Of Blades and Bench Planes

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There are plenty of good reasons for staying true to the tools you choose: one of the most compelling is that turning a simple tool into a tuned instrument that works exactly as you intend in your hands is something that we all work to achieve every day – and it takes time. So, it’s important that you treat your tools just like you do your relationship with your ‘significant other’: choose wisely, be loyal, handle with care and with a regular application of baby camellia oil.

But for those of us who use metal bench planes exclusively there has always been the siren song of another way to tempt us. An older, simpler way: Wooden planes. James Krenov (who becomes ever more like a woodworking Obi-wan with every passing year), described wooden planes as ‘the tool’.

Now, they say good things come in threes and last week was no exception when it came to wooden planes: 

1. I was having a discussion with Derek Jones on the merits of tapered backsaw blades when he nonchalantly produced a stunning jointer plane he had purchased from David Barron and suggested I plane some rippled sycamore with it. DJ, (like all diligent providers of recreational chemicals) suggested I ‘just give it go’. Damn you Jones – it was smooth, sharp, silky and just so comfortable to hold. I could also feel feedback from the blade that most metal planes do not give. 

2. A fat, padded envelope containing a Lee Valley Veritas smoothing plane kit dropped through my letterbox. For those seeking to emulate David Barron, the LV kit contains a budding wooden plane maker’s dream: the instructions needed to make a tidy little smoother, a neatly designed adjustment mechanism for those wary of tapping their blade with a hammer and, crucially, a Veritas PM-V11 blade that took only 2 minutes on a 6000 grit water stone to become ‘holy-mother-of-God!’ sharp.  Nice.  So, by the time our first New English Workshop course with Mr Schwarz comes around, I hope to be toting my own home-bred smoother about the place on a hand-tooled leather gun belt.  If not I shall swallow my pride and beg David to sell me one of his.

3.  DJ and I received some great news: David Barron handed over this truly exceptional Lignum vitae (Guaiacum spp.) smoothing plane (pictured) to include in the Anarchist’s Tool Chest that Chris Schwarz will build this summer with us. At least it will be if anyone can prize it out of DJ’s steely grasp…

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– Paul Mayon

New English Workshop Summer School 2014 with Chris Schwarz

Summer School 2014

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Welcome to New English Workshop. The New English Workshop is a partnership of professionals and enthusiasts in the UK who are passionate about preserving the craft of fine furniture making. We are here to promote and encourage the use of traditional methods of working and so we’re focussed on providing training and education to the highest standard for likeminded souls.

So, in July 2014 New English Workshop (N.E.W.) will be bringing the renowned woodworker, hand tool user, writer and owner of Lost Art Press, Christopher Schwarz to the UK to head up an intensive 5-day course to build the now infamous Anarchist’s Tool Chest from scratch. Yes; we are creating Anarchy in the UK…(OK we know you have to be a certain age to understand that…).

In the spirit of Chris’s book the first New English Workshop summer school is designed to draw attention to the many skills that are dwindling from our curriculum and promote the craft of furniture making in the best way possible by getting hands on and building the entire chest using only hand tools. Challenging? Oh yes. Fun? Undoubtedly.

The summer school will be held at the prestigious Warwickshire College in Royal Leamington Spa. The course has room for 18 students of which some will be made available free of charge to students already attending the college. On completion of the course Chris has kindly agreed to donate the Anarchist’s Tool Chest he will be building during the course to raise money for the college.

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For those who don’t have a whole week to spare we are also putting on a 2-day workshop that will follow on from making the Anarchists Tool Chest to make the equally attractive Dutch Travelling Tool Chest that Chris has made so well known through his research. This shorter course will have room for a further 18 students who will complete their labours with a big smile and very tidy piece of kit they have made.

Of course any tool chest is of no use without tools to fill it! So New English Workshop are making sure Chris’s completed chest will be filled with quality items from makers and vendors who, like us, are passionate about providing for the next generation of craftsman. The chest and its contents are to be sold at auction with the entire proceeds donated to the college to make a contribution to help the outstanding work it is doing with some of the most talented upcoming young woodworkers in the UK.

We are really excited to be hosting this event as it is a unique opportunity for attendees to hone existing skills and learn a few new ones at the bench with one of the most committed hand tool users the furniture-making world has seen in many years.

For those interested in signing up for this exciting event, New English Workshop can be contacted via our website at: http://newenglishworkshop.co.uk/ , or via email at info@newenglishworkshop.co.uk.

– Paul Mayon