With the release last week of the third volume of Lost Art Press's reprints of the writings and drawing of Charles H. Hayward I got to thinking about the other greats of woodworking writing and who is better for what. Paul Hasluck, Bernard Jones, and George Ellis were all pioneers in woodworking writing, starting in the last third of the nineteenth century and continuing until the early twentieth, They all worked at one time or another for "Work Magazine" and today, over a century later, their work is some of the best guides to Victorian woodworking practice. Ellis, ( Modern Practical Joinery & Modern Practical Stairbuilding and Handrailing are still in print) wrote mostly for professionals or really beginners striving to do professional type work. Other out of print titles of his were for late 19th century professionals and titles such as "Modern Practical Carpentry" are just the thing if you want to build a railroad trestle or flying scaffolding out of wood. His book of examination projects for carpenters, is an advanced exam for Edwardian framers, but today we have greatly simplified the process of framing so the book is out of print and rare. (When we set up our book ripper again I will scan my copy and post it but it will be awhile). I think I can also safely suggest that in the 19th century all these writers were still feeling their way on how to write instructional material. On one end was the professional, who trained by apprenticeship, and on the other were schoolchildren who were doing very basic stuff. These writers were trying to give instruction for people who didn't have the benefit of an apprenticeship but still wanted to build stuff. You also should realize that if you wanted to be a cabinetmaker in 1890 you left school and apprenticed at age 14. As a teenager you might take some classes using Ellis or his contemporaries as a textbook. But all of these writers (Jones excepted) expected that you know how to use your tools, cut straight and sharpen. Ellis's books for the most part skip basic technique.
Paul Hasluck was primarily an editor, taking material from many authors and turning it into a coherent whole. Carpentry and Joinery is possibly the best book ever written on late Victorian architectural woodworking techniques, but it's certainly not a book for the raw beginner. The writing is crunchy by modern standards, and the drawings while truly superb - and you can learn tons - aren't step by step (except for window layout). A beginner can learn about layout and structure and I think Carpentry and Joinery is a mandatory read for anyone doing architectural restoration.
Of the three authors Bernard Jones is probably the most accessible and useful to modern beginning woodworkers. The four volume Practical Woodworker series we stock is awesome. Jones makes a decent attempt to teach beginner hand skills and the books have a tone of a classroom text - with lots of extras. I learned a lot.
All three of these authors worked for Cassell's publication at one time or another but it was a rival organization that nurtured Charles Hayward. Percival Marshall was the founder and editor of "The Model Engineer" an awesome publication for metalworkers and in 1901 he launched a sister publication "The Woodworker" specializing in woodworking.
Charles H. Hayward became the editor of The Woodworker at the start of World War two. His unique ability to write well, draw explanatory materials, plus a professional apprenticeship as a cabinetmaker gave him the unique ability to explain how to do stuff better than anyone before or since. Lost Art Press has reprinted three volumes so far of his articles, grouped by Tools, Technique and Joinery. You don't get the narrative buildup that you get in Jones, or the traditional complexity of structure that Ellis and Hasluck delve into but you do get amazing short articles on all sorts of subjects, that really teach you important stuff. As the books are made up of independent articles you can dip in an out as you feel. Jones is trying to build a training narrative but Hayward is far more succinct, has a modern writing style, and between text and drawings you will understand more than you could possibly imagine.
I cannot imagine anyone not wanting to read Hayward, it's that good. I recommend Hasluck and Ellis for learning how Victorian architecture and carvings were designed and put together. Finally Bernard Jones has been a favorite of my for years for his traditional education and his attention to the details of woodworking.
First some tool news:
This Saturday we are hosting a Festool demo day. Come one, come all, details HERE.
I've just put up a series of vintage tools for sale. Mostly planes that are either dups in my collection of I just seem to have for no reason. All are great users. Pricing is market but everything is covered by are 6 month warranty including return postage. Take a look Here.
I was a kid but I remember when the Whitney Museum opened in a crazy modernist building designed by Marcel Breuer back in 1966. It was a big deal then and even fifty years later the building still looks modern, more so in fact than bunches of newer buildings. In any case the Whitney moved downtown and the Metropolitan Museum of Art took over the building to give more space for their modern art collection.
This past weekend I went to visit the new Met Breuer. I had wanted to see the exhibit by Diane Arbus - who I like and there was a major exhibition by Kerry James Marshall. I started at the top floor with an exhibit of Paul Klee.
My eleven year old son said "These are just doddles". I was wondering "did I really dislike this stuff" or did I just had a closed mind and was being negative". I'm still not sure.
Then I went to the Diane Arbus show. It was early work, and like most creative people showed a glimmer of what she would become, but like most creative people, I cannot imagine her wanting this stuff to see the light of day anymore. Technically it wasn't very good, it was awkwardly displayed, poorly printed, and a lot of the shots were out of focus. In the context of modern ubiquitous cell phone photography lots of it seemed invasive without being informative. You really knew it was a show about having the material, not about what information and emotion the material was communicating when outside the restrooms the very storage cases the negatives were kept in were also on display.
Finally two floor were given over to Kerry James Marshall, a major artist of our time. I didn't hate the stuff, his stuff is narrative which usually appeals to me but his overall lack or technique turned me off. Of the three exhibits his was the only one that I thought established a communication with the audience, but by the same token I think he could reach a larger audience if his technique was better. The questions I have for myself are: Would I have liked the work better if it wasn't in a crowded room? Would I have like it better if there were fewer pieces? Why am I missing the point?
What do I mean by this? To me great art, whether it is a play, a piece of furniture, a painting, a book, a movie, or a dance performance is about communication. Shakespeare's plays are 400 years old but they still communicate ideas and people still marvel at their ideas. Federalist furniture is two centuries old but it still tells us a story of proportion, restraint, and upper middle class but not regal luxury.
Older art by definition is pretty much filtered by time. Most of the crap doesn't survive and museum warehouses are full of the crap that does. Except as historical curiosities it stays hidden from view. The problem I have with so much of modern art is that I see it unfiltered by time. It's in a museum because some curator said it should be. The sad part is that the public, those wonderful folks who support the arts with grants, tax credits, and visits, aren't such fans as the curators would like them to be. If the art doesn't communicate with an audience, and the public stays away then our great institutions will find it harder and harder to get funded. And increasingly museums are places not for the citizens, but for tourists to cross off the map. Oh - I was asked by a staffer where we came from and on questioning I found that most of the visitors that day (and I think every day - even though it was a Sunday) are tourists, not locals. Not from around here. I can guess why.
Note: When you visit the Met - any branch, their policy is "pay what you wish" as long as you give them something you can get an admission pass. Kids under 12 are free. They have a large suggested donation but I pay based on how much time I plan to stay there and how flush I am feeling at the moment. The important point and I applaud the museum for this is that they would rather you and your friends and relations come visit and pay what you can, than be scared off by the not inconsequential suggestion of a $25 donation a head.
Note: I have been reliably informed that the Museum of Modern Art is getting rid of their once awesome design galleries and instead are spreading their design collections though other shows. I am not sure if this is to increase the overall quality of some of their other shows, or because they want to get people like me to rush through all their galleries in search of practical objects (I do need the exercise) but I pray that I am wrong and the design exhibitions will continue. Did you know that MOMA once, a long time ago, had practical classes in woodworking, pottery, and jewelry? I feel another blog entry coming on.
Chris Pye is one of the best teachers I have ever had the pleasure of learning from. Certainly a decent part of his success with students is due to his insistence on getting the basics right. If you study with him in person or on-line through his most excellent website one of the first things he talks about is how to hold a carving tool effectively. For me, following his advice made my carving much easier. I have both more control and more power at the same time. Also by learning that there are two basic grips and using the right grip for the right operation made it possible for me to control my tools and feel a lot less hesitant about carving. So I feel really great being able to share this basic tutorial on carving, written by Chris Pye. Chris's website works by paid subscription. It is worth every dime. You can subscribe directly on his site (we don't get a dime if you go direct) - He has hundreds of videos on all facets of carving.
- Have a Wonderful Thanksgiving to you and yours - from everyone at TFWW.
Get a Grip - by Chris Pye
Golfers know it. Baseball players know it. Even those who putt balls into little holes know it: The grip on the bat or club makes all the difference to how successfully you play the game.
It's also true of woodcarving, which is all about making the tools work for you. Once you have a properly sharpened, keen gouge in your hand, how you hold and manipulate the thing is crucial not just to the success of the carving but to the very joy of carving itself.
We carvers need grips that are safe, efficient, versatile, controlled and strong. I see students straining their wrists or elbows; limiting the flow of cutting edge through the wood; or making a lot more work about carving than is really necessary.
Putting aside what you shouldn't do, here are 2 exemplary ways of holding and manipulating full-sized carving tools. I use variations of these grips all the time. They will feel unfamiliar to begin with; your muscles and hand-eye co-ordination need to develop. But if you start with good practice and keep going, one day you'll find yourself swapping between these two hand positions continuously and without thinking - and your carving will have improved enormously.
Ground rules for both these carving grips:
These are 2-handed grips: one hand on the handle, the other on some part of the blade. Both hands work together.
The "blade hand" must rest in some way on your wood or bench adding so much extra control.
Keep your elbows in and move your body behind the tool.
The "Low Angle Grip"
Use this grip when the tool is cutting at a low angle to the wood, perhaps when running a groove, or cleaning up a surface.
1. Take a firm grip of the blade with one hand, so the little finger curls over about an inch or so behind the cutting edge. You should be able to see the back of the hand.
2. Depending on the width of your hand and the length of the tool, your thumb will wrap across a portion of the handle. Increase the control of this hand has over the tool by extending your thumb onto the handle.
3. Rest the heel of this blade hand on your wood. Sometimes I rest the whole of my forearm on the wood as well.
4. With the other hand, grip the handle comfortably. This hand is going to push.
Here's the secret: While you are pushing the tool with one hand, resist the forward movement with the other.
Thus there is a tension between your hands, a balancing of forces: pushing and resisting. It is the difference that allows the tool to cut in a controlled manner, starting and stopping precisely as you choose.
It's great if you learn to swap hands with this grip so you can work easily between left and right in either direction.
The "High Angle" Grip
This is an extremely important grip to master, combining control with finesse and, when you can involve your shoulder, a fair degree of power. Use it for setting in and detail work - any time the tool is presented more perpendicular to the wood.
1. Place a gouge upright on the wood surface.
2. Hold the handle somewhat like a dagger in your non-dominant hand.
3. Place the tip of the middle finger of your dominant hand onto the wood and tucked tight up behind the bevel of the tool, thus bridging tool and wood. The middle finger tip controls the blade in the same way as the heel of your hand did in the low angle grip.
4. Bring up the ring and little finger behind the middle finger to support it. t
5. You should have a finger and thumb of your dominant hand remaining. Use these to grip the blade.
6. At times, you can bring the heel of your hand down onto the wood surface too.
You needn't swap hands with this grip and, to get the most from this way of holding takes time: you will need to develop the gripping muscle between your index finger and thumb.
Those are the two basic grips: you will develop these ways of holding as you become familiar with them, adapting to circumstances. Eventually you will not notice yourself swapping between the two in a fluid manner and find yourself carving more comfortably and successfully.
This coming Saturday I will be giving my first class ever in grinding. It's actually not the first time I have taught this - I did an abbreviated demo years ago at a show. However this will be the first time I'm teaching grinding in a formal way. The class, as are all the classes I teach is free. Our basic thought on teaching is that the more people, especially beginners that can get past the hump of basic skills the more enjoyable and more involved they will be in woodworking, and I guess participating rin craft overall. For me it's also a chance to chat with woodworkers at more depth than usual. You can read about the class here. I hope you can come. I'm pretty excited.
This past Saturday I did another session of my class on sharpening. Since the class is free we don't always know how many people will should up. We ask everyone to register but there are usually cancellations and additions at the last minute, which isn't a big deal. I would much rather people try to make it, or make it at the last moment than skip it. It's also an interesting delemma for me. A small turnout means I can have more hands on for everyone. A larger turnout is good for my ego.
I will be repeating the sharpening and grinding class at some point in the future so if you can't make it no worries.
December 3rd we will be having a Festool Demo Day. What happens is that we set up all the tools and our local Festool rep, will exhaustively demo any tool you have questions about. We do this anytime if you need a demo but - he gives great demo. The official hours are from 11-1 but if people should up around 1 or so we will keep it going as long as we need to.
Our showroom is constantly being expanded - it's just everything takes longer. We are replacing one of our doors with a glass door so we look less like a warehouse and more like a store. But at the same time saw production is greatly expanded and piles of Hardware Store Saw, which btw now comes in an awesome presentation box, and our Gramercy Tools saws are being produced.
This fall we just added a new line of china bristle brushes. It's what we use for painting milk paint but we also use it for regular paint and varnish. Unlike our ox and fake badger brushes which have a super fine hair for shellac and lacquer these are moderately priced general purpose brushes for general work. We also have them with round ferrules, the latter being a traditional shape that holds more paint.
Green woodworking is more popular than ever and for lots of people that means "Spoon Carving" Take a look at these spoon carving tools by Ray Iles, Solid, heavy duty, and with very comfortable handles.
Lost Art Press will have a bunch of new books this fall, including volume 3 of Hayward. I am very excited and looking forward to that.
In the power tool areas Festool has a new box of workbench accessories. Like every year it is probably more expensive than it should be but it also contains a couple of new items - 2 low profile fences and 4 bench dogs. We will stock them when they are available.
We also took in a huge range of Make it Snappy tools. Snappy is one of those great Made in USA company that is constantly facing pressure from knockoffs overseas. But their stuff is better quality than their imitators and they make a huge range of useful accessories.
In other news I am in the middle of writing - well actually I haven't started - some software to help track inventory better so in theory that should result in fewer things out of stock, and I am also getting ready for a Cyber Monday sale.
This year our Cyber Monday sale will be smaller than usual, and should really be the start of some regular special stuff. We will be selling off about 25 planes that are excess to my collection. Pricing is lower than some dealers but higher than random flea market stuff and, unlike Ebay, you can return anything you don't like. The descriptions are as accurate as I can make them. I have tons more stuff I need to sell off but I don't know how much more will be ready in time. So hopefully we will just release stuff weekly for awhile.
Last time this year I was in a blind panic about finding a new home for TFWW. We had been in negotiations with our then landlord for several months, and I honestly thought we would have a deal. But when I got the lease, it was a non-starter. So my lawyer said, Find a new place, and I listened to him. Instead of getting new products for the fall and winter seasons, I spent my time and energy looking at overpriced warehouse spaces.
We actually found our current home, 112 26th Street, Brooklyn 11232, during Christmas week 2015, when I, the only guy dumb or desperate enough to try to find a new warehouse in the snow during Christmas week, and the only real estate agent working that week in Brooklyn met at at the space. Done! We worked out a deal.
The next few months were a mad dash of packing up a warehouse - about 12 25' truckloads of stuff, machinery movers, and gangs of people disassembling and reassembling everything. I am extremely proud of my crew as we only stopped shipping for two days.
Flash forward to the present. This year we're managing to do what retailers are supposed to do this time of year - get some new stuff in.
We decided to focus on rounding out product lines. So we have Milk Paint, Snappy Tools which are made in USA, and basically have a gazillion attachments for drills, socket drivers, even stuff especially for Festool.
We took in a wide range of Occidental Leather goods. These guys make the best work belts and pouches - all in the USA.
We have new books. We are now carrying something Ray Iles has been after me for years to carry - Spoon carving tools. We stocked these on Ray's recommendation and they are really solid and well made. Sharp too!. In addition to the spoon carving tools Ray snuck in a tiny froe - he calls it a Micro Froe into the box he sent us. I'm not sure if I formally ordered them, or said send me a sample, or said throw in a dozen or so, but for small work they are perfect, and even in the small size the blade geometry is spot on.
We also extended our range of brushes to include under the BT&C brand some great brushes for regular finishing and to complement our range of milk paint.
Finally - Crowned CBN Wheels - currently we only have them in 6" diameter but 8" wheels should be here shortly. You get the advantage of a very cool running wheel that's crowned for ease of use, but needs NO DRESSING.
The three Stanley scraper planes in the picture above are part of my tool collection and largely unused. I have two more that didn't make it into the shot - a No. 80 and another No. 12 1/2. The No. 80 was purchased in the 1970's for use but I haven't used it in years. I have no idea where it is. My other 12 1/2 gets occasional use.
Scraper planes were a lot more popular in the days before sandpaper became ubiquitous. Cabinet scrapers, and scraper planes if you have a lot of scraping to do, are the best way to smooth patchy grain, knots, and other crazy grain features without doing a lot of sanding. Sanding does cover a multitude of sins, and for most people that what one does and that's it. But for many of you wanting a planed finish, scraper planes still have a place in the shop. Instrument makers who need to take off fractions of a shaving very carefully also have a call for scrapers.
But can anyone explain to me why the Stanley Catalogue No. 34 lists eleven different models including a glue scraper? (BTW that glue scraper is very handy and the Kunz version isn't bad either.)
Tool collectors might need every model of every plane. Tool users don't. Or at least I can't figure out why they would.
The interesting question is why Stanley decided to manufacture all these different versions. It certainly makes sense for an non-adjustable version and an adjustable version. But a plain one (No. 12) and a Rosewood bottomed one (12 1/2 in picture) - does it matter?
Of course the reason is that Stanley, like any large company, wanted to have a tool for every segment of the market. You want the lowest cost? Get the No. 80. You want to treat yourself to the top of the line? Get the 12 1/2. A small one handed scraper plane - for smaller work? The 212 fits the bill perfectly. But all these planes do exactly the same thing. The different models exist primarily to satisfy the needs of the manufacturer, not, except in very rare cases, the end user (you).
The same is true of bench planes. They're conveniently numbered from 1 to 8. You might want a smooth plane (3-4), and a long plane (6-8) ( see last blog). Some people also like the "jack" length found in the "5" family. One per group is easy to justify from a user standpoint. After that, I think you enter collector territory. In my particular case, very early on I realized that If I admitted I was a collector I didn't need to sharpen all the tools I owned, just the ones I used. This saved oodles of time and let me keep expanding my collection guilt free.
Stanley no longer makes the No. 80, but we stock a usable, pretty decent version by Kunz. Most Stanley scraper planes were manufactured in large numbers and are readily available on the used market. We stock replacement blades by Ron Hock for most models which are heavier, better made, and perform better than the original blades.