Fair Woodworking

January 2, 2012

To whom am I speaking?

It is always a treat to learn from other wood workers, but one of my concerns of getting instruction from the experts is that sometimes I feel they have forgotten what it is like to be new in the craft. I have at many times felt like their instruction assumes I would know certain things perhaps because they can’t remember ever not knowing them.
I’m still quite new to woodworking myself but I do find that I also forget where I came from.

I would like to improve this year in the area of appreciating where other woodworkers are at in their abilities. In that, I’m no longer convinced that all tools or methods are appropriate for beginners, and some are not useful for experienced woodworkers. So how I approach a topic should reflect that.

For example. Many people feel that a great plane for a beginner who has no planes is the low angle jack. There reasoning, I feel, is because you can start off as a rough cutting plane with a heavy cut (although the camber is way too shallow, and the blade too wide), and the mouth open wide. Then slowly transitioning to more of a jointer setting by backing off the blade and tightening the mouth. Then again transitioning to an oversize smoother by backing off the blade even more and tightening the mouth as tight as you can get away with. I’ll admit there is much I learned from doing this although I much prefer using the correct tool set up correctly. What did not help was adding advanced ideas like blade angles, or blade swapping. Blade angles are great when you have exhausted all your other basic methods of controlling tear out. Messing around with blade angles on a blade that was just not properly sharpened was simply a waste of time. What I’m saying is. If you cannot get a blade super wicked sharp, not “pretty sharp”, or “I think that’s sharp enough”, unless you can make the blade deadly sharp, higher blade angles are not your solution to tear out.

The problem I see with bevel up planes is that if a beginner knows he can change the bevel angle, he then becomes consumed with getting the perfect angle rather than learning to use their plane properly.

The beauty of the bevel down plane is that the cutting angle is predetermined. Usually at 45 degrees. This forces a beginner to solve tearout by sharpening his/her blade better, tightening the mouth, planing across the grain (or at least knowing the grain direction), or simply not using difficult grains when learning how to use their new plane. Beginners are on the road to heartache when they try to learn to plane while building a tiger maple table top (I’ve tried warning many of them, but few want to listen).

At the same time, for an experienced woodworker who has a full compliment of planes. A LAJ has much less value because they might already have a plane that does a much better job in that area. My jack is more of a shooting plane than anything else these days.

So as you work, and master your tools. Try to take note of the stumbling blocks you face. Chances are you will not be the last to run into them, but you may be able to warn others from what you have learned (that is of course, assuming they want to hear).


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