All Hand(work)s on the Bad One

So by now, I suppose it’s possible you may have heard about Handworks 2013.

If you have an internet connection, you’ll want to check out

If you don’t have an internet connection, you’re not reading this. And in that case, I should like to say that I never liked you much.

Handworks is, simply, going to kick every anatomical component that’s kickable on a PG-13 rated blog. No fees, no fluff, nothing but a metric fulcrumload of handtool makers and crafstmen getting together in a huge barn as far from law enforcement as possible for the purpose of doing what they do.

Handworks 2013. Seriously – you should be there. Even if it means a divorce, you should be there. In fact, just don’t call in to work, steal your brother-in-law’s mobile home, and bring your neighbor’s alpacas with you. Cause after this weekend, when the mothership beams you back home freshly probed and cryogenically suspended, the high point of your life will already have happened anyway.

Nelson’s Universal Design Method

I get exasperated when I hear woodworker’s say they ‘can’t design’. Furniture-making is design. Toolmaking as well. Can’t do it well without a good design sense. I think anyone who believes they can’t design has fundamentally misunderstood what design is.

There is a persistent myth out there that design is something you’re either born with or not. Overexposure to Krenov books sometimes leads to this notion.

I disagree. Anyone can design. It’s not magic. It’s work.

So since I’m feeling feisty today, here’s Nelson’s Universal Design Method(ology).

STEP ONE: draw

No – even better: sketch. A lot. Want to design a table? Sketch about a thousand tables. 20 seconds for each sketch, MAX. Do twenty or thirty every day. Do them on business cards in the doctor’s office. A napkin at the bar. Toilet paper in… you get the picture.

Somewhere in that thousand, there’s going to be one (maybe two if you’re a prodigy) that has ‘something’ in it. A lean, an attitude, an ‘air’.

Something in that sketch will say: I AM INSPIRATION. WORSHIP ME. MAKE ME. Listen to it.

Because this is the part no one can explain, but everyone worries about. Where the ‘inspiration’ comes from. You can go for walks in the woods, scour the internet, or take a weekend course in creative visualization to get there if you like, but in the end you are going to have to make those thousand (give or take) sketches. Everyone does.

STEP TWO: draw

Now you’ve got your inspiration. Here’s the part that counts – the part you don’t read about in the design articles in the magazine. The Work.

Draw it again.

This time take five minutes per drawing. Try to reproduce that special ‘thing’ about the sketch. It’ll take more than one try – trust me. Do it as many times as you need to. Eventually you’ll get something sort’ve like the first, but a little clearer. Cleaner. And you’ll have a MUCH better handle on just what it was you liked. You might even be able to ‘name’ it. If so – Congratulations! Now you can ‘speak’ design.


Now take your slightly more detailed drawing and redraw that. This time with precision. Do it on graph paper, with rulers and to exact scale. Or on a computer program – CAD, sketchup, Illustrator; whatever. You won’t get this part done first try either. You’re trying to convert your idea to a mechanical drawing, and finding out the limitations of the ‘lean’, the ‘attitude’, the ‘air’ you have been trying to bring along. You’ll probably find at this point that the ‘attitude’ has become MUCH less extreme than the original sketch. That’s good. Restraint happens automatically here.

Rinse and repeat.

Once you’ve got that done, you’re almost home free. Now you just have to make it.


If this is for your living room, and not a showroom or architectural digest – and if it’s fairly straightforward – then what are you waiting for? This is what you spent all those hours learning to saw and carve and plane and join for. Make it. Create it. You’re a MAKER.

STEP FIVE (advanced): remake

If you’re planning on selling it, or if you just think the design itself is worth really going ‘all in’, or even if you just want people to call your design things like: “refined”, “fully-realized”, and “incredibly coherent”, then here’s the ultimate secret. Ready? You sure?

Make it at least three times.

It’s well worth considering making the first one or two out of cheap, easy material. Cardboard and plywood; poplar and clay; sticks; mud; whatever. In the design world, the technical term for this is a ‘mock-up’. It helps.

it’s a lot faster and cheaper than making it out of mahogany.

Talk to some really first-rate furnituremakers. I’m betting nine out of ten of them use mockups of one sort or other most of the time. In my experience the link between ‘great designer’ and ‘mockups out the wazoo’ is a shocking correlation. Personally, I take that to mean something.

So there you go. Nelson’s Universal Design Method. I named it, so it must be mine – right?

Am I exaggerating here? Yes. A bit.

Not much, really.

Here’s a cool piece from the Popular Woodworking editors’ blog where Brian Boggs discusses design. He’s probably worth listening to.

And if you care for some more detailed – and well-thought-out – ideas on design, Tom over at the Millcrek blog wrote up a really good introduction to design just last week.

And I hope it goes without saying that you might want to read George Walker’s excellent Design Matters blog – incomparable repository for learning the fundamental skills of design (the ‘seeing stuff’ part and the vocabulary) and to get a picture of how to ‘think’ design.


Learning shoji…

I don’t do a whole lot of review and recommendation writing on here, but on occasion something comes along that I’m so enthusiastic about that I feel the need to post about it.

Even though it’s been a few years since I managed to post frequently about it, the kumiko and shoji work on my blog still garners a lot of traffic. I don’t attribute this to my skills at either blogging or the work itself so much as the real lack of solid instructional information that’s available, particularly when it comes to decorative kumiko work.

So I was thrilled earlier this year when I saw that Des King had published a new book on the subject. I ordered it on the spot from Amazon.

So how does this compare to previous works on the subject? Well – for anyone interested in this sort of work, this is simply the most detailed and comprehensive introduction available. While I am a great fan of Toshio Odate’s Making Shoji, I have to say that for those interested in actually doing shoji and kumiko work I find King’s new treatise clearly better.

Odate’s text still reigns as an introduction to the spirit and attitude of the japanese doormaker of the past – and it remains worth the cost just for the descriptions of Odate’s own apprenticeship. But for sheer techniques and methodology, King’s book is vastly more detailed and comprehensive. Where Odate is part good-read with instructional details interspersed, King has delivered the definitive manual for the craftsman interested in learning the traditional methods.

The long and short of it is that King (who trained in a traditional program for shoji and kumiko work in Toyama, Japan) takes a remarkably no-nonsense approach to every aspect of the work. There is none of the ‘spirit of the tools’ discussion that plagues so much of japanese woodworking material. But at the same time, there is no ‘westernization’ of the methods and techniques in here. The traditional methods and design are upheld completely. While the author covers the typical japanese tools used incredibly well, he also points out where suitable western equivalents will work well, and the cases where there really is no suitable substitution. The book also includes what I consider by far the single finest english language introduction to kanna (japanese planes) ever written. For that alone, I think the purchase price is well-justified.

This book is Volume I. King plans two additional volumes as well. There is a gallery of the projects covered in this (and future) texts available at Des and Mariko King’s website. The volumes are all self-published to allow him to retain complete control over the material, but can be ordered from Amazon in the US.

I’ve communicated off and on with King via email for a few years now, and I have always found him to be an invaluable resource. His website is a feast of visual and written information, particularly on complex kumiko design. It’s impossible to view it without seeing his commitment and skill. This new book takes it a step further. I cannot recommend a book more highly than this one.

Form, Color, Pattern – Part II

Subtlety is just bull$%!t in evening wear
— anon.

Greetings, dear reader. After a hellish few days toiling away making coarse physical objects and wasting all that potential for ‘intellectual work’ that I was imbued with in school – I’ve finally managed to get some time back at my computer. Ah, the workstation… if my guidance counsellor could only see me now! What’s better than soaking up some full-spectrum radiation from a glowing screen, dear reader? Not a thing, I propose.

During my last post I collected a few photos to try to present a way of looking at the aesthetics of an infill plane. This ‘spectrum’ of form and pattern, though, is certainly not something limited to planes. It applies quite well to furniture as well – contrast a shaker corner cupboard with a federal sideboard and I think the same argument holds true: when using wood, there are a series of possible choices you can make. Selecting material with less variation in color, grain, and figure gives results where the essential form of the piece is given the primary focus. Select woods with greater variation and dynamic range in its visual impact, and the piece tends to be much more heavily skewed toward the beauty of the material itself.

I think that a lot of us have a strong tendency to prefer one end of this spectrum more than the other – but in my experience, it’s a fairly even split. And, speaking for myself, I also think it’s quite common to find deep appreciation for both ends of the spectrum. I can’t say I have a real ‘preference’ for either mode…

As I suggested at the end of that post, though, I also think there’s something of a ‘middle way’ as well. There are certain choices where the emphasis on form or pattern actually changes significantly depending on the level of attention you give the object, as well as the lighting and perspectives it’s viewed in. First example is a plane filled with beautiful south american mahogany. This wood was supplied by the client, and I was actually a bit skeptical at first – but once we’d worked out the finish schedule, the coloring and chatoyance of the end results were really gratifying:

This was finished with a bit of tru-oil followed by a number of polish coats of garnet shellac to bring the color and depth out. While there’s very little grain structure to speak of, in the right lighting the color combined with the ribboning and pore structure of the wood make for a very striking effect. Clicking on the photo will bring up a larger version, which gives some sense of the effect a closer look can have.

The next example is a recent plane, with infills of mexican desert ironwood, is what I refer to as ‘stealth’. The coloring is a beautiful dark burgundy/purple variety, and as with the mahogany plane, the coloring has a marvelous effect on the presentation of the entire shape and form of the plane. It serves much the same role as a picture frame – drawing the eye in and presenting the shape of the infills and metal shell to the eye.

But with this wood, and a few other species, the entire effect changes dramatically with lighting and attention. A subtle shift in the lighting, and the grain and figure pop out.

And this, to me, is a really compelling approach to design. The initial effect, or the ‘approach’ is heavily skewed toward form, but closer inspection brings the subtleties to light – and in some cases, those subtleties can be quite striking.

My friend Konrad Sauer recently posted another example of this on his excellent blog. The plane below is his beautiful K7 smoother design, filled in this case with Bois de Rose (madagascar rosewood). Here’s the ‘approach’ shot:

The owner of this plane referred to it as ‘greasy black’ in color – an excellent description, for my money – and one that, again, really emphasizes the details of the form in this case – notice how quickly the eye moves to the beautiful chamfer detail running between sidewalls and front bun.

Again, however, with a change in the light or perspective the details of the wood start to come to the fore:

And before anyone comments – yes: Konrad does own all the best wood on the planet. And no – there’s no jealousy on my part. not a shred. Not a shredded, torn, obliterated, smashed up tiny little bit of it. Jealousy, that is.


I’m not sure what it is exactly about these sorts of examples that appeals so much to me. I do know that ‘subtle’ is not a term that is often used to describe my personality (blunt is the second most often-used adjective for describing that). I suppose it may be that my appreciation for subtler designs is a way of compensating for that somehow, but since I let my subscription to Armchair Psychoanalysis Digest lapse, that’s just a wild guess.

But then, what do I know? I gave up a plush, comfy life of the mind at a desk and computer to chop, scrape, hammer, and sharpen bits of metal and wood. Who in their right mind would take such a menial job over a highly skilled professional life?

So whatever you do, dear reader — don’t trust me. Never do that.

Until next time…

Form, color, pattern – Part I

The enemy of accomplishment is interference. Fortunately, though, the dunces of the world are too busy aiming their jackassery at the heoric and revered to bother with the merely adequate.

You wanna get stuff done? Better to be underestimated. Get off the parade float, dress sloppy, and develop a stutter; drool a bit too much. Then you got room to MOVE, boyo.

– Sulkin’ Stevie Daedalus

Greetings dear reader. It has been a while, I know…

I would like to begin this post by regaling you with a fascinating tale of mischief and woe – in this way excusing my long season of absence.

But that would have required preparation, so here’s another picture instead:

Moving right along…

a – the pretense

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been adding some photo galleries to my website (mitres, bench planes.) In the process, I’ve been thinking a lot about the range of aesthetics that using wood alows for. The mitre planes in particular can be completely transformed by different choices for infill materials…

Now, lord knows I love me some wood. All of it. More than anything else, I love its absolutely astounding variety.

And working with woods is a fascination to me – where the fine arts and industrial design are completely open-ended expressions of the artist or designers’ “vision”, any work involving wood is necessarily a collaboration between the craftsman and nature. This is one of the most appealing thing about woodworking, to me – whether it’s furniture or toolmaking.

I’ve pulled some photos for the blog because I thought it might be worth talking a bit about some of the choices, and the differences they can make. Today, I’d like to look at two ends of the spectrum I think of as form and pattern.


First up is the quintessential ‘form’ choice: boxwood. Boxwood is prized because it takes detail extraordinarily well. It’s incredibly closed-grained, has a very consistent surface texture, and the color develops an amazing richness over time. Carvers, instrument makers, and toolmakers have always sought it out because of these qualities, and because it’s incredibly cooperative to work with. It cuts and planes easily, it’s almost immune to tearout and chipping short grain. The best boxwood is less like a wood than a pastry.

What boxwood generally is NOT, however, is a graphically interesting wood. It’s rarely figured, and the grain patterns tend to be fairly mundane.

All of this makes boxwood a perfect material when one wants to emphasize form. The proportion, shaping, and execution of detail is front and center. The wood brings a tremendous coloration and beauty to the equation, but the emphasis is all on the forms.

In this example, the client also asked to have the infills pinned in place, eliminating the securing bolts at the front and rear from the design and streamlining it even further. This plane is very steeply skewed to emphasize the form of the tool. I love this plane.

African blackwood, which ends up in a lot of planes I make, falls into this category as well – very heavy on form, though with a much more modern sensibility. I also love this plane.

II – Pattern

Now, as a counterpoint – here’s a recent plane in brazilian rosewood.

This is about as far on the other side of the spectrum as one can get. The grain and coloration of this material is the only thing grabbing the eye initially – this is one of the most visually striking pieces of wood I’ve ever put in a plane. The client in this case asked to leave a bit of sapwood in place as well, making the dynamic range of the wood even greater.

This plane also has some custom filing done at the rear – where the sidewalls drop to meet the top of the bed, the ogee I normally use has been replaced with a much more aggressive pitch and profile.

Normally, a detail like this would be a significant draw on the eye – perhaps even to the point of distraction – but in this case, where the wood is such a dominant feature, it’s relegated to its proper place as a subtler detail. In the boxwood plane at the top, a detail like this would probably ruin the plane – but in this plane it works extremely well – at least to my eye. I love this plane.

Finally, another example of heavily dynamic wood – this one in Desert Ironwood.

Do I love this plane, you ask? Like a writer loves scotch, dear reader. Like a dog loves a scratch, and Dr. Seuss loves a rhyme. Indeed, indeed…

b – The lead-in

Now, of course there are a myriad of options within the spectrum of these planes. But I think there is also something of a ‘third way’ here as well – one that appeals immensely to my delicate little psychoses. But this post has already gotten longer than my day allows for, so that will have to wait a few days until I can sneak a few minutes back in the loving arms of my computer.

Now, though, it’s back to the drudgery of cramming bits of timber into metal shells – a hard life, but someone’s got to do it.


Music from A DIfferent Kitchen

Hey! Suit! Put down the the blackberry, leave the platinum card in your pants, and for god’s sake wash off that damn body spray – you’re makin me squint. This ain’t no cocktail party, son. This place is diffrent

- Dem Brickton Chowles.

This weekend, I’m dragging my travel bench and spy case down to Popular Woodworking Magazine in Cincinnati for a Lie-Nielsen hand-tool event. If you’re within 4 states, you should be there too.

Need some incentive? Well, in addition to the Lie-Nielsen crew, the Pop Wood staff, and your humble narrator – both Dave Jeske of Blue Spruce Toolworks and Czeck Edge’s Bob Zajicek are setting up some of the nicest handtools available today. Plus, everyone’s favorite aesthetic anarchist, temporal anomaly, and all-around woodworking euphemism Chris Schwarz is bringing Lost Art Press out in public, and apparently selling off more of his personal tools. Come early if you want some – that’s a recipe for a WHO concert in my book.

Then there’s the furniture. Chuck Bender of the Acanthus Workshop and NOBSWW will be there – check out Chuck’s portfolio (the online version is about 5% of what’s in his hard-copy) if you want to be blinded by overexposure to awesome. Plus – if we’re lucky, the Ohio River Valley chapter of SAPFM will be in attendance as well. I’ve got to say, the folks from this group who showed up last year were awe-inspiring.

And if all that weren’t enough, everyone’s favorite woodworking pirate Deneb Puchalski will be demonstrating just about anything anyone could want to with handtools. Don’t forget to ask him what he’s got in his custom fanny pack (it’s just so darn convenient!)

In all seriousness, these shows are an amazing resource for the handtool community, and there’s nothing like a hard sell anywhere in sight. Buy stuff, don’t buy stuff; hang out for an hour or all weekend. Me? I’m bringing my wallet just in case – but it’s totally optional. The focus is on education and community.

These events are just one of the reasons that Lie-Nielsen gets nothing but my unbridled admiration. I think this is one of the smartest-run, and (yeah – I’ll say it) honorable companies I’ve ever seen. No matter how you slice it, Thomas Lie-Nielsen obviously cares about this stuff – and he’s found a way to blow his marketing dollars that makes sense for his company AND is a remarkable service to the handtool community as a whole.

As a jaded, hyper-cynical alumni of the marketing world, I have to say that this sort of approach
is rare. Really rare.

Still skeptical about a ‘business’ caring? Consider this: Lie-Nielsen keeps inviting me and all these other small companies – all their competitors, in other words – to ride along on their coattails at these shows all over the country. We’re treated like ‘family’ and they thank us for coming and taking advantage of their hospitality. In return, they ask for: you guessed it. Nothing.

So next time someone tells you it’s not possible to make good products in the US anymore, and that you can’t run a profitable business with solid ethics and a sense of community – bring ‘em to one of these events. Cause the heyday of america is alive and well, and spends its days in Warren, Maine. And this weekend, it’s coming to Cincinnati.

See you there.

The Screw-Drawn Wedge (or: Content AT LAST!)

DTW M2 mitre plane

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been working up a project that’s been on the ‘to do’ list for well over a year now: prototyping an M2 mitre . The plane itself- shown above – is a new size designed around a 1-1/4″ blade, placing it dead-center between the two sizes I’ve offered to date. Overall I’m quite pleased with the size, which is an excellent all-round compromise for small-scale work.

The other development I incorporated in the plane, which is the real subject of this post, is a new (to me) blade holding mechanism. The technique, which I’m referring to as a screw-drawn wedge, employs a traditional wooden wedge and metal bridge, but with the addition of a screw through the bridge to aid in securing the wedge. This is not the most common method for securing a blade, but it is a tried-and-true technique that I believe was first used by Norris in some of its thumb planes, chariots, and shoulder planes.

One thing that I think worth noting is that in this mechanism, the screw has a very different function than the screw in a lever cap does. Where the lever cap screw is the primary means of forcing down-pressure to secure the blade to bed, in the screw-drawn wedge it is still the wooden wedge that provides this primary force. The screw’s role here, at least as I implement it, is actually to locate and secure the wedge in its position. In order to facilitate this, the screw is terminated with a cone, which in turn sits in a precisely mated bronze seating point inset in the wedge. When placing the seating point, it is actually offset by a small amount (on the order of .030″, or 1/32 of an inch) such that as the screw is tightened, the taper of the screw draws the wedge further down to ensure the wedge is set quite securely. In this regard, the screw’s function is somewhat analogous to a drawbored mortise and tenon joint.

detail of the M2 screw and wedge seating point

While it may at first seem that the rationale here is increase the holding power compared to a conventional wedge, that’s really not the case – the simple wedge has been adequately holding blades on its own for centuries just fine, thank you. The screw in this system is effectively performing the same function as the final tap of the wedge with a mallet: setting the wedge.

So what are the advantages? Well, as with most things it’s a bit of a tradeoff. As I’ve said, it’s not as though the traditional wedge and bridge design needed any ‘fixing’, and in terms of actually securing the blade in place the two methods work more or less equally well. To my mind, the primary rationale for using the screw-drawn wedge is that it allows the user to adjust the blade without needing to reset the wedge. The tradeoff part is that once the plane is built, the wedge tension cannot be properly adjusted on the screw-drawn wedge by any means other than altering blade thickness – and in this application, a thickness difference of 1 or 2 thousandths of an inch is quite significant. In practice, this ‘disadvantage’ has much more to do with plane-making than plane-using, but it does make replacing blades a trickier proposition in the long term.

So do I have a feeling as to which system is ‘better’? Well, personally I probably prefer the aesthetics of the traditional design just a bit – and since I’m quite used to using a mallet for all the adjustments and setting needed, the screw isn’t much of an advantage for me. Having said that, though, I do think that for many users the screw-drawn schema will be more convenient in both the short and long term. Over the next few months of using this plane and my others I’m sure I’ll develop some more opinions about it, but for now that’s about it.

Finally, just to be clear here — there is absolutely nothing unique or new in this system. As I’ve said, I believe the technique originated with Norris long before my great-grandparents were born. Additionally, several modern makers have been using the technique for years: Karl Holtey, Konrad Sauer, and Wayne Anderson have all been making planes with it for years. However, I do think that there’s relatively little information about how it actually functions out there, and since it is not necessarily intuitive I thought it worth a blog entry.

Besides – it’s the first actual planemaking content I’ve had in six months now. Man oh man it’s nice to have a shop again.

Sorry Ma – forgot to take out the trash (requisite shop tour)

Greetings gentle readers,

So today, exactly two months and one week since starting the work on the new shop, is THE DAY. I’ve managed to finally get the shop into a usable enough state that I’m starting work on planes again. And today is day one. And thus far, it’s been instructive.

But first, let me back up just a bit…

First, thanks to all those who have reminded me that it’s been so long since my last blog post. Without your encouragement, my inbox would contain nothing but miracle enlargement offers and notifications of my numerous lottery winnings and enormous financial transactions from the birthplace of Homo Sapiens. (more on that once my Ivorian counsel has reviewed my bank statements).

Now, a quick update on the status of the new DAED Toolworks lab. Quite a few people have asked for photos, and since it seems there are some poor souls who care about such things here’s a quickie tour and breakdown>

One of the things about designing a shop like this from scratch is that it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the tyranny of choice. There are so many possibilities it’s easy to get stalled out trying to figure out the ‘best’ way to organize. In the end, I decided that the chances I was going to get everything right on the first try were nil. I’m quite sure there will be some significant rearranging within a year. That’s just the way shops develop over time.

So to that end, I decided on a couple of simple organizing principles. First, separate hand and machine work areas, and also metalwork from woodwork The divisions get somewhat grey, but generally speaking this gives me a fairly straightforward structure of four zones to start from.

The other major principle was, whenever feasible, to opt for moveable equipment rather than dedicated locations. This idea is really not much help with metalworking machinery, which tends to be quite heavy and require from extreme stability; but almost all of my woodworking machines are mobile. Thus, the front half of the machine room is extremely open, with a large central space and plenty of room to move machines around for different tasks.

Here’s some overview shots of the machine side:

The machine side is about 60% of the floor space, but the handtool side of things is definitely where ‘home’ is. I installed hardwood floors on this side, and a partial wall to separate the machine tool area from the woodworking bench. I believe the 8 feet will be sufficient to keep the grinding dust segregated (this was an ongoing battle in my old shop) but if it proves to be not enough I’ll extend the closure as required.

Adjacent to the wall is the woodwork bench and handtools.

Toward the front of the shop from there is the filing/peining bench:

Behind the false wall is the basement staircase. I still need railings on the upstairs staircase, but that’s coming soon.

And for now, that’s the functional part of the shop. For the time being I’m quite pleased with things – it’s compact without being stifling, and I still have several open areas available to me. Of course, I also have a bit of residual space to work with:

I have some plans for both floors, but they’ll have to wait a bit for development. Hopefully in the spring I’ll get the upstairs in shape for use.

So that’s it. Up next, I’ll cover how I detail my car, the products I use to coif my hair, and the list of criteria I use for selecting a proctologist.

‘Til then, there’s always Sid (or is it a Sheen?):

Road to Ruin

I’m happy to announce that as of November 13, DAED Toolworks is now based in beautiful Greenfield, Indiana – just fifteen minutes and a million miles away from the hustle of downtown Indianapolis.

It wasn’t the easiest move in recorded history – we’ve been working on this transition for two solid years now – but the new location makes it all worthwhile. The photo at the top of this entry is the new DAED toolworks LAB – a 3-story brick volcano of toolmaking magma (so to speak). It is an unqualified dream come true for me, not least of which because it’s a tenfold increase in floorspace (literally) from the one-car garage I’ve been compressed into until now.

There’s a lot to do to get the new shop space set up. The building is perfect, and the setting is ideal – but over the next couple of weeks it’s having electrical service brought in, and a furnace installed. I’m installing some nice flooring, insulating and finishing the upstairs, and doing some trim work to make it as pleasant inside as out. After that, it’s going to be a busy season organizing storage, machinery, and bench space. I’m hoping to be up and making planes again sometime in mid to late December.

Oh – I almost forgot: the shop also included a lovely house for my wife and kids (and pets). This is a big plus, as otherwise I probably would have had to give up crucial shop space for things like beds for the kids, and a hotplate and bucket or two of water. That would have been something of a bummer.

More to come, but for now here’s what the shop looks like in the summer months.

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.

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