Fair Woodworking

November 21, 2017

A (not so) Brief thank you to the Armchair Woodworkers

Filed under: Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog,My early days of woodworking — fairwoodworking @ 12:30 pm

Yesterday, I got into a rather heated argument with a coworker. She’s decided that she wants to be a woodworker, and was telling me about something she was planning on making, (assuming I could loan her some tools), and then proceeded to explain how steps that I’ve been trying to master for years were easy.

I asked her how she knew it was easy.

It got a little tense at this point.

When I’d finally dragged out the answer, “I saw it on Youtube”, she then explained that she learned differently than I did. I learn from doing where as she learned by watching, or some BS like that.

The conversation ended when I called her an armchair woodworker, a term I’m sure she’d never heard before.

Six years ago, I’d decided that I really never wanted to have a conversation like this again. It’s unproductive, unpleasant, and not really great for a relationship. It was in essence, the backbone of every woodworking forum of the day. The forums may be different now, as it has been at least six years past, but at the time it was a lot of talk, and almost no do. A bunch of almost woodworkers telling other wanabe woodworkers what they’ve heard actual woodworkers tell real beginner woodworkers how to do something, and I didn’t want to be a part of that anymore. I also didn’t want to waste the time of sharing my thoughts and content to a medium that regularly frustrated me with its stagnant worthlessness.

And so thanks to an encouraging post from Chris Schwarz  I joined the ranks of blogger. Most of us upstarts will never become famous by way of the blog, but then that was never my goal, and really, how many woodworking bloggers get stopped in the grocery store for autographs?… Well, other than The Champ…? Either way, having a blog is a great place to call home. I’m not wordy enough to do a blog justice, but I think it’s a pretty good place to contain your larger thoughts, and from time to time, get a larger snapshot of what’s going on in your life.

I was recently listening to a podcast where Dan Carlin, one of the greatest podcasters ever, was the guest. He recommended that it’s not always about building the largest audience.  If I can put words in his mouth, a smaller, more engaged audience is worth more than the millions that you see from the Kardashian types.

This is good news since I’d rather spend my money on new tools or wood rather than a boob job.

Thank you to all of you that are reading this, even if you’re still an armchair woodworker.

Blog on!



November 10, 2017

The End Was Nigh!!!…

Filed under: Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog — fairwoodworking @ 11:35 am


It’s not easy being The Champ.

Well that’s not true, I come by it naturally, but if you try really hard you may be able to remember life before The Champ was crowned.

About 5 years ago, give or take a couple of years, I was messing around with the settings of the blog page, and that was when I discovered the countdown function. I summoned up all my mystical powers. I declared the “End of the world as we know it”, and punched in October 26, 2017 for the date.

I was wrong by about half a day.

I know what you’re thinking, the world didn’t end, you’re still here and so is The Champ, but I never predicted the end of the world. Just the world as we know it.

Now I don’t know what you think about the mystical “art” of fortune telling/trolling(???), but the world as we know it can change in the blink of an eye. The world of this writing may be gone by the time you read it. Who is to know?

The truth is that it was rather convenient that I took my first shaving from my first hand made plane just 12 hours’ish from my prediction to forever change the world by becoming a wooden plane user.

Either way perhaps you should now refer to me as The Prophet Champ.

A few hours later this happened.


I have a new plane addiction.

If you think you may need another addiction, you can sign up for the Scott Meek #threeplaneclass HERE or you can order one made by Scott himself HERE.

Either way you won’t be disappointed.

September 12, 2017

Toothing Your Bench. The Deconstruction of Bench Destruction, 6 Months Later.

Filed under: Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog — fairwoodworking @ 9:18 pm

Last March I had a little stroke of good fortune. As occasionally happens at work, I had a four day weekend coming up. At the same time, one of our national airlines was having a seat sale, and Lie-Nielsen was having a Hand Tool Event in Cincinnati. As a result, what started out as a hair-brained scheme, somehow got the blessing of my loving wife.

While there, I got the chance to talk to a number of really interesting people including Raney Nelson (little tip, he’d prefer you didn’t bring up Public Education…), and Scott Meek, who’s Three Plane Class is just a month away and I can hardly wait to go!!!!

But that has nothing to do with today’s topic.

During the Hand Tool Event, Lost Art Press also had one of their open houses, where I got to spend some real time examining the Low Roman Bench before I built it.

And a Staked High Stool, that I had never ever planned on making.

But that also has nothing to do with today’s topic.

Near the end of the open house I got a quick chance to talk to Chris about toothing bench tops. I’ve been intrigued by the concept for a while now. I even got a plane and blade for this one task… and then built a softwood bench.

The thing about softwood is that it is a little soft and spongy. This both increases grip, and also makes it a little delicate, and so I’d assumed it was both unnecessary, and produced a weaker surface. Despite my unfounded opinion, Chris asked if I’d be willing to try it if only to see what happens.

Well Chris… This post is for you, and this is what happened. (even though you probably don’t remember the conversation, and you were probably already thinking about your first beer of the night.)

Before I get into what happened, I want to address what I’ve found to be the most common argument against toothing your bench. It is most often shared in the form of a question like this, “Why would I want to risk ruining a perfectly good workbench by toothing it? What if I don’t like it?”

Answer – If toothing your bench will ruin your bench (Said in a Jeff Foxworthy voice), You might not be a woodworker!

Toothing planes have little tiny teeth, the toothing process is done after the first pass, and if you don’t like it, it could be removed in one thin shaving of a jointer plane. If such a resurrection is outside of your skill set, so is flattening your bench.

But enough of belittling my readers.

Toothing, as I understand it, is to increase the grippy-ness of your bench so when you clamp something to it or are simply working on the bench, your work will be less likely to slip away on you.

I will be honest and say that I really didn’t notice a difference after the toothing, well, not really until I went to sweep some shavings off the bench and saw how much dust had accumulated. I think I hadn’t noticed because the dust had settled in the grooves of the toothing???

So yes, I think you will find it a little bit morether grippyer, but I don’t think it’s a game changer.

Also, all those little ridges were not strong enough to withstand the wear and tear of woodworking life, and as  you can see, in the last 6 months, it is quite dinged up as well. So on a softwood bench, it really doesn’t last that long.

But there was one aspect that I didn’t expect that may make this process worth doing after all.

Toothing creates a texture that you can both see at almost any angle, and also feel. A quick pass over the bench would leave noticeable tracks on any missed high spots, and leave bare any low areas as well. After flattening, a quick toothing blends the whole bench together, and I kinda like that.

Like most other woodworking techniques, toothing is no magic bullet, but I’m pretty sure this is not my last bench that will face this treatment.

Hardwood, or soft.


June 7, 2017

From Crate, to School Box, to a Chest of Drawers. 178 Years Later.

Filed under: Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog,Things I've made — fairwoodworking @ 7:08 pm

“In 1839, an English publisher issued a small book on woodworking…”

In 2009, an American publisher re-issued a small book on woodworking that had recently been discovered by Joel Moskowitz.

The identity of the original writer is unknown, anonymous if you will, and a kindred spirit to this blog I’d like to think, although it’s a much more valuable resource on the topic of woodworking.

The book is called The Joiner & Cabinet Maker, and its three projects have been an underlying part of this blog, literally since just shy of its inception. It tells the story of a young boy named Thomas as he enters into apprenticeship in a rural English shop. When you read of my thoughts that question if I’m anything more than a mid-level apprentice, chances are I’ve been reviewing some part of the book, and let’s face it, The Champ needs a good dose of reality from time to time to keep his ego in check.

Anyways, over the past 5 years, I’d decided to make these three projects to see what I could learn from them.

The first project was the Packing Crate.


I should mention a dilemma that anyone that has done these projects has to face. Sourcing out the building material known in the book as “deal”.  There have been many discussions as to what type of wood this is, and I’m sure in the end, it was correctly identified, but the long and the short of it was that neither your local lumber yard nor your local Home Depot is going to have what Young Thomas would have known as Deal. And so in the interest of historical accuracy, I did what any self respecting woodworker should do. I went shopping for some really nice dimensional lumber. Call me a bottom feeder if you want, but like many of us, my very first woodworking projects were made with the off-cuts from local constructions sites, but over the years, I’ve learned much on harvesting some very usable wood out of some of the worst of trees.

The second project is the School Box.


Neither of these projects were difficult at the time I built them. I’d been cutting dovetails for a while at this point, and who doesn’t know how to drive a nail into softwood? What I did discover in both cases is that using nails correctly is much more than just trying not to miss the nail with the hammer. These days, nails are associated with cheap work. Back then nails were expensive and not to be wasted.  If you have never tried these two projects, you probably don’t know how badly you need to learn what they teach.

The third project took a while to get to as a Chest of Drawers is somewhat large in size, and at the time we really had no need for more drawers. Then came some work instability, and the discovery that we could very well be facing a move to the other side of the country. The result was a 3 year hiatus from the book to uproot, move, and then set up shop again.

Part of a big move is liquidating anything large that you don’t absolutely need to keep, but somehow once we got here,  we still didn’t really need another set of drawers. Then I bought one of my larger tools, and for the sake of my back, I needed a mobile place to store it.

Something that could hold my 90 lb thickness planer that could also store some lesser used tools?

Like a set of drawers?


This was the first piece that turned me on to the idea that everything in a small shop should be on casters.

And so this…


Became this.

And this.

Actually, I’m getting ahead of myself. Remember how I said that I was using dimensional lumber to build these projects?

You start by repeated visits to the lumber store. You hunt through the 2×12 piles, then the 2×10 piles. Then you go back to the 2×12, and an hour later, hopefully, you are standing in line with a board or two of promising material.

When you get home, you start with removing the pith.

Then you cut the boards to length. What length is that? Well… From one unusable knot to the next. The local lumber is very knotty spruce and hardly ideal for the application, but hey! Who doesn’t love such a great way to suffer? Essentially, at this point I’m not cutting to a cut list, I’m getting maximum yield, letting it dry, and seeing what I have to work with. As you can see above, the usable boards are not very wide  (4 to 6 inches). When the cabinet depth is over 20″, almost everything in this project had to be made by laminating multiples to width. The longer boards were used right away for the carcass, the shorter were saved for drawers, drawer bottoms, dust covers and such.

Now would be a good time to head back to the lumber store. (again, and again, and again)

There were piles of it.


The truth is, this is not at all how the drawers were in the book. This is not a dresser, it’s shop furniture. In the book the three lowest drawers are the full width, only the top is split into two. Because of the weight I expected this to hold and the weakness of the building material, I chose to split all the drawers with a full center stile.

I should say right now, I’m not much of a furniture guy. By that I mean, I have never really paid much attention to either furniture style or how it was made. Although I was absolutely competent in any of the tasks necessary for this project, I quickly discovered that I didn’t always know what task I should be doing.

The design change of adding a center stile made me rethink the entire makeup of how to lay out the pieces that would finally complete as functional drawer runners. Do you look at it as two separate sets of drawers and run six  shorter divisions that just run into the center stile? Or do you stick with three and notch out the center stile. Or do you notch both out so as much of the weight of the drawers as possible is transferred to the center? I went with option number 3.

I saved the very best of the longest pieces to build the back.

I’d never heard of a frame and panel for a back, but it gave an opportunity to pretty up the one side that would only rarely be seen.

I even got some sweet pyramid head screws to secure it.

Unfortunately, much of my efforts to give it some pop…

Just made it look like a big old bum in a black thong, and a little bit of a muffin top to keep it classy. I went through great effort to first off, color match the two panels, and then avoid getting paint on them, just to paint them black in the end.

I had some fun chamfering the top.

I’d never done any piece that large before. That was a challenge.

By this point my piles of smaller pieces for drawers were getting out of control.


Each board was then resawn, and acclimatized, re-flattened, and pre dimensioned.

Thankfully, I now had extra storage for pieces as they were earmarked for specific parts.

The durability for the drawers was another challenge. Spruce is soft, and both the runners and the drawers themselves could end up failing quickly if there was much weight in them. Switching to oak for the runners was easy enough.

Laminating a strip of oak to the bottoms of the drawer sides was another minor design change.


And then Dovetails,



As I said before, I’m not a furniture guy. This project really opened my eyes to what all these skills I’d been accumulating were actually for.


And that my friends is how you build a chest of drawers in just under 2 years.

May 13, 2017

How to Break in a Binding. According to My Dad. I Think.

Filed under: Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog,Favorites — fairwoodworking @ 6:54 pm

When I was a teenager, my Dad sat me down for “The Talk”.

He said, “Son. You can tell a lot about a person by how they treat their books”.

What “talk” were you thinking about?

Like my Dad, I’m not a skilled reader, and as a High School drop-out, I am the better educated of the two of us. Despite our inability to cope with the classroom, both of us in our own time have learned the value of a well written, and/or well made book.

We don’t use books as coasters, and we don’t fold the corners of pages to mark our place. That’s what book marks are for. Writing thoughtful comments on the pages was acceptable, but since my hand writing is worse that my reading, I abstain.

Part of our “talk” was a demonstration of how to break in a new book. A book is only as strong and the binding, and it’s a sad thing when it splits. I don’t remember where my Dad learned this, and I’ll admit I was only half listening. Heck, some of you who know more may not believe it’s even necessary, but if for nothing else, it’s a great way to say hello to a new friend.

Editors note 05/14/17 – It’s been brought to my attention, that a noted Journalist by the name of Christopher Schwarz addressed a similar topic a number of years ago. It is quite possible that my method is just a heavily watered down version of the same technique.

April 13, 2017

The 3 Minute Dovetail Challenge

Filed under: dove tail,dovetail,Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog,Skill development,Video — fairwoodworking @ 8:13 pm

Seven months ago I got a little hooked on cutting fast dovetails. You may think it’s silly, but it’s no different that racing the 1/4 mile or timing how fast you can complete a level on your favorite video game. Shortly after I started, I competed in the WIA Handtool Olympics and was very surprised when I won the Dovetail competition with a time of 5 min 41 sec.  That is a good time, even a very good time, but for some reason I didn’t believe it was what should have been a winning time. I’ve written before about how I’m not really comfortable with the idea that as a joke, I have blown way out of proportion.

You do realize you are reading the immortal words of The Champ right?

By the time I’d returned home from WIA, I’d become very dissatisfied with my accomplishment, although I was still thrilled with the Bad Axe Saw I won! I knew I could do better, I needed to do better to feel that I’d earned one of the nicest saws I’d never paid for.

Since that time I’ve cut countless dovetails in secret. I’ve studied tape both my own and that of the masters, I’ve tried new techniques, and reworked old ones. Really, I’ve a little bit obsessed on a silly little task to see what I, an ordinary guy with very ordinary skills, could do.

I had to bite my lip when I discovered that a regular guy could get under the 4 min mark. I had to sit down and stare at the wall for a while, when I reached 3 min 30 sec, and wonder how this was possible. I remember the day I discovered that I was just 9 seconds short of Mike Siemsen’s time, and had to go back to re-watch the video to be sure it wasn’t running slow. (In Mikes defense, if you have ever really watched that video, you will see that Mike made a couple mistakes he’s probably never made in the past ten years, and had it not been for that, he would have come pretty close to Franks time.)

Somewhere during this process, I had passed that arbitrary number that I thought was a “respectable” winning time, but there was still the Holy Grail. My hero! Frank is the supreme grand poobah of dovetails.

And that was my White Whale.

When you get in to the 3 min mark, every movement counts. The 3 min mark is a time I hit a lot for a good long time. Really after that point you feel like you have to take the rotation of the earth into account to improve. 2:36 is a time that I knew had the potential to elude me for years.

If you’ve watched the video you now know that just about anything is possible.  As I mentioned in the video, it was just a test run. I’d hit a bit of a wall and as I mentioned, I have found that recording a run gives you a chance to see what you are doing wrong.

Apparently I did something right this time, but I also saw some little nagging issues that I’ve been working on resolving.

I know I goof off a lot here on the blog and on other forms of social media. I talk a lot of trash, and claim to be some big shot. I’m just having fun. Most of what I say is at best a partial truth, but this next statement is as real as I can make it.

There is an amazing amount of skill locked inside of your hands. It will remain locked until you put in the work to release it. No amount of positive thinking will do what a little hard work and determination will do.

You can’t because you don’t, not because you don’t believe. Belief comes from seeing the accomplishments you previously thought were impossible.

I’d also like to give a shout out to those of you out there in Instagram land that seem to have grabbed a hold of this idea and are diving into this challenge already. Watching you guys (hopefully one day it will include some girls) fills me with glee. Let’s make the next Handtool Olympics a blood bath of killer times!

April 9, 2017

Consider pins first with a withering eye

You are not getting any younger. Unlike myself who is ageless and perfect, you are getting older with every word you are reading. And so, I don’t want to waste anyone’s time with same old arguments in pins vs tails.

Actually that’s not true.

Although whenever I’m looking to make a dovetail look or fit really good, I’ll pretty quickly go to tails first. But in the case of the historically accurate dovetail, good enough was good enough for 99% or possibly even 100% of the time. I think perfect dovetails, as much as I love them, are a modern misinterpretation of a historically un-exotic joint.

Recently while discussing the low Roman work bench the thought came up that on such a low bench, it’s nearly impossible to transfer from tails to pins because it’s so low and doesn’t have a vise.

So there you go.

Strike number one for tails-first. You need just the right type of bench to transfer. Conversely you could transfer from pins to tails while sitting on the sidewalk nearly as easily as any of your most functional workbenches. Now that I think about it, I can hardly think of a step in tails first that doesn’t call out for a better tool or a slick new idea to make the next step easier. You need a vise, and some thing to rest the tail board on while you transfer so the other end doesn’t wobble in the air. You need shallow rebate, you need a thin marking knife, you need dividers. And that all seems odd seeing as they are promoted by being easier than pins first because you don’t have to perfectly cut to the lines on the tails.

As true as this is, I gotta stop you for a sec…

Are we not woodworkers? Are we not to at least some degree Handtool Woodworkers? Have we not belittled power tool only types with how we don’t need to know the angles of cuts because we just strike a line and cut to it? Is not the line of the dovetail striken, striked, struck… for our sawing pleasure?

Yes, with all the gizmos, tails first is easier for beginners, but you should only be a beginner in the beginning. Once you get some experience, sawing to a line shouldn’t be that difficult. We really need to get past this very weak argument.

Ever try to saw to a knife line in bad lighting? That’s right. You need a work light to get that sweet raking light. But you only need the raking light for the knife line. In most woods a pencil line is easier to see, especially as you get older and your vision starts to fade. But a pencil won’t fit between the tails when we do those smart looking narrow London pattern dovetails. Not a problem if you’re pins first.

It’s just a thought.  I’m probably wrong. But what if the predecessors of our hard core pins first advocates didn’t really care what method was easier for the apprentices to learn. What if what they really cared about was that their method be possible no matter where the next job took them. Good bench, no bench. Good raking morning light, or a grey cloudy day. Young clear eyes of an apprentice or the weak old eyes of the master.

As I’ve gotten older, and I resisted accepting that I may need reading glasses. Switching to pins may be worth considering for my withering eyes.

Ahh… Who am I kidding? I got two work lights. I can see anything!!!

And this bench! What can’t it do?

And that reminds me!

Why the Hell would I be transferring pins OR tails on the sidewalk?

Honestly? I don’t know if I ever will strictly choose one or the other.

March 25, 2017

Oil vs. Water Stones. One Year Later.

Filed under: Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog — fairwoodworking @ 10:58 pm


Beyond all things in woodworking, sharp is king. If it’s not sharp it doesn’t matter, and anything that can’t make it sharp is not worth your time. If you are new to sharpening, stick with what you have unless it really doesn’t work.

I’ve noticed over the past few years, that a number of woodworkers have excitedly shown off their new oil stones and then the next time I think to look, they seem to have switched back to some form of water based media.


But even more curious is that I felt no compulsion to heed this non verbal warning.

Last year about this time I’d finally given up on water stones and ordered myself a couple of Dans whet stones and some leather strop.

Now one complaint I’ve heard before, was that oil stones were messy. I don’t really get that, so it may be curious to some that a big reason I’ve fallen out of love with water stones is on the issue of mess.

Some people don’t like the mess of oil and the swarf from the stones? I don’t know, but I was tired of the mess of sloshy stinky pond scum water that my stones soaked in. I’ve had it with Ebola water.

I’d also heard that oil stones cut slower when sharpening, so this was my chance to discover what mess I prefer and if I noticed a difference in sharpening speed.

I actually made the transition in two steps. First I put away my 8000 water stone and replaced it with the leather strop.


It took me a while to figure how to get the compound to stick to the leather, but then a friend tipped me on using a dab of oil.

A lot of people speak poorly of stroping because of the risk of rounding over the cutting edge and that risk is real, but really, if you find that happening simply lower your sharpening angle or don’t press so hard. Stroping isn’t bad, just your technique, your technique just sucks… until it doesn’t.

Stroping is fantastic! No matter what you use to sharpen, I think strops are the secret weapon of the savvy woodworker. I can’t think of a quicker, easier way to touch up an edge.

The other key to using a strop is regular edge maintenance.

I think it’s pretty common for us as woodworkers to avoid edge maintenance because it’s inconvenient. As a result, we delay to the point that the edge looks like the rocky mountains before we do anything about it. Then in turn, it takes forever to grind, sharpen, and hone again. With a strop you can make a few cuts, as many as will put just a little wear on the edge (your mileage may vary), and then swipe, swipe, swipe. You are back at nearly 100% again.

Imagine a world where even your glue line scraping chisel is always hair splitting sharp.

You NEED a strop and a stick of that green sharp making putty stuff!

But what of the stones? How do they cut? How do they feel? My initial impression was that they were… different.

They are much harder than my Nortons. The soft (coarse) stone feels a little gravelly. The hard black stone is hard and smooth like glass. I like the feel of both.

They do cut slower, and this will be a problem for those that again leave an edge until they are hopelessly dull, but if you are willing to stop when you know you really should, STOP WHEN YOU KNOW YOU SHOULD, and sharpen as soon as it is beneficial, sharpening shouldn’t take that long no matter what stones you use. Additionally I’ve always found that the trick in general is to hollow grind super close to the cutting edge, and then maintain a close grind between sharpening. If your grinder is always set up (as mine always is) it’s no big thing to zip, zip, zip, before you sharpen. A regular and quick touch on the grinder is also a great way to protect against burning the temper out of the steel.

Another thing to consider is keeping a stone flat. I doubt any stone comes out of the package flat, so you need to have a plan for that. Water stones wear really quickly and I’ve found that you need to reflatten after every use.  For my Nortons I can use the 3 stone system although I did get a lapping plate as well.

Oil stones wear super slowly. Since I originally flattened them, I’ve only felt the need to flatten them once, but really I don’t know how I’d do it without the lapping plate.

So what about rehabing old tools or setting up new ones?


Usually I’ll look at my oil stones, then sadly look down at my Nortons sitting dry in their tub on the floor.

“I guess I better start soaking those little buggers” I think to myself. And really that is the wise choice I think.

So where does this leave us?

If I could only have one sharpening system (I hate these kind of sentences), I’d have to choose my 1000, 1000/4000, 1000/8000 Nortons. I don’t like them as much but they cut really fast and are fairly easy to maintain. Also there is the moral victory that when using them I’m never be the most stinky thing in the shop.

I still love my oil stones for daily use, but will never recommend oil stones as a first set of stones to a beginner. That being said, I don’t expect I’ll ever regret my purchase of two oil stones and a strop.

January 26, 2017

5 Dovetail Techniques and Tools You Don’t Really Need. 

As the Undisputed Dovetail World Champion, I feel that I have a duty to give back of myself to the dovetail world. It’s the least I can do to with the position I now hold.

Ha, ha. Ya right.  Just as soon as I’ve finished getting my nails done.

Really I’m just thinking back to when I first dreamed of the day I’d be a real woodworker that knew the “Dark Art” of dovetails. It’s funny now how mystical they seemed at the time. One of the reasons they seemed unobtainable was that it seemed to require so many tools. I’d attended the demonstrations, watched the videos, and I’d sat through the sales pitches. I did the math on what my first set of dovetails would cost in tools, and at over $800.00, I’d still be without a workbench, a marking knife or even a mallet.

It took a few years to be able to afford all the tools in the “beginner” set, but along the way I managed to find an affordable mallet (no longer available), and a marking knife. $500 later I had a usable workbench as well.

All told, it must have been about 5 years from the day I discovered the idea of dovetails to the day I cut them, and that’s just silly.

It didn’t need to be that complicated.

  1. You do need a workbench, and if you don’t have one, I’d highly recommend downloading The Naked Woodworker video. Had I just had access to this one resource when I first started, I’d be years ahead of where I am now as a woodworker.
  2. You will need a vise, or holdfasts like are shown in Mike’s video above.
  3. You need a Dovetail saw. Duhhh…. You can’t go wrong in product or price with the Veritas Dovetail Saw
  4. You need a Chisel. Ya, just one chisel, if you have a set already, please don’t throw the rest away, but if you don’t, just get one 1/2″ chisel. That’s all you really need to get started. Again, you can’t really go wrong with Narex if money is tight.
  5. I like using a Fret saw to remove the waste. Rob Cosman sells a pretty good one on his web site,  although I’d personally pass on the Hockey tape…
  6. You need a square. Would you believe you can lay out your dovetails with just a square? Ya! I’ll show you how later, but even the angles can be laid out fairly accurately with just the tip of your finger and your average square.
  7. You need a pencil. I like using a mechanical pencil because the mark it leaves is uniform. It never dulls, so it fits everywhere the same, line after line, after line.
  8. You need a mallet. NOT a carvers mallet, and NOT a hammer. I like a larger mallet, or even better, a mini sledge.

Oh and one last thing…. You NEED flat and square material. As a beginner, this should be the most challenging thing to get your hands on, but the flatter and the squarrrr’errr your material, the better off you will be.

That’s it. That’s all you really should need to get started, but there are other tools you will see out there, all of them I use regularly, that you don’t really need to have to get started.


  1. Dividers – Dividers are great, but they add steps to your layout. If money is tight, you can get by for now without them.
  2. Rebate plane – First introduced to me as the “140 Trick” it’s used to make a shallow rabbet on the back of your tails. This aids in holding them against the pin board so it doesn’t slip while transferring the layout. It’s a really good trick when done properly, but Rebate planes are tricky to set up, and learning to use them well can be a hard learned skill. Again, it’s a great trick, but if done incorrectly will make learning dovetails all the more difficult.
  3. Marking knife – I found using the marking knife the most difficult skill to master with dovetails. It’s a real trick to mark all your lines accurately without accidentally moving the tail board out of alignment, and really that is a big reason people use the 140 trick. If you just want to cut some dovetails, the transfer is way, WAY easier with a pencil. You can learn how to use a marking knife later if you want.
  4. Dovetail marker – Remember how I said you can layout your dovetails with just a square? I’d much prefer to use and Dovetail marker as it is way easier, but if you don’t have one yet, don’t let it stop you.
  5. Marking gauge – You use a marking gauge to create the base line for your dovetails and also your pins. I have a few of them and they are great, but lately, for through dovetails, I’ve just been using my chisel.

Again, they are all great tools to have, they are all very, very useful, but you don’t really need them to learn how to cut your first dovetail.

If you would like to see how you can cut a reasonable dovetail with just 8 simple tools, I made yet another dovetail video.


December 18, 2016

Photography for Woodworking Fools. Got’a’light?

Filed under: Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog,Skill development — fairwoodworking @ 10:53 pm

Well the year is almost over and I find that of the three topics I promised to write about, I have written about exactly none of them.

Shame, shame on this bad little blogger, so with a micky of rum in hand, here we go…..

About a year and a half ago I wrote about some of the things I’ve learned about taking pictures in the shop. It has been one of my more well received posts, so I thought I should add a little more, especially since I really botched one of the tips. For years I’d just used my work light for all my lighting needs, because I thought that having proper lights would be too much of a hassle for the benefit they would allow.

And that broke a very important rule in my shop.

Only have opinions about things you have tested and proven to be true or false.

After acknowledging my sin, I ordered the cheapo set recommended by Chris Schwarz, and have been using it for about a year. For starters, it is as horribly cheap as it ever could be. However they do work, and so let’s go ahead and see what I think about them in my shop.

But before we do, if you only have the money for lighting or a tripod, screw the lighting. FOR HEAVENS SAKE GET THE TRIPOD ALREADY!!!

Anyways, what really discouraged me from getting a lighting set was how much trouble just having a tripod in the shop was. They have a very wide base and in a small shop their legs are always just one inattentive step away from tripping over. Then there is storage. Opening and closing, finding a spot to keep it where it wont fall and break. It sucks, it’s a pain.

It’s worth it.

This set comes with two floor stands and one smaller stand, three fluorescent lights, two umbrellas, and an utterly useless case. Forget about the case, I did, and had a problem finding it so it could be in the picture. Again, forget about the bag, it is the least of the issues, but don’t get me wrong, as bad as this set is, I don’t hate it, as bad as it is, let’s move on.

The build quality of the… well… everything is as horrible as it can be for the price, but with a little care I’ve managed to get by.

What you see before you is a bunch of cheap plastic that is just daring you to over tighten a knob until it prematurely snaps. Handle with care.

See that one smaller round knob?

It holds the umbrella, and by hold, I mean leverages against the umbrella rod in hopes that it can split the head apart. DO NOT TIGHTEN THIS KNOB. Get it close, and then notice how the power cord hangs against the rod? That will hold the umbrella in place in most cases. If not, some tape or something. That will work better than the mini knob of destruction.

The stands themselves are also very light duty, but with care not to over torque them open too quickly, they should be ok.

I’ve read some reviews that complain that this set does not have the lighting capacity they had hoped, and it’s true with three 45w bulbs, it’s a little dim, but since we are all good little boys and girls who use our tripods, we don’t have to worry about that. The trick is to get a good balance of light vs shadows for the shot you are after. You can compensate with the camera if you have a tripod.

I did however change the bulbs to get a little more light mostly for video. In my original post I said that I used an old-fashioned 100w bulb in my work light, but the problem with incandescent bulbs is that they get really hot, and that is not ideal when you are setting up light stands, for a quick picture and then tearing down again. Also that amount of heat could melt the cheapo plastic.

Stupid cheap plastic.

In the end I chose to switch to LED bulbs, but when considering this change, it’s a really good idea to consider what color of light is in your shop.

On the left is the fluorescent bulb from the lighting set. On the right is my old 100w incandescent. In the middle the LED light that I now have for all my shop lighting.

The color of your lighting is very important for photography. Your camera can adjust for the color of your lighting with the setting called “White Balance”, but only for one color. Many bulbs now will have a color rating in units of the Kelvin scale. A high number will be whiter (colder) a lower number more yellow (warmer). The fluorescent bulb here is rated for 5500k, the LED 3000k, and the incandescent is probably 3200-3500k(?).

Anyways, I prefer a warmer light to work in so I switched ALL my lights to the same 3000k bulbs. Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to find them in more than the equivalent of a 60w.

The bottom line is you will get better richer color out of your pictures if all your lighting is of the same color. Keep in mind that there is a Kelvin rating on sunlight as well. Unfortunately it varies through the day, and also in different weather. I prefer photography in my shop after dark since I never get enough sunlight to not need electric lights.

With our choice of bulbs made, what’s the deal with umbrellas?

Well the problem with using my work light is that it has a very direct light. It’s great for working but it causes very harsh shadows, and very concentrated bright points. The lighting stands with the umbrellas diffuse the light. It widens the angle of the light source, and softens both the shadows, and also the lighter, more reflective areas.

Here’s a great example.

Look how over exposed the top of that piece of wood is. At the same time the toe of the saw is almost lost in the shadow of the dark room. There is nothing pleasant about this picture. The over exposed areas and glare is distracting. Shame on me for ever taking this picture! Even worse, I posted it on Instagram. Yuck!

Speaking of Instagram,

Here is another picture I posted there a while ago. It’s not perfect, I’m still learning as I go, but it’s just so much more comfortable.

Here’s another one.

Often times I’ll even just use one of the light stands with the umbrella set at a fairly low angle. It throws a long soft shadow that I really like.

If you use your shadows correctly, they can really help define the details in a picture.

I’m getting distracted with my awesomeness…

Each of the two umbrellas were supplied with these clear plastic sleeves. DON’T THROW THEM OUT!!! I’m very careful to always store them in the sleeves to keep them clean. Don’t touch the white of the umbrellas, and don’t leave them out of the sleeves any longer than you have to. Once they are dirty, they won’t spread a nice even light anymore, so be a good lad and practice safe umbrella-ing.

So what am I really saying?

Just like tripods. Having to set up lighting, step carefully around it take the shot, tear it down, and safely stow it away sucks unbearably, it is necessary it if you want your photography to improve. It will take practice to utilize properly, and quite possibly, it will suck the will to live out of your very soul, but in the end…

It is worth it.



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