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Ponderings #30: The path to enlightenment

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Blog entry by Tomcat1066 posted 1069 days ago 3757 reads 0 times favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 29: Taking setbacks in stride. Part 30 of Ponderings series Part 31: H.O. Studley was a freak of nature »

I’m a hand tool guy, at least for the most part. While I can see myself using power saws to break down stock, I’m just not interested in machine made joinery for the most part. I won’t rule out pocket screws here or there, because they do serve a purpose, but for the most part I want my tenons and dovetails hand cut. I even want my mortises finished out by hand. The trick is learning how to really use the tools.

Once upon a time, as we all know, these hand tools were state of the art. They were used to build everything that went into a home…after they were used to build the home.

Today, that’s not the case. We have table saws, band saws, power jointers, thickness planers, the works. What we still have today is craftsmanship. The truth of the matter is that the most equipped shop is useless in the hands of someone who doesn’t know how to use their tools. Hand tools are only ineffective under the same circumstances. But how does a guy who knows no other woodworkers in the general vicinity – much less hand tool types – acquire such skills?

Well, I haven’t finished the book, but I’m leaning towards the path of enlightenment resting in the book The Joiner and the Cabinetmaker from Lost Arts Press.

I have little doubt that you’ve all heard of the book. Well, I’ve been reading it, in case you haven’t. The book, for those who haven’t read it yet, outlines three projects. Those three projects run in skill required from a packing box that is mostly just nailed together to a chest of drawers with half-blind dovetails. The book itself is centered around the story of a boy named Thomas who was a joiner’s apprentice. It outlines all that he did in his progression from apprentice to journeyman. The path to enlightenment, if you will.

Some of the things Thomas does, I’m not going to worry about. I’ve straightened nails before, back when I worked construction right after I got out of the Navy. I’m not going to sweat keeping the glue hot because I’m not using that kind of glue. What I am going to do is learn from many of the same processes that Thomas does. He practices dovetails, so I will too, just to name an example.

Now, this won’t do everything I want it to do, but it’s part of the process. You see, I really don’t want to try to make a chest of drawers on a Workmate. It just doesn’t sound appealing in the least. However, a workbench and tool chest sound like great projects to build between the school box and the chest of drawers, don’t you think?

Anyways, it’s one approach. It worked almost 200 years ago, so it just might work now.

Of course, what’s particularly telling is the use of nails in many of these pieces. I wouldn’t have thought it, but there were plenty. This gives a guy like me hope :)

-- "Give me your poor tools, your tired steel, your huddled masses of rust." Yep, I ripped off the Statue of Liberty. That's how I roll!



9 comments so far

View RGtools's profile

RGtools

3302 posts in 1285 days


#1 posted 1069 days ago

Nails are a good thing if you use them right.

What you describe is an apprenticeship, a form of learning that needs to come back in the states. I had the good fortune to apprentice as a jeweler and while I had to teach myself cabinetry, I approached it the same way. Apprentices don’t get practice so much as practical experience. If you need to “practice” dovetails for instance…time to make a lot of cheap boxes (you’ll find uses for them…trust me)...when it comes to making drawers you will already know what you need to.

The trick is to pick projects that matter in the end and can be examined for faults but can be @%$^#$ up without losing the will to keep working. Thus the progression from a packing box to a school-box to the dresser (although there would most likely be quite a few projects in between).

A simple workbench is not that hard and it makes for some great practical experience…just a thought.

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan

View Tomcat1066's profile

Tomcat1066

942 posts in 2427 days


#2 posted 1068 days ago

Oh, the workbench would be a great exercise. I have to build a shop to put it in first though :)

-- "Give me your poor tools, your tired steel, your huddled masses of rust." Yep, I ripped off the Statue of Liberty. That's how I roll!

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27251 posts in 2453 days


#3 posted 1068 days ago

TC, having the ability to work wood using hand tools is a skill that I have always admired. It does take time, perseverance and practice to become proficient but it is a skill that can be rewarding to develop. I have always had been a power tool user and, while I have tried to work on my hand skills, I just don’t seem to find the patience/discipline to fully develop these skills. I am sure you will do fine on your journey. And, yes, a workbench would be a good project to start (after you have someplace to work, of course). :)

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View MoshupTrail's profile

MoshupTrail

287 posts in 1111 days


#4 posted 1068 days ago

Skills: I find my own skills progressing through the construction of my shop plus a few simple projects on the side. Starting with basic work benches, then progressing to cabinets (nice router table). I have several more cabinet type projects to make for the shop, and then I plan some simple, one-drawer pieces for the house. Since the early projects are just for the shop, a few screw-ups wont be a problem. Furniture for my house, a little less so, but furniture for others has to be perfect.

Hand tools. I mentioned to someone that I preferred a hand plane to clean the edges of boards when the table saw has left kerf marks or burns, and got this rolling eye response, “Oh, hand tools, that involves sharpening”, like that was something really hard. Well, it’s a skill too. One huge advantage of hand tools – a lot less dust.

But you have to have good tools – and they’re expensive. I’ve tried to tune up a cheap hand plane and it’s a losing battle. Even if you get it all perfect, it’s still a poor piece that will bind and chatter, and that really detracts from the experience and the result.

-- Some problems are best solved with an optimistic approach. Optimism shines a light on alternatives that are otherwise not visible.

View Beginningwoodworker's profile

Beginningwoodworker

13337 posts in 2304 days


#5 posted 1068 days ago

I admire people who use hand tools, but I am not a hand tool guy even thou I own hand tools.

-- CJIII Future cabinetmaker

View RGtools's profile

RGtools

3302 posts in 1285 days


#6 posted 1068 days ago

How about building two insanley beefy sawhorses (no angles, just trestle type square ones). It could be an exercise in mortise and tenons and drawboring and would give you a platform to build a timber frame shop.

By that point your work bench should pose no difficulty at all…(maybe I am oversimplifying things a tad)

Really the good news is you don’t need a whole lot of room for a hand tool shop. So for now see if there is a spare bedroom or side of the garage you can take over. 8’ of wall for a 6 foot bench and you have a great starting point.

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan

View Tomcat1066's profile

Tomcat1066

942 posts in 2427 days


#7 posted 1068 days ago

RG: I actually have a set of saw benches on the agenda. Saw horses too eventually. The trestle style is actually a pretty good idea.

As for the shop, I’m looking at a 12’x20” with one stationary power tool: a bandsaw. Other than that, most of my stuff will be hand held power tools or, most likely, hand tools. That, and with that size shop I can build myself a ten foot bench (that I’ve always wanted :D).

As for all the folks who appreciate hand tool skills, I respect folks who use machines. When I first looked into woodworking, that’s what I was going to do. Circumstances forced me to look into hand tools. I”m just kind of glad that they did :)

-- "Give me your poor tools, your tired steel, your huddled masses of rust." Yep, I ripped off the Statue of Liberty. That's how I roll!

View RGtools's profile

RGtools

3302 posts in 1285 days


#8 posted 1068 days ago

That’s sounds like a plan. I am unplugged about 99 percent of the time and it does not bother me. I would not mind a bandsaw though (big resaws suck by hand even with the right tools). Look forward to seeing your progress.

Happy shavings/sawdust.

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan

View Tomcat1066's profile

Tomcat1066

942 posts in 2427 days


#9 posted 1067 days ago

Thanks. I’m looking forward to it too :)

-- "Give me your poor tools, your tired steel, your huddled masses of rust." Yep, I ripped off the Statue of Liberty. That's how I roll!

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