A celebration of craft and community


Woodwork shows are a strange thing when you’re an exhibitor – the months of build up and anticipation which feel like they may never end, the show itself then disappears in a blur of faces, talk about woodcraft, old friends reunited and new friendships forged. And then the bittersweetness of breaking down your stand at the end of the show, amongst fond farewells. All this was all the more so given that EWS 2017 was the final European Woodwork Show (although Classic Hand Tools have said that they may be planning a series of smaller shows going forwards).


The Apprentice enjoyed her time at EWS

This was my second time a EWS, and the show itself was fantastic. The breadth of exhibits was astounding, and a family atmosphere pervaded Cressing Temple, with something guaranteed to appeal to visitors of all ages (the Apprentice particularly enjoyed the heavy horse as well as the chainsaw carving).


Vic is a good buddy, and a hilarious neighbour to have at a show like this. Never a dull moment, honestly.

My stand this year was between Derek Jones and Vic Tesolin (I know, a tough neigbourhood), which ensured plenty of banter and hilarity throughout the course of the weekend.


Although I didn’t have much chance to stray away from my stand for long, it was great to catch up with so many friends who I only ever seem to see at woodwork shows, and to meet Instagramers, and readers. Thank you to everyone who took the time to stop by my stand and say hello, and talk about lutherie, furniture making, the John Brown book, and of course the Bad Axe Luthier’s Saw. As promised, I had plenty of spare fretboards on hand and it was great to see people with no experience in lutherie trying their hand at slotting a fretboard. Mark Harrell and I also gave presentations on the luthier’s saw both days – I managed to get these recorded so will upload one of them to the blog as soon as I’ve had chance to check the recordings over.


With Mark Harrell and Susie Chillcott – the three of us worked on the R&D for the Luthier’s Saw for three years.

When you combine good friends and musical instruments, it is never long until you find youself in the middle of a jam session. One of the highlights of the weekend was Sunday morning, when Anne revealed she had bought a mandolin with her. Without a second thought, we opened the show with an impromtu hour long jam session, running through bluegrass standards, as well as some alt country deep cuts by Turnpike Troubadours, Ryan Adams, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Whiskeytown. Enormous fun, and something which will hopefully happen again at a future show. We closed out the Sunday evening with a final jam, this time joined by Ryan Saunders on vocals.


Jamming with Anne.

Whenever I go to a show I always keep my eye peeled for a tool to add to my tool chest to commemorate the show. My only requirements are that it must be useful, and something which I wouldn’t be able to just order or pick up in the normal course of events. EWS must have had a boxwood smoother vibe going on, because I ended up bringing home two boxwood smoothing planes. The first is a minature boxwood smoother made for me by my good friend (and father of the Nut Saver) Bern Billsberry – Bern had mentioned last December that he was going to make a run of these and I asked to be put on the waiting list. On the Saturday morning he presented me with No.1 of this run of planes. This plane is not just a curiou – as well as being tiny, it works really well and will be invaluable for shaping guitar braces.


A pair of very special boxwood planes

My second plane of the weekend came when I was visiting Oliver Sparks‘ stand before the show opened (a dangerous move, I know). I have admired Oliver’s work since we met at EWS 2015, and he and Molly are just the best people. While looking over Oliver’s stock of gorgeous planes, I came across a gorgeous boxwood thumbplane with new old stock iron. I have a real weakness for thumbplanes and this was at a very keen price point, so I snapped it up without hestitation. The plane works as well as it looks, with incredibly crisp craftsmanship (there is a reason Oliver is one of the leading lights of British plane making) and I’m sure it will be a mainstay of my tool chest for many years.


See the look in my eyes? That’s the look of a man about to buy a boutique plane.

But as wonderful as the tools were, the real joy of Handworks was the sense of community, friendship, and a shared enthusiasm for the craft (and the jam session, obviously!). Shows like this always offer new (and unexpected) opportunities, and I’ll be posting more as events unfold. A final word of thanks must go to the Over the Wireless Street Team – those dedicated souls who wore OtW tees over the weekend. Anne, Doug, and Bern (and of course Dr Moss, Dad, and the Apprentice), I salute you.


With Megan and Anne – the American contingent was out in force this year!

European Woodworking Show 2017 – this weekend

Here’s your friendly reminder that the European Woodworking Show is taking place this weekend (16 and 17 September) at Cressing Temple in Essex. I will be there both days talking about progress on the John Brown book for Lost Art Press, furniture making and lutherie.

EWS 2017 Advert A4

I will also be demonstrating the new Bad Axe Luthier’s Saw by slotting fretboards a-plenty over the weekend. Mark Harrell of Bad Axe will be joining me for a presentation at 12pm on both days and we will talk about the design process and development of the Luthier’s Saw (and I’m sure Mark will be pleased to answer any other saw-related questions you may have). Mark is a super knowledgeable woodworker and saw maker, and I’m honoured to have him on my stand for these presentations.


I will also have OtW stickers (£3 for a pair) and t-shirts (£15 each), so if you’ve wanted some OtW apparel but have been holding off, now is the time. I’ll also be doing a free give-away for people who wear their OtW tee at the show, so if you already have a tee (and there are a fair few of you out there who do) then show your allegiance!


Please do stop by my stand to say hello and chat about woodwork (or anything else). This promises to be a great show, and I’m looking forward to catching up with old friends and readers. Just look out for the OtW banner!


The Anarchist’s Office Suite?


Nearly every project seems to start with my Vesper 10″ square and a pair of dividers

Once the Policeman’s Boot Bench was collected by the client I turned my attention to my next project – a staked worktable from The Anarchist’s Design Book. The maple had been sitting in stick at the end of my study (which is where the completed desk will stand) since April, and I’ve been looking forward to getting stuck into this project. As well as the desk I need an extra bookcase to house my library of woodwork and history texts, and so next year I am planning to build the boarded bookcase from The Anarchist’s Design Book, in maple to match the desk. Of course, a desk is no use without a chair to sit on, and I had originally planned to buy a generic office chair. Then, as I was tidying up the workshop at the end of the Policeman’s Boot Bench build, I looked over my timber stock and realised that I had enough surplus maple for a staked chair (also out of The Anarchist’s Design Book). So my plan is now to build a matching office set of desk, chair, and bookcase. Because it is good to have both a plan and a set of durable, stylish office furniture.


Bringing the rough stock down to square for the legs

Due to various committments I’ve not generated much momentum or rhythm on this build yet, but the stock for the desk legs and battens is now processed, ready and waiting to be shaped and for the joinery to be cut, and today I have started to tackle the three boards that make up the desk top. This is all very much as I’ve written about before – flattening rough boards with a No.5 jack plane followed by a No.8 jointer. Because the legs and battens are structural components I processed them in two stages to ensure they would not move once at final dimension. The first stage involved flattening one face and one edge of each piece, and taking the opposite edge and face down until they were 1/’8 shy of final dimension. I then left the stock for another week to rest before taking to final dimensions. Because the stock had been stickered for 4 months, and the humidity in my study is reasonably consistent, the pieces didn’t move whatsoever. I then took them to final dimension.


I love the change in texture from rough boards to a glassy-smooth planed surface

There are a lot of aspects of this project I am looking forward to. In addition to having a sturdy desk to work at (my first proper workspace in 5 years – no more writing from my arm chair) the desk will involve a number of new skills and techniques which I am looking forward to getting to grips with – half-blind dovetails for the drawer, turning the tenons, and the longest edge joint I’ve done to date (two 52″ long joints for the top). Then there are the finishing options – traditional soap, Osmo, or shellac and hardwax? And of course, a return to octagonalisation, with some big tapered octagons for the legs.


Heavy cut from the No.5 jack plane.

Building the chair alongside the desk will be an interesting experience – as the chair requires many of the same techniques, but on a much smaller scale. So as well as practical projects these should offer plenty of valuable learning opportunities.

Handworks – a survivor’s account

The following is adapted fom my article about Handworks originally published in Furniture & Cabinetmaking Issue 261.


At first, Amana Colonies, Iowa, may seem like a strange holiday destination, and yet for many woodworkers it was precisely the dream location to visit during late May this year. The reason? Handworks 2017.


Organised by bench hardware manufacturers Benchcrafted, Handworks is a two day long, bi-annual show drawing together many notable tool manufacturers, craftspeople, and publishers. As a result the show is an undisputed highlight of the woodwork calendar, and draws attendees from North America, Europe, and Australia. What is more, unlike most other woodwork shows Handworks is purely hand tool orientated – the mission statement is simply: “ask the makers about their tools and lean first hand how hand tools make woodworking mow precise, easier, more enjoyable, and more meaningful”.


Bad Axe carcase saw in a Texas Heritage saw vise

Handworks 2017 promised to be the biggest instalment yet, featuring over fifty stalls spread across five barns as well as a Saturday morning presentation by patron saint of hand tool woodworkers Roy Underhill.


Dividers and holdfasts by Peter Ross

Enter the Arena

So, what was Handworks like?” asked a woodworking friend a few days after the event. In a word, inspirational. The sheer range of demonstrations, tools on display, and makers to meet, was incredible and the two days flew by. It would be impossible to give an account of all of the tool manufacturers, makers, and demonstrators who had stands across the five barns (for that visit www.handworks.co). But what was instantly noticeable was that despite being billed as a woodwork show, Handworks was in truth a coming together of a variety of related crafts, covering woodwork, tool makers, textile and leatherworkers, and blacksmiths.


Mary May has a better business card holder than anyone. Fact.

The wide variety of woodcrafts represented at the show was outstanding, including carving by Mary May, period furniture making, green woodworking by Don Weber and chair making by  George Sawyer, Peter Galbert and Caleb James, to name just a few. Blacksmiths were well represented by Peter Ross, Seth Gould, and Blackbear Forge, while Texas Heritage and Camp Robber both displayed an extensive range of workshop aprons and tool rolls. A personal highlight was trying out a Roorkee chair made by good friend Anne Briggs using sublime leatherwork by Texas Heritage. Texas Heritage sell the complete leatherwork for Roorkee chairs and camp stools, and seeing the finished article in person has bumped this project to near the top of my to-do list!


Caleb James


Publishers and writers were also out in force, with Mortise and Tenon, and Lost Art Press stands both proving to be very popular, the latter hosting a number of their authors for book signings throughout the duration of the show.


Mini holdfast and standard sized holdfast, both by Black Bear Forge

Tools, Tools, Tools

Of course, you cannot talk about Handworks without talking about the tools. No matter what your preference, Handworks had something to tempt the wallet and push airport luggage allowances to the limit. As well as the wealth of vintage tools sold by Patrick Leach, there were many modern tool manufacturers demonstrating their wares and answering questions. For many woodworkers, shows like Handworks offer a rare opportunity to see tools by smaller manufacturers in person, and to use infill planes by Konrad Sauer, wooden planes by Scott Meek, or marking gauges by Hamilton Woodworks. Other highlights included shaving horses and workbenches by Plate 11 Workbench Co, an opportunity to test drive the new Bad Axe Tool Works frame saw, and marvelling at the sheer beauty and precision of Vesper Tools’ in-filled marking and layout tools.


Infill planes by Sauer & Steiner

Handworks has traditionally been an opportunity for tool manufacturers to unveil brand new products, and this year was no exception. Texas Heritage presented their new “saddlebag” tool organiser – perfect for hanging in a tool chest or above a workbench, while Blue Spruce Toolworks debuted a brand new coping saw design. One of the biggest product announcements of the show was a combination plane by Veritas modelled on the now-discontinued Stanley No.45, which attracted a constant crowd eager to give it a test drive.


The Bad Axe frame saw is the most fun you can have with a saw plate.

Studley Two

One of the highlights of Handworks 2015 was a rare public showing of the iconic tool chest of H.O Studley, alongside which Don Williams had given a series of presentations about the tool chest and his book on the same subject, “Virtuoso” (Lost Art Press). The Studley tool chest, and “Virtuoso”, clearly had a significant impact on at least one woodworker, as Handworks 2017 featured a complete reproduction of the Studley tool chest made by hobbiest woodworker, and surgeon, Jim Moone. Jim estimates that the chest took him six months to make alongside his medical practice, including modifying tools to match the contents of the original chest. Jim’s reproduction is breathtaking in its detail and commitment to authenticity, and completing such an ambitious project is impressive in itself even without taking into account the brief time span of the project!


Reproduction STudley Tool Chest, by Jim Moone

Community Is…

Community has been a constant thread in my writing over the past couple of years. The overwhelming atmosphere at Handworks, and the buzzword on everyone’s lips, was community. The tools were shiny and plentiful, and the demonstrations were fascinating. But what was truly special about this event was watching people who had never met in person before come together over a shared love of handwork, a passion for preserving traditions and crafts, and for making things. It was of course an opportunity to turn online connections made through the vibrant community on Instagram, and blogs, into real faces and friendships, and throughout the event there was countless moments when people would introduce themselves using their Instagram handles and then follow up with their real names. For two days, over antique tools, the latest products from modern tool manufacturers, or traditional German food, knowledge was shared, friendships forged, and contact details exchanged. This was the true magic of Handworks, and for many (including myself) the reason why they attended.


Jim Tolpin and George Walker demonstrating artisan geometry.

While I doubt any attendee managed to leave without buying at least one new tool or book, it is certain that no one left without a sense of having found an inclusive, supportive, and welcoming community bound together by the woodcrafts. Where else could you find yourself sitting next to George Walker and Jim Tolpin over breakfast, or strum a handmade resonator guitar by Mule Resonators over pizza in the evening? But what was truly special about Handworks was witnessing just how welcoming everyone was, and I am sure that this strength of community will give real comfort to anyone concerned about the future of hand tool woodwork.


Tool chest by Chris Schwarz and Jameel Abraham.

Handworks – a service to the community

Handworks ended with plenty of warm farewells, promises to stay in touch, and carrying away bags overflowing with new tools and books. Hundreds of people attended, and hundreds of different stories will be told. But winding through all of those stories, is the thread of a community brought together through a love of handwork and the joy of sharing that passion with other makers. Organising Handworks is a massive endeavour, and there is no guarantee that it will take place again. If Handworks 2017 is the final show then it will be a fitting end, but I for one certainly hope that there will be a reason to visit Amana in 2019.


Jason Thigpen of Texas Heritage explaining the custom options available for his aprons

A print exclusive

Issue 262 of Furniture & Cabinet Making is now on sale, and as well as an excellent article by Mark Harrell on selecting your nest of saws, and more tricks of the trade by Ramon Valdez, my review of the new Combination Plane by Veritas is included. Unveiled at Handworks this year, the plane was not officially announced by Veritas until 15 of August, and I believe that the review in F&C 262 is the first UK print review of this new plane.