Fair Woodworking

September 27, 2016

Just call me Champ

Yes I know, much has happened in the past week, and yet again I am at the center of it. I hate to brag about it since I’m sure you already know. I understand how the Monday morning water cooler talk was all a buzz about where you were, and what you were doing when you learned that Fairwoodworking became the Dovetailing Champion Of The World.

You already know about all that, so I need not mention it.


Well I’ve come to learn that winning was the easy part. The parades, the ceremonial mall openings, the charity golf tournaments and working the international talk show circuit (I’ll admit my Mandarin is a little rusty), meeting with government officials and running from all my new found dovetail groupies. It’s not a life I’m familiar with, but don’t worry.

I’m still Jenny from the block.

I’m not changing and neither is the blog.

Well.  Not much anyway.

I’d prefer it if you did call me Champ, and also please don’t look at me directly. Oh. And only speak in hushed tones.

The blog will remain fully accessible to all… that pay their subscription fees on time.

Yes it’s business as usual here at “Champion Of The World Woodworking”.

Did you guys catch where I compared myself to J-Low?

She wishes.

Are you buying this?

I’m certainly not.

While I greatly appreciate the donated prize of a 14″ BadAxe Sash Saw, I really don’t get how a 5:41 time with a 2 card deduction won. You can argue that I’m being modest, or more accurately falsely modest, but I assure you that you have misunderstood. I think my results under the gun, with people watching was fantastic. My only goal was to perform at a level that I could look back on and know I had done the best that I was capable of. Oh, and I really, really, REALLY wanted to better my good friend Neil Cronk.

Done, and DONE!!!

By the narrowest of margins (1 second and 4 point deductions) I win, and this time you can’t claim to have the nicer fit.

EDITORS NOTE – If the next time I’m spotted in public, I have shards of an award winning stool sticking out of the side of my head, don’t call the police. I deserved it…

The thing is I am not especially talented, and also anyone who has seen me work at anything knows I progress at a snail’s pace. I’ve been working on the same chest of drawers for over a year now, and I’ve yet to finish the carcass. The only things I brought to the table was the accumulation of two key skills, a well thought out game plan, and an average of cutting two joints per day for 14 days.

If there is one thing I can brag to the world about it’s that I came prepared, but by that logic, I should also be bragging that every day I manage to leave the house with both my shoes on the right feet.

I should not have won this event, and if I get the chance to compete again, I hope I am obliterated by one of you out there.

Then I’ll crack you on the head and steal your prize!

So let’s see if we can’t bring this in for a landing.

After the completion of the Handtool Olympics, I got a chance to thank Mike Siemsen personally for running the competition. As we talked I commented that as fun as it was to practice and then compete, such a rushed process has no real value to real life dovetails or woodworking. Mike very kindly stopped me right there and in words I have now forgotten, he essentially told me, “you’re wrong, you’ll see”. Since that time I’ve had some time to consider it, and I now believe him to be correct.

Even if you never compete in a dovetail race, you can learn from it, and in the next while I hope to share with you the skills and strategies necessary to cut a fast’ish dovetail.

The first two skills I mentioned above.

  1. Learn how to start a square cut free hand. (for cutting the tails)
  2. Learn how to cut straight down free hand. (for cutting the pins)

If you are looking at this skeptically, hoping that I will tell you that “You can do it big guy!!!”, don’t bother, you can’t.

However, if you are willing to try, and fail, and try, and fail, and keep trying until you succeed? Who knows what will happen.

Either way, hand wringing 101 is one blog over from here.


Additional thanks to Popular Woodworking for a great Popular Woodworking in America I hope to come again next year!







September 17, 2016

Skill vs. Ability

Filed under: Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog — fairwoodworking @ 9:45 pm

Editors note. I wrote this post a few years ago, and after todays events I thought it appropriate to re post.

Skill vs. Ability

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If you are one of those people that seem to be good at everything the first time you try it?

You can go screw yourself!!!

No not really…

Well, maybe just a little.

Unlike the rest of us, you jerks, have some kind of natural ability, and it lets you adapt to new things much quicker than us mortals.

But, don’t take us too lightly, you superhuman weenies.

We have a little trick up our sleeves that in the long run, will even the playing field.

We will develop skill!

It won’t happen today, or tomorrow, but one day!



Our hard earned skills will rival your freakish adaptive abilities, and perhaps even exceed them.

Yes one day you won’t be able to look down on us any more!

For we will be soaring far above you with wings of skill!

And we will hope that you never, ever practice to develop more skill of your own, or you will become better than us again.

And we will hate you once more.


If you follow me on instagram you may have seen that I’ve taken a serious interest in placing well at cutting dovetails in the Handtool Olympics that took place at Popular Woodworking in America. My only hope was just to place well. Although I admittedly wanted to win, I didn’t’ believe I was at that level.

Perhaps the competition was not at its best this year, I don’t know.  But somehow practiced skills won out over abilities today, and I am the damed champion of the dovetail world.

I hope to talk more about this in the near future because there is a valuable lesson to learn here, but the long and the long and the short of it for now is this.

The will to win is not as important as the will to prepare to win.

September 10, 2016

The Man in the Mirror

Short story, I’m a lame techno geek, and I’m too easily obsessed with things that probably were intended to just be fun.

See? That wasn’t so painful?

Ok. Long story?

Hand tool skill is the culmination of many finer, smaller skills that can really be a trick to pull together. As a beginner I was just happy if I didn’t cut myself. As you improve, your internal skill monologue grows, and good motions are obvious in a sea of bad motions. That is if you can remove yourself from the task at hand and watch yourself working. Unfortunately, that level of self awareness is pretty much impossible so you really only have two options. Get someone as skilled as you or better to watch you work, or film yourself with your handy digital camera as God intended.

For the past week I’ve been practicing cutting fast dovetails to compete in the Handtool Olympics at the upcoming Popular Woodworking in America, and I’ve found right off the bat it was less about working fast as it was removing every best practice that was not absolutely necessary.


No Marking gauge

No dividers

No Dovetail markers

Marking knives are a no, and…

My beloved shallow rebate on the back of the tails?


Heck! Tails first is even out the window since I’m pretty sure pins first is faster.

All I’m left with is a Dovetail saw (no crosscut saw), a fret saw, one chisel, a pencil and a mallet.

I feel like such a minimalist!!!

Once I got comfortable, I was sure I could be faster, so I tried to work quicker, and wouldn’t you know it? My times got slower… How could that be?

What I’m coming to realize is that speed is not about rushing so much as it is about removing the slow bits. The hesitations, the missteps. When you make a mistake or are inefficient with your movements the penalty is wasted time, and possibly the need to fix a mistake.

So I got out my camera and shot this little video. It’s pretty easy to see where I’m loosing time.

How I handle the wood, keeping track of what side is the inside, and what is the show side. – If you always place each piece down exactly how you will need it, you don’t have to rearrange later.

Hesitations and lurches with the saw. – I’d thought my sawing skills were pretty solid, and they aren’t really that bad, but it still isn’t a true extension of my arm.

Transferring the pins to the tails. – What a mess, I really need to relax at this point.

How I handle the chisel. – I’m actually pretty happy with it. I feel I’ve really improved in that part although I totally blasted past the base line on one spot of the tail board.

Anyways, feel free to have a look and see if you can pick out some of the flaws in my actions, then chuckle to yourself when you see that I split the pin board.

Ah well. It happens some times.

Who would have thought I’d have so much fun practicing?


If you want to see how the pros do it, watch Mike Siemsen go head to head with Frank Klausz.

August 8, 2016

Neil Cronk – Bad with a secret, pain in my side.

Filed under: I Think I'm Funny,Video — fairwoodworking @ 10:46 pm

Remember back in the good old days when you could tell a friend a secret and you knew it was safe with them? Well perhaps I just don’t know who my friends are, but you would think he’d have the decency to keep quiet about one of the greatest finds of the ancient world.

The Ancient Art of Zig-Zag Rule Charming.

About 2 years ago I discovered some old text in a dusty basement that has completely changed my view of hand tools.

The old ones are alive!

And this video proves it!

Thanks for spilling the beans on my research Neil.

We are no longer friends.


Editors note 08/09/16 – For the sake of journalistic integrity, of witch I have none, and just in case any of you are taking any of this seriously, Neil is one of my best friends. It is in response to a tweet he made yesterday that went something like this. “ From what told me in DMs is his next vid is going to have all original mouth harp music.”

Thanks for the inspiration Neil. 

Can you believe I slammed out that sweet harmonica solo in one take??!!!???


August 7, 2016

How I flatten a board. THE MOVIE.

Filed under: Skill development,Video — fairwoodworking @ 6:37 pm

So yesterday, as I came to the end of my day, I finished with resawing some boards that will ultimately become the raised panels for a frame and panel back I’m doing. I find resawing to be very stressful to the wood itself, and it takes a day for it to come to grips with its own new existence.

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With nothing left to do but one final sweep up, I often will sit back on my shop stool and enjoy one last of my favorite songs, or two.

Today, with the boards nicely bent out of shape, they have come to grips with their new thinness, and are ready for flattening once again.

As I was working I started thinking about one of my most read posts. It’s an overly wordy, post with a million and one pictures on flattening a board that I still think does not fully capture my process, and when I say my, it is my own way of flattening, that I developed, on my own through trial and error.

I don’t know if anyone has ever been able to decode that post, but when I’ve shown people in person, they seem to get it a little better.

Since you all can’t fit in my shop at one time, I thought it may be better if I grab the camera, and its freshly charged battery, and shoot a quick video.

3 hours later….

Here you go.

How many of you caught me break my own rule, and mistakenly plane the wrong place?

Ya well screw you. It’s flat now isn’t it?

July 23, 2016

Love the one you’re with.

Filed under: Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog — fairwoodworking @ 10:20 pm

You know those losers that never actually build anything real? Oh sure they’re always installing another cabinet in their shop or rearranging the tool layout, but you know real stuff.


How bout you grow a pair and just make something?

Anyways, I was listening to a woodworking podcast the other day, I think it was Woodtalk, and there was a very common question asked by a listener.

“I’m new to woodworking, and I’m on a tight budget. How do I get a sweet shop like you guys have?”

Something like that.

Boy I relate to that question from when I first got started.

They all gave solid answers so I’m not going to dump on any of them. The thing that got to me was that the underlying issue never seems to leave us.

Few of us ever really get our sweet deam shop, I certainly doubt I’ll ever get mine, but I don’t think that’s reason to give up or despair.

When I switch my brain to woodshop la la land, I’d say I have a top three favorite dream shops.

3. An antique train car.

No, not a box car stupid! A passenger car, with a wood stove and the whole bit.

Ya I know. Kick ass!

2. An old school house.

I think we all dream of this one.

And finally…

1. A converted street corner bar complete with drop down windows so the warm night air can gently waft past my bench. There’d be big window awnings  for shade, and flower beds under each window that someone else maintained.

I have the best dream shops.

The truth is, I doubt I’d be happy with any of them in the end.

Let’s start with the train car.

Every woodworker wants ample window space, and what shop would have more?

Yes a train car would be F*#@ing rad except that with such a long narrow shop, nearly half the floor space would be wasted with making a clear path to walk through. Sure would be cool though.

An old school house would have a lot more usable space and nearly as much natural light, but school houses live hard lives. Most that I’ve seen are out in the country assimilated into farm life. Really, what self respecting farmer wouldn’t see one of these treasures as a perfectly suitable barn or chicken coup?

I’ve seen it.


I’m pretty certain in most cases building a reproduction school house would be easier and more cost effective than restoring some semi condemned structure.

At least my number one dream still has some legs…


Dude. I live in Canada.

I made the mistake of looking at the corner store front idea with my reality brain instead of dreamy brain once.

Even in the summer without the heat of direct sunlight, its cool at all but the best of times. If you’re looking for a warm night breeze, you better be standing near the business end of a well fed cow.

Looks like I’m never going to get a dream shop I can be happy with, and perhaps that’s ok. Dreams aren’t real. In dreams you can fly and breathe underwater.

Recently it occurred to me that as screwy as dreams are, they usually are based in reality. And so, what are the common realities of my dream woodshops.

You can’t see into my dream shop so I’ll have to tell you…

Outside of the obvious of them being awesome, they all were clean, tools were close at hand and they all had some of my favorite music playing on a real stereo.

All of these things are possible if I choose to make them happen. At the same time only one has anything to do with woodworking or really, productivity.

And that got me to thinking. Could it be, the perfect shop isn’t so much about the perfect location and more about any set of walls and windows that you’re simply happy to be. Do you like being in the room you call your shop?


If not is there any small thing you could change that would make it better?

When we moved into this house I had the choice of either an unheated garage that I’d share with our cars or  a tiny basement bedroom. The one offered more than enough space for me, but would be impossibly cold in the winter and uncomfortably hot in the summer. The basement bedroom is warm in the winter and pleasantly cool in the summer. Sure anything that goes in or out of that room has to go down the stairs and through a narrow hallway, and ripping 8′ sheet goods is physically impossible on the table saw, but it’s also very dangerous to operate a table saw while wearing a parka. I know. I’ve tried.

In my books, no amount of workspace or easy access is a good tradeoff for the risk of hypothermia.

In the long run, I know I’m more productive in an overly small but comfortable shop vs a large one that I don’t like to use without notifying next of kin.

Considering the cost of time and money in my case, the basement bedroom was a clear winner. The thing is that many basement shops are more like dungeons than dream shops. It’s easy to simply set up shop amidst storage boxes and old bicycles, and if you’re comfortable like that great! If you’re not, and you do have the freedom to improve your environment a little, you have two choices. Invest some time making it better now, or don’t and complain about how everyone else has a better shop.

I for one, want my shop to be a place I like to be. Even if I’m not working on something. A place that is comfortable enough to hang with a friend, or get some real work done, so much of my time for now will be on making my shop better.

And I’m ok with that.

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It’s certainly better than mowing the lawn in the rain, or shoveling snow.

Ahhhh…. Canadian summers.

June 4, 2016

Thinking outside the box, and inside the chest

Filed under: Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog,I Think I'm Funny — fairwoodworking @ 2:01 pm

This blog is a broken record.

But let’s back up a bit.

One of my favorite things in the world is to make fun of my friends and family, people I like and also enemies or those I simply don’t really like. Did I miss anyone? Essentially, I’m happy to play the jerk if it entertains me. And so, for opportunists like me, the entertainment of mocking the topic of Anarchy is an absolute riot. (See what I did there?)

If you follow me on Twitter you may have seen some of these glimmers of comedic brilliance.


  • It must suck to be an anarchist with OCD.

“Oh no! The flames are too high on the right side of the car!”

Nice! Or how about;

  • If your throwing arm feels off balance without a lighter in your off hand… (Jeff Foxworthy voice)

You might be an Anarchist.

Ha, ha, ha. I know, I know,


Now available!

  • The Aesthetic Anarchists Emergency Kit.

Some assembly required.


Ya, you’re right, the last one is revolting…


*Jazz Hands*…..

Seriously though, I’m torn with this Anarchy thing. I should point out that most of what I’ve written on the topic is horribly inaccurate, and should not be taken seriously. I agree with Chris’ views in the Anarchist Tool Chest but at the same time I’ve seen what some other modern Anarchist (the non pitch fork/Molotov type Anarchists) believe, and I’d honestly rather associate with Vegans.

But this is besides the point. As nutty as I think Anarchy is, many would say the same about my non-belief in Human Rights vs. what I’d prefer as Human Respect.

Note to self. Never again attempt to dispute this with 140 Characters on Twitter… (or in the comments below) thank you very much.

Back to the broken record…

Where today’s imaginary Love affair with Christopher Schwarz continues, is on the topic of the benefits of the self-limiting, yet fully functional tool chest.

But not so much the tool chest.

Today, I’m talking about the self-limiting and functional workshop, and I think I can speak to life in a self-limiting workshop.

In the book, and I’m ultra loosely paraphrasing cause I couldn’t find it, and now that I think of it, it may have been in a blog post or video or fantasy conversation , “if a tool doesn’t fit in the chest, perhaps you don’t need it”. This talk of need to have and nice to have? It was a foreign concept when I first read it in 2011 and I’ve been resisting it for some 5 years now.

Also, I don’t know if it’s an Anarchy thing, or just an English Tool Chest thing, but the idea of accessibility is huge.

It really is something how one chest can hold so many tools, and yet everything is accessible by moving only one other thing. There is video of this I’m sure, if you haven’t seen it, go find it… somewhere.

So what happens if you adapt these two ideas to a workshop?

Talk about workshop layout normally focuses around the idea of a work triangle, but in a workshop under 150 square feet, I’m not sure I could fit a triangle and still be able to move.

Some shop owners say their table saw is the center of their shop, others the workbench. In a small shop it’s not the tool or the bench, but the task that is the center, and everything else in the shop must move to accommodate it.

The problem is that moving stuff wastes time, and while I may never incorporate the “Anarchists” English Tool Chest into my shop, now that I see its advantages, I’d be a fool not to imitate it in my shop design. In a shop where you really can’t work at the bench when the bandsaw is in place, you can’t use the bandsaw when the thickness planer is set up, and it’s tricky to get in and out of the shop when either is not in storage, how do you transition from one to the other without wasting a day in set up?

Well for starters, you simply have to accept that you can’t own every industrial sized tool known to man, but really I think we all have to do that.

The second?

Like the ATC or English Chest, as many tools as possible need to be able to rearrange without the world coming to an end. In the chest, the tills all slide front to back, and the tools in each till are loose and can easily be re organized from till to till to accommodate the current task. Be it layout or joinery or whatever, the necessary tools can be close at hand and the others safely tucked away nearby. So how do you make the layout of your shop be as adaptable as the chest and still be functional?



Dude! I think I just reinvented the wheel!

Ya, I know that casters have been in workshops forever. In fact, I’m pretty sure that is what they were invented for, but what if you really took casters seriously?

100% buy-in on the idea?

What if everything in a shop that was touching the ground, that isn’t a woodworker or a workbench was on casters?

Still not impressed huh?

Ya well, my shop is going to be a lot bigger once I can roll ALL of it out of the way, or even out the door and into the hallway.

That would give me the space to move my bench into the center of the room when I want, and still have room to work. It also means that I could fit more tools in the shop if I want, and also have a second work bench where this ugly pile of Rubbermaid and clutter now lives.


Now that I think of it, with two benches, I’d be that much closer to an honest to goodness work triangle.

Well I can dream…


May 4, 2016

Help me earn Five Dollars

Filed under: Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog,I Think I'm Funny — fairwoodworking @ 1:00 pm

For those of you that don’t know, blogging is not the most affordable of hobbies.  What with the basic rum budget and paying my 5 year old niece in ice cream to help me work the spell checker machine, it’s hard to make ends meet.

It would be nice if the blog could help pay for itself.

Thank goodness for Russian mail order bride websites.

It seems if I can get 10 people to sign up for email notification of my new blog posts, these good Russian web sites will pay me a minimum of $5 for your information.

It’s as easy as that. You sign up and I get 5 bucks. Actually its 5 rubles, but that should at least cover the cost of the ice cream to pay my neice to collect your information.

Thanks in advance from the Fairwoodworking Marketing Department.

February 25, 2016

Hey you kids! Get off my airspace!

When I started this blog some 4 and a bit years ago, it was all about me. I started it to fulfill a need to document my journey in woodworking.

My blog, about me, for my sake.

Me, me, me, me, me.

Over the years, I’ll admit that I’ve gotten a little distracted with petty man crushes, sharing what I’ve learned, and the promotion of getting out there and meeting other woodworkers.

For this I am very sorry.

I meant no harm in it all, but in truth, I must admit I have strayed from my sacred task.

I forgot who the most important woodworker in my life was.

That woodworker is me, and so I owe myself one very sincere apology.

So let me return to the golden era of fairwoodworking where I was content to post what ever tickled my fancy, not for the good of mankind, but for my sake. So that in the years to come when I lack the strength to work in my shop, I can still look back and marvel at how truly brilliant I really am. “What a fine lad”, I’ll say as I struggle to impress an uninterested nurse.

Those will be good days.

It hasn’t happened for a while, but every now and then I get the urge to make a video. Lately it hasn’t so much been videos, but honest to goodness feature films. Unfortunately, I had no script or even a worthwhile story line.


I did however stumble onto some really great soundtrack sounding music, and I have a video camera, so how could this go wrong?

What ever could go right while chopping out the waste from half blind dovetails?

How can that be interesting?

What can you learn from watching my video nay Feature Film?

Don’t care!

This is my blog, and I’ll make videos of what I want.


February 16, 2016

A fresh start at social woodworking

Filed under: Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog — fairwoodworking @ 1:38 am

Well I for one enjoyed much of this past long weekend in my shop, and it’s safe to say that I spent more time in the shop these last three days than I think I did in the past three months. Quite frankly, I’m exhausted! Not physically, and not really intellectually. It’s hard to verbalize, but let’s give it a try.

I’m exhausted… detail-ally. My attention to detail muscles are aching. After the uncomfortable realization that I hadn’t cut a dovetail in over a year and a half, I quickly rediscovered a number of hand skills I’d allowed to fade into the background.

What I’m saying is. It’s easy for one guy to allow his hobby to slip away with all the distractions that life has to offer despite the fact that it’s really not all that difficult to get just one guy into a workshop located in his basement from time to time.

The logistics are simple, but motivation can be a problem.

What happens if you hope to woodwork at a social level?

Last month, I got on a rant about woodworking clubs, and vowed that Me and my friend were going to get together and show those useless clubs how it’s done!

And we did.

There was no guest speaker, there was no presidents speech. There was no $70 renewal fee.

But there was wood, and there were sharp things to work the wood, and wood was worked!

Yes, two dudes were working wood in one of their shops. OH, and let’s not forget the pan of cupcakes leftover from my nieces birthday party!


It was a good start.

Next weekend will be our second meeting. I’m really looking forward to it, and excited that we expect to see two new members to our little non-club woodworking group. Four dudes working wood… I can’t really picture how we’re going to make that happen, and just like that, logistics are no longer all that simple. Not many shops can handle four people, but it’s something I’m willing to try to make work. Somehow we have to make this work! How many of us out in the woodworking blogosphere dream of having three other woodworkers to hang out with?

I know that when logistics and multiple schedules are involved, bumping elbows in a dusty shop will need motivation from all members. I hope we all are up to the challenge, otherwise it will be easy to let this group go the way of the 18 month dovetail.

Stay tuned as I/we attempt a Fresh start at social woodworking.


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