Removing the Hurdles and Building On Future Generations

DSC_0048My students stand awkwardly around my bench and start asking me about the tools they should look for starting out. It’s usually the case at the start of every class I teach. I think it makes sense because they don’t see fancy tools around my bench but mostly common ones, they seem bemused or unbelieving, but then I realise it’s not unbelief but surprise. That’s interesting, is it possible that something old and simpler trumps the more technically advanced and highly refined? Is it possible that wood gurus giving tool reviews in mags and those selling tools are trumping them up and indeed dissing the old models disingenuously. Well, fact is, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is what works in front of them and that’s what makes what I do work. I’m not selling tools and equipment and when the £2 chisel slices the wood with pristine cuts they feel totally empowered and in just minutes their eyes open wide and they understand.


Dismantling the work of the sometimes disingenuous is ever easier and seeing those lesser planes and chisels parallel the work the best of the rest can do I see the wow factor reversed so that the wow plane is more a junker Stanley with plastic handles and a nickel plated adjuster. The shavings twist off the cutting edge with each successive swipe and before you know it we’ve enabled another half dozen woodworkers to equip their shop with tools that really work and work exceptionally. Currently, looking at eBay a few minutes ago, I can buy half a dozen buy-it-now Stanleys for under £20 plus shipping of about £5. Now that’s a lifetime-plane even for someone like me that works their plane hard for several hours in any given day. I think that that’s a pretty good default position if you think about it and that’s what I want in my craft for others. I want woodworking to return to its former state as an inclusive not an exclusive craft and that’s  making woodworking available to everyone.DSC_0069

Thick and thin irons, hard and harder steels, specially made steel alloys for plane bodies all have their place, of course they do, but when you’re starting out you just don’t know what you really want let alone truly need. That’s why I’m here. I’ve used every plane there is and what I share isn’t the merenes off opinion. You see things like this matter and that’s why we do what we do. I say we because more and more people are thinking along these lines and that means woodworking is indeed becoming more and more inclusively real. So, today we talked through the misunderstandings and the misrepresentations and misconceptions of things like water stones and scary sharp systems to dismantle the erroneous message now circling the globe. What all woodworkers really need more of is simple and not complex so we keep it simple as can be and very real.


Countering the profound strongholds in the ever growing transfer of power in hand methods of woodworking is becoming more and more workable. I love the reality this insider knowledge brings to my students and that they feel more equipped than ever to take charge of how they choose to work with powerless power. It’s important to pass on the truths so that when they leave in a week’s time they will look at planes and chisels differently. They will know that systems sold in magazines and catalogs do indeed work and even have truth in them but they will also know to question the sources with swinging sales tags and look a little more deeply knowing that they watched the ordinary produce the amazing and there is nothing pricey in sight.


I think steps in training are important so we make a spatula to look into what we cannot see. The millions upon millions of elongated cells that make wood what it is are diverse yet we , they, must understand what they cannot always see in the fullness needed to understand it. The diverse cuts with saws and chisels and spokeshaves needed to shape a spatula are the beginning of understanding and this is more fundamentally important than anything I know. As to a spoon, well, I taught them techniques necessary to make a violin and a guitar neck as well as carving out the belly and back of a violin. They just didn’t know it at first. soon a spoon emerges from an angular block of oak and yes it was hard on the hands and the arms to say nothing of the fingers, but when we wrapped up and swept the floor I felt like we crossed over into a new sphere that hitherto they’d never experienced.DSC_0160

John’s a ways down the road and leaves me and my work in two days. Well, he doesn’t leave me so much as take me with him in the edge of the cutting tools and the ways he knows to adjust them to task. He’s got wooden bodied planes fine tuned to perfection and says he has yet to find any metal bodied planes to match them. Of course my work finds meaning in recognising the break that severed people from the connection to the real issues. Machining wood severs the connection between man and tools and man and wood. My work is now living in him and thousands of others and he takes it on to another continent. I’m fulfilled. That’s my work succeeding and being passed on as students and apprentices move  gain the working knowledge they need to become real woodworkers.


  1. Editorial Pages on 2 December 2014 at 9:23 pm


    I’m struck again by what a blessed man you are.

    All the best and a Happy Christmas to you and your family.

    Gordon Clark
    Vancouver, B.C.

  2. Stuart McMillan on 3 December 2014 at 1:36 pm

    The joy I’ve had from simple, cheap, tools stays with me. I remember the first time I used a card scraper instead of sandpaper. I remember ‘finding’ a handle in a piece of square timber using an ebay-acquired spokeshave the first time I used it. The satisfaction I had from fettling and using my Aldi chisels far exceeded any satisfaction from using any of my power tools.

  3. Dan on 14 December 2014 at 4:03 am

    I do own “Ebay Stanley’s” the ones that I have purchase have always needed tuning, they are always in lack of something. If your new and your first task is to tune a plane that you don’t know how it should actually perform when its at its best and you have never taken a 1/1000 shaving than you are bound to encounter frustration. If you factor in the cost of the sand paper, a flat reference surface for the sand paper to work, the hours spent flattening the plane, eliminating the rust and some of the pitting suffered by allot of this tools correcting any flaws on the frog, not to mention that a decent Stanleys do not go for 20 on my side of eBay and to top it off you still have not taking a shaving with the plane than there is definitely a cheaper option. A brand new hand plane. My experience… is the best investment you can make and it will save you lots of grief. My favorite Stanley as of today is a No 6 Bailey I have put allot of hours on it to get where I enjoy using it. I had to upgrade the blade to a Hock O1 blade that slices wood as it where butter (when properly sharpen). Compare to the weight of the brand new 21st century hand planes it feels allot lighter I like to switch to it when I get tired from a heavier plane it feels like I can go on forever at first, but I eventually need to pause. I have more work to do on it but its more about looks than anything else at this point I spent several long weekends caressing it nurturing it and give it all my efforts to make it work like it should. In my experience, for a beginner, I would not recommend a 20 pound, dollar, or euro Stanley from eBay. Now if you have the privilege and the money or resources to have Paul Sellers on site when you receive the flea bay plane, and he will show you and tune your plane for you than your “Standing on the Shoulder of Giants”. Go for it!

    • Paul Sellers on 14 December 2014 at 7:55 am

      Not sure what the point is here. I could argue any of your points, Dan. A good #4 knocks the socks of a #6 for 98% of general woodwork and furniture making and you can still get one in working condition off of eBay for under £20. Even a new one will only cost you £45 or so. You really don’t need a Hock iron usually and most people are now obsessing over flatness of planes. Lastly, people don’t need me to get their planes going because it’s a few minutes work and not the way you have described much of this at all.