Tagged working

How to Build a Workbench – Fitting the Well Board (part13)

I realise that these posts are long, but we are invading the worlds of make believe benches, stepping off of the conveyor belt to fantasyland and getting into real woodworking again. To do that we have to have a real working bench that no one can really criticise as being useless, amateurish, fanciful, indulgent or stupid. Time was when a workbench was something you worked on; you cut with a saw on it, chopped on it, chiselled into it even. Sometimes you miscut and gouged it, maybe even once or twice a day. Rusty saws got derusted on it and old planes were restored and sharpened on it. I know we all have different paradigms, but my bench is a working, worked on, worked with, worked in, worked from bench. More polished and highly refined workbenches don’t really work to well for me. My chisels commonly slip and saws catch the bench corners as I work, with or without care, with or without bench hooks. I’d rather be concerned about my furniture and perfecting it than my workbench. Let’s get going.

Fitting the well board

For me and hundreds of thousands of joiners and cabinetmakers before me, the well is critical. I spoke earlier of its intrinsic value to the wellbeing of my tools and my work.

Before we can actually fit the well between the two benchtops we must fix the benchtops to the bearers. At the moment they are only anchored at the lower portion of the aprons. They could be open at the top of the housing dadoes where you cannot see too well. Two long clamps, cinching the two opposites together will give good seating between the apron and the leg frame.




First check that the ends of the benchtops line up by checking with a straightedge. With the benchtops and aprons clamped against one another, drill a hole large enough the take the whole shank of the 5/16″ (8mm) bolt through the bearer. 5/16″ is large enough.


Angle it if need be, so that you have good access and the drill chuck is not impaired. Drilling through the bearer first prevents parallel threading that typically keeps the two components apart and therefore prevents proper seating. This gap results in inefficient transfer of force to the legs during benchtop chopping. It’s good to get it right.

I clamped my benchtop down before cinching up the lag bolt. 2 ½” x 5/16” lag bolts are a good size to go through the bearer and into the benchtop. Drill a 5/16” hole through the bearer and then a 3/16” pilot hole into the benchtop. This will ease the bolt and prevents undue stress in the wood.


With all of the lag bolts and washers in place, remove the clamps. We are now ready to fit the well board to the first benchtop. I checked my benchtop for straightness when I surface planed it previously. Offering the well board to one side will show where if necessary you need to plane. Plane the edge until it fits tightly to the benchtop and than mark the opposite side from underneath.










To do this, tighten two clamps on the apron, one at each end and place the wellboard on edge so that it sits above the benchtop. Clamp one end of the wellboard to the apron and plane as needed.

Now you must plane off the excess width until it fits in between the two bench tops. I find it best to create a slight taper fit so that the underside has a measure of lead-in. Technically, the well need not be tight. It will more than likely shrink anyway. But I prefer to start out tight. The internal well corners will be covered by corner mould.

With the wellboard fitted I cut the board to length but first checked that the bench was square and that the benchtop lined up from side to side using a straightedge across the two ends. In my case the bench was dead square and leveled and both ends lined up perfectly. If it is not square, remember that clamps out of parallel can clamp a unit like this out of square so you can actually use them in counter position to pull them into square too. You must first make certain that the bench frames are still level and out of twist with one another. It’s simply a question of packing up beneath one leg as necessary.

I dropped my wellboard in place, letting it overhang at each end, and used a straightedge to create the knifewall I need to cut the board to length. Do this to both ends simultaneously. Now tap the wellboard beyond the end so you can access the cut. There is no need to knifewall the under side as we will be bevelling this later. Do the same to the other end and you are ready to plane the ends. Work from either side so that there is no broken fibre on the outcut. This is also a good time to remove the arris by planing. Two strokes should be enough.


Cutting the housing dado over the bearer.

Now we must tap the wellboard back in position, flushing the ends with the benchtops.





Use a knife to cut either side of the bearer underneath and remove the wellboard. Mark the depth of the housing with a marking gauge or you can use the router to do this also. You want to leave 1” of material on the topside. In my case it is 5/8” deep. This depends on the thickness of your wellboard.

Chisel out the recess as you did previously for the apron housings. This time you can work the housing dado from both sides, so mark both sides for depth.

I used a saw to cut the walls of the housing dado. You can use either the 1” chisel or the handsaw or tenon saw.

With the housing dadoes cut, I used the same gauge setting as for the housing dadoes to mark the depth for my chamfer. Clamp the board to the benchtop to do this.

Place the board in place and drill and screw the board to the bearer from underneath as you did for the benchtops.

More complete their Foundational Course

Working wood has a way of uniting people so uniquely I still find myself bemused by the happenings within woodworking spheres of creativity. I mean, I ask myself why people like myself never give up and other full-time woodworkers can’t wait to give it up and then on the other hand so many people will give up everything for three days to immerse themselves in woodworking (and dust) to build something difficult and demanding.

Of course I know the answer and it’s dead simple. They are, like me, absolute amateurs—they do it only because they love it.

This week I saw strained faces, looks of frustration, momentary anger even. I saw people laughing at themselves and people laughing with one another. I saw a man who works as a family barrister at the next bench to a general doctor and on another couple of benches an art gallery design team member and a petroleum refiner. It didn’t end there, but they were intense in their work as recreation that was as refreshing for me to see as it was for them to be so immersed. They now grabbed planes confidently and with an expectation that they could make it do what they wanted it to do. From 13 pieces of wood a table emerged over a few days. They can now make tables for dining and for the side of their beds. They can make coffee tables and even desks. In about nine days they have gained enough skill and knowledge to be able to do these things for themselves and they no longer need Paul Sellers. I worked myself out of a job. How about that!


I watched them grow, prodded them here and there, and they left for home with tables tucked under their arms and fulfilled. I feel as I always do a sense of worth and purpose. It’s part f my dream to see a huge resurgence of interest in meaningful hand work.

I think that this picture of David speaks volumes, just volumes.

Clamping up is the culmination of nine days working solidly in a highly inspiring course. Few people today well ever experience what I am talking about and finding themselves in truly meaningful work is so important to our wellbeing. With a culture defying craftwork and denying skill to young people I find myself grateful that artisanry knows no age limit, no restraint on gender, no educational exclusion and needs no qualification because it qualifies itself by what we make.

Sabrina finished her table and left for home. There is a certain contentment from removing the clamps that I I cannot explain and I never let anyone deny me. I think that she is finding that too.

Well done everyone and thank you!

Let Working Wood be Real Woodworking

Working wood by hand is not old fashioned and it doesn’t have to be mere traditional at all.

Some times I regret seeing woodworkers dressed up in woodland clothes with baggy breeches and calico shirts tied loosely with leather thongs to create this rugged woodland-worker look in reenactment phase at renaissance fairs and such. It obviously conjures up a very false impression that hand tool woodworking is an old fashioned way of working wood and that the nostalgic is more important than the true value in the reality that the tools really work exceptionally well. Why do we have to “step back in time” to somehow recapture when it was never really lost? Woodworking has been preserved in the lives of woodworkers for generation after generation. Some people are discovering the real worth while others are presenting it as if on the weekend stage at outdoor woodworking shows. Let’s get real. Working with real wood and real woodworking tools is true power-tool woodworking at its best and that without battery driven or electric power. They really work, work well and are highly effective in delivering the goods. We don’t have to pretend.

I have worked wood, made my living from it and sold every piece of work I ever made every day for 48 year. Thousands of pieces from wooden spoons and spatulas to bird houses, walking canes and slingshots to credenzas for the White House Permanent Collection. Someone mentioned to me recently that you cannot make a living from making furniture and that that should be dismissed from your psyche. That’s not true at all. Each business I started was a hard but after three years hard work they started to support me and my family and with each passing decade I have seen them flourish as I passed them on to others. The businesses I began continue successfully today and others have taken them over so that I could develop my new strategy in other fields. These business now support many, many families working in cottage industries today. At least two dozen families to my last knowledge. Imagine that. Today this increases with each progressive step and all without mass-making mechanisms. Working Wood with Paul Sellers was never just mere concept but a belief that reality woodworking is possible in today’s culture and that the way forward for some is in small home businesses. It’s a responsibility I am committed to to help others work real wood in tangible ways and to take the first steps to reality, risk and an exciting unpredictable but self-sustaining future .

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.

2nd day of class – bright hope for future woodworkers

The sun setting over the New Legacy signs really meant something to me as I drove home last night. It meant a new legacy would now unfold that would be inclusive, inspiring and inviting. At last here we have something that represented creative training without exclusivity. We had created a place, a sphere of creativity and training, where skill could be passed on to others hitherto denied the possibility of studying under someone from a background as a lifelong working craftsman. Year after year both major western continents have shut down woodworking shops and indeed all craftwork shops in public schools. I know that that’s strongly lamented by most but it probably could be one of the best things that ever happened even though the short sighted politicians and their advisors shut them down for the wrong reasons. Trained woodworking teachers are usually not the best teachers because most teachers are trained to teach not work wood as crafting artisans. We should recognise that in view of the demise of woodworking apprenticeships, and the fact that schools never could really teach with proper credentials, centres like New Legacy provide the new-genre training for new-genre woodworkers. At last, I breathed, as I drove past the new signs pointing to the 2nd New Legacy School of Woodworking, at last we have a way of reaching people that seek true skill and mastery. All that I have been given can now be deposited in others and what I have doesn’t end with me.

Watching the students slowly filter into the workshop, mingle amongst the benches, looking at the tools, touching the benchtops and tweaking the vises I realised once more what commitment they had made to gaining mastery. How vulnerable they were in the statements of their lives simply being there. It was as if they understood they could now become something quite simple yet quite profound; they could become artisan woodworkers and this first day of class carried with it the dynamic that could make that happen. Seldom do we realise that big things often start with the very one small step others might despise. For these woodworking friends this was a new beginning.

Making a Shaker candle box seems more appropriate here than anywhere I have ever taught my class on dovetailing this unique little box. Here we are in the heart of what was once the epicentre of Shaker community life. The methods I am teaching encompass all of their methodology to encapsulate the essentiality of order. Sharp tools, layout practices, accuracy and technique all seem to elude new woodworkers so we spent the first hour discussing these issues and focussed first of all on the essentiality of sharpness. Each day I will expand this in practical realms as I alter saw teeth, reshape plane irons and teach techniques handed down since the early days of the Shakers and far beyond. We’ll continue to cut and shape wood to form joints and round over edges. With chisel tips we’ll remove waste from pins and tails and also form the recesses for hinges. By tomorrow we will not only have made boxes, but understand the angles and layout for dovetails. We will relate to wood differently than we would by machine. We will no longer say a machine is a tool but will know what the difference is between a tool and a machine. Where some say so emphatically that woodworking machine are tools, we will all know that that can never be.

More on creative workspace

Today I am stopping in at The Home Depot, my least favourite place to go buy lumber in general, but I am doing it for you, to buy wood for my tool cupboard and storage cabinet. Later on I will be visiting a lumber sawmill here in the woods. That will be my next post on wood selection from the raw. I will most likely interview in this one on video and post a You Tube video all being well.

Many people feel that squaring stock using hand tools is critically developmental—prior to making and jointing and so on. I wanted something that eliminated machines at the get go and expectations beyond capability too. Squaring stock takes developed and refined skill most people do not have and cannot get straight away. I don’t really care what others say, most new woodworkers cannot accurately square stock straight off the bat and most would-be woodworkers want to make something real first. If they start squaring stock to size without having a working knowledge of the plane and the wood, they will encounter much difficulty. It’s actually easier to simply plane a the surfaces of squared, machine planed or sawn stock first and allow the plane to follow the existing surface that to try to correct out of square, bowed and cupped stock. Developed skills can then simply unfold as you make and I have proved that to be practical so I make no apology. Further more, purists, I am not one, want only hand tools.  Most people can access a ready resource for wood without digging a six-foot pit and slabbing a tree into boards. Just where you draw the line with legalists can indeed be difficult.

My next book that follows Working Wood is all about dimensioning wood both from the log and squared beams and creating four-square stock to sizes best suited as you make several different types of chests. Remember that everything I do is a course, a new-genre woodworker apprenticing of you will. Here in New York I am working yet again on my creative workspace. There is nothing fancy or should I say fanciful about it. I need a resolved space to work in and my considerations will help others to think through where and how they work practically. I see many workshops set up like a science lab or a fitted kitchen. Fancy woods and complex tool boxes are more often examples if fine work beyond the skill of those discovering themselves and so I will work with would readily available and use joints that will build skills. The tools I will use are those that can be readily bought and will last a lifetime. Today we begin with earnest!

Our first classes for the US season begin in two-weeks time with two full classes back to back. I am sorry if you wanted to sign in and missed your slot, but please get in touch with the school. We may be able to set other dates depending on the demand.

The gem of workmanship

My life hinges with steely solidity through a linkage of ancient ways to a working past and a lineage of craftsmen working wood day in day out. For decades and centuries the men wielded their axes and pulled their strokes with another to stretch the massive saws across the tree’s girth. So too trees reach down and up, spread root and branch and grow from time’s past fallen seed to a present and future yet to be born. The trees I work the wood from now lie severed from those once deep-reaching roots in neat stickered layers one by one to dry a year for every inch of thickness and I wait.

Working beech-handled tools now smoothed by sweated hands through many years of working wood belong to me. The steel that’s cut so many strokes, the saw and plane I know so well, the steel I feel beneath my fingers many times in every day throughout near fifty years, has never failed to cut my wood in shavings and sawdust. How can I hold this from others to understand and to feel. This gem so many fight against I call work.

New seasons for Penrhyn Castle and New York

Being ready for the Northeast Woodworker’s Association show in Saratoga Springs NY I must finish off making one of my oak Craftsman-Style rocking chairs and an oak chairside table by next weekend. I am fairly well along, but I must also have all the coats of finish fully completed before I leave for the US a week Monday.


Today Penrhyn Castle opened as normal for the start to the new season and the school had a steady flow of visitors interested in woodworking and especially what I was involved in. Working as an artisan, it’s all too easy to see your own work as ordinary and although that’s perhaps what it is, that’s far from not how I feel The rocking chair rocked steadily along throughout the day and by the close at 5pm all 46 mortise holes were fully bottomed out. I enjoy hearing people banter back and forth as I work in the background of my workshop. What they say and feel is real. “This is a surprise.” Or, “I didn’t know this was here.” “The smell drew me in. It reminds me of woodworking in school and I couldn’t resist.” Their comments remind me not to take my working wood for granted.

Many of you have asked me which chisels to use for mortising with. The best all round chisels are not mortise chisels as in the old style made from a heavy mass of steel and huge handles but simple bevel-edged chisels. They penetrate easily and deeply with minimum effort and after 48 years of chopping mortises I have yet to see anything work better. The old Marples blue chips work great, but I do not recommend any tools made by Irwin in general as they live on the reputation of the former makers and their chisels come from Asian producers and NOT Sheffield

The Northeastern Woodworker’s Show in Upstate New York

I don’t know if any or all of you back East know of the Northeastern Woodworker’s Association (NWA) show in Saratoga Springs, New York, but this week I will be packing my bags and leaving my Welsh Mountains once again for an early Spring visit to NY. The show begins Saturday 31 March through 1 April and I am hoping to meet many of those I know and more yet that I don’t know there as yet, I will of course be demonstrating many hand tool techniques and methods most have never seen before throughout this two-day event in the New Legacy School of Woodworking booth. My demo’s will be each hour on the hour throughout the two days, so please stop by for 45 minutes of real woodworking around the bench…

…it’s here that you will learn that there’s more to planes and wood than mere shavings and saws than dust alone. I’ll show you how to sharpen and set a plane in under two minutes and any saw in under four. From dovetails to inlays and picture frames to working with children. Hold on to your seats. We will also be exhibiting some of the pieces you build in our workshop classes and I will be signing copies of my new book Working Wood the Artisan Course with Paul Sellers throughout the event.

The week after the show I will be preparing for our first workshop at the New Legacy School in Greenwich, New York. The school is nearing completion and the benches too. If you have interests in future workshops there then please contact the US school and please book your bench space as early as you can as many of the workshops fill in just a few days of posting.

I am so looking forward to the upcoming opening workshop.  It’s a full class of enthusiastic energy bursting at the seams of creativity and this is just the beginning. The whole NL team anticipates that this will be a new centre for woodworking excellence in New York and that woodworkers from many states will find their newfound skills through our workshops. Please follow our progress here or on Facebook and Twitter and we will give you many updates as the time draws nearer and nearer. We are planning an open house too. That way you can come and inspect the new school and see what we have to offer and meet the team that brought all of this together.

Hope to see you sometime in the next few weeks.

Best regards,


Last day of The Woodworking Shows Fredericksburg, VA

As the sun set over the trees last night I felt the rewards of an honest day’s work. It was one of the busiest days I have had since my US tour began, with many wonderful people looking for practical ways to work wood.  There were highlights, but for the main part it was a steady stream of amateur woodworkers striving for higher levels of woodworking and looking for ways to get there. All my presentations were filled to capacity with the aisles taking the standing-room only stance once the demo’s got going. Dovetails and inlays were always well received but so too advice on how to fettle the #4s and saws. Today is my last day for the show here in Virginia, but I will start preparing for the Northeast Woodworkers Association Show (NWA) in Saratoga Springs, which takes place at the end of March.

It was nice to have my tools stowed in my new toolbox and drawers again. I also started making a second box during the show so that when I go to Saratoga Springs I will have everything in place. I will be demonstrating at the show and as usual we will present the Real Woodworking Campaign as an alternative for woodworkers to master new skills. People are seriously looking for ways to gain practical working skills after half a century of being bombarded by machine makers. The simplicity of handwork is critical to the future generations of handwork and it’s up to us to ensure these skills and ways of working wood are available to children. If we don’t, there will be no next generation of woodworkers but a generation of machinists thinking they are woodworkers.

So, as the sun rises on the City again and a Sunday morning unfolds beyond the bed sheets and hotel rooms, I find myself thinking of the past and looking to the future of young woodworkers. I didn’t see very many at the show or indeed the shows past. Last night there were a couple there, I enjoyed seeing their faces captivated by my demonstration. One came over ands said the presentation was “awesome.” He was 12 years old. Who knows what a one-hour demo will do. In my mind, most of those attending had the heart of a 12 year old. That’s what it takes to become an artisan, a young heart and an eager mind. Age is inconsequential when you think about it.