When I wrote Essential Woodworking Hand Tools it was less about the tools and more about what was missing from books I read and saw through the decades in books often entitled something like ‘The Woodworker’s Bible‘, usually commissioned by publishers known for their educational books, people like that. What mainly was missing was the truer experiential knowledge of a craftsman-user – someone in the saddle day to day for a lifetime, I suppose. This too is becoming more and more evident in YouTube content providers and book writers too. Dig around a bit and you’ll find more and more copycats than those originators working from a full knowledge-based background, those who never made it as makers of any kind but became some kind of interpreter. My nearly 500-page book was edited down from 900 pages by Joseph and myself. It was a painful process but we finally came up with a draft we truly liked and endorsed in the fullest sense of it.
Every time I glimpsed through one of those many, many “Woodworker’s Bible” books in a bookshop, library or wherever, I found them limited to the ‘what it was and what it did’, like one of those very boring magazine tool reviews that had no real value except the poor opinion of a non-woodworking editor. Many so-called ‘highly informative’ sources were indeed pretty much copy and pasted from text elsewhere from the days when that was literally what they did pre-internet days. The substance and informative dynamism a true user might bring seemed always to be the missing ingredient. What was missing were the hidden idiosyncracies affecting every single tool in a wide range of ways. There was nothing inventive about the authors or the written work and it was that that showed how limited authors often were. There was no adapting and adopting. For instance, the router plane was only ever shown in recesses and dadoes, never for refining tenons. Combining the book with our highly proficient and insightful videography work has proved an amazing tool for me. I can express my hard-won knowledge to the fullest extent possible and to an audience that is now worldwide.
Joseph and I decided that most books and articles are indeed written from more a novice background than that of a crafting artisan earning their living from the craft itself. In other words, most books are rarely if ever written by those who actually made for a living but by those who, well, just wrote from more an author’s perspective of some kind but without the skills of being the kind of maker where the work itself stood as testament.
Most craftsmen and women are not authors and find writing difficult. We decided that a book written from the perspective of a lifetime user of all of the tools was what would benefit new and seasoned woodworkers the most. We needed that plus the video backup that would work as a reference to common and uncommon practices. You might not know it but it took a major investment of time and money to pull it all off. We didn’t have any spare money. My lifetime as purely a maker did not give me a pension pot or surplus income and definitely no savings. When I arrived back in the UK after 23 years living and working in the USA and yes, even after making the White House pieces for the Cabinet Room, I had a thousand pounds to my name, no owned property except my hand tools and all of my other possessions in a 30-foot container-sized init in central Texas because, well, I could not afford to bring them with me to the UK.
Exactly what did modern-day users of hand tools need? I knew what they needed was more ordinary than fancy. I knew that a vintage Stanley #4 would do more than any other Bailey- or Bedrock-pattern on the market and that a secondhand one would more than likely match the highest demands of the most discerning of craftsmen. Could I, from a zero-academic, non-videography background bridge the canyon-sized gap to give new woodworkers a new perspective and exactly what they needed to become highly conversant with the essential tools they needed for working wood? To do that, I would need to offer a brand new perspective. I could never take any kind of sponsorship or kickback, no freebies or whatever that might influence the freedom I wanted to just, well, be myself.
Sitting down to a computer was new to this ever-active-in-the-zone woodworker who never sat but always stood with six inches of a bench vise at the workbench 12 hours a day six days a week for at that time five decades; something began to gestate and the motive was never fame and fortune. Oh, and yes. I never worked less than twelve hours a day, believe me.
As a non-typist, non-computer literate artisan, I sat down and with Joseph’s help and guidance, I learned. Social media got mixed up in there too. The good and bad of it had to be identified and learned. It took time to learn the order of it in the same way the foundation of my woodworking did not happen overnight.
Essential Woodworking Hand Tools has been successful in that it was a work from the heart of a maker and no tool in the book cost me more than £20. There was no product placement and no financial nudges to influence me. I recall the ends of the days around five in the evening when Joseph would call me from his home 70 miles away and I sat in my car outside my Penrhyn Castle workshop in North Wales and we would read the chapters back to one another to perfect the text and proofread what I had written before sending it to the proofreader and the graphic artist for layout. Night after night for weeks and months we hammered out the final version and sent it to the printers.
That’s how we did it!