The old time woodshop journals #19: Rhythms of woodwork

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Blog entry by jjw5858 posted 08-02-2012 10:05 PM 1424 reads 0 times favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 18: Lessons in spoonery! Part 19 of The old time woodshop journals series Part 20: From maple shaves to maul »

As I have stated a few times before I have only been at this wood working game for just over 2 years now. A few months into this journey I graduated up to some chisels and mallet simply trying to understand the elementary basics of paring down wood. I believe the first task was a very green horn lap joint followed by smashing a mortice Maybe smashing is the only way of the untrained hands as they yearn to make masterpieces, only while seeing them in our dreams until we can put as many years as we have wishes to the chosen trade.

Early on I began to notice some very wrong moves…but yet some very natural ones as I set about my noodling in the garage with various old hand tools. For one I am a southpaw so the challenges at times are a little greater for certain holds, grips, and learning the grasp of how things work while watching others craft wood on dvd or tv. Being lefty you always have to flip the visual instruction to fit your southpaw style.

Luckily though I also do have ambidextrous abilities. I play guitar and drums as a righty, I also swing a baseball bat that way as well. Little did I realize how much advantage this could bring to my handtool woodworking. Just the other day spoon carving away at the shop….I got totally confused for a moment. I carve/whittle as a lefty but there I was taking long carving strokes down the handle of the spoon how? a righty…

Something else really interesting to me and of great advantage is my instinctive sense of rhythm. I have played drums since I was 13 years old. My mallet, saw, plane all have a very distinct timing. This is extremely important in the catagory of handtool balance and performance. I have seen a few handtool woodworkers look like they are on the edge of planeing their plank almost off the bench through the shop window and into the next yard….yikes…

I found it a curious exchange between Roy Underhill and the great blacksmith Peter Ross (Also left handed). Peter said he used to play in some garage bands as a drummer. Roy asked how did a drummer turn into a blacksmith? Peter laughed and acted as if he did not know. But I knew right away by watching Peter hammer out a cant hook on his anvil. He had superb rhythm, all the balance was in his pace and tempo. If you want to learn some things on the art of blacksmithing this is the man to ask, one of the best in the business.

So here I was now only a few months ago joining tenons to mortices. Nice work I would say for my minimal practice, snug fit and needing that rubber hammer to gently marry the two up for a nice home. The hammer, the grip, the tempo…ah-haaaa!!!!! I then of all places and sources began to remember some smart advice I saw on a documentry on the progressive power rock trio RUSH.

The bands amazing drummer Neil Peart was becoming dry of ideas and excitment for his drumming. He reached out to a jazz percussion legend in Freddie Gruber (Freddie has left us sadly, may he rest in peace, one of the greats) Freddie automatically went to work on Neils current style, changing his grip of the sticks and his attack from the drumsticks to the heads of the drums.

Freddie Grubers great advice to Neil was wether you are a dancer or a drummer, it is the action that takes place before your feet or sticks contact the floor or drumhead. It is all… what happens before the contact. It’s the way we move and set ourselves up for that event that changes how the ultimate outcome will prevail.

How about those mallets and mortices? Sure thing, Freddie has all us galoots covered as well. I certainly began to take a respect and enjoyment for my movement of my mallets swing before the actual event…or crack of the chisel to wood. Just wonderful stuff on how I felt so much more in control and in tempo. Even though I had already felt good with it…this was even better. I began to exercise this process and converted it into a mini game while making the additional new mortices.

I find more than ever some great music is made from the sounds of tools tasking the ideas of our imagination or organized plans. Each move becomes a part of a long constructed symphony. Handtools allow us this listening pleasure and like any instrument we respect for their care while playing them.

If you can, always look into everything you enjoy for inspiration. One of the greatest woodworking tips I have….from a jazz drumming legend. Thanks Freddie.

I find that counting especially in handtool work is also a great friend. I thought I had found some great hidden woodworking magic because I counted….lol. Oh well that was greatly humbled once I had come to realize many handcrafters throughout time count, from the turn of wimble and bit to the work of the sawyer in his pit.

Just as the book of Joseph Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises with it’s instructional essays from everything to anything…nothing new here is it? But still amazing that us two legged animals with our captain kirk phones and busy schedules still need the basics. Rocks and sticks, hammers and nails, Lowes and Home Depot. We are almost as progressive as RUSH….....lmao.

It is all a game of time and tempo anyway I guess. The entire solar system a magnificent suspended timepiece sitting in the country store of the universe keeping the clock in tune as we parade on our planet looking for answers the sky most likey already knows.

I hope you make everything in great rhythm…...but take your time and enjoy the music!

Rock on woodworkers!


-- "Always continue to learn, laugh and share!" JJW

7 comments so far

View jaykaypur's profile


4017 posts in 2408 days

#1 posted 08-03-2012 12:18 AM

Amen !

-- Use it up, Wear it out --------------- Make it do, Or do without!

View Roger's profile


20928 posts in 2804 days

#2 posted 08-03-2012 01:59 AM

I always do at least one moonwalk across the shop when I’m happy…........... well, in my head, I do

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed.

View BTimmons's profile


2303 posts in 2485 days

#3 posted 08-03-2012 03:33 AM

Joe, I’m digging your writing style and the ideas behind it. I’m a musician too, (cellist) and there is definitely a relationship between music and all the other arts. Whether it’s woodworking, painting, or the martial arts, they all inform each other in some way, if you let them.

-- Brian Timmons -

View thedude50's profile


3603 posts in 2478 days

#4 posted 08-03-2012 03:34 AM

You Know I dabble in the drums a bit and play bass and rhythm guitar have for close to 40 years. Your assessment is dead on. It does have a rhythm my favorite is the swoosh swoosh of the hand plane. a very sharp smoother is my favorite. Specifically the Bronze LN no4 and the new Stanley SW no 4 they both have perfect pitch and it is something to behold. I am so fond of the sound i will sharpen up and grab a big piece of maple and just plane for the fun of planing. This helps keep technique down and is just a load of fun. It is very rhythmic and is something I recommend for stress relief.

As far as being new and trying to learn the way to work wood especially if your looking to do this as a career is to get a mentor. Nothing beats a guy helping you learn the finer points of hand work. on the machines the work is easier and can be done with less knowledge of the wood. This is why my grandfather made me wait years before i was allowed to use a power tool. While I resented this at the time it proved to be one of the best things he could have done. I only wish Grandpa had been a carver. I really am dying to learn carving.

-- Please check out my new stores and

View Brit's profile


7376 posts in 2843 days

#5 posted 08-03-2012 06:50 AM

Leftie and proud here too Joe.

I couldn’t agree more with the rhythm thing. Musicians do make better hand tool users. Whether we’re holding an instrument for making music or an instrument for working wood, they’re all instruments and we must move to the music they create.

-- - Andy - Old Chinese proverb says: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."

View Roman - THE BOOTMAN's profile


941 posts in 2686 days

#6 posted 08-04-2012 01:29 AM

Remember Joe, we lefties have learned to adapt to a right-handed world and we are doing a hell of a good job. Rock on!

-- Author of POWER CARVING BOOTS & SHOES - Schiffer Publishing. Available online or your favourite bookstore.

View thedude50's profile


3603 posts in 2478 days

#7 posted 08-12-2012 02:49 AM


-- Please check out my new stores and

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