As woodworkers, it is said that we now have more access to high-quality hand tools than we’ve had in nearly a century. With the advent of the internet, we now have something that was at one time unheard of: access to small makers who once dealt only regionally. High Quality full line makers include Veritas, Lie Nielsen, and Stanley to a lesser extent. Of course there are dozens of others: Clifton, Emmerich, Gramercy, and a growing list of smaller, “Boutique” makers. It is the smaller makers I would like to discuss, briefly.
For fear of angering somebody, I won’t list any of the smaller makers by name because in most cases the name of the company is also the name of the maker. While I don’t really own any tools from the small makers, I’m going to take it on good faith that they are all of high-quality. Nearly every time I’ve seen a review of one of the boutique tools it has been glowing. They generally cost more than the larger manufacturers tools, but they also promise to have been personally made and tuned by the company owner, with the added costs being considered “worth it”. Once again, I will not dispute that. My question doesn’t concern the boutique tools quality or value, but its practicality. Broadly speaking, is it to the greater benefit of woodworking as a hobby to purchase from the small maker, or the larger company?
In North America, a woodworking hobbyist can pick up the Lie Nielsen and Veritas tool catalogs and in a matter of a few weeks fill their entire tool kits from those two lines (that is if you are interested in hand tools and you have the money). The same can be said of the other makers I listed for the most part. When purchasing from a smaller maker, orders can take anywhere from 6 weeks to more than a year to fill, at least according to the inquiries I have made. I have no problem with lead times, and I understand the nature of a small manufacturer filling custom orders, in fact I understand that end of the business better probably than the average person. My point being, does manufacturing ability trump better quality?
Leaving money out of the equation, because a high quality hand tool from a large manufacturer is at times no less costly than purchasing from the small maker, is the success of the larger tool maker more important than the smaller maker in keeping the hobby of woodworking viable? I don’t know the answer, which is why I am asking. As hobbyists, we are often asked to support the smaller makers whenever possible; I can understand that philosophy. However, the potential problem is that we may not be able to depend on the smaller makers to fill our kits. The odd part about the situation is the more successful the smaller maker becomes, the less efficient his production will become. So, can high level woodworking tool production survive without larger manufacturers? Is the company/corporation more important than the individual in this instance?
Pretty interesting stuff.
Originally posted on GREG MERRITT - BY MY OWN HANDS:
If you have an interest in Japanese joinery or joinery in general, then I would like to point you to an article series by John Bullar. Mr. Bullar is writing this article series about Japanese joinery for:
Mr. Bullar begins the series with a look at Japanese tools as well as pointing out that a person can execute these joints with traditional western tools.
Let me say this, there is nothing magical about Japanese tools. They are just tools and are solely dependent upon the skill of the user. Now I’ll admit that their exotic nature is what first drew me to them. The quality of the steel and ergonomics is what really hooked me. The Japanese chisels and saws I absolutely enjoy using. The kanna…
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There is a common misconception that words, whether spoken or written, are meaningless, and that we should just ignore the insensitive, rude, or stupid comment and chalk it up to “trolling”. Well, I write a publicly open internet blog mostly concerning woodworking, including my projects, and my opinions on the topic. This entire blog is “word based”, as are most blogs. As far as I am concerned, words are pretty important. Words have forged nations, toppled empires, and started wars. Words have recorded world history. Words have moved people to great deeds, and brought ruin to others. Nearly every person on the planet communicates with words, both spoken and written, so yeah, I don’t think words are meaningless by any stretch.
There may be another misconception that I am paid or sponsored to write this blog. For the record, I am not. I receive absolutely nothing in terms of money, goods, or services. I am not a professional writer and I am not a professional woodworker, not even close on both counts. I do not sell anything here. I have done my best to support woodworking products such as books, videos, tools, and magazines that I have enjoyed and thought that others may enjoy. I have done my best to write honest reviews of those things (when I happen to write a review). Once again, I receive no compensation for those reviews, not in the least. In fact, I would go as far as to say that there are reviews that I have written, even though they were favorable, that the individual or company who distributes the product may not care for all that much. To that I say: If that is the case, please feel free to contact me and I will gladly remove the post with no hard feelings whatsoever. I’m not here to generate hard feelings. That being said, sometimes I do generate hard feelings, and sometimes I have them myself.
I’ll say this again because it is worth repeating: I have NEVER gone on another person’s blog or forum, in particular with regards to woodworking, and deliberately insulted somebody in the comment section. I have left comments, and almost always those comments were very innocuous, that were responded to by others in a sometimes not so friendly way. When that happens, and I see it, I will and have responded. Because the internet is filled with “Jack Wagons” as Greg Merritt so eloquently put it, a comment regarding something as simple as a hand plane you happen to like can easily turn into a name-calling, insult fest. If you are one of those people who think that woodworking blogs and forums are immune to that behavior you are woefully misinformed.
For my own part, if I feel the need to say something that may be considered “controversial” I do it on my own blog. The way I see it, another person’s blog is not the place to rant; there may be people who happen to read that blog who don’t particularly want to read somebody else’s ramblings. That is why I do it here, because there is no chance that somebody will accidentally read something they do not want to read. Otherwise, I freely admit that on my own blog I may say some things that other people don’t care for, or I may have an opinion that is not popular. Because I read a fair amount of blogs on woodworking and other topics, I sometimes read things that I don’t agree with. If I read something that is open to debate that I happen to disagree with, there are times I will comment. Once again, I do my very best to keep my comment civil and fair. If I read something that I completely disagree with, to the point that I may even become angry with it, I do the smart thing and leave no comment at all. There are some blog writers out there who want to generate controversy and a heated discussion on the comment board. They generally aren’t the problem, it’s the other commenters who are. So, rather than get into what I know will be a long, drawn out war of words, I avoid it completely.
The other day, I wrote a post about an exchange I had with a commenter on Popular Woodworking Magazine’s web page. There are people who didn’t agree with my handling of the situation, which is fine. I handled it in what I felt was an appropriate manner. Maybe the problem wasn’t with how the situation was handled, but the fact that I discussed it on the blog. Once again, I have no problem with that. But I do have a problem with explaining myself. As I said to a commenter the other day, there are things I write on this blog that I am serious about, and others that I am not. I leave it up to the people who read the blog to figure out the difference. That may confuse some people, and rightly so, but “it is what it is” as the cliché goes. A while back I wrote a post about the “Paul Sellers Controversy”, where he made a statement concerning woodworkers who use power tools. Was I really “outraged” at Paul Sellers? The answer is: “no, not even the tiniest atom sized bit of outrage”. But I will tell you what did bother me; afterwards, when the woodworking forums turned into an insult-filled, name-calling festival among those who both agreed and disagreed with Sellers. I took a lot of flak for that post, not only in the comment section, but much more so in emails. I spent far too much time explaining the point I was trying to make: I had nothing against Sellers one way or the other. At the time, I was only vaguely aware of him, and I read his comments second hand on another forum. I had a huge problem in that every “Jack Wagon” who read Seller’s post used it as an excuse to be a “Jack Wagon”.
We all have a right to an opinion, and he has a right to say what he likes on his on forum, just as I have the same rights on mine. I like to say that any opinion should at least be an informed opinion, but sometimes that isn’t the case. Either way, had myself or Sellers charged a fee to read our respective blogs because they contained a specific content that was expected with each entry, and then decided to change the format, then complaints would be warranted. But that is not the case with my blog, Sellers blog, or many, many others. However, it’s one thing to say on your blog or forum that you don’t like cheaply made tools or furniture; it’s another thing to tell people not to buy them, and it goes even farther when you make statements such as “The people who buy cheap tools and furniture are ruining woodworking!”. Your typical “Jack Wagon” who reads statements such as that suddenly has a whole lot of ammo to fire around the nasty comments and more importantly, they feel that their nasty comments have been validated.
So when it comes down to it, if you think I’m the “bad guy”, I don’t care. I’m finished with explaining myself or my style of writing. If you get it, and get what I am trying to say, I’m happy to interact with you even if you may not always agree. If you don’t get it, I can’t help you and I’m done trying. If that makes you angry then tough shit. I know who the “bad guys” are, and there are times I’ve pointed them out subtly and not so subtly. I’m not trying to sway anybody’s opinion one way or the other. I’m just putting my opinion out there. I am not leading the horse to water and asking it to drink; that is not why I’m here. I don’t want a flock; I want to interact with people who can think for themselves. Hopefully, there are still a few of you left out there.
Most woodworkers who have seen the Studley Tool Cabinet, whether in person, on television, or in photos will acknowledge that it is a masterpiece of cabinet construction. Not only is the form amazing (it holds hundreds of tools perfectly in an unbelievably small footprint), but the attention to detail is staggering. The chest is adorned with intricate mouldings and ornate inlay work that elevates it from an extremely well made tool cabinet to a work of art. This is no mere tool cabinet, nor is it just a very nice example of high end woodworking. It goes beyond those things because it is a truly personal glimpse into the mind and talents of a highly talented craftsman. It was not built to be copied, or duplicated; but to hold a very specific set of tools, the implements of a woodworker widely considered a genius. Likely constructed as a labor of love, the Studley Tool Cabinet has become an icon in the world of woodworking, serving as an example of high-level cabinet making, art, and a historical artifact.
Admittedly, I know very little of the history of the Studley Tool Cabinet. I know that it was constructed well over one hundred years ago (obviously by Henry O Studley), and when he died it was left to a member of his family. Maybe thirty years ago it was sold at auction to a private buyer. I was first introduced to the cabinet on an episode of the New Yankee Workshop probably more than twenty years ago. At that time, I had never woodworked, I did not own any woodworking tools (unless you want to count a combination square and a block plane etc.), and I hadn’t planned on taking up woodworking as a hobby. But just because I knew little of woodworking at the time, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t immediately recognize the Studley Tool Cabinet as a masterpiece. I probably didn’t realize just how unique this creation actually was, but even my then untrained and inexperienced eye knew a work of art when it saw one.
Last week I broke one of my cardinal rules, and commented on a “professional” woodworking blog. My comment was pretty innocuous and uncontroversial. On the Popular Woodworking web page Megan Fitzpatrick wrote a blog article about the upcoming showing of the Studley Tool Cabinet next month in Amana Iowa. This is quite possibly the last time in my lifetime, or anybody’s lifetime, that this cabinet will be displayed in public again. My own comment, paraphrased, was simply that I wish this cabinet was not “owned” by one person privately, but rather part of the collection of a museum so that all would have the chance to see this one-of-a-kind masterpiece of woodworking in person. Sure as the sun will rise, a douchebag I’ve never seen before on the PW page chimed in with a comment which was supposed to be oh so witty accusing me of wanting to confiscate the tool cabinet and how would I like it if somebody wanted my stuff and what “ownership” really means, etc. I’m paraphrasing his words but that is the gist of it. I replied to his comment, told him what I thought of him, and that was the end of it.
What bothered me wasn’t the comment, writing a blog I’ve dealt with many that were much worse, but the fact that the commenter was more than likely one of..somebody’s..fan boys.
A legitimate question to ask would be “How do I know that?” Well, I don’t for sure, but I have a strong hunch. Firstly, while I’m not exactly positive, I believe that..somebody..has something to do with the showing of the Studley Tool Chest next month. Secondly, the commenter was doing his best..somebody..imitation with his comment. Here again, I have nothing at all against..somebody, I just happen to think that some of his fans are complete assholes. They are the people that keep me going to the gym and working the heavybag, just for the off-chance that I have a run-in with one of them. Many are extreme conservatives disguising themselves as extreme liberals, which makes some sense considering that once you get to the extreme end of any ideology you have only arrived at the same nut house by taking different roads. To clarify, I am not trying to get political, because I am as politically moderate as it gets. When I say “liberal/conservative” I’m not necessarily speaking of politics, but of a mindset.
As far as the ownership of the Studley Tool Cabinet is concerned, it is really none of my business who paid the money for it. I will say this, there are certain creations that I believe should not be owned by any one person, and this tool cabinet happens to be one of them. Why? Only because this is a singularly unique piece of woodworking history, and perhaps the most famous “toolbox” ever made. This isn’t an end table, or chest of drawers, or Highboy that happened to be owned by a famous person. In those cases, it is not the object that bares the relevance or importance, but the owner who made them “important”. In the case of the Studley Tool Chest, it is the creation itself that is so significant, with all due respect to Henry O Studley. A table or an overcoat that may have been owned by a person such as George Washington certainly has historical value and importance, but those objects may have been very common items in their day that many people owned. This tool cabinet is perhaps the most unique piece of “furniture” constructed in well over a century, or maybe much longer. In my opinion, it is to woodworking what the Mona Lisa is to art, or what the Sphinx is to Egypt: a true one-of-a-kind work of art and irreplaceable piece of history. That is why I wish that it was part of a museum collection and not just owned privately. Of course there is nothing that can, will, or should be done about that fact; I just wish it wasn’t the case.
And as far as the current owner, I have absolutely nothing against him or her. Whomever this person happens to be, it seems pretty clear that he or she respects the cabinet and its significance both historically and to woodworking. At the very least there is no worry that it will be stripped of its tools and thrown in a trash bin. It seems that it will be well taken care of for the foreseeable future, and I suppose that is all anyone could ask. But pretty soon it will disappear from the public eye, maybe forever. I feel no better about that than I would if a collector entered the Louvre, offered them an obscene amount of money, and purchased the Mona Lisa for their own personal collection never to be seen again. Of course that would be absolutely none of my business, nevertheless it would be a sad day for anybody who happens to like art. To me, the last public viewing of the Studley Tool Cabinet happens to be a sad day for woodworking. Maybe I’m overvaluing the cabinet, maybe I’m just being melodramatic, but that is how I feel about it, and I’m certainly not going to let a witless douchebag tell me different.
Sunday, April 12th was the day I almost quit woodworking. There was nothing special about the day, aside from the lovely spring weather. In fact, the entire weekend was nice. I spent Saturday morning at Valley Forge Park working on one of the cabins as a volunteer. I got to install some true 18th century hinge hardware, and I got to use woodworking tools. We did a lot of nice work and it was an enjoyable morning. Sunday started out with a lot of promise. It was warm, sunny, and a perfect day for woodworking. But that all changed when I stepped into my garage.
For the past month or so I’ve been doing my best to organize my garage, prepare my woodworking tools, and otherwise do my best to turn the back of my garage into something of a real woodworking shop. My first attempts were successful. I reorganized my hardware, got rid of a lot of unnecessary clutter, and slowly but surely got my tools prepped for building furniture again. The next step I had planned was making a wall rack for hanging chisels, files, rasps, and marking tools. Currently, all of those things are in my tool chest. My tool chest has found a home under the right side of my bench and it is frankly a pain in the ass to keep bending over to pick things out of it. I felt a wall mounted rack would be an easy solution and the best way to keep everything safely out of the way but also within arms reach. I still had some scrap Walnut left over so that is what I used. And it pretty much went down hill from there.
Rather than break out the table saw I decided to do everything by hand. I won’t bore anybody with the details. I sawed, I planed, I chiseled, and I planed again. Let me just say before I continue that I generally don’t enjoy making “shop projects”. To me they are at best a necessary evil, at worst, a complete waste of time and energy. To continue, the next step was to lay out the holes for the tools. I marked the board and laid out a symmetrical pattern of 7/8″ holes roughly an inch and a half on center. After, I broke out the drill press to bore out the holes. Let me just say that boring out twenty or so holes using a drill press may have been one of the least satisfying experiences of my life, and this is coming from somebody who went through Basic Training. The entire time I was working I continually asked myself: “Why the F*** am I doing this? It’s nice out, and this completely sucks.” It then came to the question: “Why am I woodworking? Because right now I’m not enjoying it even a little.”
One hour and one big mess later the holes were bored out. Then came the even worse task of sawing out the fronts of the holes. After thirty minutes and even more mess that was finished. To add insult to injury, around the second cut in it occurred to me that my carcass saw needed to be sharpened, but I wasn’t about to do it then, so I instead used an old backsaw that was given to me by a friend of my wife. At that point I had had enough. The holes still needed to be cleaned up and rasped, the rack still needed to be smoothed and sanded, and the cleats still needed to be shaped. I didn’t do any of those things. I cleaned up, went and got myself cleaned up, and did my best to enjoy the rest of the afternoon.
I will probably finish this project on Saturday afternoon, as my wife and daughter have somewhere to be. Not that I want to, but because I’ve already invested several hours into it I need to see it through. As this was all going on and I was completing the mind-numbing task I couldn’t help but to wonder who in their right mind would enjoy making a rack for chisels. But many woodworkers must because I’ve seen dozens of projects such as this in every woodworking magazine I’ve ever read. It then dawned on me that maybe I’m not cut out for woodworking after all. In any event I did the correct thing and walked away from it before It drove me from partially to completely insane. Maybe when it’s finished I will feel a little better about it. But right now I am four days removed and I still feel no enthusiasm. It will pass, I’m sure, but the next time I need a tool rack I’m going to buy it if I can, and the next tool box I make will be one that hangs on my wall.
I live in a peculiar section of Southeast Pennsylvania. Roughly, I live around 35 miles outside of the city of Philadelphia, where I grew up. The area I live in now is peculiar in the sense that if you drive just a few miles north you will be in the heart of suburbia, with tree-lined housing developments and shopping centers. If you happen to drive a few miles south you are in the “country”, with rolling fields, farmland, and stone houses built in the 19th century. My wife’s cousin happens to live in that area, it is an area I’ve wanted to live in for much of my adult life. Yesterday we spent Easter there, and on the way home I looked with envy on some of those houses, not so much because of the houses themselves, but because most of those houses had a nice sized piece of property that happened to have a barn or workshop. I’ve wanted that barn for a long time, long before I ever woodworked, or even thought of woodworking. It was an idea etched in my mind that is still there to this day.
As we were making the short drive home I found myself a little saddened because I knew that I was already past the point in my life where I would eventually move to my “dream house” with the barn/workshop. Call it a mid-life crisis if you will, but it is very real, and it is not a good feeling.
I haven’t woodworked much lately, not how I would like to at least. The other day I glued up the blocks for the plane I am currently making. I did a sloppy, rushed job, far too sloppy and rushed for somebody at my level. Tonight after work I went straight into my garage to start cleaning up the plane. I wasn’t in there for ten minutes when both my wife and daughter were calling me. I quickly cleaned up the mess and went to see what they wanted me for, and that was the extent of my woodworking. Ten minutes was all I got; ten minutes to last a week, or maybe a month.
I wanted to woodwork tonight; I wanted to woodwork over the weekend. Even in my cramped little garage that is too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer; I wanted to woodwork and I couldn’t. It seems like I can’t woodwork anymore for a lot of reasons. My time is no longer my own, even a brief ten minutes after eleven hours of work has become a lot to ask.
Of course I don’t need to woodwork to survive. I don’t make my living from building furniture; I’m just a hobbyist. In fact, unless you purchase only high-end custom furniture, it makes much more financial sense to buy furniture rather than make it. So while I don’t need to woodwork, I do want to woodwork because it makes me happy. And while I don’t need that idyllic barn/workshop, I want it if for no other reason than to validate 25 years of hard work.
On the nicest day we’ve had in my area in almost 8 months I wanted to open my garage door, woodwork for a little while, and enjoy the warm evening breezes of early spring. It didn’t happen. Like every morning, every afternoon, and every weekend, I was rushed. Rushed by my job, rushed by my family, and rushed by life itself. Tonight I didn’t want to be rushed for just a while. I was, and I’m not too happy about it.