Karl Holtey profile in Handplane Essentials


Over the past 5 years I’ve found the first edition of Chris’ book Handplane Essentials to be an invaluable reference, so when he announced last year that he was working on a revised second edition I knew I would have to pick up a copy. What I didn’t realise, until an eagle-eyed reader at EWS 2017 told me, was that along with a lot of new content by Chris the 2nd edition of Handplane Essentials also contains my profile on Karl Holtey.

My copy arrived last week, and although I have only had a brief opportunity to flick through it so far, my first impressions are that the second edition builds on what was already an excellent body of reference material. To have one of my articles included in this collection is a real thrill, and I’m looking forward to stealing some time to read the new edition in depth. Handplane Essentials can be found in the Popular Woodworking store here.


Book Report – the OtW Top 5 Picks for Woodworking Knowledge

My first introduction to handwork was in a formal class environment at the Totnes School of Guitar Making. In contrast, save for two week long classes through New English Workshop, all of my furniture building has been self taught through trial, error, and judicious amounts of reading. I’ve always been a voracious reader, and so it was inevitable that as I became more invested in woodwork I would start to build up a healthy reference library. A common question posed on forums and social media (as well as, you know, actual human to human interaction) is what woodwork books are worth reading, especially from the perspective of the beginner. Vic wrote a thought-provoking post on this very subject a couple of years ago.


This is why I need to build the boarded bookcase from The Anarchist’s Design Book – half of my woodwork library is currently languishing on this Billy bookcase from IKEA, and the remainder is still boxed up.

So, I thought it was about time that I threw my hat into the ring and offered up my five essential woodwork texts. This bost has been percolating at the back of my mind for ages, and to be honest whittling the list down to my top five picks felt like a really tough challenge. There is a huge volume of woodwork reading material out there, and it pains me to omit Roubo, Moxon, Hayward, or Krenov (especially Krenov). So this list is a starting point, and not a list of the only books you need to read. It also reflects some of my enduring pre-occupations with woodwork, namely how to make the crafts accessible to new entrants, which a woodworker more inclined to other matters, might skip. I’ve also focused on furniture making rather than lutherie (otherwise Bob Benedetto’s excellent book on archtop guitar making would have found a slot). But without further ado…


The Anarchist’s Tool Chest – Christopher Schwarz

The inclusion of this title will be a surprise to exactly no one. The Anarchist’s Tool Chest was such a pivotal book for me (and countless other woodworkers) when I first read it. Chris made a critical leap by linking the philosphy and practice – expressing exactly what it was about woodwork that appealed to me, and then identifying exactly how to go about it. And while the tool chest itself may have been a literary conceit, Chris offers a much needed antidote to the forums which insist you cannot build anything until you have a well appointed machine room in addition to bulging lists of handtools. The book thoughtfully guides you through a compact tool kit which will cover nearly all furniture building needs, and explains how to separate used tools worth buying from tool-shaped junk. In short, The Anarchist’s Tool Chest equips the reader with the motivation to make things by hand, and the means to execute those ideas.

If I could only have one woodwork book, this would be it. The following passage sums up the power of this book, and the thrill I still get everytime I lift the lid on my Anarchist’s Tool Chest: “The mere act of owning real tools and having the power to use them is a radical and rare idea that can help change the world around us and – if we are persistent – preserve the craft”.


The Joiner and Cabinet Maker – Anon

I’ve written about the The Joiner and Cabinet Maker previously, but it would be impossible to write this list without including this book, so it’s worth explaining again.

The story of The Joiner and Cabinet Maker follows a young lad called Thomas through his mid-nineteenth century apprenticeship, and covers in great detail three projects. The first is a packing box (which I also wrote about here). Then follows a school box at the mid-point of his apprenticeship, and finally a chest of drawers before Thomas becomes a journeyman. By following a progression of projects chronologically, we see Thomas start out with only a few tools and using them to learn key skills to build simple items, and then growing his tool kit and his skill set. Building along with Thomas offers an opportunity to build skills in a structured and organised fashion, and to invest in a tool kit on an as needed basis, organically and cost efficiently.

If you have never built anything out of wood, I would suggest starting with this book, and building all three projects in order, only using the tools and techniques mentioned in the book. That would give you a compact (and affordable) tool kit and a solid set of the fundamental skills needed to build a wide variety of furniture. I still haven’t built the chest of drawers from The Joiner and Cabinet Maker, but I plan on doing so as soon as I have a clear slot in my workshop calendar.


The Perfect Edge – Ron Hock

I’m not sure any subject in woodworking carries as much voodoo or conflicting information as sharpening. Which is nuts, because really sharpening is ancillary to the fun of working wood. Sure, humanity is wonderful in its variety, and there are probably folk out there who just sharpen things as a hobby. Me, I really like making tools blunt by using them (and then I have to sharpen them again, dammit). But it is nigh on impossible to do woodwork until you can sharpen properly – sharpening is one of the fundamental gateway skills. Fortunately, Ron has written a book which explains metallurgy, the science behind sharpening, and the various sharpening options, in a way that is clear and free of voodoo. I’ve never read any other books or articles on sharpening  because I’ve never needed to – with Ron’s clear guidance I can get a razor edge on my tools quickly, and back to the business of working wood.


Making Things Work Nancy Hiller

This book won’t teach you how to cut a perfect dovetail, or how to design your dream cabinet, but what it will do is give an incredible insight into the life of a professional woodworker. Nancy is an entertaining and thought-provoking writer who recounts annecdotes gathered over the course of her career with humour and insight, exploring why people are motivated to make things with their hands as well as the hard reality of what that career can entail. When I started formulating this list I knew I needed to include something which spoke to the why of woodwork as much as the how. Written from the perspective of a life dedicated to craft, and with a sharp eye for detail, this book fills that slot (and pipped The Impractical Cabinetmaker by Krenov to the post).


The Minimalist Woodworker Vic Tesolin

Want to try woodworking but don’t have a workshop or a tool kit? Worried about the space and cost demands of embarking in the woodcrafts? Let Vic be your guide. I’m all in favour of anything that can lower the entry bar to woodwork, and Vic’s book should frankly be essential reading for all aspiring woodworkers. Through the course of the book, Vic explains how to set up a work space, identifies a minimal tool kit, and walks the reader through a series of projects building essential shop fixtures (a workbench, tool storage, and bench appliances) to develop the skills to use those tools. The quality of photography is great (poor photographs in woodwork books is a particular bugbear of mine – for some reason lutherie books often contain the worst photos, although I’m never sure why) and the book is written in Vic’s customary no nonsense style.

My Ritual… part 2


I’ve written previously about how I find ritualised activity helpful for entering the right frame of mind at the start of a workshop day. And although at the end of a project I am always eager to start the next build, I have taken to spending a couple of hours cleaning up and re-ordering the workshop before I start work on something new. I suppose that this is really another ritual of sorts, helping as it does to clear both my head and the ‘shop.


The workshop was in sore need of some attention and tidying by the time I had finished the Policeman’s Boot Bench. Although I try to keep a clear and tidy workspace, working on the Boot Bench had prompted some major reorganisation of the ‘shop, including relocating my bench against the lefthand wall. Changing one element of a workspace invariably means you have to reorganise other areas, and I’d not had the time to complete this process since January.


Having completed the Policeman’s Boot Bench – the shop is in need of a good clean and some thorough re-organisation.


And so although I am chomping at the bit to start building a staked work table (out of the Anarchist’s Design Book) for my study, I spent half a day clearing the shop, having a thorough clean, and re-organising everything into a more ergonomic and less cluttered, space. Sweeping up all of the hard to reach shavings once a piece is finished really does help to clear my mind for the next project. My Anarchist’s Tool Chest has become a favourite refuge for shavings, as it is just high enough off the floor to collect plenty of debris, but too low to the floor to get a broom underneath it. So after wheeling the tool chest out of the ‘shop, and pulling the workbench into the middle of the floor, I had a thorough sweep up followed by vacuuming any stubborn fibres I’d missed.


The much improved clamp and timber storage corner of the workshop

Moving my workbench from the middle of the workshop to the wall had provided much needed stability while planing stock. However, it had resulted in cramped working considitons at the right hand end of the bench, which was squashed up against a growing stack of lumber and my overflowing scraps bin (the contents of which towered above the brim of the bin, threatening to cascade across the ‘shop floor). I’d not had time to address this corner of the workshop while I was working on the Boot Bench, and this was my first opportunity to impose order. I emptied out the timber racks at the end of the workshop, reorganising the timber I was keeping, and consigning less useful pieces to the recycling pile. This meant that a lot of the loosely stacked timber could now go in the racks, with a couple of larger pieces being stored in the rafters. Only one plank of Canadian pine is now freestanding, and that is because at 16′ long it is 5’ longer than my workshop is wide. The scraps bin received similarly ruthless treatment, and the contents which survived the cull were neatly stacked back in the bin. The other source of clutter was my growing collection of Bessey sash clamps, which found new homes clamped around the edge of the go-bar station.

The final element of this ritual is to break down and clean all of the tools I have used particularly hard on a project – usually my bench planes, and some of the more specialist joinery planes. Although I clean my tools after each use and sharpen regularly, giving them some extra attention at the end of a build does keep them in good working order and gives me an opportunity to address any minor issues. This included tightening the frog on my Clifton No.5, as it had started to come a little loose and rattle – probably from several months of taking big traversing cuts through tough oak.


The re-organised and cleaned workshop, ready to start the staked work table

The workshop is now cleared and clean – providing the perfect setting to start the next project free of distractions or niggles. I’ve found the ritual of bookending each major build in this way to be very beneficial. So what rituals do you find help in the workshop?

For heritage quality workshop aprons, look to Texas


One of the few times you’ll actually have to suffer my face on the blog.

I’ve been wearing an apron in the workshop for 3 years now, and although I worked quite happily for a number of years without the benefit of an apron, I can’t imagine working without one again. As I’ve written previously, putting on my apron is part of a ritual which signifies the start of a day in the workshop, and helps to clear my mind of anything but the task waiting for me at the bench. Beyond the psychological or ritualised aspects, a good workshop apron brings physical benefits – pockets to hold essential tools, protecting your clothes from damage and workshop abuse, and acting as a snug barrier to stop stray folds of cloth getting caught by machinery.


Hammered rivets and crisp double stitching on the pocket flap

My final tool purchase of 2016 was a new apon from Jason Thigpen at Texas Heritage Woodworks. At the time it felt like a real luxury – my original apron is a fine example of a handmade garment and still has plenty of life left it in, but having two of Jason’s outstanding tool rolls (a chisel roll and auger bit roll), I couldn’t help but want a matching apron decorated with my Over the Wireless logo. Luxury or not, I ordered an apron from Jason anyway, and just before New Year’s Eve it arrived. And you know something? The moment I tried it on, I knew that this new apron was not a luxury at all. I do try not to write too many tool reviews as I think it’s far more interesting to write about what I’m using the tools to make. But sometimes you find something special that just deserves to be written about – wearing the new apron from Texas Heritage was one of those moments.


After three months heavy use the apron is develping some good character.

Jason offers three options for aprons – the “classic” full length apron in either waxed or unwaxed canvas, and a shorter “nail” apron, all of which are then customisable with a number of further design options. Those options include for the classic apron three chest pocket configurations, three lower pocket options, a choice between smooth or hammered rivets, and logo or name embroidery. All aprons come with double stitching for longevity, a wide selection of fabric colours, and choice of two sizes catering for most body types. If that sounds like a bewildering number of choices, Jason’s website clearly explains the choices and makes selecting your perfect apron a cinch. I dare you to have an apon desire that the multitude of choices offered by Texas Heritage do not satisfy, but if somehow you manage to do so, Jason offers a custom service so he can probably meet your specific apron needs.


The clasp on the waist strap holds the apron in place without the need to tie knots behind your back.

For my new apron I selected a waxed navy blue canvas with hammered rivets, the “full” chest pocket configuration, and closed lower pockets, all topped off with the OtW logo in white stitching. So far so stylish, but why does the Texas Heritage apron stand head and shoulders above any workshop apparel I’ve previously tried? Firstly the fit and finish is outstanding. The stitching was crisp, particularly the OtW logo (stitched by Jason’s wife Sarah), and the rivets were perfectly peened with a gorgeous hammered finish. The apron fits perfectly too – it is snug but not constricting, and after a few minutes of work I forget that I am wearing it. Similarly, the lower pockets have good holding capacity but remain nice and snug to the body.


This is the secret to true apron comfort – shoulder straps cross the body and spread the weight of the apron. No more neck and back pain.

Essentially, the apron becomes a second skin in the workshop. This is large part, I think, to the strap design. Thanks to an old shoulder injury sustained during martial arts training, I am prone to back and neck pain. My old apron used a neck strap which definitely aggravated this injury – there’s nothing like hanging heavy weight waxed canvas from your neck for prolongued periods of time to contribute to back pain. In contrast, the Texas Heritage apron has no neck strap, and instead uses two shoulder straps which cross the body using a metal hoop. This system means that the weight of the apron is distributed across the whole of your back and shoulders for a much more comfortable wearing experience, and as a result I’ve been walking away from my bench at the end of the day feelng much healthier. The waist strap is secured in place with a clasp rather than ties, which avoids any faff trying to tie knots behind your back. Finally, the lower pocket flaps do an excellent job of keeping shavings and saw dust out – there is nothing worse than digging through layers of hamster bedding in your pocket while looking for a tape measure.


The OtW logo on my Texas Heritage chisel and auger bit rolls, and workshop apron.

I’ve been wearing the Texas Heritage apron for 3 months, and it has taken a beating while I’ve been working on the Policeman’s Boot Bench; man-handling 15″ wide 110″ long oak boards to be cut to length, extended planing sessions as I’ve processed the timber by hand, and cutting plenty of joinery. Through all that it has felt comfortable, and never hindered my movements. Although it no longer looks out of the box fresh, it is developing the pleasing character of an apron that sees regular use, and I can’t wait to see how it continues to age over the coming years.

One Saw to Rule Them All?

I have a confession to make. I think I might have a saw problem. By which I mean, I definitely have a saw problem. Specifically a back saw problem – in my tool chest you’ll find only the regulation issue two hand saws (a 1900 era Disston D8 rip, and the majestic Skelton Panel crosscut). But you’ll also find more than the three essential back saws. Now, on the whole I’ve managed to follow the principles in the Anarchist’s Tool Chest and have resisted the lure of buying unneccessary hand planes, or endless sets of chisels. But when it comes to back saws, well, Daddy has a saw problem.


On the left my 10″ Doc Holliday dovetail saw, and on the right the 14″ Bayonet

The interesting thing about having a healthy collection of any one type of tool is that I find it prompts questions about how necessary each iteration of that tool is, and whether you could live with far fewer. And I spent plenty of time in the workshop before I owned a decent back saw, so it is possible to do so – not that I’d want to relinquish all (or any) of my saws. Each of my back saws sees heavy use, so they are necessary and I’m not about to thin out the herd. But still, the question of what a more compact kit would look like is an interesting one. Recently I think I may have found the answer. For context, my nest of saws contains the following back saws, all made by Bad Axe Tool Works: 10″ dovetail, 12″ carcase, 16″ tenon, 20″ mitre, luthier’s saw, and most recently, the Bayonet. So hardly the stuff of legendary excess. Like I said, a healthy collection.

I’ve been using the Bayonet as my sole back saw on the Policeman’s Boot Bench and the more time I spend with this saw, the more I’m convinced that it is not only the perfect first serious saw for the woodworker building their nest of saws, but also the foundation of a compact yet highly functional set of saws. For the uninitiated, the Bayonet is a 14″ back saw which Bad Axe bill as being a “precision carcase saw“. The 0.18″ gauge saw plate is 2″ deep at the toe, canting to 2 1/2” deep, and comes with a Disston style open tote. I had mine filed with Mark’s “hybrid” filing for cross-cut and rip sawing, and tricked out in a very pretty copper back as a loving tribute to the Apprentice’s flame coloured hair.


The Bayonet cut all of the dados for the Policeman’s Boot Bench with ease.

The initial reason I ordered the Bayonet was to cut the dados to let the shelves into the Policeman’s Boot Bench. The Bayonet was designed to cut all manner of carcase joinery, and so it shouldn’t have been a surprise that it excelled at this task. And yet, the ease with which it cut 1/2″ deep dados in 14″ wide oak was astounding. Not just because the saw is sharp (although it is – the guys at Bad Axe really know how to sharpen), but also how effortlessly an accurately it did so. This goes beyond simple sharpness, and is a matter of some very clever design. The shallow saw plate, together with a carefully judged hang angle of the tote, puts your hand much closer to the workpiece. The result is a saw that dives into the work aggressively but with real exactitude, for a high precision cut. It sounds simple, but there is something verging on alchemy with the plate depth and hang angle on this saw.


Whisper thin and arrow straight.

One risk when cutting across wide boards with a lightweight saw is that the saw can jump out of the cut until a kerf has been established. I’ve yet to have this happen with the Bayonet, which I’m sure is due to the lower centre of gravity created by the saw plate depth and hang of the tote. It has become a cliche to say that a saw tracks the line like it is on rails, but in the case of the Bayonet it is absolutely true – the first time I left a whisper thin, arrow straight, kerf across a 14″ wide board I was speechless.



Having given the Bayonet extensive testing as a crosscut saw, I started to wonder how it would fare as a dovetail saw. Conventional wisdom is that a hybrid filing will be slower in the cut than a dedicated rip saw. This may be true, but in a head to head test with my 10″ Doc Holliday dovetail saw, the extra 4″ length of the Bayonet mitigated against any loss in speed from the hybrid filing. The extra length also benefits accuracy when splitting those layout lines, as most inaccuracies in sawing originate from the change in direction of the saw. By reducing the number of strokes needed, the potential for a wobble in sawing motion is reduced and the saw stays on line. Cutting dovetails with a 14″ long saw does require some slight adjustment to posture and body position, but with those taken into account I tested the Bayonet by cutting the tails for the Policeman’s Boot Bench. The saw left beautifully crisp kerfs in 1″ thick oak, and the saw was noticeably faster than my dedicated dovetail saw. The extra real estate on the saw plate also acted as a more efficient heat sink, which reduces the risk of overheating when making a number of repeat cuts and so keeps the saw plate free of heat related warping. I did not gang cut my tails as I often do, but I am sure that the Bayonet would have been able to take dovetails in a combined thickness of 2″ in its stride. In fact, the only discernable disadvantage I could find was that I had to be more careful when approaching the baseline as the extra length of the saw did increase the risk of overshooting.


Crisp tails, right off the saw

Will my existing carcase and dovetail saws be redundant? Not at all – they have other attributes which are beneficial for specific work, and for stock of 3/4″ thick or less the 10″ dovetail saw would be much more appropriate. But if I were looking to buy my first back saw then the Bayonet would be it – being able to cover rip and cross-cut joinery with one saw makes it a very cost efficient purchase, and means that the beginner would be able to handle whatever work they wanted to do without the need to save for a second saw in the a different filing. Similarly, the Bayonet makes for a very compact travelling nest of saws, as only a larger tenon saw would be needed to cover all bases. For classes or shows I’m certain that I will just be packing my Bayonet and 16″ tenon saw from now on. In short, this could well be the one back saw to rule them all.

Mark has also uploaded to the Bad Axe site a comprehensive knowledge bank covering all manner of saw care and maintenance, which can be viewed here. Even if you’re not in the market for a new saw, this page is well worth a view as it represents an invaluable distilation of Mark’s quite considerable knowlede, and a temendous gift to the woodworking community.