It’s the End of the Year as We Know it (And I Feel Fine)

And another year draws to a close – as I write this there are a mere 75 minutes left of 2017. I’m really not sure where the year has gone, every year passes faster than the last, and even more so since the Apprentice arrived. Where did the year go? At my workbench (mainly working on the Policeman’s Boot Bench), and in Iowa, and at Cressing Temple. Those, I think, are the enduring mental images of 2017 – the virtual community turned into real connections with living breathing people. Good friends met, stories exchanged, and projects completed.

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End of Handworks dinner, Amana. Good people, good conversation, good memories.

Of course, the most important element of any end-of year reflection has nothing to do with woodwork. The traditonal end of year mix cd, and list of the top albums, has been a part of my December reflections since I was a teenager. These are the albums that have soundtracked hours logged at the workbench, and songs which have accompanied me as I build. This year has continued the dominance Bloodshot Records hold over my listening habits (seriously, everything they release is golden, and very much deserving of your listening time). So, in time honoured tradition, here is my top five favourite albums of 2017 (in order):

  1. Sidelong – Sarah Shook & The Disarmers
  2. Boy in a Well – The Yawpers
  3. In Spades – Afghan Whigs
  4. Prisoner – Ryan Adams
  5. Folksinger Vol.2 – Willie Watson

The Year That Was

2017 proved to be another rewarding year with plenty of opportunities to challenge myself and to progress as a woodworker. Although my output this year has only been 1 and a half projects (the Policeman’s Boot Bench, and the staked worktable) there has been plenty to learn. One of my goals this year has been to try and slow down my work pace in order to focus on execution rather than speed of a build. As I’m sure is familiar to anyone who has limited opportunities to be at their bench, over the past couple of years I have had to fight the temptation to rush work so as to complete a particular operation in one workshop session. This year I decided to try and live by the maxim slow down, its faster and ignore the ticking clock. It has paid off, and focusing on the execution of each technique has been very beneficial.

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Photo by Gareth Partington Photography

2017 was also the year when I delivered my first paying furniture commission. At times, working on the Policeman’s Boot Bench felt like wading through bottomless self doubt (can I make this to the standard the client expects? Will he be satisfied with the end product? What happens if he hates it?). All emotions which keep us honest and striving towards our best work. And you know something? While the boot bench is not perfect, the client’s response when seeing the completed piece made those moments of agony all worthwhile. That first commission was a big step, and I am looking forward to making more pieces to order.

The blog readership continued to increase steadily, and I am constantly grateful to everyone who takes the time to read these posts, and to those who leave comments. For a first on the blog, I was honoured to welcome Nancy Hiller as a guest writer for a thought provoking piece on utility dovetailsFurniture & Cabinetmaking also published nine of my articles, including my first detailed project article.

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This ridiculous photo sums up the defining vibe of 2017 – community.

But the truly special thing about 2017 was the opportunity to connect with the wider woodworking community in person, first at Handworks and then at the final European Woodworking Show. It was wonderful to see so many old friends again, and to meet new friends for the first time. Community has been a really important part of woodwork for me over the past three years, and both events really demonstrated how vibrant and inclusive our community is. I am very much looking forward to travelling and spending more time with other woodworkers in 2018 and beyond.

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The Year That Will Be

So what does 2018 have in store? I should know by now not to predict too much what will cross my workbench in the year ahead because unexpected opportunities and projects always arise. But I just can’t seem to help myself.

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The main focus at my bench is going to be completing the suite of office furniture I started this autumn. The staked worktable is getting close o being completed, and I have the matching chair and bookcase (all out of the Anarchist’s Design Book) to build so that my study/music room is fully furnished and I can decant the last two boxes of research materials onto shelves. I also have a project for Popular Woodworking which I am working on, and finally a different twist on the boot bench design for Dr Moss. There will also be more articles in Furniture & Cabinetmaking. So plenty to keep me occupied.

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Welsh Stick Chair in yew, by John Brown

In terms of developments away from the workbench, I am lining up some classes on interesting woodworking topics which I hope to be able to announce in 2018 for a 2019 registration – stay tuned for more details. There is also much to do on the Life and Work of John Brown. Chris Williams and I will be locking ourselves away in February to work on the chairmaking section of the book, an element of work that I am truly looking forward to.

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The maker’s mark after a coat of shellac and dab of black wax

And so, with only 14 minutes left of 2017, thank you dear reader, for following along this year. Wishing everyone a bright start to 2018, I hope you’ll continue to take the journey with me.

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Ending 2017 on a cliff hanger – how did cutting the monster dovetails in the staked work table top go? You’ll have to tune in next year to find out…

Live and on film

At the European Woodwork Show last month, Mark Harrell and I gave a short presentation both days about the new Bad Axe Luthier’s Saw, talking about design and development of the saw, the specification, and how the saw performs in use. Dr Moss kindly captured the Sunday presentation on film – click on the play button below.

I also managed to escape my booth for a few minutes to watch Michael Auriou demonstrate hand stitching a rasp. Michael is a true craftsman, and makes something as complex as rasp stitching look effortless. Here’s a quick video of Michael in action:

A celebration of craft and community

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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).

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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Don’t fret, just keep slotting – the Bad Axe Luthier’s Saw on test

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The new Bad Axe Luthier’s Saw

I find it hard to believe that I first floated the idea of a dedicated luthier’s saw to Mark Harrell three years ago, in many ways it feels like the conversation started much more recently than that. Slotting fret boards for guitars (and other fretted instruments) is one of the most critical stages of a build, determining whether the instrument will intonate properly. For all of the jigs on the market to help locate the cut at the correct point of the fret board, I’ve never understood why, or been satisfied with, the proliferation of cheap saws to make these most critical of cuts. And so I decided to reach out to the best saw maker I know and see if he was interested in giving luthiers a high quality saw which could handle fret slotting duties as well as other fine cross-cut work.

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That conversation ended up lasting two years as specifications were circulated, adjusted, and ideas tested. We welcomed good friend and fellow luthier Susan Chillcott to the conversation, and continued to work through exactly what the specification for a fret slotting saw would look like. A protoype arrived on my workbench in March 2016, followed by the first production model in August 2016. And testing continued.

This is a test (this is very testing)

The best way to really get to grips with a tool is to live with it and test it on real life projects and in as many different applications or circumstances as possible. And here is what I found interesting – although the Bad Axe Luthier’s Saw was intended for fret slotting and other fine lutherie work, I’ve found myself reaching for it repeatedly for furniture work too. The depth stop was a real boon when cutting out the stopped dados in my School Box, and again came in handy when defining the tenon shoulders for the legs of my staked saw benches. So although this is marketed as a “luthier’s saw”, it is far more versatile than that, and is perfect for anywhere that a very fine furniture grade cross cut is desirable.

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The Primary Mission

And yes, it slots fret boards too. Far better than any of the cheap (read: disposable) fret slotting saws I’ve used in the past. Mark’s skill in sharpening saws is no secret, and the luthier’s saw has been sharpened to perfection. The saw has that familiar Bad Axe balance of aggression and precision, requiring only a couple of strokes to cut to the appropriate depth for fret wire, and despite the aggression it still leave behind a complete absence of blowout on the exit side of the kerf. In fact, this saw leaves the cleanest kerf I’ve seen on a fret slotting saw, by some measure. And that hammer-set kerf has been dialled in to deliver a 0.022″ kerf for most modern fretwire tangs. On a precision tool like this, getting the fine details right is the difference between a saw that works, and something that looks pretty but will stay on the shelf. Bad Axe have got all of the details right, and this saw is a workhorse which will stay in my tool chest until I’m ready to hang up my apron for the final time.

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Slotting a maple fret board

The open tote feels identical to my Bad Axe dovetail saw, and fits the hand perfectly with no hard transitions, flats or corners to cause fatigue, leaving you free to concentrate on the cut and not on the saw. Mark also did a great job on improving the plastic depth stop used by other fret slotting saws. The Bad Axe depth stop is substantially thicker than the plastic alternative used by other manufacturers, which gives a greater surface area to register on the workpiece, and instead of standard acrylic commonly seen, uses a Polyethylene polymer with a high lubricity. The difference is instantly noticeable – when you bottom out of the cut the depth stop glides across the work piece without catching or scuffing, preventing the saw from sinking deeper and leaving no mark on the work. The brass thumbscrews cinch down authorititvely and in many months of testing I never felt the deth stop slip in use.

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There are many ways to slot a fretboard, and many jigs which claim to make life easier. I recently took the plunge and ordered a fret slotting jig from Tony Wright, an engineer and luthier of 28 years, and the brains behind Necx Products and Lakestone Guitars. This is the same jig as we used in Totnes, and is the perfect pairing for the Bad Axe Luthier’s Saw. Most jigs rely on a guide board and locating pin arrangement to deliver the saw at the right location for each fret slot. This ties the user to just the scale lengths the jig manufacturer supports, and also requires additional cost (not to mention storing additional guide boards) if you want to build to a different scale length. In contrast, Tony’s fret slotting jig uses a vernier scale and a free moving carriage to move the saw along the fretboard, so any scale length can be cut without the need for additional accessories.

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The vernier scale enables the user to precisely locate the saw for each cut

As a combination, this really cannot be beaten. The fine gearing of the carriage assembly on the jig means that the Bad Axe saw can be positioned by increments of 0.1mm before making the cut. When you have an incredibly precise saw, you only get the benefit of that precision when you can be targeted about where it is deployed. Having moved the carriage to the right location the carriage locks down tight with a large brass knob, and the cut can be made. All in all, a fret board can be cut with absolute precision in little more than 30 minutes.

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The carriage locks down to prevent the cut from wandering

European Woodwork Show

I will have the Bad Axe Luthier’s Saw and the fret slotting jig with me at the European Woodwork Show next month, as well as a supply of fret boards. If you would like to have a go at slotting a fretboard do stop by and say hello.

The Luthier’s Saw is now on the Bad Axe website and is available for order.

Disclosure: I assisted Bad Axe in the design and development of the Luthier’s Saw, and my sole payment for that work is the saw pictured above. I receive no commission or payment based on future sales of the saw, and no payment  for writing about the saw. All content on Over the Wireless about the Luthier’s Saw is my own unbiased opinion.

On Why the Only Way really will be Essex this September

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Look out for the new OtW banner

The European Woodwork Show is now only two months away, so I thought it was time to order an Over the Wireless banner so that my stand is easily spotted (and it brightens up the ‘shop for the rest of the year).

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The Bad Axe luthier’s saw is the first high-quality saw designed specifically for fret slotting. Come and see it in action, and discuss the design process with myself and Mark Harrell

I’ve been giving some thought as to how to make the show memorable, so here is the plan. Over the course of the weekend I will be giving practical demonstrations of the new Bad Axe luthier’s saw in action, slotting some nice maple fretboards. This is the first public showing of the luthier’s saw in the U.K, and so I am very pleased to annouce that Mark Harrell of Bad Axe Tool Works will be making a special guest appearance during the weekend and we will be talking about the design process of the luthier’s saw. I’ll announce the times when Mark will be joining me in September. So, if you want to see one of only two examples of this saw currently in the U.K, and talk about how we designed the saw, then stop by my stand. I’ll also be talking about The Life & Work of John Brown, Welsh Stick Chairs, lutherie, furniture making, and anything else that you good people want to chat about.

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I will have OtW decals and tees on sale

Following Handworks it feels like no show is complete without stickers, so I will have OtW decals available, as well as some t-shirts (if you would like to order a tee for collection at EWS, or can’t come to the show and want one posted out to you, drop me a line in the comments).

Finally, to round out the experience I’ll have a guitar with me, my Anarchist’s Tool Chest, and the Apprentice.

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European Woodwork Show 2017

Spring is finally here, which means that the woodwork show season is now kicking into gear. As well as attending Handworks next month, I am pleased to announce that I will also be exhibiting at the European Woodwork Show in September. EWS 2015 was a wonderful event with lots of really interesting demonstrations and stands, as well as a fantastic community spirit. What made the last event so memorable for me personally was the number of readers, both on the blog and F&C, as well as members of the Instagram woodwork community, who stopped by to say hello and to have a chat about woodwork.

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EWS 2017 promises to be even better, with a bumper crop of stands including Chris, Megan (for the first time!), Vic, Bill Carter, Skelton Saws, Deneb from Lie-Nielsen, and many more. I will also have the Apprentice with me, and will be working on my current guitar build throughout the weekend. Do stop by my stand and say hello!

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