Just Another Day at Work – But It’s Real Work

DSC_0037The winds reached record highs in North Wales today and a Red Alert still in force means probable loss of life. All the big bridges are closed and public transport will be stopped by the time you read this, but inside the Penrhyn Castle walls, three feet thick and more, we can hardly hear or feel a thing of it. The Castle was closed to the public and the massive gates were locked and bolted. DSC_0034Matt and John continued with their tool chests and mine is ready for the raised panels – perhaps tomorrow. I have been progressing the completion of the bed that I have been making and experimenting with. DSC_0023The method of construction is exceptionally fast using this these simple and solid woodworking joints and the wood is relatively inexpensive too. DSC_0003DSC_0015DSC_0001 - Version 2The bed is also knock down once certain screws are removed and so it can be easily packed, stowed and transported if needed. It’s all together now and just lacks a couple of small things to prepare it for finish. Milk paint followed by shellac, I think. This we will video as one of our new videos on finishing your work. We will do this alongside the workbench stool.

The techniques I use for most of my work, because they are hand methods and there is nothing new to hand tool woodworking, are traditional techniques. The thing I have found though is this. For most woodworkers I get to know, those who have progressed naturally toward developing real skill using their hands, there is still that sense of of discovering what they never knew existed and that’s what makes everything so vibrant and exciting for them and for me. I never found machine work exciting because it was always the same stuff. Remember that everything you cut on a machine comes from a rotary cut in a straight line, mostly, anyway. Working with machines generally follows a certain pattern. First off I had to find out how to make myself and others around me safe. Then I had to think through the processes to make sure the material was safe and the machine was safe. Losing one, the other or both can be costly. most of the time that means making something that carries the wood across or into a cutterhead in some way with the primary focus being of course on safety. I was raised with spindle moulders and not so much the router. I am an expert in both machines. the Spindle moulders (shapers US) had powerful 3hp machines that did incredible work fast. A router to me was just a small scale shaper and with that it meant I had to wear the gladiator gear to go into the arena; head and face protection mostly, respirator and hearing protection. You know the stuff. All of this should have been mandatory when I was first stood in front of these machines but of course back then no protection was provided and shavings piled up behind the machine for me to bag every hour. My experience made me ever more determined that there was a way to escape mass-making machines and yet use them to do what they are really good at and that is the donkey work of stock prepping. I found that way and live by it.

Today I was using a handsaw to cut arches in the bed rails followed by an older compass plane as shown to refine the cuts and follow my lines to perfection. I defy any machine method to beat what I did for a one off piece like this. Because I used hand methods I didn’t need to dismantle the components to do this aspect of the work so, yes, it takes a few minutes longer to cut the arches with a handsaw, but I saved time not having to disassemble the rails from the bed, which means the whole operation was faster because I had the skill of working hand tools. I needed no dust extraction and no personal safety equipment and in two or three dustpans I picked up sawdust and shaving around me feet in about two minutes. Most machine work is of course pretty dull unless you are programmed to it. It can be pretty mindless and yet you can’t actually switch off your mind because of the inherent danger you are always at risk to. the greatest danger time is when you become so accustomed to the work that your mind switches off. That can become a bad habit and especially so if you have to make lots of repetitive cuts. I don’t have this issue because I can pick my work. For monotonous machine work I would always charge higher. If I got the work I would do it quickly on the machine and get it out the door so I could work on the work i enjoyed more which involved almost only hand work. This work might take me twice as long, but I charged a lot less and worked twice as long because of the fulfilment I gained in the work. I didn’t mind working longer at a lower rate you see.

Phil spent time editing film and progressing other things throughout the day and we are all glad that Resi is back in from her New Zealand trip. We all try to make sure we answer all emails and questions when they come in, but this becomes more difficult by the day as incoming emails increases every day. My blog other things I do are none income producing because we decided we would not allow advertising or take sponsorship. This will always be the case, but keep your questions and support emails coming in, we love reading about your progress and questions answered help everyone else out there searching for answers.DSC_0040


  1. I hope you guys are doing fine during the storms. Please be very careful when you leave the castle. No matter how much you love the trees growing around the castle, in these conditions they could be very dangerous!

  2. Interesting post, as usual.

    I do think that your Blog is income producing, just not directly. It helps to keep you relevant, and makes people aware of your work. I have to imagine that your Masterclasses and workshops would be less full if you weren’t writing every day and getting your name out there.

    I learned about you through your Blog, and eventually you got another Masterclasses customer.

    So please do keep writing, for free 😉

  3. Paul what power equipment do you currently use in your shop? You’ve written before about using a bandsaw for stock prep, so I know at least that one. Just curious what machines you find most useful for the donkey work.

    1. Jason, Paul gives a complete video tour of his shop at Penrhyn Castle on the Masterclasses web site (free).

  4. Thanks Paul. Nice blog. I would like to thank you for responding to emails. For us, apprentices, are very important and give us the information essential to our progress. Thanks to the whole team!

  5. Cutting arches with a handsaw. Wow! I’m hoping for a video on that!! As a novice wood worker, I’m doing my best to avoid the temptation to buy a bandsaw…

  6. I think I’m putting too much camber on my plane irons and I’m afraid I don’t understand how far or close to set the frog in addition to how close to set the cap iron to the cutting edge. Also I seem to lose dead square on the iron if I don’t lock hands, wrists, arms and elbows etc. I mean all those things are essential to proper set up planes? The Shaker bench is going to be a real revelation for me as all your instruction is. Thank You.

    1. Hello Charles and others who have similar concerns. First off, you CAN DO IT!!! Secondly, it takes practice, thirdly, there is nothing wrong with using a honing guide to get you started and the best ones are those you find on eBay for a few pounds or dollars…no more than £10.
      Sharpening is more a loosely held iron or chisel than a rigid bulldogging and shouting “SAY UNCLE.” Relax, take your time, be prepared to flex and don’t worry if you are a little out of square; just try to correct your self rather than establishing a bad habit. It is best to always start at 30-degrees and stay under and never over.
      The Shaker-style Deacon’s bench seat has indeed been such a blast. I applied the finish this morning and should have that done by the end of the day.

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