Old joints were messy

We like to think that joints should be nice and clean, crisp. But that was not always the case. Functional furniture had functional joints, even if they weren’t pretty. Below is a half-blind dovetail joint from a drawer in a vintage piece of furniture. Notice that the pin is thin, over-cut, and irregular in shape. In this drawer there are four pins, and three long tails. The joints are rough, but fit together well, and produce a joint with character.


Christopher Schwarz in his latest book The Anarchist’s Design Book, talks about the fact that we have been “ruined by plastic and its inhumane smoothness“, that we look for smoothness everywhere, including the inside of a chest of drawers. Real hand-made furniture does not need to be perfect. Perfection is for engineered things, such as jet turbines.

It is okay for joints in furniture to have a disheveled appearance, as long as they do their job.



Woodworking magazines in the British Commonwealth

Was there ever a golden age of woodworking magazines? By all accounts British magazines such as The Woodworker, were exceptionally well designed magazines. But what is out there today?Let’s start first with British magazines. Of the British magazines I have read, the two topping the list are British Woodworking, and Furniture and Cabinetmaking. British Woodworking isn’t available in paper form in Canada, but it is available digitally. It seems to be an extremely cohesive publication, providing a combination of projects, and tool reviews.


Here is an example of a article to build a panel gauge.


The publisher also produces Living Woods, a magazine dedicated to woodlands and the outdoor life.  (Note that British Woodworking is currently in hiatus, as the editor Nick Gibbs suffered an injury from an accident in 2014). The second magazine, which is exceptionally well designed is Furniture & Cabinetmaking. This magazine provides a good marriage of projects, and skills, often including articles on  techniques to restore and refurbish tools.


Here is an example of an article on rasps.  Furniture & cabinetmaking abounds with exceptional articles on the selection and use of tools, as well as tool refurbishment – a topic not covered by many magazines.


There is also Good Woodworking, a magazine for “aspiring designer makers”,  and The Woodworker (& Woodturner), which is the contemporary edition of the old school magazine The Woodworker (I have never read either, so can’t really comment). As to Canadian magazines, there is Canadian Woodworker & Home Improvement. Probably the most lightweight of the woodworking magazines.

An excellent magazine from Australia is Australian Wood Review. A quarterly magazine which has been around since 1992, it focuses on furniture making, woodturning, carving, woods, tools and machinery.


Here is a sample page, showing the step-by-step photographs and the multi-toned diagrams. Nice, clean deconstructions of joints, and well thought out details.


The new tools

Here are some of the set of Henry Taylor carving chisels I bought. In great condition except for the line of blue spray paint across all thirteen of them. I guess somebody thought colouring them would identify them easily in a group workshop environment? A more subtle blue dot might have been better. Still, it likely won’t take much effort to remove the paint.



From the piece of paper I found in the roll, it seems to have been a Lee Valley set, likely a Hayward (with a couple of inconsistencies) , or Bridgewater. Here is the Brown & Sharpe combination Square – a No. 4. In good condition, level intact, as is most of the Japanning, except where a previous owner scratched their name in.


Tools of the Trades, April 2016: show roundup

The show was busy this time, with a surge of people shortly after opening. The usual vendors were present, with a good collection of tools. The prominent item was vices of all sorts, including one vendor who was selling only vices (mostly machine-shop vices).


There was a good selection of Stanley and some Record planes, with the some more unusual wooden planes from Marples. One of the sellers had a nice selection of vintage Japanese saws, planes and hammers (with the appropriate hefty price tags).  There were also quite a lot of Eskilstuna Swedish chisel sets.


It’s a great place to find a starter set of woodworking tools, for a reasonable price. What did I buy? Not much it seems. I was looking for a basic carving set, and managed to find a Henry Taylor set of carving chisels (13 of them), for C$200 (likely 1/3 their actual cost). I also picked up a Brown and Sharpe combination square, something I have also wanted for a while. I likely have enough planes, chisels, and the like in my workshop. It’s the interesting things I’m looking for… the vintage bench stop, the really unique block plane (in good condition).


Getting set for Tools of the Trades?

This coming Sunday it’s time once again for the spring  “Tools of the Trades” at the Pickering Recreation Complex: April 3rd – 10am to 3pm.

Time again to spend a couple of hours digging through some vintage tools. If you are a new to woodworking, looking to buy a set of starter tools for a reasonable price, there is no better show in Canada. There is always a good selection of vintage Stanley, British planes (Record), wooden planes, and a few Millers Falls and Sargents. Occasionally there are also some Japanese tools, and a *whole* bunch of wooden planes.