Kill Your Router! (or: how I learned to quit fighting Matt Bickford, and love strikin me some moulding)
Pssst… hey kid. Wanna stick some moulding? Don’t worry – we’ll just do a chair rail – maybe an ogee or two. Not the hard stuff. C’mon – A little ogee never hurt nobody. Tell you what – the first one’s on me.
One of my favorite parts of demonstrating at hand tool events and shows is watching Matt Bickford flip people’s world upside down in 30 minutes or less. As a maker of side escapement planes, Matt’s an incredibly talented and knowledgeable guy. But his greatest genius is in being able to show people how quick, efficient, versatile, and easy it is to use his tools to make moulding profiles. Any moulding. If you can lay it out in profile, you can reproduce it. Exactly.
Last year in Brooklyn I watched a typical scene unfold at a Lie-Nielsen handtool event. A guy sticks his head into Matt’s bench area shaking his head, and commenting that his router is quicker. Matt picks up a piece of poplar, asks the guy to choose a moulding profile from one of the books on his bench, and spends the next 30 or so minutes quietly and carefully shredding every preconception router-guy walked in with. At the end, the man himself has exactly reproduced the profile he picked, his eyes are wide, and he’s leaning excitedly forward like a kid who just discovered you can get sprinkles on an ice cream cone. His only remaining question is whether he wants snipe’s bills to go with his quarter-set right away, or if he should wait to add them later.
So here’s some good news. Matt’s written his experiences and techniques down in a forthcoming book, tentatively titled “Mouldings in Practice.” Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to read through the book and put some of what it suggests to the test. So – does it translate well into print?
Here’s the best answer I can give you – these are my own results, churned out in just over two hours at my bench this week – probably 30-40% of which was in laying the profiles out.
Two of these mouldings are reproductions of step-by-step profiles from the book, and two are simple designs I drew up from my head. All are right off the planes with no scraping or sanding, and all are remarkably faithful to the original layout.
Just to be clear: my own experience with moulding planes isn’t nil, but it’s damn close. I’ve watched Matt do his magic quite a bit, but in terms of actually using the planes, that two hours at my bench more than doubles my lifetime experience. And if I can get this kind of results more or less right out of the gate, I think there’s something to be said for the methods he’s spelled out with this book.
This material hasn’t materialized out of thin air; Matt’s standing on the shoulders of giants in this field – most especially those of Larry Williams and Don McConnell of Old Street Tools. But I think he’s managed to spell all of this out in a way that I’ve never seen presented so completely and concisely anywhere else. At least as important as the methods themselves, though, is the enthusiasm and confidence the book manages to instill. It not only makes a compelling case for why striking your own mouldings is a great endeavor – it also demystifies the work so thoroughly that it’s almost impossible not to go out to your shop and start doing it right away.
The typical attitude that most handtool users seem to hold toward moulding planes is that they’re at the far end of learning – some sort of arcane knowledge that only the truly die-hard pros really have the skills and understanding to use. Matt’s managed to completely demolish that impression here. Striking mouldings isn’t some dark art – it’s just that the instruction manual has been lost for at least a few generations. Now it’s back – three cheers for the hand tool revolution!
Chris Schwarz has started to dole out information on the book in his blog at Lost Art Press (who is publishing the book.) That’s the place to watch for news about the book, pricing, release dates, etc.
Just in the interest of disclosure: there is nothing about my comments here that are unbiased. I’m a huge admirer of Matt Bickford in every way, and he’s a rather good friend. I’m reading the book because I’ve been asked to provide some feedback and a little editing assistance. If that makes you skeptical (and it’s quite understandable if it does) please don’t take my word for it. I’d wholeheartedly suggest you investigate some of the information Matt’s put out over the past year in his outstanding blog. It makes the case better than I ever could anyway.