Dutch Pink

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Just a quick update on two things:

1. We are officially sold out on the Dutch Tool Chest course.

2. Checkout this excellent post by Chris on the tools needed to complete this chest.

We are really pleased so many of you signed up for this. it is going to be great fun. For those interested but too late we have created a waiting list for this course in case anyone drops out. But, if you want to work with Chris in the UK this summer for certain there are just a couple of places left on the Anarchists Tool Chest course. Be quick!

– Paul Mayon

Tom Fidgen and The Unplugged Woodshop

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My favourite comment about Tom Fidgen goes like this: ‘I love Chris Schwarz, he’s like the American version of Tom Fidgen’. Canadians get it, Americans roll their eyes and we British are still waiting for the punchline.

Tom Fidgen runs the Unplugged Woodshop – not in wilds of British Columbia but, much more improbably, in downtown Toronto. Tom describes himself as an author/musician/designer/maker. But actually he also teaches classes in woodworking.

Tom grew up on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, Canada. From back yard projects to home renovations he describes how ‘the wood bug’ bit him. After working for 10 years in the film industry on set design, and having the opportunity to travel from Mexico to Monaco with it, he started building traditional wooden boats in a one-man boat shop on the East coast of Canada. He soon began using hand tools more and more in his work. When the global economy took a turn for the worse he started building custom furniture using only hand tools. Tom has written for Popular Woodworking Magazine, Fine Woodworking Magazine, Canadian Woodworking Magazine and many other journals and periodicals. His first book, Made by Hand was the top selling wood working book of 2010 – so the boy can write.

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His second book, The Unplugged Woodshop is now available and I have read it cover to cover…

The first things that hit you are: This book is big, beautifully illustrated and the projects are mouthwateringly enticing. Like all those who ‘do woodworking properly‘ Tom Fidgen shows the value of making jigs, fixtures and workshop appliances: this is not a coffee table book about boutique tools.  It is clear Tom loves what he does – and he does a lot of it.

The meat and potatoes of the book are the 11 chapters of furniture, shop appliances and tools that Tom has designed and built.  Each project is accompanied by tips and advice that have a constant thread running through them: Get into good habits with your work.

For example there is excellent advice here on measuring out your joinery (twice), cutting and also checking it AFTER you have cut it to ensure you really did do what you thought you had done. Many people miss that check and it bites them later when they come to fit parts together.

Fidgen is opaque on why he chose some of the projects in the book but there is no denying each of them have presence, the Architect’s Table probably most of all.

For me his choice of materials sometimes dance on what the late Bill Hicks used to call ‘The Ledge Beyond the Edge’; check out the veneering on Toms card catalog as exhibit A (but then perhaps that is Canadian humour at work?)  Let’s not forget however that what he is doing here is showing readers how to apply techniques and he is packing a lot into each project. Ergo: this book is great value if you want an overview of a large number of hand tool techniques.

The Unplugged Workshop is pitched to a constituency of readers who are a known quantity:  There is a certain amount of assumed knowledge from the get-go and because of this the book is not perfect. This is demonstrated by Tom’s explanation of how to dimension rough timber:  TF advises us to put a cupped board with the cupped side down and create the reference face by traversing the opposite face with a jack plane.  This is all good and true but Tom also assumes a certain amount of skill in planing technique: Anyone who has tried this and got it wrong will know that planing the crowned side of a board can be difficult if you are not experienced; following the crown with the sole of the plane or digging deeper from one side of the board to the other to end with an offset crown being only two ways in which a neophyte can make a bit of a mess of the operation.

TFs message is seductive and it is easy to see why the unplugged workshop has its appeal: No power means much less noise, less dust to deal with, no extractor system to clean out, no need to worry if the table saw is about to eat your fingers or the router is about to go haywire across your freshly veneered box top. The ‘downside’ is hand tools take skill to use and building that skill takes time.  With the right mindset however that is not really a downside at all.

I have worked alongside some people who would (and actually do) claim that what Tom is doing is all so much romanticised hooey.  Those people would use the oft-touted aphorism that ‘If Thomas Chippendale had possessed a router he’d have used one.’  Well, I don’t doubt that is true but it misses the point of this book.  For Tom (and other hardcore hand tool users like him) the journey IS the destination.

Do you really need to make your saw bench out of Cherry? Nope. Is a kerfing plane an anachronism? Well, yes. Does this book make me want to make each and every project within it in my own way?  Ohmyyesindeedy…

Why is Tom Fidgen one of the best selling woodworking authors on the planet?… Because he makes you want to prop his book up in the workshop and start building.

– Paul Mayon

It’s Miller Time…

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It was the moment when Jeff Miller said ‘Yes’ to joining us at New English Workshop that I realised that all of those old Westerns I watched with my dad as a kid had gone far deeper into the reaches of my subconscious mind than I’d ever appreciated…Now stay with me on this: Remember the scene in the Magnificent Seven when Vin (Steve MacQueen) asks Chris  (Yul Brynner) ‘How many you got?’, well it feels like that right now.  Clearly the improbably tall Chris Schwarz is Britt (the James Coburn character….the whisper has it CS is pretty good with a knife too…), David Barron is a dead ringer for Robert Vaughn, Yannick Chastang is surely the Chico of this bunch and Mr Miller has brought the same taciturn way about him as O’Reilly (Bronson). Yes that’s how it is right now in my head. (DJ: Really? And who am I? Keep taking the medication Paul)

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So, the courses we will be running with David and Jeff side by side will not only be producing the most ‘I’ve got to have it!’ tool box I have seen in moons but also Jeff has agreed to design a piece specifically to teach at this event.

Both David and Jeff’s pieces have tension, rhythm, precision. and they’ll be bringing a bucket load of that with them when they join us.

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Enjoy the pictures. This is going to be fun.

– Paul Mayon

(Disclaimer: Derek Jones is not Steve MacQueen)

Stop the Presses

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Just a short update for now to tell you several pieces of news:
 – We are very nearly full up on both courses with Chris Schwarz (if you want one of the last few places be quick).
–  We have just agreed our schedule for late 2014 and 2015 and we will publish it over the coming week or two. 
 – We are running two courses in parallel in early 2015 and are delighted that David Barron has agreed to teach a course  on his sublime tool chest  (Frankly: I will be signing up for this one David so that is a place gone already). I will post pictures tout de suite of this asap for you to swoon over…
 – Another high profile US woodworker has agreed to join us who will be announced later this week.
 
DJ is practically purring…
 
So, we’ll leave you with a few words from the ever quotable Ludwig Mies van der Rohe to give you a clue:
 
“A chair is a very difficult object. A skyscraper is almost easier. That is why Chippendale is famous.”
(Hint: it is neither Ludwig Mies van der Rohe nor Thomas Chippendale…)
 
– Paul Mayon

Karl Holtey – Precision Infill Planes Taken to a New Level

Stop what you are doing. Stop.

Now go and get a brew….Got one?    Comfortable?     Now take a look at this:

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We don’t brag often at New English Workshop but when we tell you that we only bring the best in woodworking to you – we are not kidding.  Karl Holtey makes Very Serious Infill Planes. It is no exaggeration to say that Karl is probably the seminal figure in taking infill bench planes to an entirely different level of precision and beauty. Karl Holtey practices a trade centuries old and is widely regarded as the leading exponent of classic British pattern planes, taking up where makers like Spiers, Mathieson and Thomas Norris left off (Thinking about it, Norris would probably have wept at his own products if he could have seen a Holtey plane).

Working alone in a small, but faultlessly appointed workshop in the far North of Scotland, Karl is a focussed and passionate engineer who, over the years, has built up the most formidable reputation as a plane-maker; he is also one of the world’s foremost authorities on the wooden infill British pattern plane. Every part of every Holtey plane is made by Karl (and Karl alone) who works to incredibly high standards of design, fit and finish.

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We are delighted to tell you that at the culmination of New English Workshop’s first courses this July, the Anarchist’s Tool Chest that will be built by Chris and auctioned at David Stanley Auctions will feature the mitre plane pictured which has been hand crafted by Karl specifically for this event.  Both Derek Jones and I already envy mightily whoever will be the winning bidder.  The pictures say the rest.

– Paul Mayon

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To Make as Perfectly as Possible – Roubo on Marquetry

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The good burghers of Fort Mitchell, Kentucky have brought another tasty woodworking feast to the table in the first English-language translation of what is probably the most important woodworking book of the 18th century:‘L’Art du Mensuisier’  (The Art of the Joiner). The first volume of this epic work has now been made available in English as “To Make as Perfectly as Possible: Roubo on Marquetry”.

In the Anglophone world Roubo is not as well known as contemporaries such as Thomas Chippendale, Thomas Sheraton or Duncan Phyfe but has long been recognised as a giant of the craft in France. He was the son and grandson of master cabinetmakers, earning the same distinction himself in 1774 through the publication of his epic treatise on woodworking. He was, for his time, a very rare bird in that he was a practicing woodworker whose craft was based on first-hand experience of the trade and at the same time, he was a literate artist: He shared the ideas and values of the Enlightenment and dedicated himself to writing technical treatises. Roubo was on the fringe of the guild system by virtue of his training and from the start, his connections with the circle of the learned elite were much more developed than with the world of the Parisian ‘maîtres menuisiers’. Yet Roubo considered himself to be a member of the community of woodworkers, and he addressed his treatise to his fellow workers, as if it were the masterpiece required to be received into the guild.  By training and status, he was certainly an artisan.  But at the same time, we can see him as a quasi member of the Republic of Letters, whose fame rested on his expertise in woodworking,  joinery and (in part) architecture. The multi-volume L’Art du Menuisier, published between 1769 and 1774 by the Academie des Sciences, contains sections and illustrations on: building carpentry, furniture making, and precious woodworking (ebenisterie), carriage making, and garden woodworking.

All of the three volumes of L’Art du Menuisier have been widely available in their original language for many years with the best facsimile copy being published in the mid 1970’s. Now, a hugely dedicated team of translators, writers, woodworkers, editors and artists have worked for more than six years to bring this first volume to an English audience. It has clearly been a mammoth undertaking.

Has the vast effort been worth it? For English-speaking woodworkers the answer has to be a resounding yes. Why? Because not only is its core subject covered exhaustively, this book is emphatically not about marquetry alone: “To Make as Perfectly as Possible” covers a broad range of techniques of interest to woodworkers who are interested in hand-tool woodworking and the history of our craft.

In addition to veneer and marquetry , this volume contains sections on grinding, sharpening, staining, finishing, wood selection, a German workbench (excellent!), clock-case construction, engraving and casting brasses. But it is also a window into the woodworking world of the 18th century. Let’s be honest here, the French were always more skilled at marquetry than their English and German counterparts. spend some time examining Le Bureau du Roi – something N.E.W.’s own marqueteur Yannick Chastang has intimate knowledge of and you will see that this is the case. Here, as far as possible in a book, the techniques practiced by the marqueteurs of Roubo’s time are laid out.

Despite being read in translation we have a clear sense of the voice of an individual. Roubo speaks to the reader as one equal to another. What also comes across is his frustration at the ‘standards’ employed by some of his contemporaries. Unlike many chroniclers of his time, Roubo had actually talked to his fellow tradesmen to produce his treatise. It should be understood this was no mean feat in his time as France was a country of harsh travel, political foment and disparate cultures in the 1770s.

In a welcome addition to the translated text, there are essays on the techniques Roubo discusses from lead author Donald C. Williams and commentary on all of the plates (black and white in the smaller edition, colour in the larger). These are a welcome addition as what Williams does with real authority is to bring the techniques of the late 18th century into the workshop of the early 21st.  If there is any criticism to be made it is that some of the more peripheral subject matter such as the commentary on casting techniques is a little brief. Any reader tempted to cast their own hardware (the black art…) would be well advised to read much more deeply into the subject and probably take a course in the art.

“To Make as Perfectly as Possible” is printed to high standards and two versions of the book are available from Lost Art Press. One, a hernia-inducing leather and cloth bound ‘deluxe’ edition, has been produced at  the same size as the original 12″ x 17″, hardbound. The other ‘standard’ copy is also hardback, cloth bound and 8-1/2” x 12”. Both are produced to a very high standard.  In both the plates are beautifully presented but the larger edition has the edge when it come to the many photographs which add so much to explain some of the techniques discussed.

For me the smaller volume works best. Because, in the words of Robert Wearing ,‘Its real place is propped up on the bench like a music score, and if it eventually falls to pieces there it will have achieved its purpose’. It remains, however, a beautiful book in both of its forms. More than that it is an important book and a landmark title every serious woodworker should hold as a reference.

– Paul Mayon

Starless and Bible Black

 

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Storms are rolling in from the Atlantic bringing catastrophic flooding, very high winds and there is many a tree being brought down around where we live. That means free unseasoned timber if you have a chainsaw and something to haul it away in – there’s always an upside.

But that was not what I was focussing on today.  I was focussing on the chunk of lustrous black timber I dug out of my stock that came from much further afield. I have a piece of African Blackwood (Dalbergia melanoxylon) and I am going to make a smoothing plane out of it (its tuff stuff to photograph too).

But here’s a thing: whenever I consider designing something in terms of its function I tend to approach it in a different way than if I think only of its form.  To design my wooden smoother using Lee Valley’s kit I decided to take a function based approach.

How does a smoothing plane function?  It creates a finely polished surface by utilising a very sharp blade, a relatively short (but very flat) sole and a tight mouth.

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The Lee Valley PMV11 blade supplied in the smoother hardware kit (with its neat Norris style adjuster) will certainly provide my plane with the first of these and a certain amount of diligence and (hopefully) skill will provide the other two.

That’s not  all there is to it though… Certainly it is desirable for a plane to have a certain amount of mass (even a small one) and, if it is to be long-lived, the sole must be very wear resistant.  Reviewing these requirements led to the conclusion that a single species might not cover off all of the requirements… Therefore I have decided to use two species: My piece of African Blackwood for the body and a sliver of Lignum Vitae (Guaiacum sanctum), for the sole.  Originally I tried to get hold of a piece of Buloke (which is even harder than Lignum and, in theory at least, more wear resistant) but I think I may have been better advised to stand at the rear of a rocking horse for a while.

So, I have my materials.  Enough of words.  It is time to do.

– Paul Mayon