to make this a business plan for me, it certainly could be for some of you. Hand made frames like this cannot be made by mass makers. Mass makers need to buy in stock, stamp out the goods and sell in mass quantities. Even custom framers rely on machine moulds and finishes and their skills might rest more in combining frames and mounts and sizing borders than actually creating the whole from from raw stock. That’s where you come in; to fill the niche for truly hand made, beautiful frames. There is a demand for the combined work of framers and the images and artwork installed in the frames. Creating frames as I have here means you can configure dozens of components to make highly desirable and distinctive frames for customers looking for the kind of quality money generally cannot find to buy. Exclusive work doesn’t necessarily mean exclusivity. You can make all kinds of frames using hand methods ranging from using paint to finish the wood and the actual wood itself. In the frames here I have used no machines at all. I have used standard moulds available in moulding planes and the grain I have planed and shaped has awkward wiry grain. In some cases I have used a scratch stock because of the awkward grain, but, regardless, all nine frames are made without any machine methods.
I have used basically one wood to make the frames from; sapele. One of the frames I inlaid with some figured maple and there are a dozens of other configurations I could use just for a change or to compliment my offering. Soon, in a matter of a few weeks, I will be showing all of the techniques I used to make these frames in a video series. I have chosen the unplugged methods because I feel that they give me a way of life that is quiet and gentle, peacefully manageable, clean and healthy and they give me peace of mind in my work. By now you will hopefully see that it’s the way I work I strive for and not merely money. This for me is wellbeing. You can learn to make frames like this in a few hours. You may already have the skills but have never used them for this application of the tools. Regardless, start working on a business plan that excludes your banker and borrowing is a great place to start. Read this blog post to your spouse, partner, parents, children and friends. Consider it. Go to a craft show. Host a party and invite family and friends to see your framing options. There is no comparison between a mass made frame and one you designed and made by hand. Frame the issue and take control of the outcome.
A man came into my workshop with his grandson and told his grandson how bad I was for leaving my plane stood upright on the bench. He told his grandson that the blade was “being damaged as we speak.” so to speak. I was obviously in earshot of his one-sided conversation and not wanting to correct him in front of his grandson I continued brushing on shellac to my picture frames. He started to take me to task further with his indirect comments even though his grandson could care less about anything beyond his two thumb digits tapping a rectangular glass screen held between his two palms. The granddad didn’t tell his grandson he was being rude by not listening to him and seemed to want to vent frustration out on the upright plane and the person on the other side of it who refused to take the bait.
My frame looked nice and I placed it on the bench to dry. The man seemed more agitated but was it the plane, me, the two irritating thumbs or the youngster’s refusal to hear the opportune nuggets of wisdom the sage had or simply him not saying anything?
Two days ago an Aussie came into the workshop and told me how he would have been in for a serious whipping if he’d left a plane upright on the bench. I thought to myself,”Wow, all the way in Melbourne kids were getting into the same hot water for not laying their planes down on their side.” I said, “Really.” I nodded. “Oh, yeah.” I tried to point out the flawed reasoning but to no avail. He was a cabinet maker and continued his strategy to convert me in case I “placed the plane on some sandpaper.” No point casting pearls before swine, whichever side of the bench you are on. Or of the world for that matter.
Actually, this happens to me most days. Most of the people were told it as boys and had no relationship to woodworking beyond an hour or two a week in school. Occasionally one might have been the related to a woodworker and heard it from their relative and one or two were woodworkers themselves who adopted the pattern as a strategy for themselves. In fact I too was taught the practice in school, but when it came to my work as an apprentice that law went out the window and for good reason.
I can’t remember in 53 years since I first used a plane ever putting it down on something and harming the cutting iron. I know it can and does happen.
All in all I think this has taught me a lesson. I have learned that people become upset if you defy them in their expectation of you even if they have no knowledge of you. They can be surprisingly intolerant even when you offer a very practical reason for what you do. They become highly defensive and I suppose there is some kind of empirical protectorate at work at play yet rarely do they have any substantive evidence to back up what they express. Without any true depth of relational knowledge based on actually working I can’t see making them feel better is a good enough reason at all to change. I confess the pressure sometimes leaves me feeling like I’m some kind of heretic, but quite honestly, I most often do present a couple of good reasons for why I feel this is the way I want to continue working. One, I and the men I have always worked with use benches with wells and the plane can stay upright with the toe in the well and the heel on the bench top. This actually presents the handle of the plane to my hand to perfection and has nothing to do with protecting what I always take care of with the utmost diligence. Two, it’s generally impractical to lay the plane on its side when you’re actually working because you are going in and out of the vise or changing the position of the wood; I intermittently reach for a plane and as I said I want it ready for action. I use my planes second by second and minute by minute throughout any given day. Here is a third reason but I leave you with a question to answer it yourself…
…If this plane is left on its side like this, is it protected well or even at all?
It was mostly in schools that people laid the plane on its side because kids dumped the planes on top of chisels and squares and other tools/ That was a good working strategy to keep the irons from being damaged and most school benches were the flattop type with no wells, otherwise most craftsman-made workbenches were benches with wells running along the centre. Inside the well at each end of the 12’ bench was a swivelling square bar with a screw in the centre on which the plane could rest upright. We used thatat the end of the day when planes were stowed there for the night. It’s funny how things can get out of hand to become internationally ‘wrong’ through the years but often not for the right reason or indeed wrong for another reason. We can easily become legalists to the point that we can’t hear reason at all. If my teacher had told me to leave the plane upright but catty-corner in the well (had we had one) I would have obeyed. If he’d told me of the two good reasons I would have believed him. Now, in school here, there is no real woodworking but kids can program a CNC router to cut their dovetails. Problem solved!
Many emails arrive every day telling how life-changing woodworking has become for them since they adopted hand tool methods for working wood. In the blog beginning I never thought that this would become the vehicle through which I could share my life as a working craftsman but indeed it has.
When I want inspiration myself I go to one of the National Trust’s properties of which there are hundreds all supported by friends of the Trust, legacies, overseas supporters as members of its US -based Royal Oak and a 2.7million UK membership all of whom feel they own a piece of the Trust as a whole.
These are pictures I took today when I visited Berrington Hall a hundred miles from where I live. They have an exhibition of clothes used in the Pride and Prejudice film by the BBC a few short years back. Here is the link to the hall.
I’m never disappointed and as I prepare for the coming year and all that that holds by way of a new work I find myself drawing on my predecessor designers to try to step outside the realms of ordinary as they did in their day as unique designers of 200 years ago.
This harpsichord made by ‘Jacobus et Abraham Kirckman Londini Fecerunt 1787’ is beautifully appointed with diagonal cross banding, ebony and boxwood herringbone inlay and figured sycamore veneered panels capture the essence of accurate handwork to enhance and compliment the beauty of the different woods. I love compositions like this where the maker combine the skills of instrument making with woodworking and his work becomes totally absorbed in the whole.
The harpsichord was an early keyboard instrument popularised throughout the 15-18th centuries until the piano replaced it with strings that could give depth and feeling to each note. The harpsichord was at its peak in the 18th century and English instruments like this mark the pinnacle period of harpsichord design. The ‘key’ difference between the piano and the harpsichord is in the actual note produced by the two very different methods. The harpsichord keys pluck the strings in like manner to plucking a harp but denying the flexing intonation given to a harp. The piano has a far larger range of notes and become ever popular because intonation and feeling can be fully expressed by the player. Dare I say it, the harp’s tone can be somewhat monotonous by comparison and the notes cannot be varied like the notes of the piano. Also it has fewer keys than the piano. Perhaps they should not be judged as apples for apples because they are really very different instruments that look the same.
I was struck (no pun) by the care of all corresponding components forming the main body and then the minute details that are all to easy to miss. I stood and watched maybe fifty visitors walk past the instrument to see if they noticed the workmanship and not one of them gave more than a cursory glance in its general direction.
The different woodwork manorial homes are furnished with is about as massively diverse as it can get. Hepplewhite, Sheraton and Adam may well be well known, but then there is the work of the unknown man behind those many thousands upon thousands of millions of pieces.
Imagine a man losing his whole being as the coves and curves and chipped pieces rolled from the gouges to the bench. To the Lord and Lady the pieces were decorating their lives with refinement and texture. To the man making, the work was feeding his wife and children and paying the rent on his modest home.
Imagine how many weeks and months it took to shape and mould and inlay and veneer the lives of the wealthy and opulent. I’m glad the standard was set in the 16-1700’s; before the machine overtook us. It’s not a question of stopping progress but more a one of looking back and learning, researching, mastering, dedicating, committing and such like that. All of this helps me to see that we can restore the same standards of workmanship and keep woodworking a living way forward into a new and vibrant future.; a future mirroring the workmanship we need to master once more but this time we can do it live in our own homes and not to former designs but those we design into our own lives.
I thought it might help to see a little background to the Stanley development of their scrub plane and so we put together a short video to see the comparison. I am using adapted versions of the old and new roughing planes to show that they both work very well and cost almost nothing as secondhand tools for prepping your wood.
You can dedicate a rough old Stanley or an old wooden block plane of you have one and you will find them very handy for taking off the highs and levelling your work in readiness for finer plane work. Here is the link .
You can of course also buy a modern version of the scrub plane too or a secondhand one.