Common Woodworking?

Why Common Woodworking came about is because I felt we needed something that could build yet another bridge. I wanted to span the ever-increasing gap between those who only ever reach for the on/off buttons and those who’ve discovered skilled methods of working wood that are not in any way primitive or out of date. Hand tool woodworking brought me into the serious world of working wood I have so loved throughout my working life and even before. Common Woodworking as its own entity is changing perspectives for people on every continent. It’s for those who are already woodworking but use only or mostly machines and then too raw beginners in woodworking altogether.

Being skilled in machine woodworking does little if anything to prepare you for skilled hand work. We needed what was once commonly followed by all beginning woodworkers to be more readily accessible on an international platform–a foundational outreach that was not in any way razzmatazz but simple, steady, even and insightful. Vintage books have their place but they often do not cater to those with a busy lifestyle cramming in an hour or two in the shed or garage. With the internet we can access archives of over a decade of teaching online. It’s working!

This tool carrier is one that I designed two decades ago to train my own children with and then too other people’s children. I designed it specifically to teach them how to make the housing dado joint. With six housing dadoes it prefaced a second level project which is the hanging wall shelf where we have six stopped housing dadoes combined with mortise and tenon joinery as well. In the tool carrier we also form a round handle using a planing technique I prepared for making a square section of wood round along its length. If you have never cut housing dadoes then this would be a good place to get started. You need only a few hand tools.

Resist the temptation to reach out to the chop saw and the tablesaw. If I tell you I can make this from standard dimensioned wood in about an hour and half you will understand that skilled work gives me far more than just a project. Developing skill does take time, but once you have it you can add it to your other life skills like bike riding and swimming, you have them for a lifetime When you see the project as the vehicle rather than the outcome it becomes so clear why you need it. It’s the vehicle for you get physical and mental exercise, to hone your skills, to get in tune with your wood and the tools and then too with yourself. I think you will be amazed how much better you will feel when you make this project.

The tool tote project will be released in a beginner friendly format on Common Woodworking next week, you can sign up here.

17 comments on “Common Woodworking?

  1. Hey Paul,

    I had a question concerning the knifewall method:
    Once you make your wall, do you use your saw and cut right on the knifewall? How do you account for the saw kerf?

    Thank you,
    Joshua Hohnerlein.

    • Dear Paul. I am a big fan of common woodworker.. it is not easy to be a begineer in wood work. I use the site every night and it is very useful before i take on bigger projects in masterclass website. It is difficult to be a begineer especially when some hand tools can be pricey.. some staff in timber shows have no patience when a newbie like me coming in just wanting a few boards. I did the spatula and then i showed my daughter the same under supervision and she loved it. Great to have some simple starter products that a child can learn. Please keep up the improvemets on the site. It would be nice to see a section on different wood types with basic pros and cons of each wood. I have a chop saw and i have resisted. Common woodworker is a big aid to me.

  2. Thanks Paul. Speaking of YouTube, it might be working a bit too well when it comes to teaching folks how to woodwork (not specifically you, but as a whole). A few months ago I was at my local Woodcraft (in the San Francisco Bay Area which has a large population of individuals) and they mentioned they were going to close down their teaching activities. I talked to the store manager to find out what was going on because I wanted to take local woodworking classes and was even willing to help them try and set up classes if it was due to a lack of time for the employees working there. It turns out, that YouTube has worked so well at instructing folks that it’s often enough for individuals to get started and then learn on their own. He even cited examples of where he has had popular tv woodworking personalities in to teach classes and he has a challenge in filling the classes.

    There are still plenty of places I can go to take woodworking classes in the USA, it just now involves a trip rather than being able to sleep in my own bed. I’m ok with this because it means YouTube is really reaching an audience.

    Keep up the good work.

    • Interesting that youtube was the explanation given by the store manager. It might be true or it might be other factors that he overlooked. For example, how well his classes were publicized or promoted could be one factor. Or was it due to diminishing interest in woodworking in his area?

      I know people who, yes, could learn from watching videos, but I also know another group of learners who have greatly enhanced their skills through classes after failing to do the same by reading or watching. We all learn differently. Many people will tell us that no matter how many dovetail (or woodturning) videos they have watched, they still don’t know how to handcut good dovetails, or turn a bowel.

      Many hobbyists would spend money and time (a couple days to a few) in a class because they do not have to worry about stock preparation and distractions, and could really focus on developing skills, and finishing a complete project. So I don’t see youtube or the like a threat to well-organized and well-promoted hands-on classes.

  3. Hello Paul,

    When I read this and you said you could make one of these in an hour and a half it struck me how much pressure skilled hand craftsmen must have been under in the past to produce both accurately and quickly. Something lost in machine woodworking now perhaps.

  4. Dear Paul,

    Some time ago I switched from working with power tools to working with hand tools. The reason for this is less dust and noise in my workshop (which is also a basement room for storing stuff). After that I experienced a different attitude to my projects. With power tools I was more interested in the result, the end product. After I turned more and more to woodworking with hand tools, the end product is less interesting than the process of manufacturing itself. The planing, sharpening and sawing gives me inner peace and balance, it has a meditative effect. I always have to discipline myself to use the hand tools though when I need an exact result quickly, because I still lack the necessary experience in the handling of some hand tools and in the accuracy of the execution. But I think the secret in learning these skills lies precisely in training and developing them through projects.

    Thank you for the motivation that your videos and books provide. I have been able to successfully learn many tricks and procedures that would have driven me to despair without your publications or completely prevented me from starting some projects.

    Best regards from Germany
    Peter

  5. Just a comment or observation and by no means a complaint, but I miss being able to click on pictures in the blog posts and see more detail in the full size pics. Thanks for everything you and your team does on a regular basis Paul!

  6. I appreciate y’all providing a general sequence of projects through which I can develop the appropriate skills in a way that allows previously learned skill to compound and aid in the more advanced technique.

  7. Could I ask a couple of questions about hand planes?

    My first question is about restoring an old plane. I have a plane that I’m fairly certain was originally my grandfather’s. (Dad passed away a few years ago, so I can’t know for certain.) I went through an online questionnaire, which ended up saying it was a “Stanley Bailey Type 15 Hand Plane, manufactured: 1921-1932″, and the picture looks like mine. It actually isn’t in horrible shape, but it does need some work. The problem is that it has a lot of sentimental value, and I’m afraid I’ll ruin it if I try fixing it up. So my options are (1) go for broke and hope I don’t screw it up, (2) just flatten the sole and sharpen the blade and leave everything else alone, or (3) put it on a shelf and admire it, and just buy a new one to actually work with. What would your recommendation be?

    My other question is about the learning curve for a hand plane. Up until I started doing research recently, I would tell people that I’ve never been able to successfully use a plane. I realize now that every plane I’ve ever had my hands on was probably about as dull as a butter knife. Maybe I would be successful with a plane that was actually sharp. But I still have visions of trying to flatten a 2-by board (1.5″ thick) and ending up with a piece of 1/16” thick veneer by the time I got it flat across its entire face. Is hand planing really something that an old man who hasn’t used hand tools very much in his life can get the hang of?

    Thanks,
    Bill

    • Doubt your fears and trust me, Bill. Anyone and everyone can take care and restore a plane to peak performance. As to the first question, “Go for broke. ” You can’t lose so it’s all gain. A sharp plane obviates its potential in the first stroke. Follow my videos on YouTube and you cannot, cannot go wrong. They come from 55 years of using a number 4, 4 1/2, 5 and 5 1/2 Stanley or Record six days a week and my days are always 10 hours by the bench. Not many of left today can come close.

    • You could ask yourself which would make your (grand-) father most proud/happy: having the plane sitting on a shelf in the livingroom as a showpiece, or it still being used regularly as it was meant to be. Only you can answer that question. Speaking for myself, I always feel a bit sorry when I see old tools sitting in a window sill or hanging on the wall in a restaurant as decoration.

      Keep in mind that when using the plane, there’s always a risk of slight (or large) damage to it: a few scratches here and there or it falling on the ground. I’d personally live with that risk, it’s just part of life. And if it gets damaged, I’d repair it. Even broken soles can be welded up again. Consider it a battle-scar, showing that it’s been used during its life and that someone cared enough to patch it up again to restore it to working condition.

      But if you feel insecure about restoring an heirloom plane, another option would be to buy a cheap second hand #4 plane and take your first restoration steps on that one. Once you get the hang of it, go for gold on your old one. It’s not hard, just pay attention to the details as shown in mr. Sellers’ videos.

      But keep in mind that once you’ve restored and sharpened your first plane, it’s hard to stop and not pick up every plane that comes upon your path. Or saw. Or scissors. Or, …, err, well you get the idea.

  8. Hello Paul,
    I help teach beginning woodworking At school to a bunch of 11-14 year old boys and girls .
    I have been working with wood since I was a kid but that like 40 years .
    what been looking for is simple projects for the kids to build and some videos to show in class .
    Sincerely Richard

  9. Dear Paul
    I really do appreciate your work and teaching.
    I am disappointed that people have to be critical especially when it comes down to tried and tested materials like good plywood.
    Please accept my heartfelt gratitude.
    Mike

  10. My workbench was the first thing I built using hand tools, but this tool tote was the second thing I built, and gave to my step father as a Christmas present. Since then I’ve been following along with Paul’s videos and have made multiple Christmas and birthday gifts for family members.

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