Listening Up! It’s Important!

One of the single most important aspects of my craft is listening to sounds that resonate from the wood as we work it. I have often said to my students ‘Listen to the thickness of the shaving!’ At first, they seem somewhat bemused by the statement but once shown they get it. After many years of teaching this to thousands of students in hands-on classes, I decided to make a video on it and put it out there. That was some years ago now. Why? Well, back then I was trying to help the students to do less grunt work and bull-dogging tools to the sharpening stones and then too the plane in use to the wood so that they retained the full values from their sensitivity receptors. For some reason, depictions on the sides of carpenters vans show a hand plane in a double-fist power-grip, that is rarely if ever what’s needed.

I wanted to try this in a live Q&A on YouTube with everyone to see what everyone felt and so I could demonstrate the realities too, and so that you could ask questions if you had any. It is a fascinating statement, “Listen to the thickness of the shaving!” don’t you think? But we will go much deeper in just a few minutes because we will be talking about other tools too.

The Q&A will take place on Thursday 11th June 2020 at 2pm BST on my Youtube channel. Each live will have a ‘theme’ to focus on one topic. This week our Q&A will be on listening to the tools.

If you would like to ask a question then you can comment during the live stream and I will answer as many as I can! You can watch it here on the 11th:

You can catch up on our past live videos here.

15 thoughts on “Listening Up! It’s Important!”

  1. Thanks Paul. This should be an interesting topic. I recall you talking about the sense of feel, sound, and smell when I first started watching your woodworking videos.

    At first I couldn’t feel, hear, or smell anything. Four years on, it’s amazing what I can feel and hear. The quickest way I can identify something isn’t set up proper with the tool is that it doesn’t feel right.

  2. Roberto Fischer

    I’d love to hear more about the sounds of a wooden plane when setting the wedge. What’s the best for sound and tactile feedback when adjusting the plane: wooden mallet, metal hammer, nylon mallet? What often happens to me is I don’t feel the wedge is already tight enough and hit more than I should, moving the cap iron.

    I hope I can catch the live stream, otherwise it would be great to see someone else ask this on my behalf 🙂

    1. A pencil mark, where cap-iron and wedge meet, will give you repeatable results. Draw a “V” and you’ll know when you’re approaching the point you want.
      You’ll gain more feel for tension with e.g. a small Warrington hammer. A nylon hammer will absorb shock and may reduce the feedback you’ll get. You can’t always rely on sound. The wedge won’t always squeak or thud as it bottoms-out. Learn by sight and feel. The light & dark areas on the forks are a clue too.

  3. Some years ago I saw an interview with Alan Alda. In it he said that in order to be an effective listener you had to be willing to let the other person’s words change you.

    I found that to be quite insightful and I’ve tried to make it part of how I listen to people, whether in person or in text.

    I realized when Paul started talking about listening to the sounds of the tools working wood and using that information to adjust your actions that he was talking about the same “effective listening”.

  4. Thomas in Vermont

    To Paul or not to anyone in particular: what are the pros and cons of a haunched tenon?

  5. Stephen Sherry

    Hi Paul, this isn’t the sound of tools but it about the sharpening process. I’ve bought the 3 diamond plates you have but I’ve tried some household glass cleaner. I don’t think it contains ammonia, therefore, the metal that comes from the plane iron and chisels is rusting. Is it recommended to use glass cleaner with ammonia to prevent this? Also, do you periodically clean the plates and how do you do so, if so. Thanks.

    1. Stephen, I use the cheapest glass cleaner I can find and I have never had a problem with rust. I clean the plates every time by wiping them off with a dry rag.

    2. Same as Chris: Ajax glass cleaner, dry them well after use. No rust at all.

      …on topic, I listen to the blades and chisels when sharpening on diamond plates. When riding the heel of the bevel, the sound is dull. When riding the bevel, it becomes somewhat lighter. But when the tip of the bevel is touching the plate on the pull stroke the sound tends to be crisp: in e few strokes like this I know I’m getting the burr.

      1. Paul Sellers

        I have always used the cheapest auto-glass cleaner there is and in haste have left the liquid on the plates and have never had a rust issue. It’s usually £1 from the pound store. I do tend to wipe down after use as a matter of habit but it is not to dry off the plates but simply to remove the black swarf residue of the steel because it’s easier wet than dried on.

    3. Brian Hardwick

      Rust is good. The vinegar in my home made sharpening lubricant encourages the microscopic metal chips to rust. The rust is easily wiped off the stone or plate. Metal chippings can otherwise clog the abrasive and reduce its effectiveness.

  6. mark leatherland

    Ermir – I have recently just noticed the same as you described regarding the sound when sharpening. It was a good moment for me. I feel more confident while sharpening now.

    I previously was checking my angle of presentation with a gauge, which was a bit cack handed and adds time to the task but now I am free from this. I don’t think I would have been able to hear it from the offset though if I had been told about it.

    I’m looking forward to this Q&A as it will be good to know what to try and listen out for during other activities. I hadn’t heard about listeneing to the thickness of shavings for example. I will concentrate on this now. It might also save time in setting up the plane instead of unravelling the shavings from the left side and right side to compare the look of the thickness which is what i’m doing now.

  7. Hi Mr Sellers,
    First, I thank you for all your the teaching you do on the web and which is very impressive and useful to me. I’ve learned a lot with you.
    I’d like to have your advice for a chisel I may buy. It is the Crown 174R chisel. If it is possible for you, can you give me your appreciation of that tool?

    Again, thank’s a lot

    Hal Perry (Gaspé, Québec)

  8. I have just looked at the video.

    There was somebody asking about dovetail snapping all the time.
    I don’t know if this was the case, but some people (new to woodworking) will try to make through dovetail long grain on long grain.
    That will always fail; if not at assembly time, it will later with wood movement.

  9. Oh goodness, it was all I could do to get through the first few minutes of the video – that was like fingers screeching across a blackboard! (I guess I am even showing my age by posting a comment about that, as blackboards and real chalk are relics from our distant past)? I could tell immediately as you put that first piece of pine in the vise, just how dry and ring-gy it was by the sound. Agh, it is best to learn when things are going pear shaped even if just to soothe our nerves. Keep up the good work, I never fail to learn something on your websites. Thank you.

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