Fair Woodworking

May 18, 2014

1st Annual Day of the Jack Plane!

If you don’t know already. It’s been decreed, and I for one am all for it!

IMG_7950 copy

Now I know what many of you are thinking, I am just one of many mindless Schwarz’onian zombies, blindly following his every word.

I assure you I am not, and what better day to set the record straight than on Jack plane day?!

Way back in my early hand tool days, my original hand tool mentors on Hand Tool forums told me that scrub planes were the ultimate roughing tool, and I accepted this as gospel. Meanwhile, some scrawny journalist, that was actually building stuff with his tools, kept saying that scrub planes were more of a carpentry tool, and woodworkers were better off with the use of a Jack Plane. “What a dork”, I thought, because everybody knows that scrub planes are better.

Well a couple of years ago, on a whim, I finally bought a #5 jack plane. It sat on a shelf for months until one day I decided to see what all the fuss was about. I put one of my cambered blades into it, and tried it out as a roughing tool.


I own a scrub plane. I can’t remember the last time I used it, and EVERY project I build gets dimensioned with hand planes. Chris was right, but was he really? He read somewhere that the jack plane was the better tool for the aplication. He tried it, and agreed with what he read. That doesn’t make him right, it makes him educated on a practical level.

So then he discovers the Moxton Vice, and I hated using that thing. He promotes the use of tool chests, and I said ya right I like my shelf. He is hard core on using sharpening jigs, and that drives me nuts! I personally think that until you are at the very least confident with sharpening by hand you need to avoid jigs. Why? Because god forbid your blessed jig gets damaged or lost and you are unable to sharpen anything until the UPS delivery guy knocks on your door with your replacement. The ability to sharpen tools is more important to hand tool woodworking than your ability to put on pants. Sorry Chris, I still think you are a little off on this one. Anyways, It’s funny how quick I am to disagree, with his “new” ideas, and also how often in practice they prove to simply be, time tested historically accurate gems of truth.


Now he is telling us to “tooth” our bench tops!

What is this guy on?!!!

I have to admit, although it sounds nuts, I’d really love to give it a try some day. I have a sneaking suspicion I will like it, but I’ll stick with “it sounds crazy” until I do, because I have no hands on experience with toothed bench tops.

Bottom line is, don’t blindly preach what anyone else says. Gather as much information as you want, but test it before you preach it.

I think you will be surprised at how few big name woodworkers you will quote after the testing is done, and that is why I preach so much Schwarz’onian drivel.

January 29, 2014

Get the skinny on flat

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

So what’s up with flat? Sure we know it’s important, but why? Many woodworkers demand that every tool they own be perfectly flat, because tools must be perfect if you want them to build perfect things. Often times the concept of flat takes on a mystical persona as the great savior to all your woodworking problems.

Often times flat does make things better, but to say flat = holy grail?


This last weekend, I had the chance to hang out with a friend in his shop. He is looking to get into the whole hand tool game, and he was looking for a little help coming up with a sharpening game plan. The part that seems to snag a lot of beginners is how to keep your stones flat, and really to that, how important is flat?

Well I think it is very important, but the reason is practical. Not mystical, and I decided to try out a simple little exercise to get my point across. It seemed to work, so now I’m going to try it on you poor suckers.

What I did was take a piece of paper from a small note pad, and ripped the top quarter off like this.

The rip makes a jagged line. It was easy to make that messy edge, but try to repeat it with any accuracy. I asked my friend, and to tell you the truth, he really stunk up the joint with this project… Just like I expected he would. But it wasn’t his fault. A random edge like that is near impossible to reproduce accurately. The only good example is the other piece of torn paper.

The edge of this paper was mind blowingly easy to make once, but is hopeless to reproduce. In woodworking, that won’t do.

A flat edge is so much better, if you know how to do it, and it really isn’t much of a trick.

I then took the larger of the two pieces of paper, folded it over, and pressed down a nice straight crease into it.

The paper now tears in a sweet straight line if you are careful.

And leaves you with a nice flat edge.

While the free thinkers may complain that I’m trying to squish their groove, It’s not just the anal people that can see that the straight tear is far superior. It doesn’t just match up with its mating piece, it also matches pretty well with other pieces.

Well, not every piece, but the factory edges would mate with them pretty well…

But what’s also really nice about flat.

If you flip one of the pieces over, it still mates beautifully. Not so with the loosy goosy tear on the top. If you notice, when you flip the top one, the inaccuracies compound.

In real life, this can be a real problem.

So you lap the blade of your new smoother with a slightly hollowed out stone. Let’s say it’s hollowed by 0.002 of an inch. No big deal, that it leaves the back of the blade with a 0.002″ hump in it. Then you tune up the chipbreaker, and go to flattening the edge, and it gets the same 0.002″ hump in the middle. When you put the two together, you end up with solid contact at the middle of the blade/chipbreaker point, but you will have a 0.004″ gap on either side.

When you go to take you sweet 0.001 inch transparent shavings, you end up stymied by all the shavings getting caught in the edges of the chip breaker.

Flat stones are important.

And that is why we all stopped setting the chipbreaker close to the cutting edge…

So ya, ok, stones need to be flat. What about the bottoms of planes?

I’m still chewing on that one.

Perhaps I’ll work up the nerve to tackle that one another day.

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.

June 2, 2013

Handtool Economics Part 3

Filed under: Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog,Sharpening,Skill development — fairwoodworking @ 4:45 pm

“…I don’t know who is going to do all these things by hand… So, when you see somebody younger, cutting all these things by hand, you just wanna see — this thing’s not gonna die. (And, turning to The Schwarz:) If YOU guys keep doing what you’re doing, its NOT gonna die…”

Frank Klausz
at impromptu gathering
Woodworking in America 2010
Cincinnati, Ohio

From the Sandal Woods blog.

I suppose I could have also titled this as “Woodworking in the community part 3”, but I guess I’ve moved on from that.

I’m still on the fence regarding the future of woodworking. I’d like to hope that the future is bright, but success breeds complacency, and complacency breeds failure.

I guess my concern is that I think what Frank said was wrong.

Ya, that’s right Frank! I’m calling you out!

Not really Mr. Klausz, uh, Sir.

Please don’t banish me…

But consider this.

There is only one “The Schwarz”, but unless he also carries a sword and has the habit of stating, “there can be only one” after dueling, we can expect that one day (hopefully many years from now) to mourn the loss of another highly valued woodworking hero.

Just relying on Chris to keep woodworking alive (Yes I know that was not what Frank was saying) is the opposite of what I’m offering as handtool economics. We can only have a healthy economy if the entire woodworking community does their part.

I believe that our economy will collapse if it is missing any one of these two key elements.

1. Woodworkers willing to learn

2. Woodworkers willing to teach

My Grandfather was a hobby woodworker, but it did not get passed on to my Father, and I know for certain that one or both of these elements were to blame. As a result, my father couldn’t pass the hobby to me.

As a child, like most other children these days, the tradition of woodworking was dead to me.

This break in the chain makes me a first generation woodworker. I am untaught in what I know. The equivalence of a correspondence student at best. I’ve studied the books, and read everything ever written on the web about woodworking. I put a TV in the shop so I could follow along with woodworking videos, but I’ve never had a mentor to tell me, “don’t hold it like that, hold it like this”. Sure I’ve gotten on pretty well over the years, but a little one on one time with someone who already knew the skill would have gotten me here years ago.

Many of you are in the same boat. You went out and bought a good plane in hopes that the plane would show you what you should expect a plane to do. You marveled at what it could do thinking it was sharp right out of the box. You were stumped when it stopped performing when it went from not really sharp, to down right blunt.

You had nobody to show you how to sharpen, so you went to the woodworking forums for help. A number of well meaning people chimed in with a million different methods to make two surfaces intersect at one angle, sparking another heated argument on the one true way to sharpen.

Those of you that know what I’m talking about, I hope you understand how valuable your hard earned knowledge is to the new woodworker that is willing to learn.

The question is, are you willing to teach.

It’s not Chris’s job to teach the people in your town how to sharpen, or saw, or plane. It’s your job.

Well, assuming you don’t want this thing to die.

Next problem?

The skill of teaching does not come natural to all of us. I’ve got plenty to tell anyone who will listen, but it all sounds so much more eloquent in my head.

It’s also one thing to bang off the perfect saw cut in private, it’s a whole other thing to do it in front of expectant onlookers.

Well as far as I know, the only way to improve your public speaking, or one on one teaching is to do it. However if you can feel confident that you can demonstrate skills in public, it should be a little easier to do the speaking.

Here’s my idea.

Video record your work, and post it on your blog…

One take. You go with what you get.

Ya, that’s right.

You guys are in trouble!

I’m going to try to incorporate more video into the blog. I’m not expecting it to be great video, but I do hope that it will be beneficial to all of us.

1. This will up the pressure to test my skills. One take, do or die. Post the results…

2. Like I said before, I’ve never had anyone critique my form, or my work patterns. This gives me the chance to critique myself.

3. You the reader get to watch and decide if you like the way I do things, or if you like a different way to do it.

4. If nothing else, I have awesome taste in music, so every video will be an audio treat. Ha, ha, ha.


Here is the first one. I originally made it as a response to Chris’s post Shut up and Sharpen, and was what got me on this line of thought.


So did it really cut like a knife? Well, ya it was pretty sharp. Not atom splitting sharp, but still very usable.

I hope these upcoming videos are of value to you all. I’m just wrapping up my first full project with video, and it’s been a real learning experience.

April 8, 2013

It ain’t easy being green

Filed under: Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog,Sharpening,Skill development — fairwoodworking @ 6:45 pm

This weekend I got a real eye opener.

Along with a friend of mine, we put together a sharpening workshop for some of the members of our woodworking club. They all seem to own planes, but non of them seem to ever use them. Those of them that do, they mostly use them to hold down their shelves so they don’t float off into the stratosphere. Some more creative types have discovered that they also are great at storing their very finest of dust collections.

I say, good on them, but it still couldn’t hurt to learn them to sharpen the blade a little.

You see the thing of it all is. There are all kinds of demos and videos out there that we all watch and think that we are learning. I know the folks in the club have all watched Rob Cosman do his song and dance (by the way, I have a new respect for that guy after this weekend), he will demonstrate sharpening, planing, and dovetailing, and all but the most lifeless pools of primordial ooze get whipped up into a lather of tool buying excitement.

And happily go home with tools that they have already forgotten what to do with.

Our plan was to put those hands to their tools, and get them doing stuff with them.

We made a Saturday of it, and this, finally was my chance to show these people how easy it was if they just gave it a try.


Let’s start on the grinder. The grinder is your workhorse, it will quickly remove the material that would take forever to remove with a stone.


No, no. Hold the blade this way, and make light passes on the grinder. No, light passes. A little lighter.

Hang on. Light passes, and you want the blade to slide flat on the tool rest. No wait, you’re tilted back too much. STOP! You’re digging the edge into the stone now, and you’ve burned it….

What is going on here!? Why are they having so much trouble?

And then the memories started flooding back of when I was learning how to hollow grind a blade.

I burned an edge or two. Bobbled halfway through many a pass, and leaned on the grinder so hard that it would slide away from me too.

For years now, I’ve been telling people that grinding is easy, and to tell you the truth. IT’S NOT!!! Not for a beginner! The same thing goes for free hand sharpening. In our world there is very little that prepares us to be able to hold so many joints rigid, and smoothly move the other joints. The modern world just doesn’t work that way!

The thing is that God made us with the ability to control our bodies movements if we are willing to take the time to focus on it. It’s not easy, but it is possible. I learned how to do all this stuff on my own. I sucked big time when I first started, and in some things I still suck, but the things that have improved were not a result of special gifting, or super human dexterity. It’s simply a result of pushing through the suck factor, and reaping the rewards of following through.

December 15, 2012

Using blade angles to control tearout.

Filed under: Controling tear out,Sharpening,Skill development,Strong opinion warning! — fairwoodworking @ 4:19 pm

There is a lot of talk out there about using higher blade angles to solve tear out issues. It’s mostly applied to bevel up planes, but can also be addressed with back bevels and higher frog angles on bevel down planes.

In the world of golf, advertisers often promote  their new drivers as the solution to your driving woes. “Our drivers larger sweet spot, tighter sweet spot, flexible shaft, stiffer shaft, composite material, lighter weight, ergonomic grip made of mystery plant fibers found only in the amazon, will give you the extra yards you know you can attain.”

Well if your name is Jack Nicklaus their claims may be true, but if you write a blog called Fair Woodworking, you can “Dink Out” with a $50 driver as you can with a thousand dollars worth of carbon fiber.

So is this a fair comparison to the blade angle scenario?

Well it may have its limits…

If we look at the pros and cons of a high angle, I can only see two. One of each, no wait… Three. One pro, and two cons.

Pro #1.  It’s obvious. Higher angles reduce tear out. That is a pretty big pro.

Con #1. Higher angles result in more resistance. The higher the angle, the more work it is to push the plane forward.

Con #2.  It is not often mentioned, but higher angles are harder to sharpen well.

One of the first skills you need to learn with hand tools is sharpening. It’s not that difficult, but there is a learning curve that can stretch over a number of years. Let’s forget about tear out for a bit and just look at planing with the grain, in well behaved wood. What are the signs of a dull blade? The finish is not as nice, the blade does not cut as well, and finally the plane takes more effort to push it through the cut. I’ve heard the question asked a number of times, “how sharp is sharp enough?” I’ve been sharpening for around 6 years now, and I can get a blade pretty darned sharp now. I have to be very careful not to let friends near my edged tools, because even my dull tools are far sharper than they can imagine an edge could be. Even still, what I’m learning is that sharp enough is just a little sharper than I am capable of right now.  The good news is that I know I can still improve more.

I’m not sure I’m doing a great job of making my point, so I’m just going to come out and say it.

In many cases, a really sharp blade set at the traditional 45 degrees will out perform a high angle alternative.

Linking all of this together, many beginner woodworkers struggle with tear out. The reason in many cases is due to limitations in their sharpening ability.  Because their blade is not as sharp as it will be when they get better at sharpening, the plane also requires a lot of force to push. When they hear that a higher blade angle will tame their tear out, they jump at the solution, rather than focus on improving their sharpening skills.

Now you have a novice sharpener with a more difficult to sharpen high angle blade, and a plane that was already difficult to push, made even more difficult to push because of the higher angle. With a sharper standard angle, they wouldn’t have run into tear out so quickly, and it would have been a lot easier to push.

A hundred years ago, when Stanley still made real tools, why didn’t they offer options for higher angels? Other than the lack of modern technology to make fancy new tools, I think it is because their clients could sharpen well enough to get by with standard 45 degrees.

I’m not saying high angles are bad, quite the opposite. In the right case, it gives your plane superpowers. The thing is many difficult woods don’t need a plane with super powers, they just need a plane with a really sharp blade.

I say that because while I don’t use a lot of difficult wood, I do use them occasionally. I do own a few bevel up planes but I don’t have any of them set with cutting angles higher than 45 degrees. All of my final smoothing planes are old Stanley bevel down planes, with really sharp blades, and so far they haven’t let me down.

November 27, 2012

How I flatten my stones. Part 2

Filed under: Sharpening,Stone flattening — fairwoodworking @ 8:49 pm

I don’t know how many of you actually read what I write, but I’ve noticed that I do get a lot of hits on topics involving Sharpening, Lapping, or stone flattening.

Again, I don’t know if anyone reads it all, or if they stop after the first paragraph, and say, “this guy is wacked!”

Anyways, I’ve felt for a long time now that my description (HERE) lacked a little in getting through how easy the 3 stone system really is.

So I’ve fired up my low definition video camera, and made my second video. (I decided to play some music as cover noise in the event of any unexpected bodily noises…)

Flattening the three 1000 grit stones is just like what I explained before. The order that I work the stones is intentional. The rotation I do is a key part of the system.

I then move on to 8000, and finish with the 4000. Again intentional.

Annnnnndddd. You guessed it. The odd order of rotation that I follow? Ya that’s intentional too. If you number the three stones from 1 – 3. 1 on the left, 3 on the right, the order is;

1, 2, 3, 2, 3, 1.

The idea is to maintain a consistent average UN- flatness that each of the three stones is subjected to.

The first stone sees the stone when it is at its most unflat, and then when it is the most flat.

That’s all folks.

October 6, 2012

Learn to sharpen your saws

Filed under: Picture issues,Sharpening,Skill development — fairwoodworking @ 3:09 pm

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


For as many people who are afraid to sharpen their chisels, and plane blades, there has to be 10 or even 100 people who fear sharpening their hand saws.

I am one of them.

The thing is, I use my saws a lot, and like many of us, I tend to forget that they dull quickly. If I was to ever hope to maintain a sharp edge on my regular users while using a sharpening service, I’m now convinced that I would need to own two of each. One at use, and the second in shipping to, or from my sharpener.
Or I can suck it up and learn to sharpen my saws.

Resawing by hand can be a real drag, especially if your saw is dull. The fear that many of us have is that we will screw the saw up. We tell ourselves that a dull saw is better than an amateur sharpening.

Last year for the first time, I sharpened this saw. I didn’t bother with set, or anything, I just filed the teeth. Even as a raw 1st timer I was blown away at how much quicker it cut. Sure I could have screwed it up, but if you can saw a straight line, and you pay attention, you should have the skills to sharpen the teeth of a rip panel saw.

Today, I sharpened it for the second time. My first thought was, I should have sharpened this months ago. Many, many months ago.

My second thought was, this saw seems to bind in the kerf more now. Some may see this as bad news. I see it as education. I now have a reference point for how much set I like with the saw.

Now I need to learn how to adjust the set of the teeth, and I’ll bet I’ll next learn how much set is too much.

That’s ok too. I’ve just got to dive into the learning curve, because I need to learn this stuff fast!

My dovetail saw, and miter box saw are desperately dull as well.

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…

May 7, 2012

I’ll take it as a win.

Filed under: chisel,Picture issues,Sharpening,Skill development — fairwoodworking @ 2:01 pm

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


In the spirit of craftsmanship of risk, you have to be willing to take the good with the bad. More often than not I’m getting my butt kicked to some degree, so I’m taking a sec to celebrate a very small win.

Ya, I know it doesn’t look like much, but it you have to know what to look for in this one. I was just chopping out the waste here, and rather aggressively at that. Chopping 1/8″ to 3/16″ at a time, in a wood that is some kind of ultra soft pine. A common complaint is that pine crushes too easily under an edged tool. To my amazement despite my aggressive approach, it wasn’t crushing at all….

Huh…. I guess I’m getting better at this sharpening thing….

I’ll take that as a win.

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