I went to Iowa and all I got was this Incredible Community

Or: The Handworks 2017 round-up

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And just like that, Handworks 2017 is over, and I’m back in the UK feeling quite jetlagged. After nearly 12 months of build up, the event itself flew by at breakneck speed. Given that the show covered five separate buildings and featured over 50 demonstrators, it would be nigh on impossible to give an exhaustive account of the show (not to mention that I covered the event for Furniture & Cabinet Making so need to attempt that herculean task for the magazine). Needless to say, the tools were shiny, especially Konrad’s planes, which I finally got to try for the first time, and the Studley reproduction was eye-wateringly beautiful. Seeing new tools unveiled by Veritas, Blue Soruce Tool Works, and Texas Heritage, and a sneak preview at something else which has not yet been publically announced, was very cool. But what really struck me throughout the two days, and what I had flown out for, was the sense of community.

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I’ve known Chris (of Sterling Tool Works) for 3 years, but Handworks was the very first time we met in person. Many thanks to Chris for letting me hang out on his stall and sell OtW tees.

I’m only one participant, and I am looking forward to reading other accounts of the event over the coming days to see how others experienced the event. But for me the real highlight was the warmth, friendship, cameraderie, and inspiration demonstrated by everyone I spoke to. I’ve written a lot about community in the past two years, but nothing had prepared me for the experience of meeting so many good friends in person for the first time, for seeing plenty of old friends again, or for the generosity of spirit in action. Thank you to everyone who stopped by to say hello and introduce themselves.

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Jason Thigpen (of Texas Heritage) is another longstanding friend I’ve been waiting years to finally meet. He has a strong line in headgear.

Events like these always result in opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise present themselves. On Friday I gave an impromptu talk on selecting backsaws at the Bad Axe Tool Works stand thanks to a very kind invitation from Mark, and that night got to play an incredible resonator guitar by Mule Resonators over beer (one of Matt’s guitars needs to become a permanent fixture in my life). Chatting to Megan resulted in a possible article for Popular Woodworking next year, and I have also started to knit together the strands of an ambitious article which I hope will consolidate and expand upon some of the themes I’ve been writing about for the past four years, and which is set to feature contributions from some significant craftspeople – more on this as it starts to come together. A personal highlight was Jameel Abraham of Benchcrafted (who by the way is the nicest guy imagineable) asking me to put some OtW decals on the sublime tool chest he built with Chris for PopWood last year. And where else but Handworks can you turn around at breakfast to find Jim Tolpin and George Walker standing behind you in the coffee queue?

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Jim McConnell is my favourite woodwork blogger, and a good friend to boot. Beer was quaffed, yarns were spun, memories were made.

Although it is bittersweet to leave Amana (for me at least – the Apprentice still has a beard phobia which meant that Handworks wasn’t the most comfortable time for her), the good memories and strength of community, will continue to inspire me in my ‘shop for months to come. Some of the same faces will be at the European Woodwork Show in September, and while another Handworks is never guaranteed, I am sure that future events will continue to bring us together.

I can’t possibly hope to mention everyone in this blog post that I spoke to over the course of the two days, but here are a small selection of the hundreds of photos I took,

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With Megan Fitpatrick, who is just as entertaining and erudite in person as in print.

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It was great to finally meet Nancy Hiller after months of chatting on Instagram.

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Mark Harrell is a dangerous man – everytime he makes a new product money disappears from my bank account. Top chap.

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I’ve known Anne (of All Trades) for years, but this was the first opportunity we’ve had to catch up in person. Great times.

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Does the Kilted Woodworker need any introductions? Ethan is one of the most generous and community minded people I know.

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This guy definitely doesn’t need any introduction. But he’s been a damn fine friend and mentor over the past 3 years.

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With Vic Tesolin. There’s a 98% chance that Vic cracked an offensive joke immediately before this photo was taken, during it, or straight after. I wouldn’t change that for the world.

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Jameel Abraham of Benchcrafted – the nicest guy. Thanks to him Handworks happens.

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Konrad Sauer and I first spoke when I was researching the Karl Holtey article for PopWood. His planes are sublime.

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Saint Roy!

 

John and Janet Switzerland – the loveliest people you could hope to meet, and great craftspeople to boot.

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With Jenny Bower (who I interviewed for Furniture & Cabinet Making a couple of months ago) and husband Nathan.

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The Baby Anarchist’s Tool Chest built by Chris and Jameel, now sporting OtW decals.

 

Getting to Know… Kerryn Carter

It has been a while since the last “Getting to Know” feature on OtW, and I’m very pleased to feature in this instalment a woodworker who has not only taken a long hard look at how to preserve the woodcrafts, but then acted to foster engagement and enthusiasm amongst the next generation of woodworkers. Community is topic that is constantly revisted as part of the “Getting to Know” series, and I am constantly fascinated by the different ways in which we as woodworkers experience our international community, and how we find ways to contribute to, and express, that community. Kerryn Carter, the subject of this month’s feature, has certainly given a great deal to the community, and is a great example of how we can all make the woodcrafts accessible and relevant to the next generation of craftspeople.

So, without further ado, let’s get to know Kerryn Carter.

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Kerryn Carter of The Tool School

1. So many people complain about the decline of ‘shop class, and the lack of woodwork education in schools, but very few do anything about it. Where did the idea for Toolschool come from? And how did you go about setting it up?

The decline of shop class is an interesting one. I see a total contradiction between the beautiful work exhibited at wood shows of high school students and the disappointing first hand accounts of what shop class actually entails for most students. I have come to conclude that these exhibited student works are the happenstance of 2 factors: a school has access to tools, machines and materials despite the funding and insurance issues that plague most schools and the students have access to an incredible teacher(s). The skills that woodshop students gain these days seems to me can vary widely depending on those factors.

Once you acknowledge that shop decline is a “thing” and combine it with the digital age where kids are living their lives on screens you see that woodshop faces some serious challenges. I think those challenges are not insurmountable.

How? The age of handmade and learning practical skills (part of the Maker Culture) has returned. The appreciation of something that someone has made without the assistance of a factory in China is coming back into mainstream culture and I often use Instagram and Youtube and Cable television as evidence. There is sustained interest in how furniture and things are made because the doors to peoples workshops which were once closed are now open and the audience is invited right up to the machine or the tool that makes the thing.

The age of handmade I think has also been given a massive super boost by the DIY culture. And yes i think we owe a debt to those reality shows that put DIY on the map.

As a result, awareness of the Maker Culture is on the rise and some of those who are noticing are parents. Those parents are keen to start teaching their children practical skills as early as possible but most are unable to because they don’t have the skills themselves. So suddenly the child of a handy parent has an advantage. That is really where I come in. The kids of parents who are not handy are sent to my “school”.

What I really do is this….I teach children up to high school age. I hope to give them some real skills, love and determination to take whatever card they are dealt at their high school (in terms of tools, machines, materials and teachers) and make the most of it. Do I want them all to become woodworkers? Not necessarily. I count my success in seeing a child become and adult who is unafraid of picking up a tool and using it to help themselves.

Where did the idea for Toolschool come from? Toolschool came from having my kids in my own woodwork shop (like almost every other kids woodwork teacher!!). I found that (as most woodworkers find) that they pick up skills quickly and with a bit of guidance can go a long way to making something. Stuart Faulkner who was my woodwork teacher for 4 years saw what I was doing with my own children and suggested that I teach other peoples children.

How did I go about setting up Toolschool? I read every childrens woodwork book on the market. I picked up a lot of tips but they still left me a bit cold in terms of the actual projects they were making. I realised that I had to compete with Minecraft and Angry Birds and quite simply a cooking utensil stand and a herb container was not going to cut it. So I spent (and still spend) a large amount of time coming up with the project ideas themselves to compete with my digital rivals. I also use a lot of 2 handed tools because 2 hands on tool = no hands near blade.

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Steam-punk wooden watches made by Toolschool students

2. Making things by hand can be so satisfying, it is afterall one of the reasons we work wood. How do the kids respond as they pick up new skills or complete a project? And what sort of projects do you cover to enthuse them?

I make my classes fun but you can get that at soccer or art classes….at the end of the day its hard to compete with going home with an item you have made yourself to use in everyday life like a bag tag or magic wand or fighter jet or boat that really floats or a fishing rod or raft you have learnt to lash. Fun is a factor but its really in the area of self fulfilment that kids really respond to. It goes like this…I teach them how certain tools are used, they use those skills to make something, they decide exactly how they want the project to look, the completed project is self fulfilling and reinforces the value of the skills just used. Just to reiterate the actual projects themselves are key to my school success. Boring projects mean bored kids no matter that the skills taught are cool.

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Who doesn’t want to make Han Solo style wooden blaster?

3. As well as teaching woodwork you’re a dab hand at upcycling (the retro garage bedroom was amazing!), and a talented carver – the mini acanthus leaves on the mallet build, and the carving on your Fenderette, were wonderful, so you’re clearly drawing from a wide skill base. What is your woodworking background – how and when did you start woodwork?

I grew up in my Dads woodwork shop seeing an endless procession of furniture walking out the door. I always dreamed of being a woodworker myself. He told me I had to be a “white collar” professional before he would teach me woodwork (he was a boilermaker by trade and wanted to see me “do better than him” if you like). So for the large part of a decade I was an accountant and then a lawyer. My father died suddenly while I was still a lawyer. I began learning woodwork with Stuart Faulkner 2 weeks after my fathers death. Stuart had just finished a stint as the head of fine woodwork at the Sturt School of Wood in Mittagong (just outside of Sydney) and was looking for private students. I have not worked as a lawyer since my fathers death but am still considered to be a practising lawyer. I transplanted my fathers workshop into my garage and conservatory and have built on it over the years. I stayed with Stuart for 4 years. I am now on my own and rely on woodworking magazines such as The Wood Review and Lost Art Press and instagram for learning new skills.

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In terms of upcycling I have always had an interest in upcycling discarded furniture for 2 reasons. First I have a love of paint effects and how easy it is to transform boring white poly into something that wows people. Second I must be a greenie at heart because I hate seeing even a boring white poly piece of furniture (and broken even) wasted and unloved.

In terms of carving that was probably “upcycled” too…I learnt traditional chiseling skills while with Stuart Faulkner so I took those skills and after a few Youtube tutorials I tried my hand at the Fenderette. I will say this to you Kieran, only after I saw the initial results of my carving did I decide to go public with the carving attempt!! I must be a coward!! But I didn’t want to have a mega carving fail in front of the entire woodworking community!!! lol!! The Woodworker Journal from 1901 was excellent as a source of encouragement as carving was so mainstream in those days that the author had no fear whatsoever in encouraging anyone with a gouge to attempt a large scale carving. The Fenderette was the perfect beginners carving project in reality because all mistakes (of which there were plenty) are at foot level and never see direct light due to the design of the top.

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Kerryn’s hand carved Fenderette

4. Ensuring the survival of the woodcrafts is a preoccupation for many woodworkers, and one that relies on teaching skills and engaging the next generation. As someone who is at the forefront of introducing young people to woodwork, what advice would you offer woodworkers who want to share woodwork with their children, nieces and nephews?

I have 5 tips!!  1. Safety is paramount (glasses, shoes, sunscreen) 2. No fingers near moving blades…none ever! 3. Always use a vise I find a Workmate good but anything to stop kids from having to support a workpiece. 4. I don’t ever measure for square (and it follows that almost everything I make does not rely on perfectly square) 5. When I can I let the kids guide what we make…its my job to decide how to make it….. oh and an extra bonus tip 6. Always slightly overestimate to a kid how long a project might take (expectation management is still important).

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Mallett with hand carved acanthus leaf detail

5. As well as being active on Instagram you recently started adding Youtube content – what is next for Toolschool? Do you have plans for further developments?

Lots more great kids projects. There is a book coming and it will share with everyone my project designs and tool kits and methodologies for how to teach kids woodwork. Youtube is really being set up as a teaching tool where I will give kids woodwork pointers via video. So yes Youtube is certainly there and I do love the format although i seem to be extremely unpopular!!! Thats ok though because I want a permanent record of my work and I am happy to have it there.

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6. Finally, when can we expect to see a Toolschool hammer juggling tutorial on YouTube

Lol whoa I have never thought of having a hammer flipping tutorial! The hammer flipping is a fine art that I learnt while standing in my workshop contemplating life. It never fails to horrify people.

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Kerryn will be attending Woodworking in America on 16-18 September in Kentucky. Do say hi if you see her there.

The Cabinet Maker at School… Part 4

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I’m approaching the rest of the School Box build a little out of sequence to how Thomas builds it in the text. This is mainly because having prepared the lid moulding at the same time as the base moulding, I was keen to get the lid moulding fitted. Also fitting the lid makes the School Box look pretty complete, even if there is plenty left to do!

The lid was planed to 1/2″ thickness from rough stock in the same way as the other components. With careful planning and layout I’ve managed to get everything I needed for the School Box save for the moulding out of a single plank of 1″ thick pine, and I think that one of the fundamental (if more subtle) lessons from The Joiner and Cabinet Maker is the economic use of material. The back edge of the lid was planed square and true, while the rest of the dimensions were left oversized.

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The depth for the hinge mortises is obtained by setting my Hamilton4″ marking gauge to the thickness of the hinge leaf

Fitting hardware is a big milestone in any project, and also a critical stage of the build – no matter how tight your joints are or how pretty the finish, if hardware is installed sloppily it is all people will notice. For this reason I prefer to install hardware when I’m fresh and relaxed. The text offers some useful guidance for the proportional spacing of hinges in casework. Unfortunately the gorgeous iron hinges I’m using are wider than the strap hinges Thomas uses, and as a consequence the proportional spacing would have landed the right-hand hinge directly over the dado for the internal partition. This would not have been a disaster, but would require the hinge to be removed before the partition is lifted out, which I’m sure would not have pleased Master John. I moved the hinges a little further apart and towards the corners of the box so that there was a 1/4″ gap between the edge of the hinge and the side of the partition. This didn’t unbalance the appearance of the hinges too much, and stopped everything getting too crowded around the partition.

Because hardware fitting is such a critical operation I find that a clean fitting rests on accurate layout. Handmade hinges often have slight variations in the width and thickness of the leaves, so once I had determined the position of the innermost edge of the hinges I set the width and depth of each mortise based on the specific dimensions of that hinge, rather than working to global measurements. This paid off, as there was a marked difference in the width of the two hinges which would have left an unsightly gap in the mortise for the narrower hinge. Once the hinges were fitted to the box I then transfered their positions to the underside of the lid, and cut the corresponding mortises.

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Cutting mitred corners for the lid moulding

With the whole assembly held in place by the hinges I marked out the final dimensions of the lid, allowing an overhand of 1/16″ on the front and sides. The lid was then trimmed down to size with my No.3 smoothing plane, ensuring that all the edges were square and straight. I was then able to fit the moulding to the lid. Both side pieces were left overlong, and instead of dovetailing the lid moulding (as I had for the base moulding) I followed the text and mitred the corners. The one advantage I have over young Thomas is that thanks to my good friend Ethan I have a mitre box (which apparently formerly belonged to Ron Bontz – hopefully some of his magic will rub off on my work!) which I’ve fitted out with a Bad Axe mitre saw. This combination makes angled cuts a cinch, and the saw leaves an incredibly clean cut which needs no further work.

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Because every blog post must include macro photography. This joint is straight off the saw – perfectly clean and ready for glue, no planing required.

With the moulding trimmed and mitred all that remained was to fit it to the lid. Hide glue can act as a lubricant before it tacks, and to stop the moulding sliding across the lid I pushed 4d headless cut brads through pilot holes in the moulding so that they poked through into the lid, essentially acting as locating pins. The front run of moulding was glued and nailed to the lid, while the moulding returns were glued only for the front inch and mainly rely on nails to hold them in place – this is to allow for any seasonal movement in the lid without splitting the moulding.

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Using 4d headless brads as locating pins while gluing the moulding in place.

Next up will be the internal partition, and then fitting the rest of the hardware before applying milk paint.

Guest Post at the Daily Skep

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I’ve written previously about how The Daily Skep (written and curated by James McConnell) is one of my favourite woodwork blogs. Well earlier this year, James asked me if I would  be interested in writing a guest post for the Daily Skep on the subject of “perfection in hand work”, and naturally I said yes. What James didn’t tell me until just before I finished writing my piece, is that my post is the first in a series of 12 guest posts to be featured on the Daily Skep over the next 12 months, all concerned with the same subject. Knowing the identity of some of the other contributors, I can safely say that this promises to be a wonderful conversation with 12 very different takes on perfection.

It is a real honour and priviledge to appear on the Daily Skep, and you can read my opening salvo on the conversation about perfection here. James’ blog really is worth your time, so if you don’t already subscribe to it then now might be the perfect time to remedy that.

Getting to Know… James McConnell

For the first “getting to know” feature of 2016 I am very privileged to be able to interview good friend, and writer of the Daily Skep blog, James McConnell. There are some incredible woodwork blogs out there, but in the 9 months that the Daily Skep has been live it has rapidly become my favourite, thanks to the way in which James constantly relates the practical to his search for meaning behind the process, in an ongoing dialogue with himself as to what it means to create. Some days I read the Daily Skep and am inspired to create and write more myself, some days I read the Daily Skep and feel like such an amateur hack in comparison that it would be best if I never wrote again. But regardless of which response I feel, James’ writing never fails to be thought provoking and inspiring.

So without further ado, let’s get to know James McConnell.

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

1. You have built guitar amps, refurbished guitars, even screen printed. Where does your drive to make originate? What is it about making that compels you?

I come from crafty and resourceful stock. My grandmother and my mother were both experts with a sewing machine. My grandfather was a journeyman electrician and my father worked in a print shop. I grew up in a home with my parents and one set of grandparents. We didn’t always have a lot of resources but there was always something being made around me and as early as I can remember I was a part of that.

I can recall with equal clarity my grandmother showing me traditional quilt patterns and my grandfather showing me how to solder and rebuild an electric motor. Creativity was always encouraged and I had plenty of room to explore.

As I mentioned, my father worked in a commercial print shop that made labels. If you own a vintage Black and Decker product that was still made in the United States you’ve seen his handiwork on the side. He didn’t run the presses or create the artwork, but he was the linchpin between the two as he transferred the artwork to the printing plates that went in the presses. He was like me in that he always wanted to know more about things and to understand the details of process.

I  guess I just get interested in the details of the things around me and how they came to be. I can still remember as a teenager having a conversation with my cousin Michael (@puisheen on Instagram) who is now somewhat of an expert on vintage Fender offset guitars (Jazzmasters, Jaguars, etc) about how hard it would be to build a telecaster. We talked back and forth about the things we didn’t understand and I can remember clearly saying something to the effect of “well, someone knows how to do it, so I guess it can be done!”  That’s generally my attitude about the things in which I take an interest. The information is out there. The expertise is available. I just need to figure it out. I’ve since built two or three telecasters, a stratocaster, an SG and a Jazzmaster and probably a few more.

My hands are bored unless they’re making something. It’s just as natural to me as anything and I try to pass that along to my children as well by doing crafts and projects with them.

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A selection of James’ guitar builds

2. Your woodwork is currently hand tool only, but you’ve written about giving up your table saw and power tools. What prompted your transition to a pure hand tool practice?  

I should add the caveat that it’s hand tool mostly. I still have a drill press and a rickety old bandsaw, but they see very limited use, and generally only when I need to work in a “production” mode. I have a few ancillary tools like a trim router that I use for specialized applications. There is also a cordless drill in my life, but that also rarely makes it to my bench.

I used to take a lot of trips to Appalachia to help rebuild homes for people, making them safer, warmer and drier. When I was doing that sort of work I always carried my table saw, circular saws, drills, etc in the back of the truck because they allowed me to do the work at hand. The goal for me there wasn’t personal fulfillment, but literally making sure someone’s roof didn’t leak or their foundation didn’t collapse, and getting that work done in a limited time frame. The tools were suited to the job.

That said, I gave up my table saw when I burned up the motor last year. I was dimensioning some stock and it just gave up the ghost. At that point some people would say to themselves, “well, I guess I need to go buy a better table saw” but I asked a different question: “did I need to go buy a better table saw at all?” I had just read The Anarchist’s Tool Chest and it had really challenged me to think about what kind of work I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it. Instead of dumping hundreds (or thousands) of dollars into a new table saw I placed a few strategic orders with Lee Valley and Lie Nielsen and I haven’t looked back.

I’m in the middle of building myself a proper hand tool workbench at the moment. That is the most rigorous work I’ve encountered in recent memory and 95% of that work has been done with hand tools. I haven’t once felt the need to pull out the circular saw and I think that is, at least in part, because I have changed my understanding of “why” I work with wood in the first place. I’m not a cabinet shop. I’m generally in no rush. My work doesn’t put food on the table. My goal presently is to understand the nature of wood and enjoy working with it. I find that a much more manageable goal without a screaming router or whirring table saw.

The other added benefit is that most of the time I am in the workshop, my daughters are also in there with me playing and “working” alongside me. This gives me the opportunity to be present with them in a way that machines precluded.

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James’ recent saw till build.

3. On the Daily Skep you write as much about the “why” of building as the “how”. What is it about the ideas behind the processes that fascinates you?

The question of “how” is essential but pedestrian. With some amount of effort and a little inquisitiveness, anyone can learn how to do any given operation. The question of “why” is far more existential and compelling to me.

If you were to ask about me, for example “can he build a chair?” any number of people could look at my technical skill and answer that question. Same goes for “should” he build a chair, “how” does he build a chair, and any number of other interrogatives. They’re all external. The question “why,” on the other hand is deeply internal.  Only the craftsperson can answer that question. “Why” would I build a chair? Perhaps it is because I appreciate the harmonic unity of a certain form and I want to explore that. Maybe I want to give it to someone as a gift, or maybe I simply prefer sitting elevated to sitting on the ground. Even in those answers there is always another question “why”?

The question of “how” leads to a different place than the question of “why.” Reductio ad absurdum, “how” leads to the industrial revolution; “why” leads to art.

To answer the question another way, let me tell you a story about the first time my father took me to his place of work and I finally saw what he did for a living. At his workstation, my father was a master of precision. He worked in thousandths of an inch. When computers were introduced into his work he worked in ten thousandths of an inch. His tools were magnifying glasses and super precise Starrett steel rules. As I watched him take the work handed to him by artists and transform it into the press plates that would print thousands of labels, I suddenly understood the importance of process. It became embedded in me that without his completely unheralded work, none of the other work would make sense. I saw “how” he did his work, but understanding “why” his work was important was revolutionary for me.

That’s the sort of question that interests me, and really the question that led me to hand tool work in the end. I have no particular feelings about “how” other people choose to work wood, but I choose “mostly” hand tools because it gets to the heart of “why” and allows me to be more intimately connected to the minutia of the process of creating.

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Baby Anarchist’s Tool Chest

4. You’ve written extensively about rehabilitating old tools, including making some quite bold adjustments to your Disston mitre saw. Do you view refurbishing old tools as matter of convenience, or is there a more ideological reason (for instance as a means to connect with previous generations of craftsmen)?

In my toolbox you will still find the very same WEN soldering gun my grandfather used daily at work. It still has his initials etched into it alongside his employee number 1026. By all accounts it is a fine tool. It was a tool he relied on to pay the bills and so it was the best he could afford. When I was deep into vacuum tubes (valves) and was building amplifiers I used that gun almost exclusively. There was perhaps an element of sentimentality about that, but for me, it was also the right tool for the job. It allowed me to work efficiently and accurately.

So, it’s sort of a mixed bag. One part sentimentality mixed with one part practicality. When I see a tool that is in need of rehabilitation I do think about the hands that have held it before, but I’m also eminently practical about the whole matter. I pass tools up all the time because sadly they’re past the point of saving. It’s a judgement call and there’s a lot of latitude there, but unless I pick up a tool and see that it can reasonably be put back to use, I walk on by. You can’t save them all.

All of my full size and panel saws are vintage Disstons, and each one has it’s place in my till because it serves a purpose. Everything from an aggressive 5 ppi D-20 to a much finer D-23. I’ve got a wonderful all around D-16 rip saw, and it’s counterpoint in a D-8 crosscut. Each one was brought back from the rust pile either by myself or by a local guy named Chris Black who has a knack for resurrecting those old beauties. Perhaps my favorite is an early Disston no.7 Panel sized saw that I restored last fall. I had to make a new handle for that one, but it was well worth the effort as it has easily become one of my favorite saws.

That’s the long way around to say that I could be sentimental about those saws, but in reality they serve a practical purpose. I believe in saving the best of the past and carrying it into the future.

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A rehandled saw, by James

5. Your original mission statement for the Daily Skep was for a community focused dialogue about handtool woodwork. You’re also a prominent member of the Instagram woodwork community. Tell me about your experience within the online woodwork community, what have been the benefits of community membership, and where do you see (or would like to see) the community going next?

Instagram is an interesting platform to me. People have criticized it for being a tool that people use to take “perfect” pictures that make their lives look better than they may be in reality. For me, Instagram isn’t about chronicling a “perfect” life, but about catching those “perfect” moments in what is otherwise sometimes a crazy, messy and chaotic existence. I very rarely stage pictures, but when I am working on something and the light just hits it in a certain way, or I walk by my bench and something catches my eye, Instagram is a great way of documenting that moment.

When I first stumbled across the online woodworking community it was actually through Instagram. One day I was randomly thumbing through photos and I came across one or two woodworking related pictures that really caught my attention. As more and more woodworking photos popped up in my feed I started to connect the dots between Instagram accounts maintained by people that I had seen doing instructional work on YouTube. From there I also stumbled across the blog kept by Anne Briggs Bohnett, and yours at Over the Wireless and things just started to connect. It wasn’t long before those connections became conversations and those conversations led to opportunities to connect even more.

I started The Daily Skep with that very vision, to be as you said, a place of community focused dialogue about the process and practice of hand tool woodworking. In the beginning it felt more like a monologue, but thankfully in the last few months that vision has finally started to materialize with lots of great comments and conversation with all sorts of readers. I would love to make it even more collaborative and feature guest bloggers and instruction as time goes on.

I seek that sort of collaboration because, for me, the primary benefit of the online woodworking community has been the interaction with others who are passionate about the same things I am. Woodworking, especially for amateurs, can sometimes be a very isolating pursuit. You tend to spend a lot of time on your own. The online woodworking community offers an alternative to that isolation insofar as it represents a shared story with all sorts of people you would never expect and it is full of challenge and encouragement and surprise. Everyday as I thumb through my Instagram feed I am blown away by the talent, creativity and courage that I see and when I read through the blogs I keep up with I learn more than I ever could have on my own. Wherever the community goes next, I hope that those qualities remain central to whatever it becomes.

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6. And finally, you worked as content editor on the first edition of Mortise & Tenon magazine. Tell me how you got involved in that publication.Do you have more woodwork editing lined up (and if not, are you looking for more editing work)?

Content editing entails working with the raw transcriptions to bring them into shape and working alongside authors to revise, review and re-write articles. My work was concerned primarily with questions of flow and coherency and helping to develop the early work into what you will read in the magazine. It’s slightly more process oriented work, but any publication of this nature really requires a team of editors (and many readings) to bring out the best in the work.

The way I got involved in the first place was really just a story of being in the right place at the right time with the right set of skills. In undergrad I was on the senior editorial staff of our campus newspaper for three years and I had other experience as a writing tutor. I had mentioned that to Joshua in passing during in conversation, but honestly I didn’t think much more about it until he contacted me about coming on board with M&T. I edited one interview as an example of my work, and from there we hit it off famously. There were a lot of late nights and early mornings involved, but I truly believe the work will speak for itself. It was a pleasure and an honor working with Joshua and Megan, and I’m looking forward to getting started on the next issue.

Other than that I don’t currently have anything else lined up in terms of editing, but I am always available for freelance work and would be happy for the opportunity if something else came along.

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The End of Year Round-Up: 2015 edition

Is December already drawing to a close? I can scarcely believe that it is now time to start penning the end of year review, list my favourite albums of the past twelve months, and compile the traditional end of year mix cd. 2015 has genuinely disappeared in the blink of an eye. I suppose this is to be expected given all that has happened; the relocation from Bristol to Birmingham, buying and decorating a new house (phase 1 of the decoration saw 5 rooms decorated and completed, and phase 2 will be commencing in January), and becoming a father. I’d like to think that the above constitutes a reasonable level of activity.

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The parlour guitar build has been the main focus of 2015

Amongst all of this, I also found time to set up a new workshop, make some shavings, and keep writing. The new workshop has turned out to be ideal, and having given myself some time to settle into the new space I have made a few changes and additions since my original workshop tour, which I will write about separately. In terms of projects completed, 2015 is a little thin on the ground, although a lot of progress has been made on the parlour guitar, and I should be in a position to assemble this guitar in the next couple of months. I also managed to secure a new paying commission (the Mystery-Caster) and came close to bagging a paying commission from one of my favourite musicians (in the long term I’m hoping this one will still come to fruition).

2015 saw seven of my articles published in Furniture & Cabinetmaking, and the blog has had nearly twice as many views when compared to 2014, as well as introducing the new “Getting to Know…” feature (which I hope to continue into 2016).

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Peter Follansbee contemplates swiping my Hieronymus Bosch print Docs…

I had the pleasure of meeting both Peter Follansbee and Tom Fidgen, as well as taking Roy Underhill’s Woodworking with Thomas Jefferson class. Learning from Roy for a week was an incredible experience, and helped to develop all manner of parallel skills. Peter, Tom and Roy are not only incredibly knowledgeable, but also very generous with their knowledge, and I highly recommend taking a class (or simply just chatting with them) if ever the opportunity presents itself.

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Roy and Esmerelda become acquainted.

The other highlight of the year was of course exhibiting at the European Woodworking Show in Cressing Temple, and it was wonderful to get to meet so many inspiring makers and tool manufacturers, as well as people who read the blog (or my articles), and to spend two days chatting about woodwork face to face. Thank you so much to everyone who came and said hello during the two days.

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The “Community Is…” project in many ways defined 2015 for me. Thanks to all the contributors (including Chris Schwarz – pictured here)

And this very neatly brings me to the real highlight of 2015. Which is not projects built or achievements unlocked, but rather the sense of community in the woodcrafts. Lutherie always used to be a very solitary activity for me, but particularly over the past 12 months the online community through Instagram and the blogosphere, then reinforced through events such as EWS, has meant that I find myself within a wider community of craftspeople. And this has had the effect of enriching my time in the workshop, situating my work within broader practices and traditions, and providing new opportunities to learn and question. The community is made up of so many wonderful craftspeople that mentioning individuals seems like a foolhardy endeavour. However special mention must go to James McConnell whose Daily Skep blog debued this year, and is rapidly becoming one of my favourite woodwork blogs(seriously, I read James’ blog and wonder if there’s any point in me writing anything ever again). Again, EWS provided a wonderful opportunity to put faces to names and to connect with members of the woodworking community in person.

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Finally meeting Vic (Minimalist Woodworker) in person was one of the highlights of EWS

Looking forward to 2016, there will be more articles in Furniture  Cabinetmaking, in addition to which I hope to be able to announce a very special article for another publication in the coming months. In the workshop, my focus will be on finishing the parlour guitar, and also building the Mystery-Caster, both of which will be covered in detail on this blog. A number of teaching opportunities have presented themselves, and consequently there is also the possibility that I will be let loose on unsuspecting woodwork students – more details to follow once I have them. So plenty to keep me occupied, and 2016 is shaping up to be a very exciting year!

And to finish where we started, my top five pick of new releases from 2015 (in case anyone was wondering) in order, are:

  1. Banditos – Banditos
  2. Nashville Obsolete – Dave Rawlings Machine
  3. Edge of the Sun – Calexico
  4. Meta-Modern Sounds in Country Music – Sturgil Simpson
  5. No Cities To Love – Sleater-Kinney

Happy New Year, dear reader, catch you in 2016!

Getting to know… Jamie Ward

The “getting to know” series continues this month with Jamie Ward in the hot seat. I first met Jamie at the inaugural New English Workshop summer school – while Chris Schwarz cracked the whip and 18 of us slaved away at building Anarchist’s Tool Chests, the seemingly unflappable Jamie was on hand to run the workshop and offer constant advice and encouragement.

Jamie with Roy Underhill

Jamie with Roy Underhill

Although you are now course leader at Warwickshire College, you have previously worked as a professional furniture maker, right? Tell me about your career before you moved into education, including where you trained?

I trained at Warwickshire College in the late eighties which is interesting as I have gone full circle and returned to the workshop where I first started and now teach from. So when I am trying to motivate one of our 16 yr old students who is having a ‘bad day’, I try to think back to when I was on the course and their age.

So I went from that course into the construction industry, mass producing joinery (windows, doors, stairs etc) for large house builders like Barrats, Redrow, David Wilson Homes. We had daily targets to run 3500 metres of components through the machines, it was a touch soul destroying and monotonous. I was made a supervisor by the time I was 20. Once I had learnt how to use the various wood machines, including four cutters and double ended tenoners it was time for me to move on.

So after 9 years in my first job, I decided I needed to change things to progess and so I decided to sell my house, give my job up and go to university – I was 26. I felt I could use my woodworking skills gained from my joinery days and refine these and go into furniture making. I did my research and felt that Buckinghamshire College in High Wycombe (the home of furniture making), was the college for me. At that time it had the largest furniture making education department in the country and lots of industry still located around the town. Unfortunately Bucks New University as its known now, is about to close most or all of its furniture making courses – very sad.

So I embarked on 5 years at uni, first on a HND Design (Furniture) course then progressed on to BA Hons Furniture Design & Craftsmanship degree course and I loved it. It was so satisfying breaking away from the rigid routine from working in a factory to being able to design furniture and then make it. The experience gained before uni was invaluable in gaining work whilst at unI and my first college job was working holidays in an amazing furniture workshop ran by Richard Williams.

This experience taught me lots, including accuracy, attention to detail and how different it was to work in a small bespoke furniture workshop compared to a large joinery workshop; complete chalk and cheese. In fact as I write this I have just returned from a surprise party at Richard Williams to celebrate his 25 years in business. It was great to see Richard and many people who have played apart in his business and that includes his university tutors from who were also my tutors, this just confirms how supportive the industry is and how tight knit it is and everyone knows everyone.

My time at Bucks College was great, I met my wife there and it gave me a first class degree, something I never thought possible when I was at school. A lesson to my 16 yr olds students – ‘you can change things and make things happen even after a bad time through school’!

After university I help set up a furniture workshop in the Cotswolds in a beautiful village but making furniture for clients in London, it allowed me to use the skills from both university and my joinery days to build a successful workshop and business. After a couple of years I started teaching an evening class at Warwickshire College which 13 years later, I still teach. Within two years of starting teaching part time I then went full time at college.

Teaching is amazing, I love passing on my skills and showing passion for furniture making and seeing students leave and gain jobs in the industry or go onto university just as I did.

I still keep my hand in and design and make furniture in my spare time, but teaching takes priority.

Oak sideboard by Jamie

Oak sideboard

What prompted the move into education? 

I never set out to go into teaching, it began with an inquisitive question to the course leader of the furniture course at the time, do you have any part time teaching posts available? and before I knew it I was teaching an evening class.

I caught the teaching bug here. I was teaching mainly mature students just 1 evening a week, they made a couple of set projects like  tables and wall cabinets then they moved on to their own projects. We continue to have projects that range from bird boxes to the largest project to date, a flight of stairs.

Jamie

Community Is!

Running the furniture programe at Warwickshire College puts you at the forefront of training the next generation of makers. What from your perspective  are the main challenges for keeping the woodwork crafts alive?

FUNDING! I have helped implement a forum with fellow furniture course managers from around England and we often discuss the challenges of proposed funding cuts and how we can overcome these. Because the furniture industry is quite an unknown industry, its not the first career choice of many.

Did you know the UK Furniture Industry is bigger than the Aerospace industry in its turnover? I have recently become a freeman of The Furniture Maker’s Company. Only last week there was a conference called ‘Mind the Gap’  at The Furniture Makers Company  and it discussed the challenges of training and engaging with education and industry, there was also a recent survey carried out – please do click on this link to find out more.

Next is getting the opportunity to discuss furniture making to 13-15 year olds and therefore RECRUITING FROM SCHOOLS. Because we are a Further Education College with various courses ranging from  A-Levels to plumbing to engineering and furniture making, I feel some schools see us as competition. Therefore it can be challenging to gain access to this age group and promote furniture making as a career. There are some local schools that welcome the college in and offer careers events, it would be good if this was more widely practised. Staying in school to do A-levels is not for everyone! And now children have to stay in education until they are 18. Even before secondary schools, it could be said children are making less, how many of you played with Lego bricks or made Airfix models? I did and I loved making things. So are enough children being exposed or getting the opportunity to put the Ipad down and be creative?

Last is PROGRESSION, we have some industry on our doorstep, and we work hard to keep and maintain contact with these companies. It is important to have routes into jobs and for some, onto higher education courses. Around 70% of our students progress into a job or on to a university on completion of their studies. These jobs include, furniture making, wood machining, boat building, kitchen making, theatre set making and joinery to  name just a few. The jobs are there but we don’t always hear from employers, it is common for companies to want employees with experience, but its that old chestnut, ‘how do you get experience if no-one will give you a job?’?

Fan shaped wall cabinet

Fan shaped wall cabinet

So, challenges aside, what are the positive elements of teaching woodwork? What do you find most rewarding?

I love teaching, I do not struggle to get out of bed and come to work each day. Every day is different and always rewarding to see skills being past over to the next generation – ‘Inspiring the next generation!’ sound familiar?  As a tutor we are rewarded in many ways, whether that is seeing a student master cutting dovetails or stand back and look at their finished piece of furniture and a broad smile appear when they have concluded the production journey and the birth of a piece of furniture.

The realisation that this can be such a self fulfilling activity.

We have an end of year show and this an excellent platform to witness the joy of furniture making and end results where students show their work to family, friends and possible employers.

It is very rewarding to observe and watch the smiles of the students, the faces of proud parents the feeling of my job has been completed for this stage in their careers and now its over to them to see where they can go in the industry.

So reward comes in various amounts, daily, weekly or in one big dose at the end of the year.

Union Table

You obviously have to teach a broad range of skills, but how would you classify your own approach to woodwork? Are you a handtool purist, a machine focused worker, or do you have a hybrid approach? What lead you to your  method of working?

Well, with a varied woodworking background, my approached has evolved. As mentioned, I began mass producing joinery, there was no time to spend using my trusted Stanley no 5 there! University and working for Richard Williams showed me how there could be a mix between machines, power tools and hand tools and still make beautiful crafted  furniture and there be a successful business.

So my approach to teaching is that of a pragmatic, or as you put it, a hybrid approach to woodworking, If you are going into industry I feel it is my duty to show a range of ways to work. This could be by hand with very little machines or with the use of a broad range of machines and accompanied hand skills, for example hand cut dovetails when making drawers.

This is my approach to furniture making, use the kit around me and use hand skills when required. Preparation of materials like sawing and planing, well I do like our machine shop full of Wadkin and Robinson machines – so I’m happy to use them!

‘Time is money’ is a mantra that I have learned, and with two young children, ‘time is precious’!

Custom fitted bathroom cabinets

Custom fitted bathroom cabinets

With your own woodwork, what styles or types of work do you consider to be influences?

Influences I feel are varied for me, the obvious ones would be Richard Williams who gave me my first fine furniture making opportunity.  Elegant and well made furniture with the use of quality materials.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his use of sculptural or dominant designs to set a feel for a room, for instance the ladder back chair in the hill house.

Paul Smith with his use of colour and stripes; love the understated exterior of his suits and then a flash of colour with the linings.

Then I have to mention the arts and crafts movement with Gimson and The Barnsley’s. I’ve really enjoying visiting Arts and Crafts houses this year and seeing the furniture with through tenons or solid oak panels. True and honest furniture, build to last but also functional.

Let me finish with a William Morris quote,  ‘Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful’.