View Full Version : Very Pleasing Event

Ben Knebel
09-25-2003, 9:57 AM
Doug and I were asked to present the story of hand planes to a woodworking class---no, not just infills--but the care and feeding of handplanes and the uses and types etc.

Aside form the fact the Doug and I love to talk about planes and handtools in general; which made the event worth worthwhile for us by itself ,I was very pleased by what I saw there and was surprised by the number of people taking the courses.

The instructor runs 2 classes and between them there are 60 people enrolled and a nice mix of both women and men--I'd say about 30% of the class was female. Some folks have been taking this course for 4 years--nightschool.

It was an invitational event and out of the 60 people a little over 30 showed up for a discussion on handplanes; amasing when you think about it it in this powertoolcentric world.

Even more interesting was the fact that 24 of the folks owned and used a least 1 handplane and 18 of them had more than one.

This is all very good news for us handtoolcentric folks and bodes well for the continued proliferation of handtools and the development of those all important hand woodworking skills.

As a manufacturer of handtools it reaffirmed for us that we aren't entirely nuts to be doing this for a living: the market is growing and the interest in handtools growing with it.

Good news for all of us in this game.

Ted Shrader
09-25-2003, 10:23 AM
Ben -

Thanks for posting your experience during the presentation to the woodworking class.

All of us use hand tools to some extent. The craft can't be performed without them, Admittedly, I favor tools the are powered by electrons rather than muscle for the major work, but soetimes only a handtool will do.


Dave Anderson NH
09-25-2003, 10:50 AM
I like to think we are now in a second golden age of hand tools. Things probably reached the bottom of the pit back about 20-25 years ago when little was readily available in quality hand tools. It began to improve quite a bit about 10 years ago when specialty outlets like Garrett Wade, Highland Hardware, Rockler, and Woodcraft Supply became more numerous and their catalogs became widely available. After Tom Lie-Neilsen proved that high quality planes would sell in spite of their prices the pace of improvement accelerated. There are a lot of folks out there selling very high quality tools and more seem to be entering the market every day. As long as the company goal isn't to become a large multinational conglomerate, these folks will have nice profitable businesses and will continue to thrive. Woodworking shows, the increased number of magazines catering to woodworkers, the internet, and public exposure from TV shows all have helped to grow the market and a larger market means more choices for us. While hand tools will never have as large a market as the power stuff I suspect that more and more folks will begin to supplement their power tool use with newly acquired hand tool skills. A final factor in the equation is the rapid growth in the number of both woodworking schools and the number of top end woodworkers who are doing at least part time teaching. Even here is the tiny state of NH we have the Homestead Woodworking School, Mike Dunbar's Windsor Institute, Alan Breed's new Breed School, some classes at the Canterbury Shaker Village, and private tuition classes taught by Tom McLaughlin, turner Jon Seigel, and a number of other. The local Woodcraft also has a number of classes too. There's a wealth of knowledge out there if you look for it and almost all of it includes hand tools. The new golden age is here.

Steve Kubien
09-25-2003, 12:09 PM
I believe and hope that you are correct, Dave. I am amazed by the high quality tools my money goes into. LV, LN, Shepherd, Knight, C&W, Two Cherries, Hock, Clifton, Adria and others I am sure are all producing great stuff and we, the lucky and broke, consumers are reaping the benefit. I think it's a great time to be involved in hand-tool woodworking. Who knows, my tools may become collectors someday! Heaven knows the work they produce won't.

Take care,
Steve K

David Robinson
09-25-2003, 2:47 PM
Excuse me if I ramble a bit, but I've given this "new to hand tools" thing alot of thought lately. As a woodworking new guy (only built one item so far, but practiced on lots of "shop jig" type things), hand tools scare the whozits outta me. Well, not so much anymore, but they used to.

The internet, or more correctly the ease and proliferation of information has greatly helped me get started with hand tools. But only because I felt that I HAD to learn this in order to accomplish my goals and pushed myself in that direction. The info is not out there asking for new folks to pick it up. It's hiding in the shadows waiting to be found. I think more new woodworkers like myself would be drawn to hand tools if there were some clever marketing from the hand tool manufacturers themselves. Fear of the unknown, the mystery of hand tools, was a big problem for me. I'm not alone either. I took a hand tool class at a local woodcraft, and the other students there felt the same way. Two big problems faced me before I made the plunge.

The first problem was that the woodworkers wanting to help, weren't helping. Advise to a brand new guy to go by so and so's book on the proper setup and use of hand planes is just plain intimidating. Not that I'm afraid of books, but having to get a book before you can use the tools goes against most peoples experience. I would hazard a guess that most people wanting to try woodworking have used hammers, circulars saws, or the like before on a home improvement project, etc. You buy a circular saw, read 2 pages worth of how to change the blade and your ready to go. Which goes hand in hand with the second problem: Does your jigsaw have a dull blade? Buy another one, put it on and you're working. When I found out after buying my Record chisels that they weren't sharp enough for woodworking, I thought I was gonna have a break down. What did I know absolutely nothing about? Sharpening chisels, planes, and saws of course(sharpen a saw?! - that was a shock too). So now the new guy has some chisels that he doesn't know the correct way to use because he didn't buy the 200 page history of chisels book, and he can't sharpen them because 1) he doesn't know how, and 2) because if he went out and bought a wetstone, it wouldn't have directions with it anyway, and 3) there are only a million different stones/methods of sharpening out there, all of which claim to work better than someone elses method.

On the plus side, hand tools may take a long time to master, but you can get up and working well with them in a day. Very sharp learning curve if the information is available to you. I'm very fortunate to have a Woodcraft nearby that offers a class in handtools, which included setting them up properly and sharpening the blades. I actually like using them! I even went so far as to not buy a jointer. I put together a shooting board for my #4 Stanley plane, and use that to join. It works!

I think more folks would be drawn to the hand tools if the mystique were removed. It would be cool to see a spot on the bottom of a Lie Neilsen ad that said "New to hand tools? No problem, visit our website for information on care and setup. It's easy and you'll love the results." You never see that sort of stuff though.

So yes, there is a lot of information out there, but you have to search, and sometimes search hard. Offering information to the new folks up front would help the hand tool cause much more than what's being done now.

Enough rambling I suppose, especially for my first post ;)

BTW, I'm Dave, I want to build guitars, and kinda got sucked into the whole other world of woodworking because of the guitar thing. Nice to be here.

Doug Evans
09-25-2003, 5:15 PM
Rather than get very verbose about it, I think Ben and I will compile our notes (we have done a few of these presentations now) and set up a "New To Hand Tools" section on our site, as you have suggested.

I learned quite a bit from this event. As Ben said, there were quite a number of women woodworkers involved in Dana's program, and during one of the open "try things out" periods, I observed one lady struggling to complete a pass with a smoother in a dense hardwood. The plane was well-tuned and she was using the plane correctly however, the horizontal force required was excessive for her wrists. It made me think that a 1 3/4" blade-width might not be a bad move on one of our designs. For those of slighter build, it would cut out about 20% of the force but not really change much of the verical pressure.

Ashlar participated in the presentation, as he did over the weekend, when we were down in Connecticut, and at Dunbar's in New Hampshire. Dave (Anderson) is right when he points to such stellar examples of the way things have progressed on the neander side. It is one area where we excel. I threw in some pics from the weekend and some eye candy from our booth at the CT Valley School of WW/New Haven Woodcraft.



Jeff Kurtz
09-25-2003, 10:27 PM

Although I do love living up here in the sticks, I envy those of you who have so many opportunities to attend workshops, auctions, classes, etc. Here, in Upper Michigan, we have absolutely nothing by way of those things, so I rely heavily on what I can read in books and in these forums.

Seems that power tools have been the "norm" for so long with tradesmen, that hand tool skills once so common are now forgotten. My grandfather was a poor man, so he owned very few tools, and none of them were very good. You'd never know that to look at the beautiful gunstocks he used to make. Just wish he'd have lived a bit longer to pass those skills on to me.


Marc Hills
09-26-2003, 12:45 AM
I like to think that this resurgence in hand tools and traditional woodcraft is being driven by many of the same factors that gave rise to the arts and crafts design movement:

- A rejection of mechanization and the distance it creates between the piece and its owner.
- The detachment one feels from something made with an over-reliance on manufactured, man-made materials.
- A disdain for design elements that have more to do with ease of production than they do with aesthetics or function.
- A growing desire for a design and construction philosophy driven less by mass-market tastes and more by the expressive efforts of the person who builds, owns and uses the piece.

I would add to that a very human response to our over-reliance on technology and mechanization (I type on my computer with a twinge of irony). The homeowner grilling steaks in the backyard and likewise "cooking up" some do-it-yourself project after a day at the office or the factory has long been part of the North American culture. (I'll let our continental and down under friends add to that as they see fit).

It only stands to reason that in this age of the computer workstations, automatic doors and supermarket laser-scanning check outs, our modern heritage of deck building/fence making/flowerbox crafting might further evolve to the use of tools and techniques farther away from modern technology. In the 1940s and 1950s, I don't think many people had the luxury of seeing power tools as threatening or "unauthentic"; a Skilsaw for the home handyman was simply cool, and a tremendous convenience. Today, using a vintage cross-cut saw to size up a pine panel is seen as a comforting alternative to the buzzing, electron-eating norm of using a power tool.

So it's a bit ironic that some of us can feel frustrated when we instinctively turn to our computers for information on traditional hand tool technique, yet get frustrated when the advice comes back "read [such and such] a book".

But I can relate to what David Robinson feels, I'm just a little more philosophical about it. I still consider myself very much a novice, and I only recently emerged from that awkward period where even forum posters' earnest attempts to help were sometimes only marginally useful. Knowing that Garrett Hack's "The Handplane Book" is an excellent resource only goes so far in assisting you if you have a jack plane purchased from Home Depot and it most certainly does not plane wood out of the box. Especially when you don't have an extremely well stocked local bookstore or Woodcraft.

But I will say this. Ironic as it may be, modern technology in the form of the Internet has opened my eyes to vintage tools and techniques, and put me in touch with many fine and thoughtful people. At first it was just knowing that there were others out there who at least wanted to help and eagerly shared knowledge, or who could point me in the right direction. Or who would at least say, "Yeah, mass market planes really do suck, but didn't you learn a hell of a lot tuning it up?"

Dave Anderson NH
09-26-2003, 8:04 AM
Dave Robinson does raise some good points about our tendency to offer advice in the form of " go buy the book". We live in an age where there are few opportunities for most of us to go and apprentice under a master in any manual skill arena. As a result we have substituted classes at schools, books, the internet, and clubs or guilds. An equally viable alternative we sometimes forget about is the growing number of video tapes which show hand tool skills. In many ways these offer a better method of learning since they engage two of our senses, hearing AND sight. The only better alternative is one which adds the sense of touch, be it a class, work with a mentor, or a formal training program. Most folks learn far better and quicker if they can watch a full process and hear a running commentary on it at the same time. There is also the advantage of being able to rewind and repeat something which is unclear or which you caught only part of. There are many excellant videos available from Taunton and other places on dovetails, mortise and tenon joints, sharpening, carving, and a host of subjects.

One thing that almost all of us are guilty of in spite of our pathetic attempts at patience, is a desire for instant knowledge. As the pace of our lives becomes quicker and demands on our time become greater, we all (myself included) long to be able to execute our desires immediately and in good style. Almost all of us lack the chance to apprentice over several years with a highly skilled old style woodworker and get large amounts of practice in any single skill. After all, we do this as a hobby and not as a vocation. We look for the quick fix, we are impatient, we want it NOW. Unfortunately we won't get it now. Skills take time and huge amounts of practice to acquire and the deadlines of our lives and the daily demands on our time of work and family conspire against us. We have as a result looked to the very thing which caused much of our problem for the answer- Technology. Videos, email, the internet all offer partial solutions to acquiring knowledge and providing descriptions of that we seek. In the final analysis though we must practice and spend time working to get the skills we seek. The old proverb "practice makes perfect" still holds true. We must resign ourselves to the fact that we will never reach the skill level of, and the smooth economy of effort and movement of the professional full time in days of yore. That is not to say we can't produce projects showing equal levels of skill, that is possible with time and practice. But we won't be able to do it as quickly or fluidly and with the the same mistake free regularity. We are the Don Quixotes of our age.

Glenn Clabo
09-26-2003, 10:02 AM
We are the Don Quixotes of our age.

Dave…That is PERFECT!

When I started working, I thought everyone started as an apprentice. I was taught by an old French cabinetmaker who equated hurried work with lazy work. He didn’t do hard work…he did work to be proud of. I remember how every job required quiet time to sharpen the tools.

Then I moved on to apprentice at GE as an all around machinist. A program that has long ago been stopped because it wasn’t “cost effective”. The first week is etched in my memory. I spent the entire week sharpening drill bits. I thought I would never please the boss instructor. I hated that man…for that week. I can’t tell you how many times I have thought of that grumpy old man as someone who had a huge hand in my success.

Now I work in the Submarine business. We as an industry have not had Shipyard apprenticeships for a long time and we suffer for it. They are trying to start them up again but most still believe that giving someone tools and paying him makes him a mechanic. I fight the “a mechanic is a mechanic” mentality almost everyday.

So what is this leading me toward? I guess as I get closer to retirement I feel myself being pulled back to hand planes, hand saws, and chisels. Maybe I’m getting old enough to recognize that wood, like me, responds better to quiet contemplation...or then...maybe I'm just getting old?

Perry Schmidt
09-26-2003, 11:09 AM
I was going to post about 'going down the handtool path' down the road, but it's such a perfect compliment to this post.

I recently started doing just what a lot of this post is discussing. For me, I learned from my father, who came more from a construction background, but build his first house w/ hand tools: Dug the basement w/ a shovel, cut all the 2x4's w/ a handsaw, drilled the holes w/ a hand auger (sp?) and used a hammer. So for him powertools (especially the skill saw) were great! But I really wondered about people when I completed an addition to our house a few years ago when someone was giving me a hard time because I didn't use a nail gun. He was amazed that I actually 'hammered' in all the nails. :)

I found the handtool path to be very interesting. The handtools I did get sucked! You get a Stanley and it will be good, right? Well, not necessarily so anymore. And then it should work out of the box right? Wrong. So all my chisels, planes, saws, etc. worked very poorly. So of course I'll use power tools. But because of things like Badger Pond and SMC I find out I'm doing it wrong, start getting/reading books and find out how to do it right. And it's a difference between night and day. What I found very funny (and interesting) is I asked for a nice set of chisels for Xmas this last year and got them from my parents. Then I was telling them I couldn't wait til I got them sharpened so I could use them. M&D didn't believe me. 'You don't have to sharpen them, do you? NO! They should be ready to go!' When I showed them the quote from some book that they needed to first be sharpened, they were surprised. This is the SAME man who built his first house w/out power tools! I suspect that the old Hardware Store approach they were much nicer in selling the tools, then making sure they were in good working order (i.e. sharpened, or helped you sharpen them) before you used them. This Xmas Dad is bringing down a couple of bench planes he got from his father for me to tune up and sharpen - I'm now teaching him :)

So some of that 'basic handtool knowledge' has been lost :( And people like Norm aren't helping. Doing a production run, power tools are GREAT. But if I'm making a single piece of furniture, you can do it just as good and fast (with the right practice :) w/ handtools. But people have forgotten that.

Now I also agree with many - the advent of Woodcrafts, etc. has helped a lot. But I noticed that even Woodcraft is scaling back it's good handtool stock. A lot of 'discountined' in their catalogs lately. I hope they don't succum to the 'dark side' also.

And finally - if you live on the east coast (especially North East) or midwest, count your handtool blessings. I grew up in the Midwest and spent some time in NH. I figured the same - not hard to find at these places. Now I live near Dallas. I started the 'estate sale/flee market' search and found squat. I called Tom Law to see if he had any good used tenon saws and he mentioned that you won't find much in the 'used handtool' market down south. NE is the best with East coast and Midwest being Ok too. But he said he's sent a lot of used saws to Texas lately :)

But I digress. I hope the art of handtool use does come back. I'm JUST starting down that path myself and so far enjoy it. And I hope that passion continues for many many years. And I hope I can pass that same passion onto my kids.


Doug Evans
10-03-2003, 6:06 PM
Well... maybe not Ben...

Here are some piccy's from the event.


Gord Taylor
10-07-2003, 6:14 PM
Hi Folks,I was one of the people in Dana,s class.Wanted to say thanks for coming out found what you had to say very informative. By the way I loved the way your toys worked gotta get me one, one of these days.
Here is little tale from my shop since you guys were in, I was using my stationary belt sander to clean up a bandsaw cut(I know shame on me) first of four when an internal belt gave up at 10:00 at night. Took out the plane and went to work before I knew it was done and enjoyable. Skipped the bandsaw and used the plane to do the other three, it was great, turned off the air cleaner turned on the radio.
btw the legs turned out great

Doug Evans
10-07-2003, 8:03 PM
Awhile back, Roger Nixon (Traditional Tools site) talked about a similar session he did down in Kansas and the fact that he could have influenced probably one woodworker.

I have a bit of feel-good here knowing I might have had a small part in your initiative. Thanks for the feedback.