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 20, 2016

The Right Hand Of Truth

For some people it’s Mongo, others Lumpy. Many would say Maul, or Sledge or even Mini Sledge, but really, I’ve always know it as “The Right Hand Of Truth”.


Not in public per say, but on a one on one level, I have to admit, this little guy doles out truth with every blow.

It was one of the very first tools I decided I needed, and chose all on my own when I first started in construction. Being the new guy, I was the first to be volunteered to do whatever needed to be done in an awkward, small or confined space, and those of you who know me will know that there are not many small spaces that I would fit easily into. So especially when it comes to demolition in a small space, this little sledge made the best out of a bad situation.

Come to think of it, there could be an argument for this being my most used hand tool that I still own, and there are very few that date that far back that have not fallen out of favor

The thing is, only until recently, I have looked at it as a second class hand tool. One that should only live in the garage, or if ever in my shop, safely stowed away in a metal tool box so as to not offend any of my good, real, WOODWORKING hand tools.

But then the usual kerfuffle from the usual people start throwing around big claims that Mongo is perfectly at home on a decent woodworkers bench!

OH THE HUMANITY! OH THE DAMAGE IT WILL DO TO THE BENCH THE CHISEL HANDLES THE HOLDFASTS (that hold the historically inaccurate notched batons).


And as usual, the nay-sayers were challenged to try it on their un-toothed benches, and on their chisels, but obviously not on their hand planes so carefully placed on their sides so the blades would not be damaged by the work bench…

But for the most part, the nay-sayers could not hear them over their own saying of nay.

I however, fool that I am, yet again chose the road less traveled. You know the one, where you look at an idea, and figure you may as well give it a try, even if it’s just to prove one side or the other wrong?

I love telling people they are wrong. I don’t need to be right, but I love it when others are wrong!

Anyways, I tested the water with my hold fasts.


I’d been using my deadblow mallet to set and release my holdfasts since I got them, but I was an instant convert to old Lumpy over there. It just has so much mass behind it that you really don’t have to hit it hardly at all, and the hold fast is set. To release it took no wind up to knock it loose, and that was a big win when the hold fast is at the back of the bench and very near the wall. My dead blow was useless in that case, but not for lill’ old Maul’er.

The problem I did run into was that this little guy had seen a pretty hard life. If I was smart I would have taken a picture of how pitted and scarred its faces were.


Surgery took the better part of a day starting with a drum sander attachment on the rotary tool. Then to careful work with my 1000, 4000, 8000 norton stones, and then finally green honing compound on a felt wheel to bring it to a nice shine.

At that point and only at that point was I ready to try whacking a chisel with it.

And that’s where it really, really clicked for me.

Chisel whacking is what you do when there is not enough mass behind the strike, and that is why you should never use a regular hammer on your chisels. For a hammer to really make the chisel move, it has to compensate for its lack of mass with speed, where as a sledge only just has to be moving to provide the same force. A light tap tap, is almost overpowering and took a little time to get used to, but man! It’s pretty impressive. I’m going to keep using it for a while just to see if I keep liking it, and also I’ve noticed that there are not a lot of entry level chisel mallets to recommend to new woodworkers on a tight budget. Perhaps the Right Hand of Truth could be the perfect affordable option..?

So then today I’m making some dowels for drawboaring, and I remember how the last time a lot of them split and were ruined by my carpentry hammer…


Yet again, the slow moving mass made this a painless endeavor.

But don’t take my word for it.

Try it for yourself.

Side note…

Hey, check it out! Fairwoodworking turns freekin’ 5 tomorrow!

Really? Five? Still seems pretty immature to me…

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!

June 8, 2012

Sharp right out of the box

Filed under: My early days of woodworking,Sharpening,Skill development — fairwoodworking @ 6:20 pm

Without a proper apprenticeship program for hand tool woodworkers, it’s hard to really gauge what level of woodworker we are. I’ve been using hand tools for a number of years, but I still very much think of myself as a beginner.  In some woodworking circles, I’ve been regarded as a hand tool expert (snort!!!). We all know that’s preposterous, but it’s all relative to the viewer.

For now I can say without faking modesty that, I’m a hand tool woodworker with more tools than skills.

What got me thinking about this is some of the questions that first time beginners ask. I don’t want this to be mistaken as mockery, because I am for once trying to be sincere. The topic of sharp right out of the box has gotten me into more than one war of words. I may have discussed this before, but it’s what is on my mind right now.

Sharpness is just as relative as the idea of a beginner. Some will say that any well made plane or chisel is ready to use right out of the box. In the past I would argue this point, but who am I to poo poo someone else for where they are in their sharpening journey.

The first shavings I ever made were with a blade that I could still feel a heavy bur on the edge. I was thrilled with those chunky shavings that came out. I barely slept that night I was so excited to get back out there and make some more. At that point a new plane blade would have been far sharper than I had used. The first time I used my Narex chisels it was with the factory edge, I did see some limitations with them, but clearly I felt they were ready to use. In those days, there was no guarantee that sharpening a new blade would improve the edge, I was still getting the hang of it.

In time I improved to the point that with effort, I could get a better than factory edge, and so it went that one day I came to the point that a factory edge was duller than I would ever let a blade get before I would stop to resharpen.

Today, I couldn’t justify the effort to struggle with a factory edge, when I’m totally confident that I can sharpen it in a very short time.

So now “if” a new woodworker asked me if a plane was ready right out of the box, I would answer the question, with a question. Do you think you can make it sharper? If they think they can then they need get out the stones. If they don’t, they may as well have fun with it until they have dulled it to the point that they “can” improve the edge.

It’s also a great time to learn about grain direction and tear out…

March 7, 2012

The project that changed my world

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


If you have ever seen my avatar, you may have thought I was just trying to be cute. Well I do think I’m cute, but there is a story behind the smiley face.


I wasn’t always one of those hand tool types.
There was a time when I looked forward to Saturday as an excuse to go to Home Depot and drool over tools made of yellow, blue, and red plastic. Comparing RPM and 1/2 horse vs. 3/4 horse really got my juices going.

I was working as a trim carpenter at the time, and had gotten to know some of the guys. One day news got around that one of the other guys had a pretty serious accident. While ripping a full sheet of MDF, he lost control and ended up cutting off a couple of fingers and his thumb. Shortly after that another friend lost fingers using his chop saw. In both cases serious bodily harm resulted from them not respecting a dangerous tool, and did dumb things with them.

For a several years I didn’t go near a saw of any kind without thinking about those two, and during that time, good old fashion fear made me a much safer woodworker.

But, as years go by, life’s lessons fade from memory.

At about 2am, the morning of December 25th 2005 found me behind schedule on a gift for my wife.

I was almost done and it really wasn’t that big of a project. It was a simple book holder that she could place on her lap when reading in bed. All that was left for me to do was attach the ledge piece to the bottom that the book would rest on.

“How will I attach it?”, I asked myself. I thought of using my new biscuit joiner. “But how will I hold the piece against it?”, I asked.

I’m a bit of a night owl and was not sleepy, so I have no good excuse for what I did next. I flipped the biscuit joiner upside down, and held the piece against the fence with my fingers. Pulled the trigger and plunged the saw into the wood.

The next thing I remember, I was standing at the other side of the garage staring at a very tidy 1/8″ furrow through the tip of my left pointer finger and finger nail. The blade had kicked the wood out of the way and biscuited my finger instead.

Thankfully it missed the bone, but it did remove a good amount of flesh. Enough was missing that it posed a bit of a challenge for the Doctor. Well two challenges actually.

You see it’s not every day a guy walks in off the street with an injury from a tool as obscure as a biscuit joiner. Nor is it common at 3 in the morning to see woodworking injuries. Lump those together with it being Christmas morning, and you have a doctor that is laughing so hard that he can barely put a stitch in.

I’m glad I made his night.

This injury was pretty minor compared my friends in the past, but it really got me thinking. Does every tool I own need to have this much destructive power?

That was the day I first really looked seriously at hand tools as a viable option.

I kind’a miss that chunk of finger I lost that day, but I’m glad the event opened my eyes to the world of hand tools.

On a side note, This warning sticker is proof that warning stickers don’t work.

The wise don’t need them, and fools won’t head them.

February 9, 2012

I hate chisel rolls!!!

Some people think they are great, and I do have to agree if you are doing site work and need them  to be portable, but in my workshop? Not many things frustrate me more than the amount of space that is required to lay the roll out flat.


Years ago in a fit of frustration, I made a box out of MDF to hold my first set of chisels. You can’t see it in this picture, but it has a  sliding lid with a false end on it that you could flip upside down and slide into grooves in the bottom. The end result was that it looked finished when open or closed. Sadly the box did not make the move a few years ago across the country since MDF is heavy, and I was paying by the pound for shipping.

My new chisels came in a very nice, but equally hated leather tool roll. These chisels needed some kind of box as well. Having just completed a short lived 30 day challenge, this project was what distracted me from it.


The first thing I wanted to try was building a small carcass, and with that build some drawers. What better project to house my new chisels? Before you ask, I’ll tell you, the screws hold the oak strips that the upper drawer will slide on. As soon as I’d done it, I’d wished I’d used clinched nails. Ah, well…

That’s a whole lot of dovetails!!! It’s made out of scraps of old 2×4 that I ripped down, dimensioned, and laminated together.


If you look closely, you will notice that I staggered the lamination’s so that they don’t line up on the joint? I don’t always remember to do stuff like that.


I also tried a number of different spacings in the dovetails. The many, many, dovetails. I guess you could say, I hadn’t stopped practicing.


The carcass has no back to it because I needed every inch for the drawers, and still fit on the shelf.


A whole bunch more dovetails on the drawers, plus my first try at grooves and drawer bottoms with raised panels. I’m not going to show them cause they ain’t too pretty!



Inside, you can see the smaller drawer is for the new chisels, and the larger is for odds and ends.


If you want some really great instruction on building drawers and fitting them to the carcass, you need to watch “Dovetail a drawer” by Frank Klaus. It’s available through both the Lee Valley, and Lie-Nielsen website. I’m sure you could find it elsewhere as well.

January 28, 2012

For want of a hammer

It’s not every day that I need a new hammer for work. Even when they are the bosses tools, I try to treat them well. Yesterday I found myself -1 hammer, and +1 job needing a hammer, so it was off to the local big box store for a new one.

I’ll be the first to admit that I am a total tool snob, but I don’t think that was the issue here. You see yesterday, my concern for the state of woodworking, and construction went up yet another notch. While standing in the store (no names, but the first word rimes “dome” and the second rimes with”yo-yo”), I was surprised to find that their selection has changed dramatically since the last time I took the time to look at it. Metal and fiberglass handles were the only options unless you wanted the el cheapo junker on the bottom shelf. It took a while for this to sink in, and while I pondered, I noticed this sign.

When I first got into the trades, back in the Bob & Larry days. I knew nothing about tools. My boss took me to the hardware store and helped me pick out some basic tools. When we got to hammers, he picked up a steel shafted Estwing hammer and said, “here’s a good hammer”. What he said was true, Estwing makes a very good hammer. They are nearly bullet proof to the point that they are as much crow bar as they are hammer.

Within months I started noticing that my right elbow was really sore by the end of the day. Within the year, it hurt all the time. After 5-6 years an old guy on site saw me favoring my elbow and pointed out that vibrations of my steel shafted hammer would one day destroy my elbow. He pulled out his wood handled hammer and said, “give this a try”.

It felt good.

He then explained how important a wood handle is for a hammer. The wood works as a shock absorber so that it is not transmitted through your hand and into your elbow. Although steel handles are strong, the strength come at the price of your physical health.

When I look back at this all, my boss was never taught the value of a good wood handled hammer so he couldn’t know what kind of damage that hammer would do to me. Without proper instruction, who wouldn’t see a steel shafted hammer as a wonder tool. It removes the need to carry a pry-bar, so it must be a good thing.

This sign really concerns me. I’m not in any way a safety nut, but this kind of instruction is borderline negligent. In our society stronger is always seen as better, and lighter weight is is for the weak. The top row of hammers were all steel shafted and portrayed as the best. Below them were the fiberglass for the lightweight sissy’s. The wood handled were tossed in a wire bin at the bottom for the cheapskates.

I know, I know, you may be thinking I’m blowing this out of proportion, but not a day goes by that the pain in my elbow does not remind me of that hammer. I’m not mad at Estwing, they sure are handy for demo work, but I do hope that this post serves as a warning to others to not use tools that will harm them in the long run. I have no experience with fiberglass hammers, but there have been claims that they have similar shock absorption properties to wood. This may be true, but you would never get that information from the sign above.

So if you are looking for a new hammer, or you are using a steel one, please think soberly before you use it. Yes God gave you two elbows, but I don’t think he gave you the second one as a spare…

January 8, 2012

None of us are as dumb as all of us

Filed under: Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog,My early days of woodworking — fairwoodworking @ 9:22 pm

That title is not appropriate for this post, but I think it’s a funny saying.

Yesterday Marilyn in Seattle posted about having some difficulty with her plow plane, but after getting it set up and learning how use it, she really enjoyed it. A couple of years ago, I had a similar experience. In fact I got so frustrated with it that I nearly returned it. That is until I noticed it wasn’t quite set up correctly.

Have a look at Marilyn’s plow working correctly.

Now see if you can figure what I’d done wrong.

I guess I’ll be proudly sporting the dunce cap a little longer.

My plow plane is one of my go to planes now that I figured it out.

December 4, 2011

You will be “bob”, and you will be “larry”

I was first introduced to woodworking in the most general sense when I got a job as a trim carpenter. On day one I was as green as green can be. No seriously! I didn’t know how to use a tape measure. What I mean is I’d so badly forgotten fractions that other than 3/4, 1/2, and 1/4, I was lost. I had a lot to learn, but there was no way I was going to let the boss know I was that clueless. “These other increments need names or I’m done”, I thought, “You will be ‘bob’, and you will be ‘larry’.”

So when I measured 3/8″ I wrote 1/4+bob, and 9/16″ was 1/2+larry.

15/16″ ? You guessed it, 3/4+bob+larry.

Bob, and Larry served me well until I learned my 8ths, and 16ths.

I have no intention of ever learning my 32nds.

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