Over the years…

…I do get a little flack from time to time. Why I do this or do that, say this or say that and so on. Some of it I wittingly or unwittingly bring on myself. Fitting out my garage workspace has brought some of that but never on purpose and it made me realise that in many cases people want me to be like them when what makes me me is of course not following others or and especially the mainstream crowd. When I started my second class in the USA I taught machine woodworking too. I never taught it again because I felt there was so little to learn about machine work it was hardly worth it. What I was teaching was far from mainstream and highly individualistic. It was the true power of the power tools I consider the most powerful—hand tools. But I thought to myself why not leave it to the salesmen and sales outlets. This was pre-online stuff of course. I went against the flow and actually I believe I was one of the then only schools teaching purely hand tool work in woodworking there. Within three years my school was full time year round, such was the demand. Since then that’s grown exponentially and woodworkers of every level see the true value of working with hand tools. It was a success! Today of course we have expanded that far more and we have never taken sponsorship on our sites to date. We’d make and reach a lot more if we did but it keeps us true to our vision, clean and individualistic.

But then too I thought about something I think is worth mentioning. I work in my workshop setting in a way that really suits me. By that I mean that I have custom fit the things that I want custom fitting to suit me. Now,for the main part anyway, I can pluck a tool out and put it to task in a split second. I have gradually shied away from boxing everything in chests and boxes so that they are freely available minute by minute. That doesn’t mean that lesser used tools are not stowed and even boxed. They are. Saw sets and unused back up stock of saw files for instance.

I suppose now, in essence, my garage has become the toolbox and every tool compartmentalised according to my reach, twist ability and comfort. Rarely do I have to remove one thing to pull out what I need. I was struck by the odd comments here and there and would describe them mostly as perhaps more first-world problems we often encounter today. Electric outlets below waist height, water running too slow from the taps. That sort of thing. Often the comments might be exaggerated by pluralising what should be singular. Or suggest that something is dangerous when it’s actually not at all. Perhaps tools that seem carelessly placed or used when they are not either. Sometimes it could be a build up of tools allowing some clutter on the benchtop during a task or series of tasks I might consider it to break my flow to clear or clean at that moment when the shot is taken. My needing to remove one saw to reach to another from a dowel may well be irksome to one person but it’s not at all to me. I am just thankful for having the two saws, the dowel to hang them from and then the garage to work in. I do see that people can be concerned about such things and it’s easy to worry but they are indeed small issues in the whole of life and often not a problem at all. As one person said, “Sweat the big stuff.” I am really not at all offended by things people say or even feel defensive of my choices. I do what I like and feel comfortable with. Others can try it and if they like it they can keep it. If not they can take it down. I do think that it is worth mentioning here though. I just want people to really enjoy their experience of being a hand tool enthusiast.

There are two houses I have found it difficult to be in and feel comfortable; workplaces too. One is the domain that is so squalid and dirty I don’t know where to walk, touch, lean or sit. The other is one where everything is so pristinely neat and arranged that it seems not to be accommodating at all, exclusive even, and I feel even my presence might be contaminating what’s there. This also is true of a workshop, a toolbox and a tool drawer. I have known some woodworkers who insist on refolding the foldable pocket knife I recommend for woodworking every time they use it. perhaps dozens of times a day. I ONLY fold mine when it’s going with me out of the shop, rarely. Why? Well it’s a bit like chisel tips meant to protect the cutting edges and the user. You are more likely to cut yourself doing it than if left on the bench. Others replace the chisels from left to right in size order throughout the day. I prefer not to. On the other hand I find it useful to have my three saws hanging in order from small to large in a left to right pattern.

Occasionally I will indeed place a tool out of synchrony with my normal patterns and I may well take a picture showing something in the image that seems juxtaposed to my normal standard of order. I do apologise for that.

Oh, more adaptation here. Not at all intensional as I have a vise holder for my laptop, but the drawer, combined with my bench stool makes a perfect match for working with it at the bench.

35 thoughts on “Over the years…”

  1. Paul,
    I could not agree more. My shop is laid out for me and I guess it seems to always be changing to accommodate how I work to bring more efficiency and peace in my woodworking experience.

    Love the smiley face in your drawer.

  2. Guilty as charged, Paul! I place my chisels and gouges in leather roll-ups. I started doing this when I was a “machine” woodworker with limited storage. I just never got out of the habit and I’m comfortable with that or I was! Now you’ve got me thinking…. a very dangerous thing to do! LOL

    1. Probably not. You’ve got used to it and if you are comfortable with it why change.

  3. Alexander Ralph

    Always a shame when people take ideas, inspiration from your videos and experience and feel they need to question it rather than thank you for it. As you say, if it works for someone great, if it doesn’t then at the very least a technique or another idea may come from the original task. Glass half empty or glass half full attitude i guess. And i approach all information and teachings you have with very much a glass half full attitude!! Thank you very much again for all you do. Very excited to be almost at the point i can build my first workbench following your steps as well as adding my own touches to the way i am currently use to working.

  4. Paul, if you don’t mind, how *do* you prefer to keep your chisels? Do you keep them in the extra tool well on the bench, for instance? I know you have lots of them, I mean the ones that you use on a daily basis, at the bench, heh.

    I’m still trying to figure out how I’ll handle tool placement, etc when I’ve finally built the bench, and it’s wonderful having access to the thoughts and wisdom of a master with experience as great as yours whilst I wrestle with these issues! Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us. 🙂

    1. I use a simple tray 2″ deep, 5″ wide and 12″ so long enough inside for my longest, widest chisel from the Aldi chisel set so fairly standard. By alternating end for end I can get all of my 7 chisels in there nicely. I use chisels as follows: 3/16″. 1/4″, 5/16″, 3/8″, 1/2″, 3/4″ and 1″. The tray is removable so I can take it to the wortkpiece or place it elsewhere on my bench.

  5. David Muschamp

    There are many ways of working to reach the end product, and no one way is right, the best way is the one that works for you. You have to be comfortable within your own self

    1. I hear this from time to time and never altogether understood what it meant to say, “no one way is right”. There are many things we do where there is only one way to do something right and it has nothing to do with whether it works best for us or not. Sorry, David. And many things I do to make something work are extremely uncomfortable, even painful. If I didn’t put myself through it they wouldn’t happen. I often exert myself to to the point of discomfort just make difficult things things happen as I am sure you do too. I often see people making the seemingly impossible happen. But maybe I missed your point?

      1. “There are many things we do where there is only one way to do something right ”

        This interchange reminds me of a quote from Watson and Crick (paraphrased):

        (sic) For each gene acquiring a mutation, there are two paths to failure to make a protein, and one to success.

        Yet like all axioms, even this one is not entirely true.

  6. Paul
    You taught me that when you feel friction, stop, identify the cause and fix it. This can apply to tools (stop and sharpen :-)) and shop organization. If it doesn’t feel natural to get a tool, think about moving the tool.

    You also taught me to look for harmony and ways of getting there (You, your tools and your shop should work as one). Right now I’m not so worried about tool placement but am working on “hold the saw loosely and let your body and the wood work together. I have to admit I don’t get there often but practice, practice

    I may never be a good or even competent woodworker, but I’m sure enjoying the road while trying again thanks to you pointing it out.

    One last thing, when I get frustrated I now stop and think about why, but I also hear your voice “I know you can do it”, thanks for that!

  7. Unlike some I like personal opinions and enjoy learning from them. I enjoy your thoughts and stories. You come from a time that was 99% gone by the time I started working.

    The thing I most enjoy is watching you use the tools. You use them with such ease that very, very few can. While doing so, you have an enjoyment that I only seen I’m my grandfather when he worked. Thanks for sharing this.

    Just for the record I am interested in detail how you organize and work. I do struggle with organization and look forward to learning more.

  8. Patchedupdemon

    But off topic,but I’d love to know if you have had a wooden frame Workshop in the uk.
    I’m planning on building my own,I’d love a brick and block built workshop but a timber insulated workshop would be considerably cheaper.

    What are your thoughts mr sellers,pros and cons etc

    1. Had I land and planning permissions I would always go for timberframe over brick, stone and concrete. they are much easier to build and they are easy to insulate and prevent damp issues. They also ‘breathe‘ differently which I really like.

      1. Patchedupdemon

        Thank you for the reply Paul.

        Brilliant,I’ll have fun building it in timber and saving a load of dosh in the process

        at the bottom of my garden I have a 7m x 7m bit of land that has an old tiny concrete prefab on woth asbestos roof.

        I’m torn between buying a prefab log cabin style workshop or building one myself,the only reason I’m thinking about the log cabin style is because they use much thicker wood,where as if just use shiplap.

        Lots of things to mull over but fun non the less

        1. Michael Ballinger

          I opted for a log cabin style. Insulated underfloor and in the roof with upgraded double glazed windows and doors. The bonus to getting one is they built it in 2 days and then I painted it. I ran power to it from the house and then got an electrician to connect it all. Light fittings from ikea. Finished the inside with OSMO. It heats up so fast with a small heater, and holds the warmth. I just love being in there.

  9. Loving your blog and videos Paul; I’m now an avid watcher and reader. I noticed in the images above you have an octagonal handled bradawl which you’ve stamped your name into. The majority of beautiful old tools I’ve found are stamped with their owner’s mark, in some cases numerous names where they have been passed down and used by new makers. I think it would be nice to carry on this tradition, and was wondering if you knew of a supplier?

    1. I know of this particular supplier and maker of the awl. It was me. I made the handle and the awl blade made from O1 tool steel too. I did not make the ferrule but I cut it from a brass tube garnered from a plumber who worked in brass and copper.

      1. Many thanks for your reply Paul; apologies I didn’t make myself very clear, I was interested in a supplier who can make-up a stamp / punch so I can add my name to my tools… these must have been common place in bygone years as it seems every carpenter / cabinet maker and his dog had one, judging by the proliferation of names accumulated onto say moulding planes.

        Your awl looks a very fine tool; there is truly something special about using a tool you’ve make yourself, especially when it looks and out performs an off-the-shelf alternative.

        1. I bought one from Ray Iles but my original is still the best I own. A huge mass of malleable steel with the letters set in. My favourite name stamps are the very refined ones from the 1800 and earlier. Now they knew how how make beautiful name stamps

  10. Peter Compton

    Now I feel a little red faced Paul. A few blogs back, I joined the comments about your bench looking Cluttered. Not clearing up and the project battling for space on the bench top with tools.
    You are so correct that we each have a system that works for us as individuals and we should respect that. Please accept my apology.

  11. unrelated question but what hinges would you recommend? do you have an online source where you get them? I have been having issues with poor quality brass ones, I am planning on making some nice jewellery boxes.

  12. Paul,
    Your comments regarding two houses in which you felt uncomfortable and difficult to live struck a chord with me.
    As a young architect I used to get annoyed when visiting houses after completion and occupation where the owners had made what I considered a mess that was at odds with the architectural purity (ahem!).
    Later I learned to appreciate that the owners were LIVING in the houses and enjoying them.
    This was something of an epiphany for me, as 99% of all architecture and building magazines show interiors and exteriors entirely devoid of any clutter, let alone people!
    This is an utterly false representation of most of reality, and as well it fails to give any scale to what has been photographed.
    I have since learned to design more for people and a bit of clutter than for smart pictures.
    Accordingly I do like to watch your videos where the bench is ‘cluttered’ a bit with the tools and materials in use, because it represents the reality of working. It in no way represents disorder, but rather a stage in a process.
    And while I mourn the demise of your former magnificently tool-infested workshop interiors, I really appreciate your simplified garage interior set as it does, as you so succinctly point out, represent the reality of most people’s workshop and their limited kit of tools.
    But nice to read in a recent post that your tool collection now enhances your office in, I imagine, the same way that other people have their collection of favorite and interesting books in their study.
    All strength to your arms!
    Mark Burns

  13. The last picture with the bench and laptop is interesting. I can only wonder how an updated version of “The Debate of the Carpenter’s Tools” would go. I would imagine it would end with the saw exclaiming “Millennials!”

  14. Hi Paul,

    In this (or a recent post), you commented on the various size chisels you kept at the ready for work. Though I have more, I mostly just reach for my 1″, 3/4″, 1/2″, 1/4″ chisels. In fact, I have moved the other sizes off to a side storage area.

    I am new at woodworking and trying to understand things. How do those other chisel sizes you keep on your bench fit in the day to day of your work? I am by no means trying to be a minimalist. Many thanks.


    1. I think mostly for mortising. As I don’t think mortise chisels for the smaller mortises we tend to make the most often are as effective as bevel edged chisels, I have 5/16″ and 3/8″ for that reason. I also might use a 3/16″ for small mortises or cleaning out a 1/4″ mortise hole.

  15. Paul, how on earth do you plane long boards with that laptop there? Don’t you find it handicaps the functionality of your bench tremendously?

  16. What is your philosophy on stock prep? Do you cut to rough length first and then unwind and flatten one face and edge? I have a few long sawmill cut boards for building a tool chest and realized I don’t really know where to start with this non-bigbox lumber..

    1. You’ve got it. Focus on truing the best wide face surface you have, square the edge to it and then straighten that. Then use a marking gauge to establish the opposite large face parallel followed by the width.

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