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!







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.


November 21, 2015

Don’t just own. Learn.

Filed under: Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog,Hand tool,Skill development — fairwoodworking @ 5:00 am

I live in a city with a fair amount of disposable income, not to mention a rather healthy appetite for pretty new hand tools. I’ve met a number of people here that openly admit that they really have no interest in building anything. If you are one of them this post is not directed at you.

However, there is a entirely different group out there that have all the tools, who sit there looking at all their shiny bits and wonder, “now what”.

If that is you, it’s time to learn my friend.

If you haven’t noticed over the past 4 years (yes fairwoodworking turned 4 today) I’ve been on a bit of a “develop your skills” kick.  So why wouldn’t my birthday post be directed at pointing a few Calgary locals to a great chance to learn?


Above is an unauthorized cut & paste from a friend of mine who’s boxes make my offerings look like so much monkey poo.

In early January, Jeremy Pringle will be teaching a class at the Calgary Lee Valley on box building. This is a class that any new woodworker would be fortunate to be able to attend. (Brace yourself Jeremy, the Fairwoodworking effect may overwhelm you…)

Anyways if you are in the area or anywhere near a Lee Valley store, check out their In store seminar schedule.

You just might learn something.

You can find more of Jeremy via
@jeremylachlan on Instagram
@JeremyPringle1 on Twitter

Editor’s note – I just read the sad news that the woodworking world lost Carl Bilderback last night to cancer. Like many, I’ve read about what a great guy he was, and all he’s given to the craft. Although I never got to know him beyond a handshake, I hope a little of his Mojo rubbed off, since we all have some pretty big shoes to fill now that he’s passed.

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.

September 7, 2013

Making your smoother a muti purpose tool

I don’t feel like what I’m about to share is overly profound, but I do think it is a concept in our little world that is often missed.

I see a lot of discussion that dances around the issue, but I can’t remember it ever being addressed.

Topic 1

Do I need to replace the blade on my old planes with new thicker blades if I want them to work correctly.

Answer (in the form of a question)

Did your Great, Great Grandfather need to replace the blade on his new plane a hundred years ago for it to work correctly? Seriously, if the blade was not ruined by its previous ham-fisted dumb, dumb of an owner, you may be fine.

Topic 2

I bought an old Stanley #4, and someone told me to replace the old blade with a new thicker one. Now the new blade won’t fit no matter how far I move the frog back.


Move the frog back so that the mouth is fully open. File the front of the mouth just a little bit, and test it for fit. Don’t file any more than you need to. Boom. You now have a smoother with a nice tight mouth.

Topic 3

Scrub planes are hard to find. Could I convert a smoother into a scrub? How do I do it without ruining it.


Move the frog back so that the mouth is fully open. Camber the blade. DON’T buy a thick blade that barely fits in the mouth in the first place. This is also the correct way to set up a jack plane…

Topic 4

Bedrock and Bevel up Planes are better than Bailey planes because you have to remove the blade to adjust the frog on a Bailey plane.

My Answer

While it may be true that you need to remove the blade, who says you need to adjust the frog to adjust the mouth opening.

Just change the blade…

I know I’ve just blown a few minds with this heresy.

I’ve mentioned before that there are a few internet faux woodworkers out there claiming that bevel up planes are superior to bevel down planes because the blades are interchangeable.

Yes, they are correct that bevel up plane blades are interchangeable, but almost any common bench plane shares a blade size with 1 or 2 other plane models. The #3 and #5-1/4 share a blade. The #4, and #5 are interchangeable. You hit the mother lode if you have a #4-1/2, #5-1/2, #6 or #7.

Only a #1, #2 or #8 are odd balls.


So here we have my trusty #4. The mouth is awfully tight with an aftermarket blade in it. I have to admit, this combination does smooth well.


Here’s my Jack Plane with its historically correct thin blade. The camber, I find is quick to remove material, without requiring excessive force.

The frog in both of these planes are set as far back as functionally possible.

So if I take this thin blade, and put it in my Smoother…

The only adjustment I need to make is to tighten the lever cap screw.


My smoother is now a scrub plane.

If you’re into that kind of thing.

May 15, 2013

Handtool Economics

EDITORS NOTE *** This post is experiencing 3rd party photo hosting “issues”, that will be addressed as time allows. ***

It’s a good thing I’ve forgotten my Woodnet password…

It seems there is a heated debate on weather LN planes are overpriced. There are the usual comments along the lines of “If they were overpriced, people wouldn’t buy them”, and “if you think their smoothers are expensive you should see the price of their shooting plane!!!

These threads are also good for at least one person who decides to dabble in the economics, and the effect of inflation on prices. The problem is that numbers have a way of spinning around and biting you in the tender bits if you are not careful.

One member (MattP) made the following post.

In the early 20th century, you could apparently buy a smoothing plane for about $1.62, and a Stanley block plane for about $1.45

The purchasing power of the dollar has declined by 96.5% since 1900. Phrased differently, a dollar today buys the same thing that 3.5 cents bought in 1900.

By that measure, a handplane of comparable quality to a $1.65 smoothing plane should cost about $77. And–whaddya know!?–a new Stanley smoothing plane costs $79.00 at Rockler. Of course, we all know that a Lie Nielsen No. 4 runs $300, or nearly 4 times as expensive. – MattP

I should mention that I don’t know MattP, I have no beef with the guy, and I’m not trying to start something. I have no intention of discrediting him, and in fact, I appreciate the time he took in researching the topic. However it seems pretty clear that he is set on his opinion (as am I), and I think it may have blinded him on what these numbers say.

In the spirit of good natured debate, here are some sticking points I have with the argument.

While a smoothing plane went for a buck sixty-two, not all smoothing planes were Stanley’s flagship smoothing plane known as the bedrock. I’m sure a bedrock smoother was more than the price listed.

The Stanley block plane’s old price is listed just 17 cents less than the smoother. In today’s money that is $59.50. A LN #4 smoother is $300, and the LA block plane is $165. The difference in price is more than double at $135. Again, pointing to the fact that you never could buy a bedrock for a little over a buck an a half.

Well those are just number that you spin any way you want.

The old smoother was probably made in either America or Canada. At the time just about any living being that made their living working wood, other than the mighty beaver, needed a smoother. High volume manufacturing lowers overhead, and that lowers the individual price tag on most any given product. Foundries could be found scattered all over our continent, and there was a wealth of skilled metal workers as a result. The old world market was perfect for affordable NEW hand tools.

Today most smoothers are used by a tiny nich market know as “hand tool woodworking hobbyist”. The modern world lists smoothers on kijiji as block planners, primitive tools, and vintage smothers. The modern woodworking hobbyist has the choice of buying block planners at the flee market, or buying from modern tool makers that build in overly small batches. Many of us will go with the $5 smother. So why are LN planes so much more expensive than a modern Stanley? Well the most obvious answer is that LN uses an American workforce, and Stanley planes are made in Mexico where wages are much lower. Now it would be horribly inappropriate to say that Mexicans CAN’T make as good a plane as an American, but the whole reason you chase cheaper wages is because you are willing to compromise quality for price. There is also the issue of foundries. There aren’t that many left to choose from. And finding reliable, skilled workers for your small tool making shop. Who will train them? Manufacturing in North America is not so much of a way of life like it still is in many third world countries. Finding the right people to build your tools can’t be as easy as it once was. The other reason is as I mentioned before. LN can’t be making the same volume of planes today as Stanley once made a hundred years ago. As a result LN must spread their overhead over a much smaller market base.

That means that anyone that thinks LN planes are too expensive can blame people like me. Eight times I have chosen to buy old Stanley planes rather than LN planes. That’s 8 planes that could have carried just a little more of LN’s cost of doing business.

Don’t blame LN.

Blame me.

So now let’s compare the Smoother of yesteryear (let’s give it the benefit of the doubt and call it a nice type 11 Stanley) against the modern Stanley Sweetheart. Can you even compare these two planes?

I really don’t think you can. If I happened into Rockler and saw the modern Stanley priced at $79.00 and right beside it was your typical flee market type 11 in decent shape, also priced at $79.00…

What plane catches my eye? What plane do I pick up and inspect?

It wouldn’t be the modern Stanley. I have better things to do with my time.

I would however stop and look the Type 11. It would have to be pretty sweet for me to not be turned off by the sticker price, but I wouldn’t have even looked at the price tag of the modern plane.

No you can’t compare these two planes.

If you still need more convincing or you just want a good laugh (many of you I’m sure have already seen it), I’ll need to pass you off to Wilbur Pan writer of giant Cypress.

March 21, 2013

Curly birch goes with walnut

EDITORS NOTE *** This post is experiencing 3rd party photo hosting “issues”, that will be addressed as time allows. ***


This box is an important one for me. As usual, it has no functional purpose, but it’s still a bit of a big deal.

The beauty of photography is that you can hide a world of sin with the right camera angle, and a tight depth of field. However…

For the first time, I’ve built a box that doesn’t really have a bad side.

Now don’t get me wrong, dovetail perfection is still not quite within my grasp, but any gaps you find on this little sucker, you gonn’a have to search for them.

Cutting a raised panel is not that hard, but getting all the angles to line up with the corners, and also get a nicely planed surface on the end grain is a little harder.

Ok, I cheated a little.  I usually cut the grooves with my plow plane, but this time, I used my powered router. I have to admit, although I hate my router, I hate most all my power tools, that is a great way to cut some grooves!

I also had the forethought to align the birch so that it shows the curls better when it is NOT upside down.

The box is pretty close to perfect, but the lid? It? It was perfect. A lid with a matching raised panel. Without flaw.


And it looked like donkey poo when I put it on the box.

So I made a simple squared edge lid, that is not perfect, but I managed to fix it.

Somewhat fixed…

February 16, 2013

My first hand tool project

Filed under: Hand tool,My early days of woodworking,Skill development,Things I've made — fairwoodworking @ 1:15 pm

I was wading through a bunch of old pictures, and I stumbled on to a picture that made me smile.


I’d been thinking that my first all hand tool project was when I built my “Simple Box”, but technically speaking, I think it happened years before that.

Nearly 7 years ago I saw hand tools as wizardry, and to dabble in the dark arts, really got my heart thumping.

To make anything near “wispy” shavings, resulted in grand stories not unlike the young squire that fights the dragon, and taunts the gods.



I can’t believe I took pictures of shavings.

Well no that’s not true. I can’t believe I didn’t take more.

So what can you build with a single hand plane?

Not much, but I did manage to finish a truly simple project. What I did build was enough to convince me that I might be able to do this hand tool stuff.

I picked up a small piece of scrap 2×4, and did something that I’d struggled (don’t laugh) with, when using modern power tools.

I dimensioned it on all 6 sides.


First hand tool project

Finished project? Well it’s still just a block of wood, but it’s square and true.

All with a hand plane.

I felt like a god!

July 26, 2012

Making a drawer pull. The hand tool way.

EDITORS NOTE *** This post is experiencing 3rd party photo hosting “issues”, that will be addressed as time allows. ***


It’s funny how one simple seeming project can demand the learning of so many new skills. Here is the drawer pull for a very basic piston fit drawer I’ve been making. It’s been the inspiration for a number of posts as of late, and has moved quite slowly because each new skill was a rabbit trail of skill discovery, while the real project waited patiently.

I’ve already had to learn to cut half blind dovetails, but before that I had to make my own fishtail chisel. To make this drawer pull the first thing I had to do was learn to cut a mortice and tenon joint.

With a precarious grasp on M&T joinery, it was time to give this a go…

With a lot of care and attention, I had to get all my layout lines done. The first thing that hit me was that this was one tiny little piece of wood to work with. There is very little surface space for clamping while I work, so every step must be calculated with care. The picture above shows the arc on the right hand side. I’ll cut that first. You can see the center of the arc with the x, and a line scribed with my marking gauge. That will be the shoulder of the M&T joint. To the left is another marking gauge line. That will be the end of the tenon, but I needed more length to be able to clamp the piece while cutting the arc.


No action shot’s today. This was a process of survival, and I couldn’t afford the distraction. I did take the time to snap this moment of clamping bliss…

Then it was time to cut the tenon. It was uneventful, and that was a relief!

Took a breather before cutting the shoulders. Again a little tricky to cut on a bench hook, when there is very little that you can reference against the fence.

With the tenon cut, I then had to rasp the saw marks off the edge. I chose the rasp because it was pretty much all end grain, and using a plane would have been very difficult. One last thing to do. See the pencil lines that follow the edge? May as well tempt fate, and free hand bevel the edges while I’m here.

And there you have it, a rather rustic looking drawer pull.

June 22, 2012

Dovetailed Pencil Box 2.0

EDITORS NOTE *** This post is experiencing 3rd party photo hosting “issues”, that will be addressed as time allows. ***


I like building stuff….

But I’m not great at following directions, so building something based on plans, well… I’ve never successfully done it. Ahh, who am I kidding, I can mess up macaroni and cheese.

I prefer to design my own stuff, but I’m not great at dimensions, and aesthetics.

I just like building stuff.

It’s a good thing too, because a lot of times I have to build it wrong so I can see what I want to do right the next time.

The last time I made a pencil box, I found it disproportionately tall, but we can rebuild it. We have the technology.

This time, I started out with this.

It’s another piece of discarded stair tread. Again it shows signs of being birds eye maple, but not as nice a piece as I used “here”.

With a sliding top and raised panel bottom, you need to make grooves. I originally started making them stopped grooves, but it’s slow and painful work. I finally gave up/lost interest, and changed to plowing through grooves.

That change left me with two options. Either have a gap showing on the tails, or switch to shallow tails like I did on the bottom of my “simple box”.

And here I learned a valuable lesson. When I learned to cut dovetails, I was told to cut my pins and tails a little long, and then when the joint was completed, plane them flush.

I remember once seeing a video of somebody asking Frank Klausz how much longer he cut his pins and tails. His answer was so typical. Something like, “I just cut them right”

I remember thinking, “Ya, that’s great for Frank, but I’ll never be as good as he is”, and I just wrote it off as another statement by a master that has forgotten what it is like to be a newbie.

Shallow tails are not that difficult to make, but precision when marking the base line for the pin board is critical.

When you mark the thickness of the tail, you do it from the outside face. When you mark the base line on the pin board, you reference off the end of the pins, but if they are longer than the tail board is thick, the socket between the pins will be too shallow. The solution I had to work with really sucked.

I had to guess where the baseline should be.

From now on, I’m listening to Frank’s wisdom.

He may not remember what it’s like to be a newbie, but he does know what he is talking about.

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