Tagged craft


Meanwhile back in NY

I arrived back in the US yesterday and things look quite wonderful at the New Legacy NY school.

We are already progressing towards the month-long workshop that starts on Monday morning and I know everyone is very excited about it. I also know that the UK month-long in November is about full too. These are progressive steps designed to train new-genre woodworkers who want to become master woodworkers, invest time and energy to do so and are establishing skill as an investment in their future. Some will change jobs and seek to become furniture makers, but that’s not necessarily the goal at all. The goal is to become masters at the craft whether it becomes a way of earning from it or not. It is however vocational in that people do it because it’s a calling. Watch the progress we make in the workshop over the next few weeks through the blog and maybe our YouTube videos as we progress and see how people’s lives can be transformed and energised as we go.ToolsMany crafts rely on using hand tools to work raw materials into useful products, but the category of tools used to work wood from the growing tree to the finished product is probably the largest category of all. With dozens of chisel types and over 350 planes, the seemingly complex variety may seem bewildering, but with just ten hand tools and three joints you can make thousands of projects ranging from wooden boxes to four-poster beds and coffee tables to dining chairs of every type.


Glad for the globe

This morning I became increasingly more aware of just how large the globe of woodworkers is and how small our globe has become with regards to woodworkers connecting with one another. Some months ago I blogged pretty extensively on something I call the Real Woodworking Campaign and many if you signed up insupport of my efforts to repatriate people to the craft of working wood. This was the perspective of working real wood using skilled methods that weren’t so much hard but required self discipline and a working knowledge derived at through the actual working of wood itself. For two decades people have become awareoaf a need to work with their hands regardless of their profession. Plumbers and politicians, priests and personal trainers discover the art of hand tool woodworking atryst art building stuff from scraps of wood, drag tools out of boxes and revamp abandoned equipment to see bright steel instead of rust. Few creative crafts have the same level of appeal and that is amazing to me too.

Tell me what the answer is to this phenomenon we call simply woodworking. How or what can we do to to enhance what we do and be more inclusive of others. I highly regard American woodworkers who form guilds and clubs large and small to pass on skills, share knowledge and generally get together regularly to drink coffee and enjoy working wood together. Can this happen more globally? I think that it can. You men in sheds in Australia are doing your bit too. That’s quite wonderful.

Friday 8th June 2012 – A working day

Rain set in for the day and the wind drove it hard in every direction. In the castle it makes little difference to us as we work—the walls are three feet thick and solid stone.

Nick Gibbs, the editor of two magazines, Living Woods and British Woodworker, came by for a visit yesterday and we talked about wood and the stuff of real woodworking. I really respect what he has accomplished through the years as owner, publisher, editor of two well managed, well produced specialist magazines. It takes something to do what he has done in that he didn’t start Living Woods as an expert in his field but as a man interested in helping people discover the unique symbiosis between woodlands and forests, woodcrafters, woodcrafts, wildlife and aspects that we might know little or nothing of had it not been for his endeavour. There’s tons of readable stuff in the mag and he keeps things current and interesting at an affordable price. Beyond even that, I think that Nick somehow manages to interconnect the complex network of British woodland craft skills with people of every background who want to know more about what they can actually participate in and that’s real woodworking at its best in my book.

As for his British Woodworking magazine, well, I found that just as progressive and well crafted too. His background in editing woodworking magazines spans two decades with no flip-flopping to appease advertisers. I think what he offers parallels a lot of the ethos we strive for with the Real Woodworking Campaign so our discussions considered the future of woodworking for generations yet to come. These are pivotal for me and my investment now is for those future generations.






Cutting tenons seems so simple to me now. I need not think about it as I work a rectangular block end into a haunched tenon ready for it’s mortised fit. The class doesn’t find it quite so easy but they have stamina, determination and pluck. The wood has substance and they must now split, shave and shape with tools they now know more intimately than they did just 8 days ago. With their boxes done and their shelves too, they are honing their skills in table making and that’s going to further expand their horizons as they consider furniture pieces they only dreamed of making a few weeks or months ago.

Watching them work their way around the bench I am conscious that they ask much fewer questions than before. The knowledge they have gained has settled in them. Their previous lack of confidence seems like in a previous lifetime yet through that period they discovered what real woodworking was all about. They discovered risk, self-imposed demands for accuracy, periods of frustration followed by the reward perseverance brings in success and through all of this wrestling they seem now to possess a relaxed countenance usually seen only in people of experience.

I love this development because for me it measures their character in tangible ways. I continue to press them with hard expectations, encourage them when splits threaten and planes jibe at their efforts with unexpected tantrums at the wrong time. As I closed the workshop door tonight I felt contented. Tomorrow is the big push. Will they finish or run in to Sunday?

Answers behind the Questions

I think that it is no small thing that so many people ask questions of me that tell me what is on their mind, or, perhaps more relevant, what is on their heart. Now this is a good cross section of the general public, not so much woodworkers but them too. These people would naturally be interested in history, conservation, culture, workmanship in craft (as distinct from hobbyism) and so hold concern for the future and good management of resources and so on. Now this makes my perspective different than say someone going in to the tyre (tire US) depot or the printing suppliers, Home Depot or B&Q, where there is no dialogue beyond buying and selling. Somehow, my workshop breaks down all barriers and I mean every and all barriers, to the point that they feel confident that they can ask honest questions and I have a point in saying what I am saying.

In my view people are concerned about the future. They are misguided by false prophets, bad teaching and people preaching wrong messages about materials, methods of work and so on. For instance, TV, as we all know, has done much to draw people to the screen for entertainment. If you can hook people into being entertained and at the same time sell them a router, jig and bits then more power to you (sarcasm intended). Those good at using power equipment with plugs and batteries create a stage and blast their message of freedom from the drudgery of hard work, new speed and efficiency, accuracy, mastery and before you know it everyone has jumped on the industrial bandwagon in pursuit of happiness. In reality these gurus have done more damage to real woodworking than any other medium and we are left with a society totally persuaded that mass manufacturing methods for cutting a simple dovetail is the only answer for woodworkers. This has so dumbed-down what woodworking was that we have spent two decades and more trying to reverse the damage and I am not convinced that we will ever recover from the damage caused by the giant manufacturers and their bought presenters.

Here are the types of questions I fielded today:

“Do you use local woods from around here?”

“Is this school for youngsters to learn in?”

“Do you apprentice people?”

” Can you sell what you make?”

People say things like:

“The smell takes me back to school.”

“I love that smell.”

“The smell drew me in.”

“This is the best smell I have smelled all day.”

Children with parents are:




Blown away.

Reluctant to leave.

All of this tells me what’s going on in people’s hearts.They cannot understand why we can’t apprentice young people without compromising our livelihoods because of Government legislation and lack of help, health and safety and so on. I could stop what I am doing and apprentice 20 young people tomorrow and make them highly skilled woodworkers in just a few short months; to the point that they could be making a living. “The problem is that we cannot produce products as cheaply as Asia.” I hear people saying. That’s true, our expectations are so high we cannot live up to them any more. But let’s not worry about that yet. Can young people be trained and are we listening to the questions behind the questions. What will happen to our young people and the next generation of woodworkers if we do not turn the tide to embrace methods that inspire them rather than preclude them. There is  not a machine manufacturer in the country that can put a young and aspiring woodworker on any of their commercial machines without admitting that the dangers are too high. Governments legislates against it and I am so glad that they do. We woodworkers must listen to the public who are equally concerned about the future of young people. We must come up with a solution, otherwise woodworking will always be an adults-only craft controlled by mass machine makers like Dewalt, Makita, Powermatic, Delta, Bosch, Rikon and dozens more. Obviously there is a place for machines and hand held equipment, but it seems to me that these megagiants have a responsibility to support hand methods that will enable young people to get back in the woodshop with teachers who can help them. Instead of seeing machines as something to aspire and mature into though, they should accept that hand tools are as valuable to today’s woodworker as they ever were. It’s all about balance and we all need to play our part and we need help.

Nearly done! Two days left.


I suppose this is the 8th day in the Foundational course and an amazing transformation has taken place—I expect it, but they do not. Their joints are progressing well, critical to the work pieces, joinery somehow transforms the work and elevates it to realms most woodworkers today never reach. Without joinery, all you have is glue, screws, staples and nails. Jigs that incline screws through the sides of rails and are filled with cone-shaped plugs don’t quite enter zones of skill and neither do they improve your wellbeing. Anything that substitutes for skill somehow disappoints you. Most woodworkers reason around this with adjectives fast, efficient, easy and so on, but the challenge isn’t there, the mastery isn’t there and that translates into internal disappointment. Real woodworking is real wood and real tools, not substitutes, machines and so-called power tools that dumb down woodworking to the lowest common denominator.

Men live in a world of toys for big boys and joke about their invalidated lives as kids with big toys. Tonka trucks and transformer playthings of the past have translated woodwork into machines and humorous tee shirts, demeaning the reality of my craft into a joke.

Reversing this may be impossible, but those who discover the art of handwork find real fulfilment because it cost them more than buying substitutes but investment of effort, time and patience.


The next two days are critical to finishing the table. We are working in oak and the parts are now hand planed and mortised ready for the tenons. My methods guarantee perfect results with clean-cut mortises dead square, perfect walls and tenons that fit within thousandths and with no machines present at all. Speed? Well, for me, a perfect mortise and tenon takes me fifteen minutes in hardwood.


They will take longer and for a while it will seem tedious, but if they overcome the temptation to substitute speed for skill, they will discover an efficiency they may never have known and a joy unequalled by any machine.


A day in church – Chester cathedral

A day studying ecclesiastical craft work is always humbling.

The good thing is that you encounter many diverse crafts in one location and often the surrounding streets. Lofty sandstone arches vault four stories above to peak in perfect symmetry – the result of men’s hands chiselling and sawing blocks, carving arches and chiselling leaves and faces by eye. Whether the building itself is Christian or not is for dispute.

The work of hands is a man’s form of honour and worship. He works within a sphere no other can, decides critically second by second and lives with his results. He twists, heaves, pulls and shoves, grips, twists more and stands back from time to time to look. Imagined shapes in leaves and volutes emerge from unshaped squares in segments of wood hitherto unformed yet and waiting release by the chisel’s edge. Stone stands against wood – hard, soft, different and real.

I looked at the sheer mass of wood, work, symmetry and discover men I never knew by gouge marks and sawn segments pared, planed by hands clasped with knotted sinew and muscled. I reach high by eye, ingest and think of men beyond those cuts and sinews now long gone.

This medallion impressed me with colours I had not seen in glass before. Colours come from metals    and these range so widely. Iron and chromic oxide for greens; reds come from gold chloride and selenium oxide. Blues, lovely blues from coppery compounds and cobalt oxide while yet yellows emerge from from the subtleties of sulfur and cadmium sulfide.


Mosaic in skilled hands imparts a subtlety no other medium has and it takes an eye for colour and shape that reaches beyond puzzlement in defining strides. A flow of texture comes from squares placed exact for colour and texture most men never know.

I place the tiles by eye in my mind and wonder how long they took with each perfect piece. The tapestry reaches ten feet high and I scan the expanse in width to see a full field in depth and breadth.

Symmetrical panels express names in coloured contrast exemplary of order yet the tiles are not laid legally in straightness.


Now of doors such as these there is but primitive skill in rough cut boards held tight by well-driven blacksmithed nails wedged and clenched over.

Cleated so, the doors have stood these four hundreds years and in their coarseness kept well the content of this inner vault from which the Bishop of Chester held Consistory Court and protected the Church life of the diocese. 

Oak lasts four hundred years and beyond and though I cringe when no joint holds them to the hinge and stonework I cannot deny that they have held their stay against the unwanted.

Metal locks encased by wood last equal to the door’s task of keeping out the wanted from the wanted. There’s a beauty of function in form I cannot see in modern locks from Yale and Centurion, Union, Chubb and others. Though less strong than these modern locks, this lock looks its part and holds a presence I find solid and reassuring. How the latch lifts and rests in the cradle and the lock switches from unlocked to locked. A blacksmith hand wrought the rough raw steel between the hammer and the anvil’s horn by eye and hammer blow, I know his work is not so old, but he worked the steel by hand.


Beyond the walls four-storey buildings house the house of fashion known as Next. It’s sad thing to see the work of men used to now keep the frivolous fashions of humanity. Try to find a tap washer or anything useful in Chester City centre and you will be hard pressed to find it. But the buildings stand in wait for a generation that cares and makes changes beyond saving glass bottles and alluminium cans. Imagine a generation that keeps its clothes until they wear thin instead of throwing them to someone else and claiming goodness for recycling. That would turn the greenhouse gases down. Imagine a floor that could be swept with a broom and dustpan and that would last four, no five or six hundred years. That’s what we once had. Now we claim recycling fame to replace the non-waste world we once had before the Great War.


Questions answered – chisels and quality

Getting off the conveyor belt post

Re getting off the conveyor belt I posted earlier. It’s unrealistic to think that everyone can follow a vocational calling whereby they earn there living full time from craft work. If the 13 million people that enjoy woodworking in the USA all became woodworkers earning their living from it they would soon find themselves broke, on the dole and homeless. On the other hand you can enjoy the challenges of making your own furniture, building your canoe or boat, violin, guitar or build yourself a timber-framed home, garden shed or anything you choose by following a foundational training in woodworking and then diverting into any specific channel or channels you choose to. Build a shed, a workbench and follow my foundational course from cover to cover and in about 20 days, with about 20 hand tools, you can make a handmade guitar following instructions from another book. That should take you about 2 months total in evenings and weekends without neglecting your families.

If you work with just my book you can have enough to equip yourself for a lifetime of lifestyle Working Wood. How about that for a strategy?

Now then, one of my students emailed a question he thought that you all might be helped by if I answer publicly. Here is his email:

Hi Paul,

Hope all is well back with your family in the UK.

Just had a question you may want to answer on your blog sometime.

I have been working on my dovetails and, after about a half dozen good looking ones in Pine, I decided to try my luck with a small piece of quarter-sawn oak I had. What I noticed right away is that my chisels, while continuing to chop crisp lines, began very quickly to fracture and create a burr on the flat side of the cutting edge. I resharpened, went back to it, and found relatively quickly the same problem. I eased up on the chopping and they came out well, but nonetheless I feel like I shouldn’t have to resharpen two or three times per corner. What’s wrong here? Is it my motion? The wood? Are my chisels just poor quality? Just wondering your thoughts.


Side note: I’ve also noticed a tendency on the smaller chisels to skew to my right. Some are pretty significant. I can fix them, but I assume this is just uneven pressure. Correct?


Thanks Paul.


The issue could be steel quality or type or something else, so lets consider steel type first. Without getting into technicalities of alloys, harder steel can of course be brittle and can readily fracture because though hard it may not be tough. Certain tool steels can have good edge tool qualities that have hardness and toughness in the same alloy. That’s what many toolmakers aim for. A problem with this is that they often require mechanical methods for sharpening, which in and of itself is generally overkill for something that needs only regular sharpening with the quick, simple, efficient hand methods I use and encourage others to use. For a more easily sharpenable cutting edge it’s better to use a softer alloy, but you cannot use steel that is too soft as the edge buckles under pressure whereas the harder edges actually fracture, creating small craters along the edge. This is not what you seem to have. The end result of course is that neither tool will cut well in either condition.

As you know, in general I advise the single- convex-bevel method for all edge tools. Having determined that both steel types have advantages, we should look at wood. Under certain conditions using chisels, as in your case, conditions arise that adversely affect cutting edges. Some pines for instance are even textured throughout the annual rings. The eastern white pine for instance is superbly even textured and has very minimal difference in density and hardness across the growth rings or within each growth ring. With softwoods from Eastern Europe there is often great variance in hardness and density. This can be because of the nature of the species, growth region, weather changes and season changes. Some years, the growth cycle has good levels of water and nutrition resulting in good growth across the seasons. When the weather is less extreme between the seasons, the result is more even texture across the two apparent periods usually associated with softwood growth. In other areas and seasons depending on the year, the growth ring has two extremes of soft and hardness, especially in softwoods. In hardwoods, on the other hand ,the extremes of seasons are much less, and oftentimes the two seasons of early and late growth are indistinguishable—fruit  and nut trees for instance; woods such as cherry or walnut for instance, and dozens of others.

Steel hard and soft – brittle or malleable

This then brings me to the real point. Seeing that hard tool steel is harder to sharpen because of hardness and softer tool steels bend unevenly along the cutting edge, we need to adjust our thinking in both cases. Assuming we have decent steel in either case, because both steel types can indeed produce practical edges, when we shift from paring pressure or slicing along or with the grain using hand pressure or light malleting pressure, we have no problem, but denser hard-grained wood such as oak often require a slight shift in strategy. Your problem may have nothing to do with steel quality or choice at all. It often requires nothing more than creating a steeper bevel right at the cutting edge. Remember that the shallower the angle of a cutting bevel does not mean that the edge is sharper than a steeper bevel, but that it takes a little more effort to counter the resistance created by a steeper bevel pitch. In your case it seems you have more malleable steel that may well be tough, but with a shallow angle the steel buckles. This is often especially true when using mallet blows. Paring pressure may be around 20-30-lbs pressure. Using a mallet blow may increase this to 80+lbs. Under such pressure the edge will either fracture or buckle depending on the alloy and the quality of the materials used. Try altering the pitch by as much as 5-degrees or even more and see if this helps. If it does, most likely it will, you are set. If it doesn’t you may need to invest in different chisels.

Once you have chopped, you can re-establish the 30-degree bevel over two or three sharpenings and need not go all the way back to 30-degrees at once unless of course you need to or don’t mind wasting steel and time.

Re  Buying replacement chisels

My experience proves to me that this has little to do with cost. I have used Marples’ (definitely not UK Irwin) blue-chip chisels since 1965. I am on my third set, but not because of weakness or failure but because I use them more than anyone I ever met and I love them. At the school in the UK I use chisels made for Aldi, the supermarket chain, they are about some of the best I ever used and we really use them heavily, probably more excessively than anyone else. They cost £8.00, $12 usd, for a set of four and a sharpening stone that’s pretty useless. I have so far, after three years of use, been unable to find any fault with them. Now the stuff Irwin makes, and Stanley, with steel tips and ergonomic plastic/rubberised handles, I have no time for because they are extremely uncomfortable, feel really bad in the hand and they encourage a throwaway mentality in tools. These companies are especially bad for craftsmanship and should wherever possible be boycotted until they get their act together.

Hope to see you all again soon!

It rained on and off throughout the day, mostly on, and the wild places beyond the school soaked in each welcome Spring drops that fell. We have had almost no rain since I arrived last month and so I join the farmer and gardener in thanks for something no man can really do too well and that is water the land. Early rains are important after winter’s done and new growth delays its dormant phase when rains decline yet warmth has begun. It’s 2am and I lie in bed thinking of baggage and stuff I need for the flight in a few hours time.

This has been a unique time for me. Each day I have enjoyed a sense of inner celebration shared with my family and friends who worked so hard to start a 2nd New Legacy School of Woodworking here in New York. But others have joined us along the way and they too celebrate from regions of the USA, Britain and mainland Europe, South America, South Africa, Israel, Australia, Canada, the Middle East, India and Pakistan and other regions too. Last night as I put up my tools and closed the workshop doors, the celebration of completion rose in my heart as I thought of the smiles, handshakes and hugs left by colleagues, old friends, new friends and new partners in the drive for guiding new-genre woodworkers in our quest for truth and wholeness.

The privileged life of hard work and workmanship can never be fully told, but in 48 years of working wood with my hands and hand tools I have never known a hungry stretch or days without work, ever. My dad was right; with certainty he told me when I was 15 years old that if I had a craft I would never go hungry. My expectations were always less than others. When factory work entered my workshop or people said, “now you can really make money doing this or that,” I find myself withdrawing. I knew it was time to shut it down. Not that earning your corn is a bad thing, or getting paid honest wage for a day’s honest work is somehow dirty, more that for me the workmanship is its own reward and not the stuff money buys.

When moneymaking sullies life and insecurity causes fear of loss you know you are driven by self and self-centredness. It’s a strange thing that it can be the life of others that does this and even with the best intentions. I’d rather grow my potatoes and raise chickens for my eggs than buy them. When I arrive home I will build my wife and I a new chicken coop. We’ve had chickens for 20 years. We have planted a garden for food and even had worm farms and beehives. Life rooted to the land isn’t nice, it’s life lived and worked and worked out. That’s what working wood is for me. It’s life lived, breathed and worked out. Try it!

Throughout the last day of the Foundational workshop early fears dropped one by one away and serious people working wood developed newfound skills. Some became confident, swiped shavings from wood with planes they never knew before could do what they not me were doing. Others, more diffident, gingerly removed their wafers of thinness more cautiously but yet achieved a different way of working wood than the other. Both found joy and fulfilment. Just how can anyone measure what that means? How do you price the pricelessness of a pine shaving or the single brush stroke of oil on a canvass or the tapestry of Chinese hand-stitched embroidered hummingbirds?

Thank you everyone. You are a stitch in the tapestry of my life’s work and I a shaving in yours.

A New Legacy arrives!

Breakfast at Eli’s eased me into the early Sunday morning as I prepared for closing the details of the worksop class on Monday. Roofing and floor cleaning, unpacking new tools from boxes and fine tuning the remaining Stanley number 4 smoothers was a multi-man task that created lots of mess and clean up afterwards. Outside wildlife continues at it’s uncompromised pace as it has for centuries past ‘off’ the conveyor belt whilst we super-smart humans continue improving our lot in buying and selling life to the highest bidder. All around the workshop though there was a certain indescribable peace about the work we had yet to do to tie in all the various pieces of a very unique composition. In my journal this morning I wrote of composition and design:

“It’s been a challenge over four months to be ready for Monday 16th April 2012. Unwaveringly the work has progressed to put the final pieces in place. When one section of work gets completed I introduce another and someone else jumps in to help get every piece of the tapestry done. I thought about mosaics and how they start with composition of pieces initially unnumbered and often undefined. It’s an arrangement if you will of colour and texture that then creates its own unique texture. Counting the cost of any work must be assessed prior to commencement because knowing you have what it takes to complete it is important. Any failure here can result in grave disappointment. Mosaic builds in coloured phases and texture. Contrast creates definition and places boundaries or subtle changes in transition from one area to another. By complementary and counter-colour, shape and movement form depth and meaning so different to any other craft yet closely allied with glass and glass work. Like glasswork, mosaic isn’t a puzzle in an unknown at all but a creative movement. It’s an arrangement of subtleties and as any choirmaster moves a chorister from one place to another by only one foot sideways and a row forward or backward to change depth and presentation, so too the creative mosaic master. People are working alongside me with no other intention than passing on skill and knowledge about my craft. The work in New York is intended to train others in skill and to ensure its longevity my skills must be passed on to others that will one day replace me. This thought excites me more than I can express. One of the greatest influences on my life was a photograph of Edward Barnsley who stood knee-deep in shavings with six apprentices around him and directed them as they built his designs. His stained, cloth apron reached past his knees and his rolled sleeves and necktie defied class. He trained men and left a legacy of freedom in work.

Lifestyle craftwork

There’s a difference between vocational working and having a job. One is an occupational calling to live a certain working lifestyle regardless of anything else, whilst the other is to ‘do‘ a job that makes money to live, but carries with it scant reward of fulfilment.

I think vocational working is to find sense and meaning in your work. The work has a sense of belonging to you and you to it. The other makes little sense and often none. With money the single outcome, a life can be unlived. Vocational means life, regardless of the actual occupation. I chose craft in that it chose me and we agreed. There was no resistance.

I see most base income and recognition as a basis for future – it doesn’t work.