Like many new woodworkers who started within the past ten years, I began woodworking using hand tools. My choice of implements had a lot less to do with tradition and a lot more to do with practicality. Don’t misunderstand me, I enjoy the tradition of hand tools and what it stands for, but as many of you heard me say many times before, my garage is just far too small to house a power tool woodworking shop.
Of course I have a table saw and a router, and with a few jigs you can make a lot of things out of wood with just those two tools. But because I don’t really care for routers all that much, the table saw is the only power tool that I use on a regular basis while woodworking. To me, a power-tool-centric woodworking shop needs to have the aforementioned router and table saw, as well as a jointer table, and oscillating sanding station of some type, and most importantly: a band saw. Of course there are other tools I could mention, but those to me are among the most important.
As I said before, I barely have enough room in my garage for what I have now, let alone two or three more stand alone machines; so hand tools are what I work with. Of course I like working with hand tools, and I have my favorites, one of those being the moving fillister plane. Of all the hand planes out there, and there are a plethora of them, the moving fillister for some reason to me looks the most like a woodworking tool (the coffin smoother is a close second). However, my favorite plane also caused me to rethink a few things, and it prompted me to write this post.
Today was a rare day for me, as I actually had a few hours to myself this morning to use at my leisure, so I decided to get in a little woodworking. Because I am not starting a new furniture project, I planned on finally finishing my infamous little chisel rack, as well as doing what most hand tool users do during downtime and perform a little PM on a my fillister plane.
Since I’ve had this plane I spent a lot of time with it. The plane has been disassembled, cleaned, flattened, and tuned many times. For its age it is in fantastic shape except in the most important place, the iron. When I received the plane the iron was looking pretty rough, as in whomever owned the plane before me didn’t know a thing about sharpening. And though I managed to get an edge on the iron, I couldn’t get it to hold one. So I did something that I do not like doing and used a power grinder to reshape the bevel.
I took my time, reground the bevel, and then went to the sharpening stones to finish the job. Once I got an edge that looked satisfactory, I did a few test fillisters, cleaned and waxed the plane, and called it finished. The iron held up okay, though I will need to hone it again before I put it to use. All in all it took me around an hour, which does not include flattening my water stones after I used them. After that was over I turned my attention to the chisel rack I had made a few weeks ago. The only thing needed to be done on that front was attaching the cleats, coating the rack with linseed oil, and installing it over the bench. I can’t say that rack represents my best work, but it puts my chisels and other hand tools right at eye-level and arms reach where I want them to be.
Once the rack was installed I got the garage cleaned up, reality set in, and I had places to go and things to do. I spent a shade over two hours woodworking, if what I did today can be considered woodworking. It occurred to me that more than half of the time I spent woodworking was tool maintenance. By its very nature hand tool work requires maintenance of tools, and that can be a real problem for someone like me considering that my current situation will allow me only a few hours per week to spend on woodworking. In other words, days like today will be the norm around here for the foreseeable future. Had I my theoretical small power tool shop in place I could have easily started a new project and made a decent amount of progress in just a few hours. Hand tools are unforgiving in that aspect, because they take time to properly maintain. So I’m wondering if a woodworker like myself, with a very limited timeframe to woodwork, would be better served by switching to power tools? I know that is easier said than done, as I’ve mentioned many times, my garage layout is not power tool friendly.
On the other hand, what else am I doing? At this pace I won’t be building any real furniture any time soon. Maybe a good idea would be to figure out a way to incorporate some power tools into my garage. The bottom line is that I want to make furniture, I miss making furniture, and what I’m doing now isn’t working. And if what I’m doing isn’t working, it’s getting near past the time to try something else.
After several years of following the world of woodworking through the internet, I’ve noticed that a fair number of woodworkers were/are musicians. I’ve always equated woodworking and music because I was once a musician myself, and it is my belief that the disciplines needed to excel at both fields are similar. Lately, I’ve discovered something similar about my feelings towards both woodworking and music that has actually bothered me.
Roughly 20 years ago I was in a band that would play usually every weekend, an average of 4-6 gigs per month. The anticipation and excitement of setting up the stage with the band equipment, knowing that for the next 4 hours we would be playing music for hundreds of people, was generally offset by the less exciting proposition of breaking all of that equipment down at 4 a.m. with the knowledge that I would be lucky to get 3 hours of sleep. It was a lot of practice and hard work for what was essentially a few fleeting moments of joy. Even worse, music began to feel empty to me.
Most musicians who rise to the level of playing professionally or semi-professionally were born with an ear for music. That could range anywhere from the gift of ‘perfect pitch’ to the basic ability to recognize intervals. Either way, those abilities need to be developed no matter what level of ability you were given at birth. I studied music deeply for many years, to the point where my theoretical knowledge eclipsed my ability to play. I began to listen to music in parts rather than a whole; I began to analyze music rather than enjoy it. To this day, when I listen to a song, I no longer hear a completed piece of music, but a lot of individual instruments, and that to me is sad. So twelve years ago I decided to give up music in order to get married and hopefully start a family.
Now, with woodworking being my hobby, I’m starting to notice a lot of eerily similar parallels. The pleasant thought of spending a few hours in my garage is tempered by the not so pleasant thought of cleaning up afterwards. I often worry more about the parts than I do the whole. Woodworking theory has become more important than building. I’ve found that woodworking, like music once did, has become a series of fleeting moments that are fun while they last, but nothing more than brief interludes which mean less than they are made out to be. I once thought that our hobbies defined us, and maybe they do to an extent, because I do believe that in some ways our hobbies choose us as much as we choose them. But even if they choose us, I think it is a mistake to let them rule our choices, and our time, because they do not last.
How many Springtime days do we get?
How many days do we get when the sun is shining, the air is warm, and we have nothing else to do but enjoy them? For me that answer is ‘very few’. Moments of fleeting joy, by their very definition, come and go. Yet, a two hour walk in the park with my daughter, her hand in mine, and her subconscious mind knowing that while she is with me her only concern is to enjoy the day, is far more important to me than any song, tool, or piece of furniture. Those moments, while they are indeed fleeting, as all of our lives are, do not fade, and in fact strengthen with time. As much as I enjoy many aspects of woodworking, I can say with certainty that there will not be a time when I look fondly back on sawing a tenon. And as much as I enjoy furniture, and what it means, it is how that furniture is used, and not it’s shape or grain which gives it relevance. Thirty years from now, God willing, will I look back upon the Spring of 2015 and remember what I made, or not even what I made, but the “process” of making it? Will those “processes”, which woodworkers are told mean so much, mean anything at all? I’m not asking anybody, because I know the answer for me is “no”.
Thirty years from now, will my fondest memories be of a song, or a tool, or of a dovetail joint? Or will they be remembrances of time spent walking hand in hand with my daughter through a sunny park on a perfect day, not caring if the note was perfect, or my tools were sharpened, or my joints crisp? Will a set of tools, and the things I made with them be the memories I choose to carry with me? Or will a father’s love for his daughter, and the memories of the time I chose to spend with her on a perfect Spring day be the enduring legacy of my life? I’m not asking, because I already know the answer.
Among the nicer things about writing this blog are the occasional notes I receive by those who tell me that they enjoy my posts. I can honestly say that more than a few people have told me that I should be writing about woodworking professionally. I don’t agree with that assessment, but nonetheless it was flattering to hear. Because I am neither a professional writer nor a professional woodworker I wouldn’t feel comfortable writing about the topic. Obviously I write a blog about woodworking, but it is less about projects and techniques and rather more about the lunacy I encounter in woodworking magazines and forums. So that being said, maybe there is a small place for me in the ranks of professional woodworking writers….
Actually, there probably isn’t. While I have no moral opposition to being paid for my posts, I would still not feel comfortable being under any obligation where I know that I may not be able to put forth my best efforts. The real truth is something that I’ve never mentioned on this blog. But believe it or not I have had several offers from some very respectable sources offering to pay me for my services. Up to this point I turned them down graciously with no hard feelings either way. At this juncture in my life I simply don’t have the time to put forth the effort needed to become a “professional writer”. Of course, there is a very small part of me that would love to throw caution to the wind, quit my job, and become a “starving artist”, but that part is far outweighed by the part of me that really doesn’t like starving artists all that much. Still, the offer of some free tools here and there along with a little extra cash was and is tempting. However, though my reputation in the world of woodworking blogging may not be stellar, in the real world I am a pretty respectable person. In order for me to be a good parent, husband, and human being I need to live my life with integrity, and taking money or goods for a job or contract that I may or may not be able to give my best efforts to is not the way to go about it.
For the record, I do not openly solicit myself in any way. In fact, the one and only time I ever submitted an article for consideration was to Popular Woodworking Magazine for an ‘End Grain” piece. Naturally it was shot down in flames like a scud missile. My failure notwithstanding, I am not writing this blog to hone my skills in the hopes that I may be paid to do this one day; I do it because I mostly enjoy it. That doesn’t mean I’m dismissing the option completely. When and if I receive an offer that I find fair and reasonable, I will certainly consider it. Rest assured if that day ever comes I will put forth my best efforts.
So for those of you who were kind enough to leave those nice notes I was talking about, I thank you. Not long ago I mentioned on this blog that I am through explaining myself and what I write, and I meant it sincerely. I am making an exception in this case not for the benefit of those who feel the need to criticize rather than enjoy, but for those who thought enough about what I do to take the time to let me know about it. I truly appreciate it, and even more so the fact that you think somebody ought to be paying me. Maybe there will be a day when that happens, but for now I’m just happy to be here.
The following blog entry may contain material and opinions that some consider offensive. If you do not enjoy strong opinions; if you do not wish to read any opinion but your own; if you feel it is acceptable to disagree with another person’s opinion but get angry when people disagree with yours; if you are a strong practitioner of hero worship; if you have trouble with the concept of ‘sarcasm’; if you have trouble with the concept of ‘artistic license’, if you believe everything you read; if you feel that any deviation from the norm is some sort of character flaw; if you feel that a disagreement is disrespectful; if you enjoy when other people do the thinking for you; if you cannot understand the difference between an ideological disagreement and an insult; if you feel that it is impossible to respectfully disagree with another; if you believe that being a talented woodworker automatically makes a person’s opinion indisputable; if you are a zealot; if you are an elitist; if you take everything seriously; if subtle humor is lost on you; if I say “tomato” and you say “toe mah toe”, then you will likely not enjoy this particular blog. Thankfully, there are many other woodworking blogs out there written by talented woodworkers and writers. I would highly recommend seeking out one or more of those blogs for your reading enjoyment. Thank you for understanding.
Sincerely and Respectfully
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.