A Gift for the Apprentice


The Apprentice’s very first tool

As I’ve written about before, I don’t always find it easy to navigate the tension between the (deeply rooted) need to stand at my bench and make things, and with the desire to be the best father I can be. Family time is the most important thing in the world, and even though I make sure that I prioritise being with the Apprentice and Dr Moss, there are definite moments when I feel guilty for being at my workbench. I’m also realistic enough to know that not pursuing woodwork (which feels more of a vocation than a pass time) is not a viable choice, and so I carve out pockets of time to be in the ‘shop and am grateful for a supportive and encouraging spouse.

While I was at the Midlands Woodworking Show I also decided to use woodwork trips as an opportunity to do something tangible for the Apprentice. She has been showing an increasing interest in the workshop, and really enjoyed helping me on the boot bench last autumn, and so I’ve resolved that everytime woodwork takes me away from home I will pick up a tool for the Apprentice to use in the ‘shop with me. The criteria are that the tools need to be high quality, and ones which will last for a lifetime, or at least as long as she’s interested in using them. I’d been giving thought to the most appropriate starter tools, and Mortise & Tenon Issue 5 had a very helpful article on exactly this subject. So, for her first tool I picked up this delightful spokeshave by Lee Valley – it is perfectly sized for a soon-to-be-four year old, very safe, and I knew that she’d like the look of the decorative casting. After honing the iron, and sanding some flashing from the inside edges of the handles, it was ready to go.


Making shavings with the Apprentice

Last weekend the Apprentice ventured into the ‘shop to use her spokeshave for the first time, and we spent some very happy minutes rounding the edges of a piece of scrap pine. I’ll never pressure her to come into the workshop, or to do woodwork, but the door will always be open to her, as will a small collection of her own tools. This moment probably meant 10,000% more to me than it did to her, but I confess that I was a very proud dad. So I’ll take that as a win.

Roubo Is Coming… Part 4


Laying out the mortises with the Vesper 10″ square and Hamilton marking knife

After processing the legs and stretchers for the Roubo bench I was looking forward to cutting some joinery. Roubo explains that the stretchers are flush to the front of the legs (which also means that the long stretchers will be in the same vertical plane as the edge of the bench top) and situated between 4 and 5 pouce above the floor. He is silent on how the stretchers should be fixed to the legs, although mortise and tenon joinery is the obvious choice for this element of the build. I decided to follow Chris’ approach to this joint and use bare faced tenons, the advantages of which are that you only have one tenon shoulder to worry about, and you can include a good solid 1 pouce thick tenon (and 3 pouce long) in the joint. As with everything on this build, the joinery is big, which is why this bench should last forever.


Laying out tenon width also established the dimension of the mortise

To break up this element of the build into manageable chunks, I decided to cut the joinery for the short stretchers first to create two sub-assemblies of legs, and then cut the joinery for the long stretchers as a second round which will leave me with a completed undercarriage. Whether you cut mortises or tenons first is, I think, purely a matter of personal preference. I tend to cut mortises first. What is important is careful layout of both halves of the joint, which I much prefer to do in one sitting so as to avoid any small (but significant) changes in measurement.


Boring out the waste with a 1920-era North Bros. brace and 7/8″ auger bit. The Vesper 4″ square and my great uncle’s Starrett combination square keep me plumb to the workpiece

The Veritas mortise gauge is my go-to tool for laying out the joint, and I typically start by marking out the tenons. This establishes the setting for both halves of the joint and the gauge is then locked into that position for the remainder of this project. With the tenons marked out, I then laid out the mortises, measuring from the bottom end of each leg. The ends of the mortises were scribed across the full width of each leg, as this will enable me to wrap round the positions to the sides of the leg for the long stretcher mortises.


Ready for paring

As I’ve said before, this oak is tough stuff. There are no medals for cutting these mortises with only a chisel and mallet, only blisters. Also, the widest mortise chisel I could find on the internet was 1/2″ wide, which would effectively require cutting two mortises for each joint, and removing the thin webbing between them. That sounds a lot like work to me, and so I took a different tack while staying firmly hand tool only. So, with my big Jet drillpress standing tantalisingly close, I fitted a 7/8″ Jennings pattern auger bit (from Tools for Working Wood) to my 1920s era North Bros. brace, and bored out much of the waste by hand. Yes the Jet would have eaten much of this oak for breakfast, but I really enjoy using the brace and bit, and taking it at a steady pace this did not feel like a particularly tough job. The key is to be bold and use the largest bit you can, to remove as much waste as possible. A knife line down the middle of the mortise also helps to give a clear centre line in which to place the lead screw of the auger bit.


Squaring the ends of the mortise

With much of the waste removed to depth, the mortise could then be cleaned up with chisels. Effectively paring the mortise walks square and true relies on taking small bites with a chisel, and nibbling your way back to the baseline, very much as you would when chopping dovetails. First I removed any webbing left between the auger holes, and then square up the ends of the mortise using a 3/4″ chisel. The end grain is brutal hard stuff, even with a freshly honed chisel, and a sharp tap with a mallet helped ease things along.


Paring the sides with a wide chisel

The sides of the mortises were easier going, and I used a 1 1/2″ wide Blue Spruce bench chisel for these – that width gave me a very consistent straight wall but without being so wide that it needed too much force to push through the cut. Again, paring the excess away in small bites and working back to the knife line, is essential. I also use a two handed grip for this work – my right hand is on the chisel handle with my thumb looped over the end for maximum downward pressure, while two fingers of my left hand are wrapped round the front of the blade, pulling it flat against the wall of the mortise. Each hand only has one job to do – the right hand drives the chisel and the left keeps it running in the right direction. This grip keeps the chisel from drifting out of the cut, and also from under cutting the wall of the mortise.  A small combination square can help test the walls of the mortise – if the blade of the square does not make contact with the top of the mortise then there is a bump which needs paring flat.


Checking for square with the vintage Starrett

Next up will be cutting the tenons for the short stretchers, and tuning the fit of the joints. And then repeating the whole process for the long stretchers.


Two of the four mortises cleaned up and ready for tenons

Midlands Woodworking Show


Just look for this banner

The Midlands Woodworking Show is at Newark on 22 and 23 March (Friday and Saturday of this week). I will be there (with special thanks to Classic Hand Tools for kindly inviting me to be part of their exhibition area) along with good buddy and regular Furniture & Cabinetmaking contributor Richard Wile.


I may not have my Anarchist’s Tool Chest with me this year, but the guitar will certainly be coming along

As well as my customary 12 string guitar and willingness to chat about woodwork (including progress on The Book Book) I’ll also have OtW tees, buttons, and stickers for sale. As always, if you already have an OtW tee and wear it to the show you can claim free buttons and stickers.


If you are attending the show do stop by my stand to say hi and chat. I look forward to seeing some of you there!

Roubo Is Coming… Part 3


And with that, the undercarriage is all processed. Four legs and the same number of stretchers. My reward for all of this stock prepartation will be cutting 8 mortise and tenon joints, and fitting the vise hardware to the front left leg. Not that I’m done with planing stock for this project – far from it. There is still the vise chop and lower shelf to process, not to mention the small matter of flattening the slab top. But after six weeks or so of nothing but planing oak until it is square and true, I’m looking forward to some joinery. At the outset I did wonder if processing this quantity of material by hand without any distractions might be repetative, but while it has been heavy work with occasionally truculent timber, it has all been very enjoyable and offered many learning opportunities.

Now time to put the hand planes to one side and sharpen my chisels in readiness for cutting those joints. It’s going to be good to see the base come together.

A Community Together

The following is based on an article originally published in issue 276 of Furniture & Cabinetmaking. Richard Arnold has just annonced that this year’s open house event will be taking place on 8 June – I will be there (with Dr Moss and the Apprentice). Hopefully I will see some of you there!

Every summer in the ancient market town of Market Harborough, Leicestershire, celebrated joiner and furniture maker Richard Arnold holds an open house event. The format is very simple. At the open house, Richard and plane maker Ollie Sparks (whose workshop is a few doors down from Richard’s) open their doors and welcome the public as well as likeminded makers and retailers. A charity auction of tools offers the opportunity to add some interesting pieces to your tool collection while supporting a good cause. The end result is a convivial and relaxed day of friends and makers coming together to talk woodwork and browse the treasure trove of Richard’s antique plane collection, as well as the wonders of Ollie Sparks’ workshop, all while fund raising for Macmillan Cancer Support.


As well as a collector of vintage planes, Richard also makes some very nice wooden planes of his own

From humble beginnings

As a keen collector of eighteenth-century wooden planes, Richard found that he was buying large lots at auction just to acquire a specific plane within the lot. As a result, he was building up a large inventory of surplus planes which didn’t fit within his collection. Instead of trying to sell the planes on, he decided to open his workshop for a day and let people pick through the unwanted planes in return for donations to charity. Macmillan was identified as the charity of choice from the beginning, and so began an annual tradition.


Vintage shoulder planes as far as the eye can see

Over the years, the open house has grown in scope. As word seeped out that something very special was happening, the event rapidly became a highlight of the woodworking calendar as makers benefitted both from Richard’s knowledge of historic tools and from the strong sense of community engendered at the open house.


I’ve never seen so many vintage planes in one place as I have at Richard’s workshop

The workshops

I first heard about the open house back in 2016 when Richard Maguire mentioned it on his blog (www.theenglishwoodworker.com), and my interest was piqued. Events had conspired against my several on several years, but this year on 9th June I finally made the journey to picturesque Market Harborough.  Enduring the predictable M6 gridlock was well worth it – both Richard and Ollie’s workshops were buzzing with plenty of familiar faces and animated discussion of woodwork, tools, and historic trades. Joining Richard and Ollie were Skelton Saws, Classic Hand Tools, Bill Carter, and Mac Timbers (who I am happy to report are once again back in business after previously closing down in 2015).


Mitre plane by Bill Carter

Entering Richard’s workshop, I was greeted with a stunning collection of vintage planes, including many 18th century wooden planes. Not only does Richard collect vintage planes, but he also makes beautiful reproductions of some of them, and seeing modern and vintage versions of the same tool side by side is a wonderful experience. When I was able to tear myself away from Richard’s tool collection (a feat which took real determination), I found plane maker Bill Carter and many of his beautiful planes, including several made from the brass backs of vintage saws: a signature style of Bill’s. As an added bonus, on display this year was a Welsh Stick chair made in 1992 by celebrated chairmaker John Brown.


Welsh Stick Chair by John Brown

If Richard’s workshop is a study in wooden planes and vintage ephemera, then Ollie Sparks’ workshop is the work of a genius mad scientist. As well as a display of many of his completed planes, Ollie also had prototypes on display as well as his design and sketch books. One particular highlight was Ollie’s new Kimberly Patent Plane, which features a patinated phosphor bronze escapement fitted to a Macassar ebony body. As well answering questions on tool making and hand planes, Ollie also demonstrated his metal casting techniques.  If that wasn’t enough, Skelton Saws were also set up in Ollie’s workshop. It is always a pleasure to see Shane and Jacqui Skelton, and marvel at the beautiful saws Shane makes. The open house was no exception, especially as Shane had examples of his new Mallard saw (named after the Mallard steam locomotive, which had a significant influence on the appearance of the saw) and reproductions of some of the saws from the Seaton Tool Chest.


The new Mallard in flamed beech, by Skelton Saws

The Auction

The auction this year extended to 37 lots comprising a wondrous variety of tools (both vintage and modern), classes, books, and timber, all donated by supporters and tool makers. The generosity displayed by the donated auction lots, and the level of bids made in the auction, really emphasised the strength of community and also showed the profile of the open house – as well as bids from attendees, supporters from across the globe were also allowed to submit bids electronically. Some of the highlights of the auction included tools by highly sought-after boutique makers including Ollie Sparks, Philly Planes, Skelton Saws, Bill Carter and Jeremiah Wilding, along with classes with the London School of Furniture Making, and Derek Jones. The auction was presided over by the inimitable Jim Hendricks, whose fledgling tool museum in Kent is gaining a lot of attention (stay tuned for news of the grand opening in the hopefully not too distant future!).



The auction table

The Community

The auction, and seeing the workshops, was wonderful. But what made the open house a truly special event was the sense of community. Catching up with many friends from previous classes and events, and becoming acquainted with like-minded woodworkers, can be a challenge in what can be a solitary trade or hobby. Events like the open house offer an important reminder of why it’s so vital to make time to connections with the wider maker community. I left Richard’s workshop feeling invigorated and inspired as much by conversations with skilled craftspeople as by seeing the products of their crafts.


Ollie Sparks demonstrating metal casting

Richard’s annual open house is a real highlight of the woodworking calendar – an opportunity to meet likeminded woodworkers, spend time in professional joinery and tool making workshops, and raise money for an excellent cause. This year between the auction and cash donations over £7,100 was raised for Macmillan Cancer Support. The open house will be a permanent fixture on my calendar, and I hope to see many of you there in future years.


Just a small selection of Ollie Sparks’ sublime hand planes

The Only Bench Plane You Need?

The following is based on an article originally published in Furniture & Cabinetmaking Issue 280.


The Lie-Nielsen No62

When it was first unveiled in 1905, Stanley’s No62 bench plane must have caused quite a commotion. Looking like nothing else in production, the No62 married the bevel-up blade orientation of a block or mitre plane to a bench plane sized body, measuring 14” long by 2” wide. While Stanley ceased manufacturing the No.62 in 1942, bevel-up bench planes have enjoyed something of a modern revival, thanks in large part to Karl Holtey’s revolutionary No98 smoothing plane, which prompted a reconsideration of bevel-up designs as being highly practical instead of an evolutionary dead end. So popular has the bevel-up concept become that premium plane manufacturers Veritas and Lie-Nielsen now manufacture a whole range of bevel-up smoothing, jack, and jointer planes. Returning to the plane that started it all, there are woodworkers who claim that the No62 is so versatile that it can replace the full set of traditional bevel-down planes. Never one to shy away from a challenge, I decided to test this claim by putting away my usual set of planes and spend several months using just a No62.

An Introduction to Blade Geometry

Before we delve into the test, it is worth explaining blade geometry, and the claimed benefits of a bevel-up bench plane. Traditional bench planes orientate the iron so that the bevel is facing downwards towards the bed of the plane, and the back surface of the iron is facing to the front of the plane. In this arrangement the cutting angle of the iron is determined by the angle of the frog of the plane, rather than the angle of the bevel honed on the iron. In contrast, a bevel-up orientation places the back of the iron against the bed of the plane, and the cutting angle is derived from adding the bed angle to the angle of the bevel.


Jointing oak

Blade orientation itself does not affect the performance of the plane – the wood does not care whether your plane is bevel-up or down, all it sees is the cutting angle. But different cutting angles will have different effects on the planed surface, and this is where the benefits of a bevel-up plane become apparent. A low cutting angle of 37 degrees is effective for cutting end grain, while a high cutting angle of 62 degrees will help to smooth difficult interlocked or figured grain. Because the cutting angle of bevel-down planes is determined by the frog angle, changing the cutting angle requires fitting a new frog, or honing a back-bevel to the plane’s iron. In contrast, the cutting angle of a bevel-up plane can be adjusted by honing a different bevel angle to the iron, or keeping a set of irons with different bevels for different tasks. Woodworkers enamoured with bevel-up planes suggest that having a single plane and collection of irons to achieve different cutting angles saves both space and cost when compared to a set of traditional bench planes, and by swapping out the irons, can achieve the same level of utility as a set of three bevel-down planes.

The Challenge

My usual stable of planes consists of a No.3 smoother, No5 jack, and No8 jointer – see “Curing Plane Addiction” for a detailed explanation of how to select a set of bench planes, and the purposes each one fulfils. Replacing those planes was a Lie-Nielsen No62 kindly loaned to me by Classic Hand Tools. The Lie-Nielsen plane is of comparable dimensions to the Stanley plane on which it is based, and the same size as a No5 bench plane – 14” long with a 2” wide iron. The mouth aperture is easily adjustable by twisting the front knob to allow the front plate to be slide forward or back for a tighter or more open mouth. The bed angle is 12 degrees, which means that honing a 35 degree bevel (as I do for most of my planes and chisels) achieves a 47 degree cutting angle very close to the “common pitch” cutting angle of most bevel down planes 45 degree. This low bed angle also explains why bevel-up planes are also commonly referred to as “low-angle planes”. Honing a primary bevel of 25 degrees results in a cutting angle of 37 degrees, which gives excellent results on end grain, and a 50 degree bevel results in a 62 degree angle for smoothing tasks. A 90 degree bevel effectively converts the plane into a large scraper.

So much for the theory, but what I wanted to know was would the No62 be able to discharge all of the tasks I used my familiar set of planes for?


The No62 works well as a jack plane, although you need to hone a significant camber into the iron to get it performing sweetly in this role

In Use

Broadly speaking, bench plane work falls into three categories – coarse, medium, and fine work such as flattening rough stock, jointing edges for gluing, and smoothing surfaces for finishing (see “Coarse Medium & Fine” ). In order to give the plane a thorough test I needed to press it into service on all three categories of work. Fortunately, I was about to start building a child sized stick chair in hard maple, as well as preparing larger sized stock for the Back to the Bootbench project, and a bookcase in maple. Between these projects, and working on an oak chair I was finishing off, the No62 would get plenty of use across a number of different operations.

First up were the coarse operations – flattening hard maple for the seat blank, and the larger pine and maple boards. Opening the mouth wide and setting the iron (honed with a 35 degree bevel) to a rank cut, I found that the No62 works as a respectable jack plane to hog off material and flatten rough stock. As with a bevel-down jack plane, a cambered blade makes processing rough stock a more efficient experience. The toothed blade definitely helps tame difficult grain at a “common pitch” cutting angle, and would be invaluable if rosewoods or heavily figured maple were part of your daily workflow. As it was, flattening stock was a straight forward process for both maple and pine, and I didn’t miss my usual Clifton No5 jack plane in the slightest.


Italso functions well as a shooting board plane

Next came the “medium” work. Jointing the maple seat blank was also straight forward, closing the mouth and using the same “common pitch” cutting angle iron made short work of getting a square and straight joint on 2” wide, 17” long boards. At 14” long, I found the No62 a bit too short to use as a dedicated jointer plane on larger stock – the bookcase required 42” long edge joints to blue up panels, and while it is certainly possible to do this with a shorter plane, I did long for my 24” long No8 jointer for this work. One advantage of the No62 over my usual planes was the centre of gravity. The lower angle of the iron together with the lack of frog, means that the centre of gravity of the No62 is lower than for a bevel-down plane. While not critical for many operations, this lower centre of gravity was a real boon when planing 45 degree chamfers around the perimeter of the chair seat – a task I find can be awkward with a bevel-down jack plane.


The low centre of gravity is an excellent attribute when planing chamfers

Finally was the “fine” work, and it was when shaping the chair seat and legs that the No62 really came into its own. The seat is trapezoidal in shape, with nearly 12” of end grain on each side to plane. I smoothed the top of the seat with an iron honed to 50 degrees, and quickly achieved that familiar glassy surface that can only be the product of a really sharp smoother on hard maple. Switching to a 25 degree bevel angle rapidly cleaned up the large expanse of end grain and left a very clean surface behind. The lower centre of gravity was also really beneficial when shaping the legs into tapered octagons, as it was easier to balance the plane on the narrow faces of the workpiece and plane at a consistent angle. Smoothing the larger pine and maple panels was an equally satisfying experience, and the No62 worked really well as a large smoother.

The Only Bench Plane You Need?

So, is the No62 truly the only plane you need? To be honest, given the variety of approaches to woodwork, this is an almost impossible question to answer. But here is what I found during my two months spent using only the No62. It performs well as a jack plane, and excels at planing end grain and working as a large smoother. The ability to swap out blades to make an immediate change to cutting angle is very effective, and certainly represents a cost-effective way of adding smoothing and jack planes to your tool chest. The No62 does handle a little differently to bevel-down planes, particularly the tote angle and the location of the adjuster (which I found less intuitive). If unsure which you prefer, I would recommend testing a No.62 before purchasing. Once I had got used to the feel of the plane compared to my regular jack plane, I enjoyed working with it and found it very easy to use.


Levelling a chair leg with the plane held in the vice. This is a trick I picked up from chair makers Peter Galbert and Bern Chandley

At 14” long the No62 is larger than I would really want for a smoother to follow my hand planed surfaces, and a bit too short to serve as a dedicated jointer for furniture casework. Ideally a smoother should be small enough to reach any subtle hollows in a hand planed surface, and a long smoothing plane will remove the top of any undulations, requiring more passes before it can reach the low spots. This is less of an issue for stock that has been machined straight and flat, but makes the No.62 a little less efficient as a smoothing plane for a woodworker who wants to do all of their own planing. The toothed blade was very helpful for dealing with truculent interlocked grain, and would be invaluable if working difficult exotics was a daily part of your workflow (I have a toothed blade for my No5 for exactly this purpose).

In short, if I had a machine shop to flatten, thickness and joint rough stock, then I could easily see the No62 being my most used plane. Similarly, if most of my work was building chairs or musical instruments, then the No62’s ability to handle both end and difficult grain would make it a key tool. I would not want to be without a full-sized jointer plane for jointing long pieces, but again, if you had access to a jointer machine this would be less of a drawback.


The low centre of gravity is also helpful when planing tapered chair legs

As it is, the No.62 has definitely earned a place in my tool chest (particularly for chair making where it really excelled) but wouldn’t tempt me to sell my existing smoothing, jack or jointer planes. For the machine-based woodworker who is looking to add a quality hand plane to their set up, a No62 would be just the ticket.

Staked Desk Beauty Shots

Gareth’s photos of my staked worktable are now up on the Portfolio section of Over the Wireless. Every blog post, or magazine article, I’ve penned in the past 12 months has been written at this desk (in fact, I’m sitting at it right now), so I’m pleased to have some high quality beauty shots of the finished piece. Yet again Gareth’s photos are beautiful, and he has honed in on the details wonderfully.

A project from the Anarchist’s Design Book, the desk is not only really enjoyable project but also a really practical and attractive piece of furniture.