Hand Tool Headlines

The Woodworking Blogs Aggregator


Be sure to visit the Hand Tool Headlines section - scores of my favorite woodworking blogs in one place.  Also, take note of Norse Woodsmith's latest feature, an Online Store, which contains only products I personally recommend.  It is secure and safe, and is powered by Amazon.


The Mortise & Tenon Magazine Blog

Subscribe to The Mortise & Tenon Magazine Blog feed
Updated: 1 hour 37 min ago

“Tables” Video Now Available!

Wed, 11/22/2017 - 12:46pm


At long last, this “Tables” video is done and in our store. Mike has been laboring over this thing for a long time now perfecting each transition and tweaking each clip to get everything just right. I am blown away. It turned out better than I even envisioned. If you enjoyed watching our “Foundations” video, we think you will love this sequel.

This “Tables” video focuses on pre-industrial table construction. Rather than simply demonstrate each different operation of table making and its variations, we decide the best way to teach is in the context of a build. For this reason, I chose a table that has many of the construction variables one is likely to find in period work. The table is a pine “kitchen” table with tapered legs, a single drop leaf, H-stretchers, and a drawer. During the editing process, when we wrote down all the chapters and topics covered, Mike and I were surprised to see how much ground we were able to cover in this video. (No wonder it took us so long!)

Here are the time stamps for the video:

00:00:00    Introduction

00:04:29    The Table Form 

00:11:21    Terminology

00:12:48    Design

00:16:48    Stock Prep

00:31:37    Sharpening

00:52:04    Table Joinery

01:14:13    Tapering the Legs

01:46:47    Scratch Stocks

02:03:17    Turning Drawer Knobs

02:07:40    Breadboards

02:23:07    Final Assembly

02:26:53    The Drawer

02:37:32    Dovetailing the Drawer

02:55:07    Fitting the Drawer

03:05:07    Leaf Hinges

03:07:06    Rule Joint

03:08:01    Painting the Table

03:11:50    Burnt Shellac

03:19:23    Fastening the Top

03:21:12    Pocket Screws

03:23:29    Final Finishing Details

03:26:14    Leveling the Feet

03:29:30    Conclusion 

You can purchase the new video here. The streaming version is available for immediate viewing (download option will be ready later this evening). The DVDs are in production now and we are expecting their delivery mid-December. We will ship them out as soon as we get them. 

We are so proud to offer this video series and hope you find it an inspiration for your shop time.



Categories: Hand Tools

Tradition and Innovation: M&T Podcast Episode 02

Thu, 11/16/2017 - 6:22pm


Our new podcast episode is up and can be listened to above. In this episode, Mike and I discuss the relationship between tradition and innovation in our woodworking culture. This topic is near to our hearts and something we talk about often. Based on our interactions with readers about this over the past few years, this conversation touches on defining “tradition” and “innovation”, the advantages to one over the other, and how our individual and personal motivations for woodworking inform the way that balance plays out in our lives.

Theme Music by: Austin V. Papp and Jesse Thompson 

You can subscribe to our Podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or Soundcloud.


Notable links from this podcast:


Comments, Questions? Leave your thoughts below!


Categories: Hand Tools

New: “Kill Your Tablesaw” Sticker

Wed, 11/15/2017 - 2:50pm

Sometimes it’s important to remember to not take yourself too seriously. It’s no surprise that we here at M&T are wildly passionate about hand-tool woodworking. We eat, sleep, and breathe this stuff and work hard to inspire others to “cut the cord” along with us.

It’s good to be able to laugh at yourselves sometimes too, though. Because of our reputation for being zealous for pre-industrial woodworking, we thought this spoof sticker would be a great way to have a little fun. As you may know, the classic “Kill Your Television” sticker epitomizes paranoid anti-technology fanaticism. The radicals that adopt this slogan swear that the downfall of modern society is catalyzed by mind-numbing tube worship. It seems, for them, that all modern ills can somehow be brought back to the television.

One could argue that the woodworking equivalent is the table saw. If ever there was a machine scapegoat for hand-tool enthusiasts to deride, the table saw would be it. They often point out the inherent danger of the tool and usually credit its existence for the degradation of skilled workmanship. This sticker was designed for these zealots.

In all truth, I do have a serious aversion to table saws and am happy I never have to use them. If you agree and would like to fly your hand-tool flag, let this sticker be it.

You can get yours here

- Joshua




Categories: Hand Tools

Slow Joy

Tue, 11/14/2017 - 6:20am

After ripping fifty feet of 6/4 Southern yellow pine by hand the other day I sat down to give my arm a rest and I snap a picture for social media. It wasn’t long before a friend commented on my post that there is, in fact, such a thing as electricity these days and I was welcome to use his table saw. Curiously, I had no urge to take him up on it.

I’m the first to admit that my shop is hand-tool centered, but not exclusive. I have a few machines for specific purposes - a powered lathe, drill press and bandsaw. The lathe and drill press I make no apologies for. I love them. I am sometimes tempted to equivocate about owning a bandsaw, but I find it very useful in processing green wood for bowl turning and the occasional resaw. Most everything else is hand work.

At Mortise & Tenon we are unabashedly about exploring the possibilities of hand tools and hand work. We try not to be pretentious. We know we don’t live in the 18th century and freely admit that we wouldn’t be able to publish as we do without modern technology, but at the same time we want to encourage people to discover the joy of pre-industrial woodworking and to understand that these tools and techniques aren’t necessarily as slow as we moderns make them out to be. If anything, pre-industrial woodworking is full of efficiencies we might readily overlook.

The fore plane is a great example of this sort of efficiency, but admittedly, the rip saw is not.

I’m generally not working to anyone’s timetable but my own, and I enjoy the exercise of ripping down boards when I’m not in a rush, but there are still times I look at a pile of lumber and sigh, knowing what’s ahead. Practice equals speed with many hand tool techniques, but this is one place where almost anyone will admit that hand tools earn their reputation as slower than their mechanical counterparts. Sawing is work, and no matter how ripped you are, ripping a pile of long boards, even with the sharpest of hand saws, is not as efficient as running lumber through a bandsaw or table saw. At least, not in the way that we generally think of efficiency.

Standardized tests train you to think in hours per person per units of work, and this kind of equation makes it feel like picking up a hand saw is the equivalent of wasting one of the above variables. This logic may make sense in professional cabinet shops today, and even in pre-industrial shops of centuries past, but if you’re not totaling person/work/hours to write out paychecks or feed your family, what’s an extra day on a project intended to last decades? And honestly, of all the things that slow most of us down (or keep us from finishing projects entirely), ripping stock by hand isn’t very high on the list.

In my workshop I’m rarely on anyone’s payroll, and I welcome the challenge of handling rough stock in this way. I enjoy the test of sawing to the line. I relish the meditative rhythm of the teeth through the wood. I like feeling physically tired at the end of the day, because after hours of other stressful pursuits, it feels good for the soul.

Ripping stock by hand may represent an “inefficiency” in some ways, but once I admitted that to myself and decided that I wasn’t at all bothered by the idea, it was a short path to finding joy in it. In any case, I’ll make up the time with the fore plane and that’s an equation I can live with.

- Jim McConnell, content editor

Categories: Hand Tools

The Mortise & Tenon Podcast: Episode 01

Fri, 11/03/2017 - 6:51am

Mike and I have resisted for a while now (too many commitments already) but finally feel able to commit to periodic podcasting. You can listen to the first episode above and look for future installments here on the blog or at our SoundCloud page. Feel free to offer your feedback below. We’d love to hear your thoughts.

In this episode, we talk about the shipping out of our new Issue (#3) as well as the new book in our store: Zachary Dillinger’s With Saw, Plane & Chisel as well as two new stickers (one of which is soon to be revealed).

We then discuss the progress on our new timber frame workshop.

Links mentioned:
Books mentioned:

There is also an excerpt of our recent Ask M&T YouTube video “What is a Fore Plane?”


Categories: Hand Tools

M&T Shop Building: Installing Sheathing

Thu, 11/02/2017 - 9:45am

Because of a wind storm that knocked the power out this week (stalling progress on the Tables video edit), Mike and I have been working on sheathing the shop the past few days. We are just about finished with the first floor and we have one of the gable ends upstairs complete. This part of the project has been fun as we are able to work to carpentry tolerances rather than furniture tolerances.

This is no normal carpentry job, though. Choosing the right board for each spot has definitely made this a slower process because we’ve got all kinds of random lengths and widths (often tapering) to work with, not to mention the waney edges and ragged ends. We are also selecting the most attractive (and wide) boards for the more prominent areas in the shop. Needless to say, each board selection is the result of careful consideration of many factors before we do the custom shaping to fit the adjacent board.

We know we’ve still got a long way ahead of us until the shop is complete but each step is an exciting glimpse of it taking shape.

- Joshua


Categories: Hand Tools

Ask M&T: “What is a Fore Plane?”

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 3:57am


Mike and I just posted a new installment of our YouTube series: “Ask M&T”. In this video, we cover one of the most frequent questions we get online or at shows: What is a fore plane? Mike recounts his early struggles with hand tools using a little block plane to remove bulk material and eventually realized he was using the wrong tool for the job. What he needed was the coarse roughing tool called a fore plane. In this video, we explain why we believe this tool is absolutely essential for every hand-tool woodworker. 

We then touch on the history of the terms “fore” plane, “jack” plane, and “scrub” plane and explain our preference for the wooden version. There is also some discussion about where to get them and what to look for. 

The three key features of a fore plane are:

  1. 16” length (give or take a couple inches)
  2. Convex iron
  3. Wide open mouth 

Enjoy the video and send us more questions for future installments!

- Joshua


Categories: Hand Tools

Wilding’s Fore Plane Highly Recommended

Thu, 10/26/2017 - 1:08pm

A little while back, wooden planemaker, Jeremiah Wilding contacted me to get some feedback on a plane he was developing. He had been fine tuning a “Yankee” style fore plane and wondered if I could give it a test run. This plane was a joy to use. Because of the precision of his workmanship and the lack of warpage (from a century of neglect) this plane adjusted easily and predictably—a luxury not every antique plane offers.

Wilding explained that the “Yankee” style planes lacked carved eyes and had rounded edge chamfers and flat end chamfers. It’s a simple and classy look that I quite like. The plane Jeremiah sent me was made of maple and was 15-3/4” long with a 2” single iron.

The thing about this plane I love over others that I’ve seen on the market is the small, off-center tote, much like many 18th-century examples. This is very similar to Jonathan Fisher’s tote and enables me to comfortably use a two-fingered grip as my pinky lays down the side of the plane. I’ve found this grip to be incredibly helpful when doing stock prep. The standard 19th-century shape (with its high center of gravity) and centered position honestly feels a bit awkward to me now. I’ve brought my Fisher plane copy and a standard 19th-century wooden plane around to woodworking shows and just about everyone that compared the two in use lit up and told me that they completely agreed: this tote (and grip) is much more comfortable. As I was testing Jeremiah’s plane, I felt much at home. For me, this is the biggest selling point of this plane. You’ve simply got to try this tote. It’s incredible.

Drop Wilding an email to order one of his incredible planes. If you don’t have a wooden fore plane, you don’t know what you’re missing.

- Joshua


Categories: Hand Tools

Now in Our Store: “With Saw, Plane & Chisel”

Sat, 10/21/2017 - 9:19am

We’ve got a brand new book in our store! Although we don’t typically carry other publishers’ books, Zach Dillinger’s “With Saw, Plane & Chisel” is so in line with the vision of M&T, that it would be crazy for us to not to stock it. Many of you read our interview with Zach in Issue Two in which we discussed period furniture reproduction and authenticity of craft process. This guy’s approach to woodworking is uncannily close to our own.

Every time I think about writing another book I imagine how I’d describe period techniques and tolerances. I would show what amount of tear-out is acceptable and in which areas. I’d walk through the construction of different forms to show how they can be built efficiently using only hand tools and then I’d probably even include a section discussing the heart of craftsmanship. Well, the good news is, I don’t have to write that book. Zach’s already done it.

You can purchase a copy of this incredible book here: 



Categories: Hand Tools

The Dance

Fri, 10/20/2017 - 7:00am
Click, drag, cut, ripple delete, cross dissolve, fade to black. Look out the window, let your eyes focus on the horizon. Get another cup of coffee. Stretch that mouse arm.
As I've been wrapping up the editing of our upcoming Apprenticeship: Tables video, a few observations have jumped out repeatedly. First and foremost is the irony of the fact that I can split firewood for hours with an axe, or rough out carving projects with a hatchet, and feel no ill effects - but a few days of making subtle little gestures with a mouse and keyboard can cause the most excruciating elbow pain. Lesson learned - workspace ergonomics are important!
Shavings, shavings everywhere. A project like the table Joshua built for this video can generate a small mountain of them. Shavings are the ubiquitous waste product of our craft, from the teeny little ones created by a coarse rip saw to the gossamer tissue generated by a finely-set smoothing plane. I've been wading through hours of footage involving this mass-production of shavings, and I honestly haven't yet gotten tired of looking at them. Why is that? What is it about this particular waste product that is so compelling? I can't think of another creative outlet that shares this odd distinction. Gourmet chefs don't Instagram their vegetable peels or bits of trimmed fat. Classic car buffs don't run their fingers through used motor oil. But plane shavings are endlessly captivating. 
Working with hand tools is a lot like dancing. Really. Watching hours of clips of ripping, crosscutting, planing, etc. clearly demonstrates that both rhythm and body position are extremely important in becoming efficient with the use of hand tools. Back in the day (further back than I care to admit), my wife (then fiancé) and I took up swing dance. We became quite good, I must say, eventually graduating to the Advanced class. But those early, awkward lessons stand out in my memory - stepping on toes, bumping into other people, feeling very inelegant. 
Ripping a long board by hand can feel exactly the same. Where do I put my weight? How should I hold my saw? This cut is wandering all over the place! A seemingly simple task can become an exercise in frustration, and you might find yourself agreeing with everyone who holds that hand tools are slow and difficult. But, like learning to dance, proficiency is found in practice, practice, practice. Our goal with the Apprenticeship series is to demonstrate more than simply how to cut and assemble joinery, but how to do so efficiently. We want to help these skills to become second nature so that, without a conscious thought, every cut sings straight and true. Like being on the dance floor when some Brian Setzer Orchestra comes on, your legs and arms know exactly what to do. 
It's back to editing for me. Stay tuned for more updates on Tables - it won't be long now!
~ Mike Updegraff
Categories: Hand Tools

Hurry Up and Last

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 6:34am

As someone with a few completed pieces of functional furniture under my belt, I've found that I've developed a chronic condition that causes me to look underneath every dining room table, and around the back of every sideboard to see how they're made. The other day at a wedding I even found myself waiting for an old lady to vacate her ladder-back chair just so I could turn it over and look for tool marks. Maybe madness is setting in, but even this madness has its method. I do this (compulsively now) because I find that I'll often learn a thing or two about how another craftsperson came up with an ingenious solution to the same problems I encounter. Sometimes, I learn from their mistakes. Either way, I almost always learn something that informs my own practice.

The other day I took my daughters to buy milk paint at the only local spot that sells such a thing which, as you may expect, is also one of those chi chi "antique" stores meant for interior decorators and not rust hunters. I always feel like I'm walking into an issue of Garden & Gun when I go there, and this time was no different. As I entered the front door I was greeted by this magnificently reclaimed dining table.

The tag made a selling point of the fact that this was made from "vintage" wood reclaimed from a farmhouse. Or maybe it was just regular old wood from a "vintage" farmhouse. It's hard to follow how people use adjectives in advertising these days. Regardless, the point was that they wanted you to know it was old and it looked old and that the price would be adjusted skyward because of it.

We love old looking stuff, we just don't have the time it takes for it to actually get old.

The table certainly was striking and my curiosity was piqued, so I began to study it to see how it was built. A twinge of worry came over me almost immediately when I noticed the breadboards had no pins, so I looked under the table and to my dismay all I saw were pocket holes and plugs - hundreds of them. Not only were the "breadboards" attached this way, but the long boards were edge joined likewise. I cried a little inside. 

I wish to be clear. Pocket screws have their uses, even in pre-industrial period work, but this is not one of them. There's absolutely no need for them, and it is possible that they will predestine this "one-of-a-kind-vintage-farmhouse" table to the scrap heap when the wood begins to do what it does (move) and the screws do what they do best (keep things from moving). Maybe the wood is old enough and dry enough that this won't be a problem. Maybe someone won't lean too hard on that breadboard and tear the four brave screws out of the opposing end grain. Maybe I'm over-reacting. Maybe.

On one hand, I feel like ranting about  how someone was in such a hurry to make this thing that looks "authentically" old that they doomed it to the same fate shared by other hastily manufactured commercial furniture, but that's not really the heart of my concern. They could have reclaimed this resource more responsibly, but wood is wood. It grows on trees and in 200 years someone else will make equally ill-advised choices.

What interests me is this -  hand tools so often meet skepticism over the myth of how "slow" they are to use, but how long did it take to drill, screw and fill all those holes? Edge joining a table top like that would be relatively quick work with a plane by comparison. And yes, it would take longer to properly join a breadboard to the ends, but those tenons and pins would likely outlast more than a few vigorous games of cards with your rowdy uncle Phil. When I looked at this table all I could see was an unnecessary calculation to make something that looks like it's been around for 200 years rather than making something that may actually be around 200 years from now.

The relationship between furniture and fashion has changed over time. It was once perfectly reasonable to commission a piece in a "fashionable style" (else where would the highboy be?) but the understanding was that a client was also commissioning a piece that was structurally sound. The ornament was once icing on an already very sturdy cake. This is no longer the understanding people have when they think, "hey, I want a farmhouse table" because there is always an implied "for now" at the end of that thought. We expect our tastes to change, and so we want things based on a "look" and not on their lasting function in our lives.

We can no more hurry up and make things that are "old" than we can hurry up and make things that will last. Good things take the time that they take whether they are fashioned with a frame saw or a table saw. Part of educating ourselves (and others) about period furniture (or furniture, period) is learning this lesson. Good will always be good. Junk will always be junk. We may make our decisions accordingly, but at the very least we should take a look under the table and make them knowingly.

- Jim McConnell


Categories: Hand Tools

Why I Converted to Wooden Hand Planes

Wed, 10/18/2017 - 1:13pm

In a recent blog post I mentioned how our content editor, Jim McConnell, and I have agreed to engage in a friendly discussion on the blog about metal-bodied and wooden hand planes. In that post, Jim explained some of the reasons that he prefers metal-bodied planes. We aren’t here to make this topic controversial and adversarial. That’s the stupid kind of stuff that happens on forums. This is just plain ol’ honest discussion. Here's my take:

I was trained on metal-bodies planes at the luthiery school I attended. We learned the setup, adjustment, and use of these high-performance tools. Even though my introduction to planing was with new high-end examples, after I graduated from the program, I fixed up a few old Stanleys to fill out my set. I had no reason to complain about metal-bodied planes—I had nothing to compare them to.

It wasn’t until I began demonstrating pre-industrial woodworking that I decided I better figure out how to use wooden planes. I expected to eventually achieve decent competency—at least enough to do planing demonstrations—but I didn’t have high expectations.

For me, the only way to learn is to dive in head first. I resolved to go cold turkey for a few days to force myself to learn the mystical subtleties of adjusting these foreign contraptions. I cleaned the grime off some old fore plane and sharpened the iron same as I always did on my metal planes. I read some instructions and watched a YouTube video or two and then gave it shot. I spent about 20 minutes playing around with the adjustments, varying the tapping pressure, and even experimenting with retracting the iron a bit (I don’t know why but I didn’t expect that technique to work.)

I found that it only took me a few hours of playing around with wooden planes until I was instinctively making confident adjustments with the hammer. This was an honest-to-goodness surprise. I began to incorporate these planes more and more into my work to increase my proficiency with them. After a few weeks, it occurred to me that I was actually beginning to prefer using wooden planes over against my faithful metal ones. How in the world did that happen? What were the advantages I saw in these planes?

A Few Reasons I Prefer Wooden Planes

  1. Lightness – If you are a hand-tool woodworker who preps your stock with hand tools, mass is not your friend. Why in the world would you want to spend hours slugging around a heavy metal plane when a wooden one works the same (or better)? This is no joke—It makes a huge difference for endurance. If you use machines to prep your lumber and pretty much only use your smoothing plane, then this point is probably irrelevant to you but if it’s up to your muscles to get the job done, you’ll want all the help you can get.
  2. Lack of Sole Friction – This one goes hand in hand with #1. Wooden soles glide on wood like no other. With my metal planes, I remember regularly going back to lubricate my soles in order to minimize the resistance while planing. I’d rub a little wax on the sole and BAM! what a difference it made. Lubricating soles is an old practice that even historic wooden plane users took advantage of. It makes sense. Why muscle the tool around if you can make it glide better? The truth is, I almost never lubricate my wooden plane soles. Once in a blue moon I remember that most people out there do that so I put some wax on there for good measure. I hardly notice any difference.
  3. Ease of Adjustment – I know, I know. You don’t believe me. Am I really saying that adjusting a wooden plane is easier than adjusting a metal one? Yes, I am. Although there is a learning curve (like everything in woodworking), I think the wooden plane’s fewer parts and more straightforward design makes adjustment easier. Metal planes have their own learning curve. The cap iron has to be in the right place or the iron projection will change. Then the lever cap screw has to be turned just right to get the right pressure—too much and you have problems adjusting the iron, too little and you can bump your setting out when planing. And forget about that little knurled knob that you have to cram your fingers to spin, spin, spin to adjust. (Is it clockwise or counter-clockwise, I forget?) I always felt the lateral adjustment lever that can be finicky. Etc, Etc. None of this is a big deal to someone who is used to these idiosyncrasies but my point is both metal and wooden planes have learning curves. My belief is that once you get past the learning curve, the wooden plane is faster, easier, and much more pleasurable to adjust. Try it, I dare you.
  4. Comfort in Use – There is a reason that metal planes have wooden handles and knobs—metal is cold and uncomfortable. I like the feel of wooden tools and find them much more inviting.
  5. Tactile Feedback – The wooden body transfers to my hands all the subtle vibrations from the iron engaging the wood. This gives me a source of feedback I never had with thick and heavy metal planes. I can actually feel how the plane is working.
  6. Beauty – This is totally subjective, I know. I think many metal planes have their own beauty but, in my view, wood ages better than metal. To me, there is nothing like a couple hundred years of patina on an old wooden tool.

You don’t need exceptional planes to get these results. All my planes are over 100 years old and are nothing special. When I am searching for a plane in an antique shop, I look for grain orientation (quartersawn, preferably), no major structural concerns, and at least decent amount of iron left. That’s about it. I am very happy with these simple ho-hum examples and don’t feel a need for anything fancier.

If you are someone who wants the best of best and has the resources to pay for it, there are several wooden plane makers out there that make high-quality bench planes. Old Street Tool has been making single-iron planes for a long time, Steve Voigt makes double-irons, and I recently got to try out a nice single-iron fore plane from Jeremiah Wilding. I highly recommend all these makers.

Have questions? I’d be happy answer in the comments below. 

- Joshua


Categories: Hand Tools

The M&T Shop: 200-Year-Old Wall Sheathing

Sat, 10/14/2017 - 3:36pm

This afternoon, Luke and his partner, Sara, came up from Vermont to deliver the 200-year-old  1-1/4” thick wall sheathing. About half of the load was from this frame originally but Luke threw in a bunch more of the same vintage and region to fill out the rest of our sheathing needs. We hauled the boards into the frame and loosely organized them by length and width.


We have a whole pile of boards that are up to 20” in width and other piles in the 12”-14” range. They are between 7 and 12 feet in length and all the boards have sash saw mill marks and beautiful patina. These will be applied to the outside of the frame as the finished interior wall.

We’ll then cut window openings into the sheathing and build a 2 x 4 wall outside that to house the insulation. The exterior will be finished with new vertical 16” wide pine boards (with wide battens beneath the joints) so that the interior and exterior will look as if there was no insulation.


Mike and I are working our butts off to complete this “Tables” video before we dive into this sheathing. We are very close and hope to be tackling these boards next week.

- Joshua


Categories: Hand Tools

You're So Metal

Fri, 10/13/2017 - 1:29pm

Editor's Note: Jim and I have been discussing metal-bodied vs. wooden hand planes and agreed to have an open discussion on the matter here on the blog. Here's Jim's take.

One of the driving passions behind Mortise & Tenon Magazine is the exploration of efficient pre-industrial woodworking techniques in the hope that we can share that information with others. We realize that we sometimes sound like evangelists and we’re ok with that. We really are trying to share the good news of rough secondary surfaces and set people free from the law of machine tolerances. With that in mind I sometimes feel like a bit of a hypocrite when I admit that the planes I choose for my own personal work are direct result of the industrial revolution that we so often rail against. 

That's right, I use metal bodied planes. Judge me accordingly.

The only wooden planes in my workshop are a couple of moulding and dado planes that find occasional use, but mostly live in the bottom cabinet of my tool chest. Oh, and one old fore plane that serves as decoration, you know, to make me feel authentic. The rest of the time, I'm a ductile iron kind of guy. I'm fairly ecumenically minded. I have nothing against wooden planes and I've tried out some of the very best, but for some reason I’ve never  even been tempted to make the switch. Lately I’ve started to wonder, why?

I have to admit that I’ve always thought of wooden planes as fussy (Tap, tap, tap). They also have the reputation of being temperamental and susceptible to changes in the weather. Honestly I suspect that those issues are greatly exaggerated, but I can’t shake the feeling that wooden planes are like the creaky old men at the barbershop who predict the weather by the aches and pains of the day. To be fair, a wooden plane in good condition should take no more time to set up than their metal counterparts. The only real problems I’ve ever had were with the neglected and derelict wooden planes that sometimes float around antique shops. I bought a few of these when I started working with hand tools. In general, I should have left them for the interior decorators.

If you’re new to rust hunting it’s a lot easier to hit a homerun with a rusty old Stanley Bailey than your average Ohio Tools woody. To date, I’ve probably had a 60% success rate with antique wooden planes. That gets better as you learn what you’re looking for and your chances also go up if you live in certain parts of the country (or certain countries for that matter), but these days there are other options. With the current renaissance of plane making you can get yourself a fancy new wooden plane (or a whole set) and although you will likely pay exponentially more than you might for an antique store find, you will also be buying the peace of mind that they’re well tuned and ready for shavings. 

That’s appealing to me... until I remember how much I paid for the handplanes I already own.


Besides, that’s the argument people make about new high-end metal planes isn’t it? The idea that you pay for the privilege of pulling a highly refined tool out of the box, sharp and ready to go to work? Hmmm... And metal planes take some fussing too. Blades get dull. Moisture wreaks its rusty havoc. You need to wipe them down and keep them oiled. It’s certainly easier to true the sole of a wooden plane than one cast in iron. Oh, and the weight!

Do I need to continue?

This is PC vs Mac. Canon vs Nikon. Ford vs Chevy. Duke vs that other team from North Carolina.

There will always be opinions and there are no perfect answers. I won’t argue that metal planes better than wooden planes. I can make all sorts of rationalizations, but use metal planes for the simplest reason of all - because I like them. They feel right to me. I understand their idiosyncrasies and yet I find them to be reliable and well-suited to the work I do. The heft and inertia of these post-industrial beasts work in my favor (most of the time) and I understand how to make the subtle adjustments to get what I need out of them. With the limited shop time I have, I don’t want to think hard about the tools. I just want to use them, and these are the tools I want to use. Some days they wear me out, but they always put a smile on my face.

- Jim McConnell



Categories: Hand Tools

Living History on the Maine Frontier

Mon, 10/09/2017 - 5:03am


This past weekend my family participated in the Maine Forest and Logging Museum’s Living History Days event. The museum, located in Bradley, Maine, was founded in the 1960s as a living history site in which the lifeways and crafts of the late 18th-century Maine frontier is demonstrated. The site is known as “Leonard’s Mills” because of an archaeological discovery of five sawmills on Blackman Stream. My wife and I have been volunteering at Leonard’s Mills for years.

All the interpreters dress in period clothing, cook period food, and demonstrate many other aspects of 18th-century frontier life (including the use of a recreated water-powered sash mill). My family looks forward to this weekend every year. We’re usually stationed at the settler’s log cabin and even get to spend the nights there. This enables us to bring an assortment of recreated 18th-century furniture that I’ve made. Usually Julia demonstrates cooking and baking at the fire and discusses various aspects of domestic life. I always bring my portable Nicholson workbench and my tool chest to demonstrate period woodworking.


This event is so full of visitors that most years very little progress can be made on any given project. There is a lot of talking and rabbit trail demonstration that happens so if I get anything put together, I’m pleased. This year, I brought a small pile of maple and birch to begin building a table. This project is a great opportunity to demonstrate ripping, planing, mortise-and-tenon joinery, drawbore assembly, and tapering legs. Over the two days, I was pleased to find that I got almost all of the table’s base constructed. All I need are two more rails and then I can glue and drawbore the joinery.

Back home now, we’re taking this morning to unpack the van of the weekend’s debris. Then it’s back to regular life. After spending the morning editing the Tables video at his house, Mike will come over to work on the new work shop a bit. We’ve got to finalize our plans for these windows so we can pick up another pile of sashes from the antique dealer I’ve been buying from. We’ve got no more events booked this year. We’ll finish up that Tables video but, besides that, all Mike and I are doing the next few months is working on the shop. Can’t wait to get this thing closed in.



Categories: Hand Tools

Issue Three Has Arrived!

Tue, 09/26/2017 - 1:46pm

Mike and I met the freight driver this afternoon to receive our Issue Three delivery! After unloading and stacking thousands upon thousands of copies into our storage facility, Mike and I plopped down on the ground and silently flipped through our copies. After a few minutes of quiet, we turned to each other and asked the obvious question, “What do you think?”

We discussed the elements we spent time fussing over during the designing process. We nitpicked here and there but rejoiced to find no surprises. It turned out exactly as we envisioned it would. The nature of uncoated paper always seems a bit unpredictable so when it turns out as you’d hoped, it brings a sigh of relief.

This Friday, we begin wrapping and shipping it out. Your copy is on its way soon.

If you haven’t yet pre-ordered, you still have tonight to get in your order with free domestic shipping. Starting tomorrow morning shipping will be $5.00 and the magazines won’t come wrapped. Now's the time, folks! This is a great one!

- Joshua


Categories: Hand Tools

Last Call for Issue Three Pre-orders

Mon, 09/25/2017 - 12:57pm

Tomorrow is the last day to pre-order Issue Three so if you haven’t yet ordered consider this the last call for free (US) domestic shipping and the special pre-order wrapping with wax-sealed trade card.

All magazine orders submitted after Tuesday will be mailed naked in our rigid mailer. This includes Issues One and Two. If you want any of these three issues wrapped, it’s now or never.

You can get:
A yearly subscription (#3 & #4) here.
Issue One here.
Issue Two here.
Issue Three here.

Mike and I have poured ourselves into this issue and we are super excited about how it turned out. One of my favorite pieces in this issue is about the passing of the craft school torch from Drew Langsner to Kenneth Kortemeier. Between our team, there have been many miles driven, interviews done, transcriptions produced, and words crafted to bring this complex and intertwined story into an inspiring and personal narrative. Mike and Jim worked this one over and over and I couldn’t be more pleased with the result.

Between Garret Hack’s discussion about how simple wooden patterns are essential to his design and building process to Brendan Gaffney’s fascinating journey through the ancient craftsman’s measurement to building a spring pole lathe, we’ve run quite the gamut in this one. Jim McConnell and Danielle Rose Byrd wax philosophical about craftsmanship and Bill Pavlak show us the nuts and bolts of using period design books for carving inspiration. All of us on the M&T team are particularly proud of this issue. We think this might be the best yet.

Here's a video from our printer (Royle Printing) of the binding process. Issue Three is on a truck as I write this with delivery scheduled for tomorrow morning. On Friday and Saturday we have a bunch of people coming over to help wrap and ship the new issue. We just had a few slots open up in the rental house so if you were interested in coming up to Blue Hill, Maine on Friday and Saturday to party with us and send Issue Three out into the world, email us at info@mortiseandtenonmag.com right away and we’ll reserve your spot.

- Joshua


Categories: Hand Tools

M&T Shop Building: Sheathing the Roof and Packing Up

Sat, 09/23/2017 - 6:15am

Friday morning was the first day of fall and, boy, did it feel like it. The characteristic crisp nip in the air, the breeze, and even geese migrating overhead: All of it was right on cue. John had to head back to Vermont and Mike went to the Common Ground Fair with his family so Luke, Isaac, Matt, and I attached the roof sheathing to the rafters. We spent all day nailing these gorgeous 200-year-old hemlock boards in place. Because they had already cut, fit, and labeled the boards before bringing them up, the process went smoothly.

The patina in these boards is sacred to this crew. Because they’ve worked so hard to de-nail, power wash, repair, straighten edges, and lay these boards out they are very careful not to scratch the beautiful interior show surfaces. They explained that their process involves standing all the boards in a circle to organize them by color and select them for optimal placement on the roof system. They do their very best to hide all shadow lines from their original rafters. For this project, the crew was pleased to find they were able to hide all but a few of the faintest shadows on a few boards. (In case you haven’t noticed yet, this is not regular carpentry, this is more akin to art.) Just before dark last night, the last bit of tar paper was laid over the sheathing and the crew left for dinner.

They’re coming back this morning to tidy the site and load their trailers for the drive home. Although I am so happy that the frame is now up, I’m sad to see this week end. We’ve gotten so close with everyone on this crew and will miss their company. I’m usually such an independent person that hiring someone else to do something I think I might be able to pull off on my own has felt strange. On this side of the raising, though, I know that there is no way on earth I could have done anything close to what these guys have done. I’ve learned so much this week working alongside them and in our discussions about the next steps of the project.

Thank you, Luke, Matt, Isaac, and John for your hard work this week as well as during the weeks leading up to this raising. This frame is not a play house. It’s not a silly “man cave” or pool house that we feel indifferent about. This building is the future of our business, the new home of Mortise & Tenon Magazine. All our articles will be written and edited here, our videos will be filmed here, and our workshops will happen here. Many years of hand tool woodworking will take place within these walls, guys. Thank you for the care you’ve taken with this restoration. Your conscientious workmanship honors the craftsmen who built it over 200 years ago. We hope M&T’s use of it will continue to honor the work of their and your hands.

- Joshua


Categories: Hand Tools

M&T Shop Building: Frame Complete!

Fri, 09/22/2017 - 3:38am

Yesterday we completed the frame. Matt suspended the ridge into place while Luke, John, and Isaac began assembling the round cedar rafters from one gable end. Luke said the first pair of rafters is the hardest, especially when they have diagonal braces and a collar tie to be installed along with them. After that gable end was secured, though, the rest popped into place without issue. As they worked through down the ridge, the manual lift help stabilize it and hold it at the optimum height (decreasing as they went along). This careful and methodical process was really impressive to watch. The whole process took several hours of careful adjustments and minor paring of the tails that were a hair too wide for their pockets.

By midafternoon the last gable was installed. We drove pegs into all the joinery and then the crew made tiny adjustments before heading out while Mike and I began preparations for the evening’s feast. At 6:00, the crew returned for the ceremonial tacking of the evergreen bough onto the ridge. Thus began the feasting.

We had a lovely candlelit dinner inside the frame, watching an incredible sunset over our pond. The frame was illuminated pink and purple from the awesome display. As the sun faded for the day, we sat down for a lasagna dinner and had a wonderful evening of fellowship with them and their partners. The night involved Dave Brubeck, children reciting Shakespeare, and many laughs around the table. As everyone packed up to drive home for the night, I felt like pinching myself. I am so grateful for this crew (my new friends) and the frame that they’ve restored for us. Luke, Matt, Isaac, and John are not only exceptional craftsmen but they are incredible people to spend time with. Mike and I are left inspired by the experience.

Today, Luke, Isaac, Matt, and I will be nailing the old sheathing onto the roof and laying tar paper. At that point, their job is all done and they will head back to Vermont. Mike and I will take it from there.

- Joshua


Categories: Hand Tools

M&T Shop Building: Raising the Frame Day Three

Wed, 09/20/2017 - 7:43pm

Today began with finishing the bird's mouths for the rafters to seat into. Because the original roof system was damaged in a fire, Luke salvaged materials from other Vermont frames that weren’t going to be restored. Because the replacement ridge mortise layout was different than the original, the plates needed to be cut to match the ridge. While Mike and I cut the bird’s mouths, the rest of the team made preparations for the plates’ raising including installing a temporary deck on the second floor joists.

Once the rafter joinery was complete, Matt lifted the first plate up to the posts and we began guiding it down into place while holding the six braces in position. Due to some unexpected wracking of the frame, the plate wouldn’t quite seat onto the last post. Some careful help from diagonal come alongs brought everything into alignment. With a few wraps on the plate, it seated securely onto the tenons.

The second plate was a tad trickier because of some severe twist that developed over its lifetime. Luke shimmed and compensated for this in the shop restoration but during assembly it needed further help to seat properly. More come alongs and sledge blows (onto sacrificial scrap wood) and the second plate was successfully installed.

The rest of the afternoon was spent final shaping and installing the pegs in the rest of the frame that hadn’t yet been pegged. John installed the largest pegs (the original 1-3/8” size) into the plate but the rest of us used 1-1/4”, 1”, and 3/4" for other parts. Eden even got to drive a few of the lower pegs.

Tomorrow we’ll finish the last few pegs and then turn to the ridge and rafters. The incredible five-sided pine ridge and cedar round rafters were salvaged from barns not far from the original frame and are near identical matches. In fact, one of the original rafters was salvageable and is being put back into the frame. We expect to complete the frame tomorrow and begin sheathing the roof. The sheathing process will likely extend into Friday morning.

- Joshua


Categories: Hand Tools