Where is the balance?

American Woodworker magazine article out soon

This week, subscribers to American Woodworker will receive their copies of the magazine and John Kelsey has written a four-page article about our New Legacy School of Woodworking and its relationship to the woodworking world as a whole. John and I talked about the perspectives people hold about woodworking and just how do you restore the balance we have lost in a world so bent on using mass making methods to make the very simplest of projects. I have just spent a year training my students on two continents. We have mastered some techniques and methods and we have to persevere on others. In time, not a long time, what I have becomes theirs. They add to it, and very soon, maybe in only a matter of days or weeks, they suddenly get it. That sharpened edge comes in an instant, the chisel severs dead on without a guide and the mortise comes to perfection with methods I have trained them in. They sit and look at their bookshelf and the box they made two weeks or two months ago and they go wow! I did make this! They realize that they are on the right path following my own life to become a lifestyle woodworker. The article I talk of will be on the newsstands at the end of October. It’s not one I penned but in a sense it is. It’s more about my life and ambition to add balance to woodworking and woodworkers before I leave the planet. It’s the written life I’ve lived, if you will.

Machines have a viable place and prove of equal value t hand tools

I like machines, I use them most days, but if they invade skill and substitute for it, I stop using them. Also, scenes like this don’t happen in the machine area.


Someone wrote me and sent a link to yet another video. In the presentation a man, Michael Pekovich, tells his audience how much he “likes hand tools; a lot.” He then went on to say how he was going to teach his audience how to build a wonderful tool cupboard to house these treasures and did the whole thing with jigs on the table saw using not hand tools but machines. Dovetails came from the sled on a circular saw blade and the same blade made the recesses for the hinges. Of course this would have been quick, simple and easier by hand – I mean like a fraction of the time, but if you spent thousands on machines, bits, blades and equipment you gotta prove its worth, and it is occupying a massive footprint in your garage space. The irony of it all, the writer who sent the link pointed out, is that he couldn’t see what he was expressing in the mass manufacturing methodology he was using. I think that this is the point. We sometimes find ourselves in the fog of industry, invaded by noise and isolated from the skill that would eliminate 95% of it if we  could just find this illusive element called balance.

More balance

This was at the end of yesterday’s book/DVD shelf workshop, which is Part II of my Foundational Woodworking Course. Bobbie wanted to stay on but duty as a paramedic called her home. To say nothing of her cat and other animals she has in her life. We had a blast and she is the only person ever to convince me to buy a corrugated soled number 4 Stanley plane, which I need as an example to show people what not to buy.


    1. Several reasons. They are worse than the heavyweight planes in some ways not the least of which is the very thing woodworkers acknowledged heavy planes stick ti the wood like glue and dolt glide. The old craftsmen found even the lightweights stock to the wood wo how more the heavy planes. Corrugated soles had a habit of grabbing the shaving, pulling it back under the sole on the return stroke and scuffing the surface of the wood with subsequent strokes until detected. Also, as with heavyweight planes, the are difficult to use say on roundovers, where you want to make a bullnose or even a simple chamfer. The vee’s of the corrugation challenge any diagonal cutting because the vee’s grab the corner of the wood. That’s what heavy planes do too.

      1. It was a sad thing to watch really. Perhaps I might consider doing the same project but using the actual hand tools. It’s quicker and cleaner and more efficient anyway.

  1. Seeking inspiration for my own hand tool cabinet plan, I had eagerly viewed the Pekovich tool cabinet videos a few days ago and came away with the same exact disappointment witnessing the irony of the project. After Pekovich states that he will “give handcut dovetails a power assist” but then proceeds to demonstrate an 85% machine+jig approach. I would like to see a time lapse counter to show how much setup time was represented by each procedure. Lastly, wherever does someone get a table saw blade custom ground at 7 degrees?

    People should follow any approach they want, but I personally am left feeling a whole lot less inspired by Pekovich’s results.

    BTW: Will you be doing a video blog or DVD series on the building of your tool chest? I am now inspired by your current book and DVD set, but attending your school on the opposite coast is not practical given my professional schedule.

    1. I believe that forrest will grind a blade to whatever angle you want. Why someone would want to cut dovetails on a table saw is beyond me.

      I recall reading a article about the hand tool cabinet a few years back in FWW magazine. It was a ply box with finger joints. The writer of the article said it was obvious that the guy who built the cabinet wasn’t a hand tool user and had the cabinet for showing off tools that weren’t used.

  2. Hi Paul,
    In my opinion ,you are redressing the balance, of which in the magasines there is very little.
    On your Facebook page, you talk of one day courses. How about some weekend courses taking in saw sharpening, dovetails and perhaps making a toolchest?
    I hope so.

  3. I have to say that I’m a Mike Pekovich fan. I like his designs and think he has a lot to offer to the woodworking community. By his own admission, he let’s his machines do the heavy lifting and then goes to hand work for the rest. If you delve into his work I think you’ll find he does a lot of handwork and does it very well. I think that applies to a lot of us and he’s found a good balance (for him) between the two. Other’s mileage may vary depending on their goals.

    1. I think when I wrote the article, now seven years ago, he was the graphic artist for the magazine he worked for and was perhaps more new to actually working wood at that time. It seemed funny to write about making a hand tool cabinet and then process it by machine that’s all, including dovetailing. The jig set up was complicated and elaborate to make it work. He is a good graphic artist and I am sure that that translates into being good at other craft realms too. Actually, I can’t imagine anyone not developing good woodworking skills in such a creative environment as the magazine provides.

Comments are closed.

Privacy Notice

You must enter certain information to submit the form on this page. We take the handling of personal information seriously and appreciate your trust in us. Our Privacy Policy sets out important information about us and how we use and protect your personal data and it also explains your legal rights in respect of it. Please click here to read it before you provide any information on this form.