Making the Tool Box

I catch myself sometimes trying to imagine a day without making and momentary panic hangs for a split second. Some men I know couldn’t wait to retire to “get off the tools” and sell them. One day perhaps I will indeed need to stop and put mine away but not for a decade or two I hope. Maybe three. It’s not a new feeling, but just occasional; the thought of not being able to work one day would be saddening had I not had the fulfilment I’ve enjoyed for so long. When I was new to working, as an 11 year old man, I sometimes considered the same things. Thoughts really, but I am glad my life has been so filled with wood and its workings. There were times when work necessitated a day or two away from the bench and the tools, days without making, but of the 15,000 days I have worked, 140,000 hours, I have only had but a few days when I wasn’t making something with my hands.

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All of my work still demands I make things and even my teaching ensures I make something each day. Now the demand is even greater in that using hand tools places the high demand of more physical work squarely where I love it to be. My personal expectations levels are higher and so too my standards of workmanship and with that goes the self challenge and so on that doesn’t happen with machining.

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I’ve been making the tool chest and planed the 13/16” stock down to 9/16” – quite a workout. By the evening I had everything to finished size ready for working out the dovetails and laying them out ready for cutting. So I will be starting the blog on the whole of this tomorrow, as soon as I have the cutting list together for you.

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Today I looked at this hand made tool and stripped it apart to restore it. It’s quite lovely and I imagine a man at his bench making the parts and milling the components using hands that knew how to work wood, steel and brass. It.s cleverly devised inside with a dovetailed steel threaded rod tenoned into a brass plate and peened over and of course the well loving mechanism. It’s always been inherent to man to make.

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People come in and say that they can’t make anything and its true, they never went through the discipline of working with their hands and therefor simply assumed that they never would and worse still never could. I see men come in the shop every day and find it hard to leave. Wistfully they seem to linger and listen and it’s this unfulfilled life I alluded to recently in my blog where people never have the opportunity to become what they really aspired to be. It’s a sad place to be if you come to a point where life seems unfulfilling and I see this more evident in people who have retired than almost any other societal group. On the other hand a lady came in today and stood there soaking in the ambience and then the smells hit her and then the sense of peace. The funny thing was she said that she would love to be able to make the dovetails we have on display. Then she said she’d like to be able to do it too but then she capped it of by saying, “I wish there was a machine that would do that.” I didn’t disabuse here by saying that there was. I did disabuse her by saying, “No, that’s the very last thing you want. Screaming noises that only substitute for developing skill and finding fulfilment.” Her eyes sparked at the thought that she might one day learn such skills so I am really hoping I managed to save her from ever entering the madness of routing dovetails. Phew!!!

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It’s funny how many views there are about woodworking and what it is to be a woodworker. Many people want to be woodworkers and earn their living from it and of course you can indeed do that despite those indirectly in the filed saying you can’t. I suppose that’s why I’m here. You can male your living from woodworking IF you are prepared to become masterful of the essential skills and work on becoming both a maker and a designer or are prepared to produce a line of pieces people can invest in and collect your work. I have written extensively on this over the past years and of course I am always concerned that people think that they can become something as a result of a few days enjoying a few days in the woodshop. Skill is developed by rote practice and many people hate to hear that. I don’t care what anyone says, skill takes practice and determination to establish disciplines that demand nothing less than total absorption and interest.
There are many woodworking types. there are those who make their living from it making traditional designs and then there are the furniture making artists who make lampshades from ties and chairs from leather suitcases. For the one group the design is already established and so the maker then relies only on the quality of his or her workmanship. The other group relies on developing something beyond the norm that narrows the market markedly and in that case the artist maker must create an appeal from the work. In both camps it’s most often an education process to persuade would be buyers to buy their work. I am always interested to hear from you about what you feel about those issues so I’ll just throw this out there for your views. Can the furniture maker with the up cycled tie lampshade expect people to understand all of his creations? Can the woman making a craftsman-style range of pieces earn her living from perhaps a tradition people might feel a little outdated? Of course I have presented two possibilities, but the idea is just what does it take to be a successful woodworker or furniture maker and this has absolutely nothing to do with making money but it does have something to do with selling your work?

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I was thrilled with a gift of many wooden planes today. Will post pix when i get them. But here was a precious gift from Arthur who  brought the tools in. It’s a Leonard Bailey cap iron stamped with the Patent date of Dec 24 1867. I will treasure this and frame it I think.

9 comments on “Making the Tool Box

  1. I am led to believe that a furniture maker making traditional style pieces, relying on their craftsmanship, has about the same chance to have a lasting career as a seller as the tie-into-lampshade artisan. I agree the key for both would be education of their market as to what goes into it their work. Ever more, people’s attention spans have grown shorter, the pace of life quicker, their desire for instant gratification greater. Well, not everyone is like this. But it is a tendency in the modern world that a craftsman would do well to recognize and try to ameliorate wherever possible. The “IKEA mentality” is ultimately bound to lose.

  2. I noticed that the boards you’re using are quite knotty. How do you deal with the knots? Especially when you need to take of 5/16″ in thickness? It would seem that taking fine shavings–the only way that works for me in knotty boards–would take far too long. Any advice?

    • No, it took the same time as without the knots. I used my #4 Stanley retro-scrub plane to take off the bulk and then finished with the #4 smoothing plane. It is time consuming but enjoyable if you like hard graft.

  3. The boards you are using look at minimum about 12 inches wide are they made up of a number of boards glued together ? if so have you done it or can you buy boards already joined?

    • Dave. if I’m not mistaken, 12″ wide boards are generally the widest that can be found commonly. If they are any wider then youve got to consider edge-gluing or flitch-sawn or rough slab.

  4. In response to your question, I was just having a conversation today with a friend who does a lot of machine work, he was telling of an in-law that wanted him to make a wood coffee table, he worked out a cost, and she was shocked. Said she could buy 3 if not 4 of them at a number of places( you all know the names) for that price. He spoke about solid wood and the ability to refinish, how long the table might last being passed down through 3 or 4 families, but in the end it was no thanks. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, Paul you have spoken about your time at craft shows, with items that take two people to carry, vs the others with their pre-made parts ready for assembly and pick up. You have found a way to feed your family through selling your ‘art’, but did you have dovetail samples or mortice/ tenon samples to illustrate to you audience? Did you ever do demos in those earlier days? Just curious.

  5. Paul I am looking forward to the tool chest build as I need one for traveling. I really like that panel gauge you are using, very nice indeed.

    Steve

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