Fair Woodworking

March 30, 2014

Hand tool work is slow…

Filed under: Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog,Skill development — fairwoodworking @ 5:35 pm

That’s right. I said it, and in many cases, I believe it.

There are many situations where hand tools are faster, and where they are slower, but in my shop?

Projects take as long as they are going to take.

I don’t own a bandsaw, a thickness planer, a Jointer, drill press, shaper, or any of that stuff. Really, my miter saw and table saw can only be relied on for a very small percent of any project.

No for me, it’s just a lot of hard work that takes a long, long time to finish, but don’t feel sorry for me. I like it. I wish it was faster, and I do find that just getting all my material down to rough dimension, and properly flattened can bog down my shop for ages. And you can only blog about dimensioning wood so many times…

But no really. I do like the process of dimensioning wood. I like the process of taking warped, twisted, or simply rough wood, and commanding it to take the shape that I, and only I so choose. I like the process of mating each piece to the pieces around it. I like the process of demanding excellence from my two hands, and the tools they wield. I like the process of learning new skills, and adapting old skills in new applications.  I like the process of becoming better today than I was yesterday. But you can only blog about dovetails so many times…

I like the process of working with wood.

I like working with familiar tools. I like knowing their quirks, and their strengths. I don’t really like sharpening them, but I do it anyways, and enjoy them all the more when they are sharp. I have a weakness for new and expensive tools, but I also love old ones, and I revel in them when they work just as well as their new compeditors. I hate refurbishing them, but I do it anyways.

I don’t like working with power tools, but I do sometimes. I don’t like ear protection, safety glasses, and dust masks. I like listening to music, or sports on TV while I work. I like not being covered in dust when I’m done, and I don’t like sweeping up, but I’ve learned that shavings can be slippery on a painted concrete floor.

I like sharing my love of woodworking with others, but I realize that most people don’t get it, so I try not to bore them. I’d like to give more of what I make to others, but I realize that most of them don’t get it, so I try not to burden them. At least my mom likes what I make.

Thankfully. I like the process of working with wood.

Because hand tool work is slow…

March 15, 2014

Speaking of Anarchy…

Filed under: Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog,Skill development — fairwoodworking @ 1:04 pm

the other day I bought a pitchfork.

No really, I did! But it was for work.

You see with winter construction, in my part of the world, open excavations need to be protected from frost. We do that by spreading straw, and that helps keep the heat in the ground, or at least slow the freezing process while pouring footings and such.

But when it comes time to pour your basement floor, you will need to warm the ground up, and the straw is now in the way of the warming process. When we are busy, I have people to remove the straw for me, but when things are a little slower, I don’t mind strapping on the old tool belt and do some honest work.

Now the last time I decided to remove the straw from a basement myself, I decided that I would save myself the expense of a new tool (Pitchfork), because I was sure I could get by with my trusty rake. Just for the record, although a pitchfork is nice to have when dealing with straw, you can do a beautiful job with a rake. Also for the record, it will take forever, and you may not be able to walk the next day.

So I go ahead and fire up my sweet new pitchfork, and man is it awesome! There is straw flying everywhere, and that straw is moving the heck out of the basement. I got the bulk of the straw out in record time, but wait…

I was left with a thin layer of straw over the entire basement floor, and no matter how careful, the pitchfork just wasn’t fine enough to pick it up.

Trusty old rake to the rescue!!! The rake was fine enough to collect all the leftovers into a couple of larger piles that the pitchfork could really sink its teeth in to.

Two tools worked better than one.

Like slinging straw, handtool woodworking is real work. Unlike slinging straw, handtool woodworking can be fun, and while you can fully dimension all your boards with one not quite ideal plane, having a few dedicated planes will make it all the more fun.

So, should all beginners avoid starting with just one plane?

I think beginners can go through a three step process as they learn, and starting with more than one plane is confusing.

Step 1 – I made a shaving. Beginners should at this first stage be enamored with making shavings in the same way as a first crush. They should lay awake in bed lusting after the chance to go make more shavings. If all goes well, they will get a good understanding of how to sharpen, and set up a plane here, and multiple planes would muddy the waters.

Step 2 – Squaring up a board. Beginners that rush to this point, may get frustrated. Planes that still don’t work how they want them too will distract them from their new task, and make them feel like they are not smart/skilled enough to do this simple task. I also think this is the best time to learn how different tools, set up differently, will make the process much more smooth and effective. This is also a great time to learn about tearout, and wood selection.

Step 3 – I need to build something! I feel sorry for people that skip steps 1 and 2, and I think many handtool dropouts mostly come from people like this. This is the wrong time to learn how to sharpen, set up, and joint six foot curly maple boards with a block plane…

March 7, 2014

My thought for the day.

Filed under: Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog,Skill development — fairwoodworking @ 9:03 pm

The most important activity in woodworking is to pass your skills and knowledge to another woodworker that is open to learning.

Some of you may be thinking I’m just being dramatic, and the world would be better off if I took up mime. But really what do you need to be able to teach others?

Some skills and knowledge!

And how do you get said skills and knowledge?

You practice, and practice, and build stuff, and read stuff, then practice what you read, and practice, and practice, and build stuff.

And on, and on, and on.

So why do we need to pass what we know to others? Seriously, if you really are asking that question, you may as well stop reading this blog.

So don’t be a lame’o.

Build something!

No wait! Practice something!

No that’s not it.

You could read something, or get someone to show you something, and then…

Practice it.

Then build something with it. Then share what you’ve learned with others.

So they can go practice it, and build something.

And so on , and so on…

February 24, 2014

A tool shelf for the minimalist that has everything

Not enough time is spent as of late heralding the greatness of us intrepid minimalists. Birthed out of the old days when a proper set of tools included at least one of each from 1 to 8, and including type 1 to 18, but shunning the 19 and 20 for their shoddy manufacture.

Birthed out of that dark time we discovered that having one of everything was an abomination, and we were shown a better way.

Today we know that less is more. Way, WAY more! And more is good. More gets you the girls and the admiration of lesser minimalists.

We all want more.

More of less until that special day of hand tool minimalism Nirvana, when we build with only with a sharpened metal bar and a rock to hit it with. Oh that glorious day!

But minimalism is a journey, that we all must travel.

Many of us have learned that the ATC, as pious as it may be, is for minimalistic sissys. You can fit way too many tools in that thing, it’s too hard to find stuff, and darn it, it hurts my back to reach all the way down there.

The dutch tool chest isn’t much better. Sure it holds less tools, but still heavy enough that you wouldn’t want to carry it too far.

What’s worse, how will people know how few tools you have when they are hidden in a chest? No, there’s not a single true self-respecting minimalist that can be satisfied with these. Thankfully today I offer redemption. It ain’t a hunk of metal and a rock, but we are getting there.

For now you can take pride in a much smaller storage solution. A space so small, that everyone will know that you truly are the man/woman.

No minimalistic ego is complete without the “Egotists Tool Shelf”.




I also hope to finalize a larger version in the near future. I plan, if I’m able to make them out of particle board, and sell them to Ikea, but only if I can guarantee that they will last at least 9 months without collapsing.

I’ll either call it “Loogie”, or my current favorite, “Dago”.



Editors note. With that I hope that in this past week, I’ve managed to alienate pretty much everyone that reads my blog. If however you feel that you have been missed, please let me know, and I will make every effort to rectify the situation.

February 22, 2014

A dumb, dumbs guide to Anarchy

Just for the record.

I do own the book “The Anarchist Tool Chest”.

I read it a couple of years ago.

I’d had a couple of drinks before I wrote this last night…

and I’m pretty frigg’in smart when I’m tipsy,

This shouldn’t be too complicated, or it could be the rum… but here is my take on it.

Anarchy, as it relates to tool chests does not equate to chaos, it is not about burning cars in the street, riots and looting, STOP THINKING THAT WAY, THAT’S NOT WHAT IT IS ABOUT!!! While the modern day man is barely smart enough to get his shoes on the right feet, the modern day Anarchist is striving to reclaim skills that the old world man thought everybody was born with. Yes these skills were passed on from generation to generation, but the last couple of generations were instead taught that they were not smart enough, were not skilled enough, and the world is better off with cheap disposable EVERYTHING rather than quality possessions that could be passed on from generation to generation, along with the lessons they teach.

This kind of anarchy is about seeing what the world sees as the norm that is also what is wrong with the world and going in the other direction.

If you can’t wrap your brain around anarchy in this concept, find a different word that does emulate this concept. Forget the word anarchy. FORGET THE WORD ANARCHY!!! Find a new word like Kittens, or Bunnies, or Rainbows. “The Kitten Tool Chest” lacks the same punch, and might be illegal, but you do what you got to do.

I am sick to death with people complaining that they don’t agree with people bombing stuff. READ THE FRIGG’IN BOOK FOR WHAT IT SAYS, NOT FOR WHAT YOU’VE ALREADY DECIDED IT SAYS.

As to the latest of review to the ATC, it’s clear that the writer does not have a lot of faith in the amateur woodworker in solving the worlds problems. I agree with his point, but I don’t think he made it totally clear what the problem is. I don’t see myself as a woodworking expert, but in comparison to every soul that calls themselves a woodworker, I think I would rate in the upper half or higher. That is not pride speaking, it’s the belief that the majority of people that call themselves woodworkers are mostly armchair woodworkers. I agree that most woodworkers still don’t know the meaning of sharp, and although I can achieve pretty wicked sharp, I doubt I know the meaning of sharp myself. (that is not good if I really am in the upper half of woodworkers…)

I also agree that most of LV and LN tools are wasted on people that will never EVER manage to get them to a fully functional working condition, and that saddens me.

Anarchy is about striving for greatness in woodworking for the sake of the craft. Anarchy is about passing our craft to the next generation for the SAKE OF THE CRAFT. Anarchy in the idea of the tool chest is NOT FOR THE WEAK AND THE PETTY, it is for those that are willing to set aside quick personal gratification, and strive for woodworking greatness for the sake of passing it on to the next woodworking generation. If you are not capable/willing to master the simple gateway task of sharpening, you are not going to make a great anarchist, and perhaps you should take up knitting.

And what of most professional woodworkers? I work in construction, and my most skilled woodworkers really, and truly believe that if you want a sharp chisel, you go to Home Depot and buy a new chisel. When it get’s “dull”, you go back to Home Depot, and buy another new chisel! That’s what has been passed on from generation, to generation.

Despite this, the properly trained professional woodworker is incapable of perpetuating the role of the anarchist, because our “Ikea” world cannot comprehend the value of what they are doing, and so, will not pay what it is worth. Without the financial backing of the “Ikea” generation, the professional has no clientele, and will find themselves out of business.

The single hope of the Anarchist ideal is that the arm-chair woodworkers of the world, get their Asses into their over tooled workshops and actually become proficient with the thousands of dollars of tools they have sitting on their tool shelves and tool chests in basements and garages around the world.

Only the amateur woodworker can afford to build without compromise, and so it is the amateur that must “keep the faith”. And to keep the faith, they are going to need to learn how to use their tools!

Woodworking can be an expensive hobby. Between the tools and the wood itself, this hobby is often limited to those with extra disposable income, and while some of the “Wealthy” woodworkers of the world may be teachers, lawyers, and doctors, I am a high school dropout. I come from a dirt poor single parent home, and I worked my Ass off to attain the funds that make this hobby, and my semi-modest lifestyle possible. Having some disposable income does not define us as sellouts, or hypocrites. Some of us have just learned to be smart with our money, and don’t spend money we don’t have.  I believe that I, just as any doctor or lawyer, has earned the right to make a “political” statement by building every project with every single ounce of excellence I am capable of. I do this in the slight hope that maybe one, just one person in my lifetime might see that the product of my many hours of work are not one of many millions of cheaply made Ikea products with some stupid name from Sweden. My hope is that one day someone either friend or family will say, “don’t throw that out! That piece is special!” NOT BECAUSE I MADE IT, not for my sake. For the sake of this beautiful, wonderful thing we call woodworking.


Working with real wood, not fiberboard, not with a computer. Not made by hardworking Ikea employees that are not even aware of what the finished product will be.

Woodworking by some ding-dong who also writes for a blog called Fairwoodworking.

So go ahead and keep complaining about how the world has done you wrong, Chris has offended you, I’m a weeny, and rich people have all the luck, your mother loved your sister more, and you are not as popular as the next blogger. I guess it sucks to be you. But in this case, I don’t care about you, I care about the woodworking you do and the efforts you actually make to save this craft that could very well die at the end of our generation.

Just get out there and build something as well as you can. Soberly look at what you did wrong and try it again until you are awesome at it. Then help someone else be awesome too.



When I find you I’m going to grab you by the scruff of the neck and, uh…  hey, I love you man!

Did I ever tell you you’re the best.., and I LOVE YOU!

January 29, 2014

Get the skinny on flat

So what’s up with flat? Sure we know it’s important, but why? Many woodworkers demand that every tool they own be perfectly flat, because tools must be perfect if you want them to build perfect things. Often times the concept of flat takes on a mystical persona as the great savior to all your woodworking problems.

Often times flat does make things better, but to say flat = holy grail?


This last weekend, I had the chance to hang out with a friend in his shop. He is looking to get into the whole hand tool game, and he was looking for a little help coming up with a sharpening game plan. The part that seems to snag a lot of beginners is how to keep your stones flat, and really to that, how important is flat?

Well I think it is very important, but the reason is practical. Not mystical, and I decided to try out a simple little exercise to get my point across. It seemed to work, so now I’m going to try it on you poor suckers.

What I did was take a piece of paper from a small note pad, and ripped the top quarter off like this.

The rip makes a jagged line. It was easy to make that messy edge, but try to repeat it with any accuracy. I asked my friend, and to tell you the truth, he really stunk up the joint with this project… Just like I expected he would. But it wasn’t his fault. A random edge like that is near impossible to reproduce accurately. The only good example is the other piece of torn paper.

The edge of this paper was mind blowingly easy to make once, but is hopeless to reproduce. In woodworking, that won’t do.

A flat edge is so much better, if you know how to do it, and it really isn’t much of a trick.

I then took the larger of the two pieces of paper, folded it over, and pressed down a nice straight crease into it.

The paper now tears in a sweet straight line if you are careful.

And leaves you with a nice flat edge.

While the free thinkers may complain that I’m trying to squish their groove, It’s not just the anal people that can see that the straight tear is far superior. It doesn’t just match up with its mating piece, it also matches pretty well with other pieces.

Well, not every piece, but the factory edges would mate with them pretty well…

But what’s also really nice about flat.

If you flip one of the pieces over, it still mates beautifully. Not so with the loosy goosy tear on the top. If you notice, when you flip the top one, the inaccuracies compound.

In real life, this can be a real problem.

So you lap the blade of your new smoother with a slightly hollowed out stone. Let’s say it’s hollowed by 0.002 of an inch. No big deal, that it leaves the back of the blade with a 0.002″ hump in it. Then you tune up the chipbreaker, and go to flattening the edge, and it gets the same 0.002″ hump in the middle. When you put the two together, you end up with solid contact at the middle of the blade/chipbreaker point, but you will have a 0.004″ gap on either side.

When you go to take you sweet 0.001 inch transparent shavings, you end up stymied by all the shavings getting caught in the edges of the chip breaker.

Flat stones are important.

And that is why we all stopped setting the chipbreaker close to the cutting edge…

So ya, ok, stones need to be flat. What about the bottoms of planes?

I’m still chewing on that one.

Perhaps I’ll work up the nerve to tackle that one another day.

January 9, 2014

Just one more reason it’s better here in Canada

Filed under: Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog — fairwoodworking @ 7:49 pm

When I moved from Calgary, I knew that I still needed to be in a city with one important thing.

A Lee Valley store. I love my Halifax store.

Now that’s not my new reason why it’s better here in Canada, but Lee Valley is at the center of it.

You Americans out there may not even know this because when you click on Saws in the LV web site, something important is missing from your site.

Now come on north to the Canadian Saw page. LV now sells Gramercy tools, (apparently just in Canada). They also are listing Gramercy holdfasts and saw vices.

Their selection of awesome tools just keeps getting better!


So, ya. It may be too snowy up here.

And more than a little too cold.

Not to worry, LV also sells space heaters.



January 1, 2014

A New Year’s Challenge

Filed under: Hand tool,Sharpening,Skill development — fairwoodworking @ 1:30 pm

I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions, but I’d guess some of you are. So I’d like to offer a suggestion.

Most times that you wander over to your preferred hand tool forum, you will find a thread about someone suffering from the difficulties of sharpening jigs.

Sharpening jigs do one thing. They hold your blade/chisel at one angle (assuming it doesn’t slip out of alignment).

I see regular complaints of blades slipping, forgetting to reset the micro bevel adjustment, the bevel not sharpening square, and on, and on, and on.

As far as I can see, jigs have a number of problems that still have to be solved before you can really call them a solution to sharpening.

My challenge to you guys, that do use jigs is to give freehand sharpening one more real try.

I know that many of you are convinced that free hand just simply is not for you. You tried it, and it seemed like a skill that is not in your grasp. It may be true, and I say that without judgement, but for many of you, I wonder if the way you have set up for sharpening is what beat you.

Here are my thoughts on what could make the difference in making free hand sharpening possible, or near impossible to learn.

1. Don’t try to sharpen on your work bench or kitchen counter top.

Either surface will be too high to get your sharpening motion right.

Part of learning to use hand tools is learning how your body propels the tools, and how using the movement of your joints affects your success of the woodworking activity.

Try this simple activity. Sit up straight, put your pointer fingers and thumbs together so that they make a triangle. Now extend your arms, and then draw them back to your chest.

Now think about how many joints had to move to do that. Trying to sharpen on a high surface requires you to use a lot of joints, and that will make it difficult to keep the angle of the blade uniform through the motion. The first easily missed trick to free hand sharpening, is to use a surface that is roughly the height of your knee caps. That will put it between 20 and 25 inches, and yes, I know that sounds low. The low bench allows you to hold the blade at a comfortable angle to the stones, with your arms fully extended, while bending over some. In this position, your hands, wrists, and elbows need not move, and the only joint you need to focus on not moving is your shoulders. 90% of your motion is done with your legs, and maintaining the same angle is much easier. You just have to make sure that you don’t allow your arms to swing any or it will round the the bevel.

2. Try to develop a hand grip and angle of holding the blade that is the same no mater what angle you want on the blade.

If you always hold the blade the same, it’s easier to keep from letting your wrists move while sharpening. Use your shoulders to adjust the angle by either slouching your shoulders or drawing them back. Picking and sticking with a shoulder position is again an easy thing to do. With each stone you simply pull your shoulders back a tiny bit raising the angle of the bevel.

3. Have all your stones laid out and ready to use right next to each other.

Even with the two first points, having to stop and switch stones on your sharpening station will make you move out of your sharpening position. It takes considerable skill to go back to exactly the same position again, and you will find that trying to achieve that same angle will frustrate you. Instead, having your stones right next to each other will allow you to simply shuffle over a smidgen, and  continue on without distraction.

4. Don’t stress too much over exact angles.

Angles are numbers, so lets leave them for the engineering wing nuts. Sharp is more important than the perfect angle, as you improve, targeting angles will get easier, or you will discover that angles matter very little.

5. Throw out your sharpening jig or give it away.

If you don’t have one you won’t be tempted to fall back on it.

You can do this.

December 26, 2013

A box for all my Jewels

Filed under: Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog — fairwoodworking @ 10:36 am

So…. against my better judgement I decided take a stab at making a box purely with hopes of commercial value. I don’t like woodworking for money, but it seemed like a medium fun way to earn a little extra tool buying money.

IMG_8432 copy

Here it is in all its resplendent glory. As usual, in the end, I’m not totally sold on the dimension. I guess its fine, but the project did sit on the shelf a lot as I wrestled with coming to grips with what it would look like.

IMG_8433 copy

This was my first full scale attempt at flocking the inside.

First rule of flocking?
You don’t want to allow the glue to pool. A thin full covering coat is best.

So what to do with this little guy. I guess I could try to sell it. I’ve been told that there are local places that sell this kind of stuff for real money, but I’d think they’d want more than one box to get going.

I’m not sure I have a long enough attention span for that.

December 22, 2013

Jack of one trade, master of one.

IMG_8428Unless you have a foundry, you can’t turn a jack plane into a scrub plane.  If you camber the iron and set a jack plane up for initial roughing of stock you have, voilà, a freaking jack plane - set up exactly as it was traditionally used. – Larry Williams

As posted in Quotables on Flair Woodworks


There’s a saying out there that goes something like this.

“Never get a framer to do trim carpentry. He will get it done fast, but it will be so sloppy you will have to get it re done. Never get a trim carpenter to do framing. The house will be framed perfectly, but it will take forever.”

If you google “Jack plane” you will most likely get a hit from Wikipedia. In their page they quote Jim Toplin (who I have great respect for), and his belief that the Jack plane is a “Jack of all trades plane”.  He could be right, but I’m pretty sure he is dead wrong. Sorry Jim…

Any bench plane can play the role of jack of all trades to some degree. It all depends on the size of the work to limit its uses. I don’t think the term Jack for planes is any more connected to the “of all trades” than any of the other compound words we commonly build out of the name Jack.

Who’s ever heard of a ‘Jack of all trades hammer‘, or a ‘lumberjack of all trades’, let’s not forget the age-old ‘hijack of all trades’.

Don’t make me laugh, it’s just silly.

So let’s dissect the name Jack Plane. We all know what a plane is so I don’t think we need to study that part, but if you google “history of the name Jack“, you will once again get a Wiki-answer among others. Jack is the old English slang for “man” or even “common man”. The North American equivalent would be “John” where we get John Doe, along with the prostitution term of a John, and we all know what’s happening when you go to the john…?

I think that the name Jack signifies that this plane is for common, unskilled, or rough work. Compare the use of a Jackhammer with finish hammer. Then consider the type of worker who would use the two. A jackhammer requires very little skill, and a lot of rough brawny muscle. A finish hammer is reserved for the skilled hands of a craftsman.


So when I look at the sole of my trusty #5 I don’t see a lot of versatility in it. I once threw it on the lapping plate out of curiosity. It’s not so flat in front of the mouth, and that could be a problem for tear out, so it’s almost worthless as a smoother. It’s also not nearly flat enough in its length to work as a jointer, but rough work?

For fat chunky shavings (though not scrub plane shavings), my #5 has one job, one simple-minded job for a tool that is smart like tractor. My Jack is a Jack of only one trade, but it is also the master of one, just one, simple rough trade.

I’ve read about this argument on other blogs, and if I could find them again, I be happy to give them credit for getting me going on this, but alas, I’m not that smart…

I guess you could say that I don’t know Jack…

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