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Thread: Neander interview: Wilbur Pan

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Plano, TX

    Neander interview: Wilbur Pan

    1. Name (and nick names):

    Wilbur Pan

    2. Age/DOB:

    47 years old.

    3. Location (present and previous):

    I live in East Brunswick, NJ. My wife and I are Chicago natives, and moved to New Jersey about 11 years ago, and surprisingly we have really come to love living here.

    4. Tell us about your family:

    Married, with two boys, ages 8 and 4-1/2 years old.

    5. How do you earn a living, woodworking or other, any interesting previous occupations:

    I'm a pediatric oncologist. I don't pretend that I have the ability to make any money with woodworking.

    6. Equipment overview (hand tools and other):

    Hand tools:
    A variety of Japanese bench planes, set up for milling/jointing operations
    A variety of Japanese planes for joinery: the equivalent of a plough plane, rabbet plane, moving fillister plane, etc.
    A variety of Japanese chisels: bench chisels, mortise chisels, paring chisels
    A variety of Japanese saws, from big to small
    I also have western planes.

    Walker-Turner 16Ē bandsaw
    Rikon 10Ē jointer/planer combination machine
    Walker-Turner 15Ē floorstanding drill press
    Delta Homecraft 12Ē benchtop drill press
    Conover lathe, although I would argue that a lathe is not really a machine tool. When youíre turning something, the tool is held by your hands. The motor is attached to the spinning clamp.

    7. Describe your shop:

    My shop is a small walled off area of my basement that is about 20' x 11'. Its best feature is that there are a set of stairs that lead to a Bilco door so it's very easy to get things in and out of the shop. Its worst feature is the complete lack of natural light and low ceiling height. Because some of the HVAC ducting for our house runs right across the ceiling of my shop, Iím quite concerned about dust control. Because of my day job, I know too much about what wood dust can do to your lungs, and I would hate to find one day that my hobby gave my kids asthma. I think thatís one reason Iíve gravitated to hand tool use whenever possible.

    Our house is about 70 years old, and the original owner of our house had his workshop in this exact same space. Our backdoor neighbors remember the original owner as being an excellent woodworker. Apparently one summer there was constant activity in the shop, and when the Bilco doors opened, he brought out a boat. Hopefully Iíll pick up some of his talent by osmosis.

    8. Tell us about the hand planes you own, and your favorite one(s) to use:

    My favorite hand plane is one of my Japanese planes. I found it on eBay, and itís one of the first that I bought. I learned a lot from setting this plane up. This plane is really flexible. Depending on how I set the blade, I can use it to quickly hog away wood or get a really fine surface with it.

    9. Your favorite chisels:

    I really like the Fujihiro brand Japanese bench chisels that I have, made by a chisel maker named Imai. They are basic chisels, not fancy, and not particularly pricey (except for what has happened to the dollar-yen exchange rate over the past few years), but they get super sharp really easily, and stay sharp for a long time, even in very hard woods.

    10. Your favorite handsaw(s):

    I have a handmade 210 mm ryoba from a sawmaker named Heiji. Itís a fantastic saw, and is great for joinery cuts. I even use it for dovetails, even though itís not a backed saw like your typical dovetail saw.

    11. Do you use western tools or Japanese? Why do you prefer the ones you use:

    Mainly Japanese tools. I do have and use some western tools as well. I think that the ergonomics of Japanese tools sometimes make things easier to do than with western tools.

    I'm of Chinese descent, and when I first started up with woodworking I learned that there was this world of Japanese tools and woodworking. I think that being of Asian heritage partly made me want to learn what this was all about.

    12. Do you have a woodworking home page:

    Last February, I started a blog, Giant Cypress ( It's mainly about Japanese woodworking tools, but it's taken on a life of its own. So mixed in with the articles about Japanese woodworking tools you'll find posts about Asian American pop culture, New Jersey, and stupid jokes.

    13. Do you have any influences in your work? Certain styles or designers you follow/prefer:

    My wife tends to dictate this for projects that are going into the house. She likes styles with cleaner lines, and subtle curves, and is not a big fan of too much fanciness, like elaborate marquetry.

    14. Do you have any ancestors who were woodworkers that served as inspiration:

    My dad. He never was into what most woodworkers today would call ďfine woodworkingĒ, but he knew how to build things well. He built a set of floor-to-ceiling bookcases out of home center plywood, using joinery that was no more sophisticated than glue-and-screws. But these bookcases were built so well that they have survived over 30 years and three moves. This taught me the importance of building things well.

    15. What is your favorite neander project, or part of a project, you have ever done and why:

    So far itís a stand for a benchtop drill press. Itís really nothing more than a case about 24Ē wide, 30Ē high, and 22Ē deep with a shelf in the middle. But itís my first casework piece that I made completely with hand tools, and it was the first time I successfully pulled off 22Ē long dovetail joints, which were much easier to make than I thought it would be. Thatís the moment that I knew that I really had a good idea as to what Iím doing.

    16. Do you believe there is any spiritual dimension to woodworking with hand tools:

    I do, but not in the sense that most people would call spiritual. To me, thereís no logical reason to build most furniture the way that we do. A great example is a bookcase. You can use cinder blocks and 2x material to make a bookcase that is structurally just as strong as any bookcase made with traditional joinery methods. So itís hard to make the logical case why anyone would want to have a cherry bookcase in their living room other than aesthetics and the pleasure of having something that is made well and with care. The difference between the two, I think, is the spiritual dimension that all woodworkers and anyone who has an appreciation for fine furniture have.

    On the other hand, and this may be a surprise, given my interest in Japanese woodworking tools and the usual stereotypes about Japanese woodworking, but I donít think there is anything particularly spiritual about the tools themselves. One of the assumptions Iíve been working with in trying to understand Japanese woodworking tools is that there are more similarities than differences between Japanese and western hand tools. After all, at the end of the day itís still sharp pieces of metal cutting through pieces of wood, and at some level physics takes over. I think that most everything about Japanese tools has a basic, easily understandable explanation as to why things work the way that they do, despite how different they may seem to be at first glance.

    17. How much of your work is done by hand tools. Do you use whatever is best for the job or do you use hand tools even when they are less efficient:

    I use power tools for milling operations and most drilling, and hand tools for just about everything else. Although I know how to mill a board by hand, I donít love it. I use a drill press because I am bad at drilling.

    One unexpected thing about using hand tools is that they have made me much less picky about my machines. If my planer blades get nicked and the nicks leave a track on my board, I could spend a long time resharpening the blades and resetting them. Or I could just use a plane to obliterate the tracks in under a minute. I donít mind using a bandsaw for cutting operations because I can use a plane to quickly convert the bandsawn surface into a surface cleaner than any ďglue-lineĒ blade that you would have on a tablesaw.

    18. What is your single most favorite tool, and why:

    Thatís really like picking your favorite child. Itís a toss up between the Japanese plane that I mentioned in question #8 above, and the ryoba from question #10, and my 3/8Ē Imai chisel from question #9.

    19. If you were a hand tool what would you be and why:

    A saw. My coworkers say that I have a tendency to not beat around the bush too much and to get right to the point, and I think thatís what happens when you use a saw ó you know right away if you are sawing well, or if youíre messing up.

    20. We have to know whatís your favorite ice cream:

    I like hot fudge sundaes. Vanilla ice cream, real hot fudge, no nuts, no whipped cream, with a cherry. Occasionally I'll have one served on top of a chewy brownie.
    The means by which an end is reached must exemplify the value of the end itself.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Plano, TX
    Man! I had an interview blackout for months and then two in the same week. Wilbur nice to meet you, enjoyed reading your interview.
    The means by which an end is reached must exemplify the value of the end itself.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    Granbury, TX
    I met Wilbur at the WIA in Berea, but he probably doesn't remember me.

    He is a class act, the kind of woodworker that you would love to have hang out in the shop with you.
    Martin, Granbury, TX
    Student of the Shaker style

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    East Brunswick, NJ
    Actually, I do remember meeting you at Berea. Thanks for the really nice comment!

    And many thanks to Zahid for the invitation.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jan 2006
    Schenectady, NY
    Thanks Wilbur-nice to get to know you a little better.
    Happy and Safe Turning, Don

    Woodturners make the world go ROUND!

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Southwest Missouri

    No one who meets you ever forgets you. Keep the shiney side up.


  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Earth somewhere
    Quote Originally Posted by George Clark View Post

    No one who meets you ever forgets you. Keep the shiney side up.


    Or in the case of your planes, the shiney side down
    Sent from the bathtub on my Samsung Galaxy(C)S5 with waterproof Lifeproof Case(C), and spell check turned off!

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