Community Is… Spreading

It has been a truly harrowing couple of days, with my heavily pregnant wife being rushed to hospital by paramedics on Friday, and a gut wrenching day while we waited to hear if she and the baby were ok. Genuinely the most terrifying experience of my life. Fortunately both mother and baby are well, and Rachel is back home, but it has left us shaken and thankful for the support of our friends, and yes, our community. At moments like this, good news and uplifting thoughts are very much in demand, and so it seems like the perfect moment to post a follow up to last week’s “community is” post.


The author

As some readers will have noticed, the Monday following publication of Furniture & Cabinetmaking issue 232, I uploaded to Instagram, together with each of the contributors to the article, our pictures showing what “community” mean to us, long with the hashtag communityis. The idea was to provoke some discourse about the role, and value, of community in the woodwork crafts. Part of me hoped that a few other people may follow suit and upload their own “community is” picture, although I did not really expect anyone to do so.

Derek Jones of New English Workshop

Derek Jones of New English Workshop

The reaction we had was quite staggering, and the number of responses uploaded to Instagram has really reinforced what a strong sense of community we as craftspeople have. The variety of suggestions as to what community means has been thought provoking, and I am indebted to each and every person who has uploaded a picture. This blog post represents just a sample of the pictures which have been uploaded, so thank you to the contributors who have allowed me to include their pictures here.

Ethan Sincox, writer of The Kilted Woodworker blog

Ethan Sincox, writer of The Kilted Woodworker blog

James McConnell, writer and curator of the Daily Skepp blog.

James McConnell, writer and curator of the Daily Skep blog.


Joshua Klein, contributor to Popular Woodworking and the creative force behind Mortise and Tenon magazine.

Derek Olson of Old Wolf Workshop

Derek Olson of the Old Wolf Workshop

Travis Knapp of Rarewoods

Contributed by Travis Knapp of Rarewoods (I suspect Travis is not as youthful as the picture would suggest…)

Brennan Simpson of Simpson Woodworks

Brennan Simpson of Simpson Woodworks

Levon Cullen

Levon Cullen

Tim Hermie of Restore to Build

Tim Hermie of Restore to Build

Of course, the discourse does not end here, so if you have not already uploaded a picture, then please add to the conversation; let’s keep talking about our community, and it growing.

Community is… the Solution

What follows is an expanded version of the article I wrote for issue 232 of Furniture & Cabinetmaking.

Jamies Ward, course leader at Warwickshire College

I’d like to suggest two common challenges that beset modern woodworkers at one time or another (and which I have certainly encountered as I immerse myself in woodwork crafts).

Firstly, many woodworkers place great stock in traditional techniques or ways of thinking about the craft, and seek to place their work in the context of classic designs and traditions. This is certainly true for me, and I wrote in issue 224 about the personal significance of the heritage and history in hand tool work, and how this shapes the way I approach my craft. And it is undoubtedly important to have regard to the past when we build, but what happens if we are too focused on the woodwork of the past and what the dead guys built or wrote? Is there a danger that we won’t pay attention to the craftsmen and women around us, today, and those that are yet to come?

Secondly, is there a propensity to become too isolated in our own workshops, and fail to connect with other crafts people around us? To see our work in the wider context of what others are building? Having recently moved to a new city, this is something that has been on my mind recently, and it has taken me a while to develop local contacts with whom to discuss furniture making or lutherie.

Community is… the solution

Lest this all sound too bleak, I am happy to report that there is an easy antidote to being too focused on the past, and of being too isolated in our respective workshops; the international community of woodworkers. Not a cult (despite the alarming tendency for facial hair in some members), but an expanding network of craftspeople across the globe who in many ways have become a modern substitute for the medieval guilds and the mechanic’s societies that followed. The community is not something I went in search of. But when I stumbled across it, I found woodworkers with a wealth of very different experiences, unified by a passion for the various woodwork crafts, and intent on sharing knowledge and preserving skills.

Jason Thigpen of Texas Heritage Woodworks

This willingness to share information, discuss experiences, and most importantly, to encourage and inspire each other, is life affirming and so valuable. This is a community that inspires each other to build and to push the limits of our skills, that commiserates over mistakes and celebrates each others’ successes, that shares knowledge and solves those knotty problems which would otherwise keep us up half the night trying to devise ever move complicated solutions. The community doesn’t just work for the transmission of knowledge, but also to enabling new entrants to woodwork. For instance, in 2014 Chris Schwarz announced that he would be delivering beginners classes to young people and made a plea for old or unused tools with which to equip the “junior anarchists” on these classes. Chris tells me that he has been overwhelmed with donations, and is still cataloguing the enormous volume of tools he has received. This is community spirit in action!

Chris Schwarz of Lost Art Press, surrounded by tools donated for the “Junior Anarchist” classes.

Community is… where you look for it

Chris Kuehn of Sterling Tool Works

So where do you find the international community of woodworkers? This is actually a lot easier than it sounds. Eight years ago, when I took my first steps in learning how to build musical instruments, I knew only one other luthier and no one, save for my maternal grandfather, who built furniture. Now it seems like new woodworkers are everywhere I look, in large part thanks to the Internet and particularly the advent of social media. So read and comment on woodwork blogs (bloggers love nothing more than receiving comments), or write a blog about your own workshop experiences. A special mention must also go to Instagram, a picture based social network. The ability to upload a snapshot of your work, or what is happening right now in your workshop, gives an immediacy that words alone rarely offer.

Fellow luthier Sue Johnson

If you prefer real life contact with fellow humans, then woodwork classes are the perfect way to make connections with likeminded craftspeople (and a great opportunity to develop your parallel skills, as I wrote about in issue 227), either enrolling on a class as a student, or teaching one. Organisations such as New English Workshop offer an excellent range of short courses, while evening classes can still be found at some educational institutions.

Mark Harrell of Bad Axe Toolworks

Community is… the future, and the future starts with you

Crafts and specialist skills always engender a sense of community, and I am not trying to suggest that the community of woodworkers is a new development. But the decline of many educational woodwork programmes and woodwork trade organisations means that traditional crafts based community structures are increasingly obsolete, while the rise of the internet has given rise to a more international form of community. As one person who contributed a picture to this article remarked, the industrial revolution tore the traditional craft communities apart, but the internet has started to put us back together.

Phil Edwards of Philly Planes

Equally, I am not blind to the risk of many woodwork crafts dying out, nor of the challenges in preserving traditional skills. But the more I engage with the international community of woodworkers, the more I am convinced that these risks will be overcome, and the challenges will be met. Because under the stewardship of a community which cares passionately about preserving traditional crafts, and does so much to foster an appreciation and enthusiasm in the crafts, the skills and work which we all care about really do have a future. And this is a truly egalitarian community where every contribution, by every craftsperson, is valuable and valued. Simply by building something, and talking to other craftspeople and aspiring makers, you can contribute to the community and ensure the preservation of the craft for the next generation. And really, isn’t that what we are all trying to do?

Alex Primmer of Classic Hand Tools

Rust Never Sleeps

One of the functions of any tool chest is to protect the tools from dust and moisture; the two  ingredients of rust. Like most woodworkers, I keep a keen eye out for rust on my tools – these are not just the means by which I practice my craft but also heirlooms which I want to pass on to my children, and hopefully my grandchildren (that all important hand tool heritage). So when I loaded up my completed Anarchist’s Tool Chest in December I decided to err on the side of caution, and included three VCI pots to ward off rust together with a small humidity gauge to keep an eye on conditions within the chest.

After 4 months it became clear that the chest had been very effective at keeping out dust, in large part due to the close fitting lid which includes a significant dust seal. And over the winter, despite being situated in two different unheated (brick and concrete) workshops, the chest maintained a constant relative humidity of 73%. So it was clearly maintaining a steady enclosed climate. However, all of this has not been sufficient to prevent some rust from appearing.

Completely eliminating rust is unachievable unless you keep laboratory conditions in your workshop (not using the tools on wood may also help), but the level of rust I was experiencing was higher than I would have expected, although my no means catastrophic. My regular routine includes wiping down all tools after use with a cloth soaked in camellia oil, and removing localised rust spotting with a brass bristled brush and a 120 grit Garryflex abrasive block. A more detailed post about tool care is on the cards for later this summer. But I very much prefer not to have to take remedial steps, so I started researching other rust preventative solutions.

In the end I settled on a 24″ GoldenRod from Lee Valley. The GoldenRod, despite a name redolent of 70’s porn films, is a low power convection heater for tool chests and gun cabinets, and is designed to keep the ambient temperature within the cabinet above the dew point so that moisture does not condense on the cold metal of tools and cause rust. A few minor adjustments were needed to my tool chest to fit the GoldenRod. First I drilled a 6mm hold through one floorboard to allow the power cord to pass out of the chest. I may fit a rubber grommet to this hole at some point in the future, but at present there doesn’t seem to be much call for this as the cable is a very snug fit. The success of the GoldenRod depends on having good air flow from the heater, so I decided to fit the GoldenRod behind the saw till wall, as I tend to leave the three sliding tills stacked at the back of the chest. Positioning the GoldenRod against the saw till wall therefore gives unimpeded air circulation throughout the chest as there is nothing immediately above the heating element, while situating it towards the back of the chest against the moulding plane corral would have positioned it immediately beneath not only all three sliding trays but also the wedges and irons of any moulding planes I added to the chest. I then screwed the plastic feet of the GoldenRod to the floor of the chest, and fitted a divider of thin pine to keep tools from coming into contact with the heater. The divider is held in place with cleats at each end, and while the cleats are nailed to the chest side the divider itself is just friction fit and can be removed if I ever need to. The final step was running the heater cable to a Goldsource step-down transformer, as the GoldenRod only runs on 110V power rather than the full-fat 230V we get out of the wall here in the UK. So how has it worked? In the 13 weeks since I fitted the GoldenRod I have had no rust issues whatsoever. The temperature in the chest has been kept firmly above the dew point, often by up to 10 degrees Celsius,  which means that my tools have remained dry and rust free.

In the course of researching rust preventative solutions, I also came across a handy freeware dew point calculator from General Electric. This app has been invaluable over the past few months, and I highly recommend it for readers who are experiencing rust issues, or just want to understand what conditions in their workshop actually mean. Free to download from the Apple App Store (I have no idea if there is an Android version), you enter the current temperature and relative humidity values, and the app calculates the relevant dew point. Easy as that, and far preferable to wrestling with formulae to work out the dew point yourself.


The GoldenRod prior to fitting the pine divider.