This coming weekend we start another nine-day workshop where we make dovetailed boxes, a bookshelf unit and an oak table. It’s my standard Foundational Course developed for those who take hand work seriously and want to master the exact same skills and techniques as those used by the masters of old. The course has changed very little since my first one back in the late 1980’s. Hard to imagine we are here, 4,500 students later, still teaching the same foundation I developed 25 years ago and one I followed back in the mid 1960’s when I apprenticed. I suppose it’s not really that strange when you think abut it. In hundreds if not thousands of years, wood is still worked the same way. That’s if you still use hand tools of course. The ancient Egyptians used hand planes cast from bronze and of course chisels and saws span the same number of millennia. That being so, the joints and methods of working the tools and the wood have changed only minimally. Whatever is being used to make what we use today mirrors that of ancient peoples around the world. It makes sense then that the techniques I teach are many centuries old. Few things have changed and so teaching the traditions is a given. There are no new methods of working wood that haven’t been with us as long as man has been fashioning wheels and boats, ox yokes, hand planes and all that which we need to make life as easy and as comfortable as possible.
This Week’s Workshop at Penrhyn
On Saturday the course starts around my bench and I work firstly to dismantle the many misconceptions people have about woodworking, their own abilities, the tools and of course how we view the many different spheres of working wood today. For some it is of course a brand new beginning. They may never have worked with wood, never used hand tools and may know nothing at all about the craft. In an hour, maybe two, we will have demystified several lives and opening doors they didn’t even know existed.
The De-Industrial R-evolution – We Begin with Sharpening and Chisels
My first objective is to tech-down the technical industrialism of internet influences that so confuse life today. In about ten to fifteen minutes we will have flattened and sharpened a chisel from Aldi (or somewhere else) to create a pristine edge paralleling the very best chiselling tool any modern maker makes bar none. That means that from that lesson on they will be capably developing their own chisel edges for the rest of their lives without needing a Tormek or any other sharpening machine.
Dismantling and reassembling a #4 smoothing plane regardless of the maker suddenly makes sense when you must make the plane shave off a thousandth or two dead parallel to the surface. It makes sense to dismantle the plane and reset it straight from the start. Again, sharpness is the key and so we cover this first and then we work on how to set up bench planes.
With proper guidance visual stimuli around the workbench knocks the socks of anything else I can offer and my students quickly seek that their success means that they must master the hand plane as early as possible in their training. Smoothing planes and teaching people how to use them has never grown old for me. In a matter of one hour, everyone will clearly understand exactly what they can expect from their smoothing plane. An hour after that they will be planing their wood four-square.
Joint Making and the Art of Joinery Becomes Simple and Clear
That’s always been my goal and how better to make it all the clearer than making three joints as you make three great training projects. before we tackle the joints using in the projects, we spend time making certain every attendee can see just how joints are made, what they do and how best to make them. The box, the wallshelf and the table incorporate the three most commonly used of all joints. At the end of nine days they will have completed three projects, but, the three projects are the byproduct and not the objective. The mastery of skill, the development of knowledge result in the finished examples of their understanding and skill. That’s my goal in deindustrialising these new-genre woodworkers. I’m looking forward to the weekend and we still have a couple of places left if you can make it.