Legalism Thrives

Or does it? For many years I have faced it and tried to counter some issues as I came across them if I felt it might be important enough. From laying a plane on its side to workbench work heights, micro-bevels on cutting edges and skewing planes and spokeshaves this way or that as you work. I recently became even more aware of just how prevalent legalism can be to simply standardise how things are done according to those ‘in the trade’ and then those in education teaching to curriculum that doesn’t always or even often fit. Most of my tips and tricks are not really found in books because they came at the bench in the practicality of my working. More simply, they are the things I do in my everyday life as a working man making or training to help those new to woodworking who encounter difficulty and awkwardness complying with the expectations others try to shoe-horn them into. Those who perhaps care more about compliance than actually helping others along the right path.

I promise you that this is not a posed shot but how I actually left my shop last night and found it this morning. We are filming the process so for continuity, we often leave everything as is. Five planes being used minute by minute is absolutely normal for heavier reduction of rough-sawn surfaces. I have a hundred square feet of oak to surface plane and my strategy is to use the heavy scrub (converted Stanley #78) far right and top, to reduce the extremes, the converted #4 Stanley to follow on with, and then either the Stanley #4 untampered with smoothing plane, and either a #5 or #5 1/2 if or as needed, usually for edge jointing.

Personally, I too was forced to do things for years. I find placing a plane in its twice-as-large footprint when laid on its side on my workbench very messy and awkward. The condition is worsened because, in the practicality of my work, I frequently use three to four planes interchangeably on a continuous basis throughout the day. Worse still and seldom admitted to by advocates for this law is the unreadiness of the planes to pick up and put down between the activity of tasks that are short and repeated second by second.

See how crisp the cut lines are when you use the router plane to establish the level of that last swipe into the housing dado.

Discussions go on in different parts and many of them are sparked by my posts on different concepts on different social platforms. Simple things seem problematic to others. I often use my router as a marking and cutting gauge in place of actual marking and cutting gauges. It’s quick, effective and instead of simply parting the fibres and creating an equal-sided ‘V’, as it would with a pin marking gauge, it actually cuts with a slicing cut that cannot be beaten for establishing the lowest point in a housing dado, hinge recess and so on. There are other situations where this does not work, of course, wide distances and such, but when it suits it suits and just watching that cutter slice the surface fibres to the exact depth of the actual cutter that then finalises the depth is priceless. It’s funny to me to know that I never saw anyone ever use the router in that fashion until I did it.

What about the hinge recess video I posted on my FB that in four or five days reached 400,000 people to show them how simple it was to recess or mortise or set a hinge in a door style. My goal was not to provide the treatise on hinge recessing but just to nudge people to perhaps practice recessing a hinge as shown in a 2-minute video. Customising that method to a specific hinge, they might have, is the watchers’ next task to work out because, well, not all hinges are created equal. Hinge flaps and knuckle positions on hinges are all different and there are different ways to make the hinges look right. But the method I showed was to encourage woodworkers to understand the simplicity of how to do it.

But, did it really matter that I called it ‘recessing‘ a hinge rather than “mortising” a hinge? Both are in actuality equally acceptable but, as said, recessing seems much more accurate. And then, of course, ‘setting‘ hinges is just as well used as the other two terms, but no one mentioned that. Admittedly, I wouldn’t call mortising a tenon recessing a tenon, but then recessing tells me it’s not deep, like a mortise, or indeed, a hole passing all the way through a related piece.

Oops! Top screw slots aren’t correctly aligned. Send it back! Sack him! Hang on! I’m taking the lid off to apply finish. Hmm! OK. But next time!

Others told me that the thin flap should always be flush with the surrounding surface. I have rarely found this to be good practice and as no hinge is a one-size-fits-all hinge, there are many other factors that determine this to be a very impractical theory. Knuckles of hinges too thick or heavy, the thickness of flaps, the distance between flaps when closed and so on. They again were more concerned about legalism than practical solutions.

It made me realise the legalism of a computer that one minute underscores my English spellings throughout this blog to prompt my incorrectedness because the program is American born or intended and the words in red prompt me to make changes, unless I adopt the UK spelling checker. Because I end my words like customise with an ‘s’ at the end instead of a ‘z’, or fibres is my correct spelling instead of fibers.

Red underscores do highlight an issue but take care not to go back to schooldays when red pen markings could be more demoralising than actually helpful!

When I lived and worked in the US for twenty odd years, odd meaning a few more and not that odd means something about America, I used all-American spellings, and I also called a car park a parking lot and the bonnet of a car a hood. It would be confusing for those learning English from me if I adopted Americanisms or used parentheses next to the chosen words just to be politically correct.

This . . .

Anyway, it’s all quite bemusing if not intensely amusing to think that traditions are often upheld within the ranks even though they matter not a jot in most cases or indeed make very little sense. My friends in Singapore, Lithuania, France and Turkey know exactly that it is of little consequence whether you recess, mortise or set a hinge, and then stand the plane upright or lay it on its side. I have noticed that those from other countries and continents, those where the English influence of plane resting between tasks was never prescribed, never correct my incorrectness and actually stand their planes upright near by them. Because they were never exposed to the British rules, thankfully, they never had such expectations of me or themselves. So too the workbench height of 32″. Of my three decades of teaching woodworkers at bench heights of 38″ I never had a single complaint that the bench was too high or too low, and that is for over 6,500 students. In my experience with such, I discovered that 32″ is mostly good for those who are around 5′ 4″ tall or less and certainly bad for those of the average height of around 5′ 9″ on up. In my case, 5’11”, it is absolutely perfect and I have never had back pain or any upper-body issues using a bench at this height for 57 years to date.

. . . or this?

As it is with planing wood and ripping down wood with a handsaw, cutting dovetails with a gent’s saw, also called tenon saw and backsaw. The greatest successes (and enjoyment) are yours when you loosen your grip and stop strangling the handles with rigidity. It’s best to stop straining your arm, wrist, hands and fingers instead of simply flexing to the task, so that you can indeed feel again. I am learning something too. I would that I had learned it when I was younger but there you are. It’s a good thing to become flexible. It doesn’t mean to compromise the outcome of your work. It might even lead to greater resilience.

One of the things I do love about woodworking is that you, you, will feel what’s right for you and the longer you practice anything the more methods and systems and tactics you will adopt to make them your own; just as I have done through the years. It is good to listen to others but when you do, question the authority with which they speak. I recommend my audience not to lift the plane off the board between strokes. Other gurus make something of a show of lifting the plane off the wood but it is always best to keep it registered with the surface of the board. For one stroke in a hundred, a shaving might just stick to the underside of the plane and prevent the next pass from cutting. Here is the trick. Instead of pulling the plane back at the very end of the cut, push it a couple of inches more so that the shaving is truly separated from the main body of wood and it will be a hundred times less likely to be trapped by the fore part of the plane’s sole to pull it back with the plane and under the sole.

67 thoughts on “Legalism Thrives”

  1. Stop get reminded about “incorrect” English spelling by adding the “incorrect” words to your dictionary (R click, Add to Dictionary).

    1. You can also add the British/UK English language to the application you are using and make that language the Default one then you don’t have to tolerate the incorrect American spellingz again. 🙂

      1. I leave it because it’s good for me to rethink issues surrounding cultural differences. It also forces me to go back and proof-read a bit before hitting publish, though you might not know it.

        1. Paul, I agree with you absolutely. It is truly odd, in my experience, that those who correct the most are those who know the least. Perhaps a form of compensating for insecurities? Al Greene, American

          1. Jan-Reinier Voute

            It gets even more unpleasant when using more that one language. I just switch off auto correct and bear the ridicule of the other party (though I do dislike being wrong with a passion).

  2. Sometimes I lift the plane and at other times I don’t. Why is it best to leave it registered with the wood when pulling back? Cheers

    1. In my opinion, there is far more that can go wrong when lifting the plane than when pulling it back. You’re effectively resetting your body with each stroke (whilst it’s obviously different, could you imagine lifting a saw up after each stroke?). I imagine that if you were to get into any prolonged planing that it’s just too much extra effort too. Also, if I lost concentration for a bit, then I’d likely bring the plane down too hard on the surface and dent the end or misalign the blade, or drop my back hand at the beginning of the stroke and take off too much of the leading edge. I can’t really think of much that could wrong by simply pulling the plane backwards.
      The only time I do lift up, and make a really conscious effort to do so, is when I’m planing a rise in the middle of a workpiece, and I sort of exaggerate the lifting up of the cut to prevent the tear that you sometimes get when you only plane, say, the middle of a board. That’s more because I’m not that skilled and have to really think about what I’m doing in that instance.

  3. Donald L Kreher

    The fundamental problem, I belive, is that most people don’t think and have no imagination. They just do as they are told and repeat what was passed on from one to the next. These are the people that need to follow plans and cannot innovate. For example, I for one appreciate Paul’s methods, but rather then blindly following them precisely I instead try to understand how they work and then adapt to my situation. Sometimes I can make improvements that work better for me and other times I cannot. If there was no chance for me to innovate and be clever, I’d rather do other work.

    1. When a master craftsman tells me that it is important to lay a plane on its side, I lay it on its side because he is the one who knows. It is not a matter of cleverness or lack of imagination. My guess is that you laid a plane on its side until another master, like Paul, told you it was unnecessary. Riding the high horse of being innovative and clever does not work here. I am sure that most of your cleverness and innovation came from the knowledge of those who knew more than you.

    2. I agree 100%
      People that can’t (or are unwilling to) think for themselves will never be a first rate craftsman.

      1. I’m sorry, but I strongly disagree with you here. People’s brains work in different ways and can’t be affected by so many things we know nothing of. Recognising the abilities and disabilities of others helps us all to embrace those with diverse needs to be more inclusive wherever possible and it is all too easy to set others outside our spheres of creativity by using such broad brushes. I work with others who have developed from following the letter of my training curriculum to develop with to become designers with engineering qualities that are unique to their design scope. I might even say unparalleled in many ways, and a joy to support and be supported by.

        1. I agree Paul. What we’re talking about here is confidence rather than ability. A lot of that confidence comes from the teacher. The confidence I’m talking about is being confident enough to put up a hand and ask a question. Not being frightened of the teacher/instructor and not being frightened of looking stupid. If you’ve got a disciplinarian in charge, then you’ll probably be less inclined to question.

          I was playing with my neice the other week and she was kneeling down with her legs folded behind her (sitting in Seiza as the Japanese would say) and I said I struggled until recently to be able to sit like that (and I’m not old). She told me her teacher had told her to sit up straight on her chair in class and wasn’t allowed to sit like that. It infuriated me that a teacher would exert such control of a Primary school aged girl. When I asked why, she couldn’t say. I told her that the next time the teacher told her off she should tell her that her Uncle says she’s wrong! Of course, she won’t, because the teacher – pupil relationship is one of inequality. I told her to tell her teacher that her Uncle has had to work for months to get the proper movement back in his legs to allow him to kneel on the floor with his daughter and neice, and it’ still often sore to do so. Years of spending hours in a chair at school, preparing for years of spending hours in a chair in the office has resulted in an atrocious range of movement and very unhealthy joints (the several broken legs playing football didn’t help of course!). All because people decided to dictate a particular way to sit that was deemed acceptable. No science behind it, no questions allowed. It’s bizarre that offices in the UK are nearly all embracing the standing desk, yet our kids are left to sit in the proscribed manner.
          I’m sure there are a lot more of these do-as-you’re-told-isms that should be questioned for the benefit of those that don’t like the confrontation.

          1. Excellent comment Rico, you are totally right. That’s called the hidden curriculum of the schools. The unspoken socialisation of kids. There is a long list

          2. Steven Richardson

            I am now 62, been electro/mech engineer most working life, since age of 15, apart from about 3 year gap where, did carp, join. after learning from friend, working with him, and taught me so much, as I also picked new skills since when was 15, trainee camera mechanic, an applide as needed. where ever I worked, becoz I was curious, willing to learn, ask questions, sometimes, even now I have used the term ” Is it me, being ignorant ( or thick depending on banter at time, perhaps a time when u could laugh, they wood laugh with you )as in lack of understanding, and at times they would say, good question, no one else bothered asking. I remember fondly, the real skilled craftsman, who took time and trouble with me, it doesnt take much, show interest, show bit of respect, it goes a very, very long way. cannot work now, coz of health issues, but getting little wkshp, 2 gether as went back eng. when big building game crash, in 1990s, but this is for myself, although now got slide table saw, plane/thick etc etc I love the working with wood, any advice, U can take, leave, or apply to the situ. I love learn new skills little antedotes etc, and I would like to thank you Paul, for inspiring me, to get back into producing somthing out of wood.loose focus very easy as in severe pain 24/7 etc, Insulin diabetic type 1, since age of 9, now 62, transplant 10 years ago, well past my sell by date, LOL all my life, wanting to try, learn new things, but had desease too long, damage done, but this keeps me going, my wife is pleased to see me perk up again, at times mind says its enough now!!! but body keeps bouncing back who knows why. Paul U remind me of woodworking tech. mastercraftsman, an ] watched him, turn old english oak tree, been cut left to mature nearly 100 years prior, into most beautiful gothic arched doors for old church nearby, used to chat ask questions, while in lunch hour, everybody else cleared off, and I felt privilidged 2 b there, watching this Oak tree, turned into these doors, his chisels were so sharp, on old stones stropped, cut hardwood like butter, always tried since to get as sharp not a chance LOL. He let me just once, stood over me tho use 1 of his chisels for paring, I nearly fell on floor, putting too much pressure on, he did show me how to sharpen tho. You remind me so much, of him. Commonsense approach, easy to get on with ( mind u wen made silly mistak & he was passing, heed smile, shake his head & either say Uv done it again, we d both laugh, but I learnt. never ever forgot, him. lecturers there used too look to him. You Paul are dare I say it ” Of a special craftsman, gone thru time served apprenticeship, which no longer really exists, i had same but in electromech. THANKS FROM STEVE LONDON UK

    3. Standards of usage were developed for those people that you call unimaginative, but I describe as “people who only color within the lines”, or maybe “inside the box” people. I don’t think that those who developed the standards thought that the rules were necessary the best and final practices, but they needed to draw some kind of a map for others to follow.

      It’s mostly the “color in the lines people” who see the standards as unbreakable rules.

      Throughout the years, innovators like Paul have improved upon the standards. Paul is able to have a major influence on the way certain tasks are carried out, due to his popularity. Others like myself, develop small improvements that we use throughout our lifetimes, but any innovations will often die with us, unless passed on to a child or student of life.

  4. My workbench looked similar over last couple days when I was rushing with some heavy work.
    Feeling little bit better now and kind of relationshop 😉

    1. Vidar Fagerjord Harboe

      Your work space reflects your mind, FYI.

      Do you prefer it cluttered and unorganised?

      Or void? 😉

      1. Steven Richardson

        Always, on diff. Type benches, tidy not sterile, if leaving work open, tools last using or small tools, might need??
        next day, as marker if you like, especially when pressure on. But that’s me, don’t mind bit of chaos, as long as it doesn’t get out of hand. !!!! LOL. Steve.

  5. I had to look it up to be sure of its meaning, ( Legalism) at least according to Miriam Webster:

    1 : strict, literal, or excessive conformity to the law or to a religious or moral code
    the institutionalized legalism that restricts free choice [and common sense] . The bracket part I added.

    I have adapted your methods and built on them along with other people who have shared their knowledge. In turn I have shared what I’ve learned for those willing to see a different way of going about a task. I was taught to lay my plane on its side as well but wasn’t taught how to sharpen it!
    It took me years to figure out why my hand tools wouldn’t work so I ask what was the sense in that?

    Thanks for clarification Paul.

  6. Good morning Paul,

    For many years I searched for someone who could give me woodworking guidance and then…God provided you.
    Your extremely charitable videos on how to work wood, in a variety of ways, have been an answer to my needs.
    Thank you Paul!
    Unfortunately this world we live in today is full of negativity and ungratefulness! I am very grateful for your patient tutoring! Best wishes Paul.

  7. Ah there Paul you have articulated directly what I have long loved about your writing and philosophy. There is almost no wrong way to go about things.

    For example I never interpreted your focus on hand techniques as eschewing power tools rather I thought you were simply pointing out that often hand tools & techniques are often faster and almost always a more pleasant experience. I also watched you “violate the laws” in the way you used planes – our western push planes can also be swiped and pulled but it all depends on what piece, the circumstance and the ergonomics your body is communicating… not to mention I do find gently placing my plane down handle up more convenient and without many drawbacks but sometimes on bad surfaces I will protect the blade in the middle school prescribed manner.

    Personally my tool priority is a little different than yours. I value my table saw over a bandsaw for the work I do but then I can purchase and renew broken machines than I would choose to afford. I like the #4 above all planes but there is a place for block planes and shoulder planes higher on my priority list than yours. I suspect you will not disapprove.

    It has been a delightful journey. I will continue learning and integrating your ideas into my own ideas and work. Keeping an open mind to integrate try test and integrate others ideas is a hard won mental strategy.

  8. Best advice I’ve gotten on learning a new skill was the teacher saying “do it my way until you’ve got that right, then try it your way”. Obviously, this assumes the teacher is worth listening to, but actually, it’s just another way of saying it pays to listen to someone who’s got years and years of experience.

    One of the many things I enjoy in your teaching is that you are thoughtful and explain your thinking which helps us understand the nature of the task. It’s great having someone that explains why something works.

    1. Agreed, this is an approach I try to take when showing students a technique, whether it’s with wood tools or a kayak paddle. I do also try to explain why a certain way is best to do, then encourage people to find variations that suit other situations as they gain experience… this is what I tend to do. If I get critical remarks from others saying I’m not doing it “properly”, I either ignore them or explain for them the reasons why I’m choosing a different technique… the end result is the real test: does it work and is it efficient? Good post Paul. Best wishes all.

    2. One of the things I learned when studying the martial art of jujitsu was that I should do a technique the way my current instructor taught me. Different instructors might do it different ways, an we might change instructors several times during a class. I was also taught that when I became an instructor (received a black belt), I could experiment and find my own way.

      And that’s what I teach my students.

      Ken

    1. My after school job in New Zealand 50 years ago would say, “There’s more than one way to kill a cat than choke it with cream.” Same sentiment, different words. 🙂

  9. As I tend to be new at working with hand tools; my bench is set up all wrong, it does not even look like a real woodworkers bench. Even so, I figure it would be a waste not to use it. I could build another, but instead I have figured out how to adapt and things are great. for instance; how do I secure my wood for planing? I have no vice that I can use that is reliable. One of the first methods used was to screw the wood down to the top of the bench and sink the screws in far enough to plane. Certainly that is a terrible thing to do to your bench top !!, but my top is narrow strips of 1/4″ plywood that can be replaced easily. Now I have gone beyond that and use clamped thin pieces of wood to plane against, it works great and is fast.; now I am planning something different. legalism would never allow me to make progress.

    1. I don’t have a “proper” bench either, just a salvaged folding workbench and a planing beam which I prop up on an A-frame, roughly in the Japanese style. This combination works well for me in a small living space when I can’t work outdoors (Scottish weather!).
      I will often use a cam strap to hold down longer pieces of wood, especially if they are curved, for planing… worth considering to avoid those screws sometimes, though that’s a handy thing in some situations too. Best wishes.

      1. Same here. A friend of ours liked some things I’d made for him and asked to see my workshop.
        I opened the garage door and showed him the cheap copy of a folding Black&Decker Workmate I used as my entire workshop. He was speechless for a while.

  10. Kenneth L. Speed

    Wonderful post! We are all individuals, we all have our own way of doing things, and in most cases, if not almost all, I think we should be allowed to do them the way we want.
    I’m about as American as it is possible to be and yet when I see “leaped” instead of “leapt,” I cringe. I also told somebody to take a long walk off a short pier when they told me I had to spell “OK” as Okay.
    I also sharpen tools with no micro bevel, the same way Scandinavians sharpen a puukko, a knife designed to cut wood.

  11. Lonnie Funderburg

    Yesterday, while searching for something that I know I have, I came across your DIY dovetail template that I made on November 15, 2016. This was your first video that I watched. After five years, now, I have to search for one of your videos that I have not already watched.
    Your conscientiousness of camera angle continues to impress me. Your presentation during your videos of alternative methods, contingent techniques, and various tools really expands my woodworking thinking. Thank you.
    I am eagerly awaiting the announcement your DIY hand router plane kit. Constructing my own woodworking tools and jigs is one of my more enjoyable pursuits.
    It has been longer than I can remember; I can use that excuse because I am older than you, I dropped my subscriptions to one of the premier woodworking magazines simply because the editor(s) continued to print editorials about resting a hand plane on its sole. This perpetuus ad nauseam debate is wearying to me.
    My education, training, and experience made me a numbers-oriented person. I keep coming back to the fact of your 450,000 subscribers. To me, that number of subscribers says it all. Paul Sellers need not excuse his method or opinion to anyone.
    I still own and use the common, major stationary power tools. Since I began to watch your hand-tool videos, I find myself electing the hand-tool method more often simply because of safety, respiratory and auditory risks, and accuracy and finish. For this enlightenment, I will always be grateful. Please continue doing what you are doing so well.
    Also, I am a beekeeper. One of the things that we teach new beekeepers is, if you ask five beekeepers the same question, you will get six different responses. This does not mean that five are wrong. It means that there are six different experiences. Listen to all six. Try the ones you like. Develop your own methods. Isn’t that what Paul Sellers suggests?

  12. Peter Littlejohn

    Back in my woodworking days when hand tools were still used before or after assembly, I would place my planes up right at the left hand end of my bench. I had a small wooden strip, 5-6 mm thick, under the nose so the blade was lifted just above the surface. This hybrid method has worked for me over the years.
    Every bench I’ve worked on at work or home, wood or metalwork, has the vise mounted on the left-hand end of the bench. Being predominantly left-handed, apparently I’m supposed to have the vice on the right-hand end of the bench. Honestly I don’t think I would be able to work with a back-to-front setup like that.

    1. I agree that we do adapt. I have worked at a 35″ commercially made woodworking bench in student workshops for adults and at the end of a week ended up with backache for a few days. Many left-handed woodworkers often create their own perfect bench and in most cases set it up with the vise opposite to right-handers and prefer it. I qm glad that you can adapt but some find it awkward I believe. I know of one woman I work with who works at one of my benches as a right-handed bench with the vise on the left end when facing the bench. Whereas she does adapt to this, she made her bench suit her needs and this is not so much based on workability of the bench but where you place each tool after you’ve finished a task which with a left-handed person would generally be to the left.

      1. That’s interesting you mention where you place the tools, I hadn’t considered that. I’m a left hander that uses the right hand vice position, because I couldn’t think why it needed to be different. Now I know of a reason! As a left hander, I’m so used to doing things the wrong way round (I throw with my right, play guitar and golf right handed) because when you first pick something up it’s almost always designed for the right hander. If I learn anything new these days, I almost always make a point of trying to get good with both hands, as I find I’m often equally as bad with either! Being able to saw acceptably with either hand is fairly useful on a long rip cut.

  13. Question about bad habit or bench height. I am 5-7 and bench is 34 1/2 inches tall. The problem is seems like it might need to be lowered. For some time now I have noticed when surface planning, I am wrapping my hand around nob and applying downward force instead of straight down on top and consequently not engaging front of board correctly, have to go over the front repeatably to level. Try as I can can’t seem to overcome this. The height ratio seems about right as prescribed by Mr. Sellers, however seems that an inch lower would help overcome this problem.

    1. I see a problem with fixed bench heights on a regular basis because for tasks like sharpening the bench height should indeed be lower and this is because your hands and arms might be as much as 3″ higher than the benchtop depending on the tool. For planing and sawing, joint making and so on I do not need a changeable height and I certainly disagree with overhead pressure on a plane because this is indicative of a dulled plane iron as a sharp plane pulls itself to the surface and all you need is the most direct thrust angle with a modest amount of down/forward thrust. In the training workshop, where four or five people use the sharpening station, the sharpening bench is 24″ square, holds three sharpening plates, a granite flat block, a strop and an abrasive paper strip 6″ wide and 24″ across. It’s 35″ height suits all of us even though we have three different heights.
      Before you chop the legs down, consider placing a board on the floor at whatever thickness raises you up and trial it for a few days to see how it suits you. When I held classes I kept a 2 1/2″ two-foot by two-foot section for students to work from if they felt the benches were too high for them. It always worked.

    2. I am new to woodworking although long retired and appreciate Paul’s sage advice. I read the section on workbench height in “Workbenches from design and theory to construction and use” by Christopher Schwarz who suggested trying out friends’ benches for size as the correct height is very personal and depends very much on how you work. I am also 5’ 7” and have a commercial bench measuring 32” high. I am currently resting a painful back after working at the bench for a few days. When I recover the first thing I am going to do in my workshop is to find a way to raise the height until I can pluck up the courage to try and build my own bench,

  14. People should stop trying to enforce arbitrary “rules” on others. If they want to do something a certain way, have at it. Paul’s been doing things his way far longer than anyone else that I know.

    1. Hello Allen, Thank you. I think I do see things differently simply because I don’t know of any professional woodworkers who would and do still use hand tools to the extent that I do. My only machine in use currently for woodworking is the bandsaw. I own a drill press but 95% of its use is for drilling metal and metalworking so I really don’t consider it a woodworking machine as such. That is why I took it out of the garage and freed up some extra space for my working.
      I am especially cognisant of the influence I have these days and because I only pass on my own discoveries in working wood from my working background as a full-time, lifelong maker. I am fortunate, very, so rather than copying something I learned without mastering yesterday on another channel, which I never watch anyway, I present what I truly know. My bench plane system of truing wood is amazingly easier than anything I have read or heard of from anywhere else and this is because I want what’s best for my working and then for every other woodworker who usually does not have access to a rich plethora of machines. Whereas I do use Youtube, I earn my living from various sources as indeed `i always have but not the least of which is the reality of just making and selling. This, over a 56 year period, has held me in good stead for teaching and training others.

  15. As a junior high student in Canada in the late 1970’s, my small rural school had a standard bench that appeared in our woodworking class, metalworking shop, and chemistry lab. They were metal benches. Our woodworking teacher instructed us to set the plane down on a piece of scrap plywood OR set it on it’s side. I didn’t know there was a controversy when it came to wooden benches.

    1. There wasn’t until I introduced it myself a few years ago. After 55 years of daily woodworking as a professional and never laying a plane on its side and never working with those who trained me laying their planes on their sides, I started querying the roots of this practice. looking at photographs and drawings of woodworkers before the 1930s I realised that this started in schools where you had 20 kids plinking their planes down on other metal tools. So you now have those who question authority and those who unquestioningly obey a tradition that was meaningless for adults.

      1. Hello Paul. I very much enjoy your blogs and YouTube videos so please don’t take this as carping. I did notice in this blog that “stile” became “style” no doubt due to auto correct but it did get me scrambling to find out whether you Brits might spell it that way. Not that I could determine.

        1. Yes, they do slip through when you are not a touch typist I am afraid. I do go back through the blogs two or three times but self proofreading is not always good and then having others proofread who are not woodworkers doesn’t work either.

  16. Warren Froggatt

    What a well stated view on personal experience vs structured learning. I have experienced the tendency to confuse an individual’s way of doing something as a standard. I have received comment on my preference to lay my planes blade down which for me is a matter of easier access, and they seem less likely to slip off my work surfaces. Of course if a person prefers to lay their plane on the side, that’s fine, and you should do what is comfortable for you. We humans are very individual in shape, size and thinking – so ya gotta figure out what works best for you.

  17. That pic got me thinking (non-dogmatically).

    If we can scribe precise lines with a router do we really need a combination gauge?

    1. You may have a variety of lines/distances/depths to mark for a job. That job may have or suggest an order of operations. Having a variety of marking tools setup with different measurements, and available, can make your work more efficient.

      But like everything else, it depends on the work you are doing, and how you do your work, and maybe what you can afford. I’m not a rich guy, but I’ve looked around and found used tools and inexpensive tools. Also, I don’t do woodwork for a living, so cheap is good enough when it gets me through the job.

    2. Yes, it’s not really an either-or. Marking and mortise gauges along with combination gauges still have preeminence for layout guides and especially when the mortise is perhaps centred in a three-inch post, or you might have multiple settings needed. I have had jobs where ten marking gauges were set up throughout a job. Jobs where the settings were critical and I just did not want to change the gauges.

  18. I have recently joined a wood carving club. Although carving is something I could do ar home it is good to do it in company and to learn from others. The club room is an old woodwork classroom in what was once a school. It is as if the boys had left the classroom yesterday instead of decades ago. Even the cupboards at the ends of the benches still contain the tools. Only one thing seems to have changed. The benches have all been raised by adding 6 inches to the legs.

  19. In my experience, those who spend their time telling others they are doing it wrong actually never do anything.
    “Stuff That Works”, by Guy Clark, is the way to go!

    1. Stuff that works, eh… It’s got me intrigued, I must say. I have have to check that out. Thanks for the drop.

  20. William Dickinson

    Hi Paul. I lived in England for a year (1964-1965) when I would have been in 7th grade in the states – 1st form in England, I believe – and it was burned in my brain in woodworking class to lay the plane down on its side. Till this day, I do this, and cringe when I see a plane laid down with the blade on a flat surface. Equally burned in my brain is using a chisel along a cut line to make a small kerf for the saw. Just something that is always done to get that crisp cut. I don’t think these are bad practices; on the other hand, I see the logic behind them. Works for me!

    1. Yes, and this can be a problem with public education. Schools, teachers, often lay down unnecessary rules and they are indeed seared into the brain like a branding iron on a calf. All I recall of school mostly is the cane or the strap hovering above Mr Lees head first thing in the morning when I could not learn a passage by rote though I would stay at the table learning for an hour before bed and then again all the way to school. The plane on the side in schools was, well, just barely okay, but it reflected bad teacher capabilities and substituted for a good educator. Any teacher with a good relationship with kids could have their respect no matter how disrespectful a child was. So planes carefully placed following respectful instruction would have worked just as well. Sadly, I see planes laying on their sides and lament the lack of respect teachers had for actually guiding those young lives in a proper manner. As to chiselling with the corner of a chisel. Compared to a knifewall, this is a blunt rock. Again, I’ve seen ot done and disapprove. That said, any student I ever taught who insisted on doing this was just fine with me. I don’t at all think people should do as I say. We are all free to choose our own methods.

      1. William Dickinson

        Thanks for the feedback Paul. Puts the experience in a whole new perspective. And, yes, Mr. Blackwell, whom I respected, was ready with his ruler to slap you on the hand if you deviated from the rules!!

  21. The “rule” that cracks me up I hear a lot is, ” don’t scrape with a chisel it’ll dull it”. To which I reply, “Yes, using a chisel is certain to dull it”. 🙂

    1. There is truth to using a chisel perpendicular and pulling it vertically along a surface so that it is no longer in an inline presentation that breaks the fine edge of the cutting edge quite radically, so it is not wear that takes place but breakage.

  22. I always find truth in your post, to be honest, sometimes amongst the hustle it’s a moment of zen for me when I get an email with a link to your blog, and I get a moment to reflect on your thoughts. Thanks for sharing such.

    I think that legalism is something that – especially in the age in information, can be disastrous if not approached with awareness. For example, I have seen commercials for a grammar correction program called grammarly. It advertises that the use of the program will allow one to write correctly, concisely, eloquently, and with an edge over others by presenting your writing as intelligently written. However, at that point, it’s not the user – it’s a program, and in my opinion it’s soulless, and it actually takes the edge away from a creative mind by allowing it’s use to be supplanted by a foreign installation of intellect. Don’t get me wrong, perhaps the program does write well, and in fact could be a useful tool in learning some good writing habits, vocabulary, and awe of linguistics – if used as a tool and not a crutch. Smart technology seems to hold the promise of being harmful through its harmony with the intellect. I’m certain I would have a harder time trigging out a a 3-hole pattern now then I would have ten years ago, now I simply pull out my phone and open up the trig calculator. Crutches can cripple. Some of the most astounding writing I’ve ever read came from authors that lived before computers could correct them.

  23. I hate the idea of ‘that’s the way we always do it because that’s the way it’s always been done.”
    The maxim I like is “First you learn the rules, then you learn to break the rules.”

  24. I agree that legalism is a scourge; despite that many of us are required to follow laws, and even those that are badly written. But then again I typically don’t lay planes on their sides. However, I do lay myself on my side at night, so as not to snore.

  25. Paul,
    I started woodworking approx. 4 years ago. I watch lots of YouTube vids but I find myself gravitated to you because you don’t sell, you just teach with patient and enthusiasm.
    Since I don’t have the extensive experience and the collection of tools you have, I try to accomplish the task to my best ability using my available tools and as my skill level allows me. The end result might not be perfect but it’s 100% of my effort and it satisfies me. Over time, as my skill level improves, I add tools to my collection and start the cycle all over again.
    So far, all your methods, suggestions and recommendations worked for me with minor adjustments made to fit my own needs. I could watch you, over and over again, rip a board with your saw as straight as an arrow and with ease. I hope I will master it as well at some point.
    Thanks for your time, it’s appreciated

    1. Thank you for your encouraging words, Serhat. I am confident that my skills are for sharing and that most people with a heart to learn will surpass me in the years to come and that people like you will be the ones to revive any skills already lost to us.

  26. Once we’ve learned everything the master craftsman have to teach us we still have plenty of learning to do.

  27. Paul, I simply can’t tell you enough how much I appreciate your practical way of wood working. I have been an avid student of yours from afar. Oh, that I could meet you some day and learn from you in person. I have made several of your tools, such as the dovetail layout gauge and the Poor Man’s Rebate plane. I look forward to when you have the parts available for you router plane. But let me just say thank you for helping me not get trapped by the legalism that is so pervasive.

  28. People use a 32” working surface by default? My 6’5” back and neck hurt just from the thought of it lol.

    1. I can imagine. The definitive statements I’ve heard and read through the years were taken heed of and texts were altered to acknowledge my suggestions even if my name is mostly left out. I care only about the practical nudges, messages and solutions I bring to the woodworking world, not about much else.

  29. Lewis M. Phelps

    I found this blog during a frustrating search for a reasonably priced router plane. I am in the process of converting my woodworking shop from primarily power tools to almost entirely hand tools. Why?

    I am 78 years old. I have had five surgeries in my right eye for a detached retina. Although the fantastic eye surgeons at UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles have restored my vision, my depth perception is now poor, and I don’t trust my fingers anywhere near a power driven saw blade. The power router is also on the shelf, and pretty much every other power tool except sanders and drills.

    I really appreciate what I am learning from Paul, and look forward to many more years of pleasure doing woodworking projects.

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