Monday 29 June 2009

I Bought It, I Read It, I Don’t Get It.

There are three things in life that I truly love; a good read, woodworking and anything historical. Currently, I am building a small library of history books, I am building a small collection of vintage hand tools, and other than electronics, most of the purchases I make for my home are through antique dealers.

With this in mind, you would think that Christopher Schwarz’s current remake of Joseph Moxon’s “The Art of Joinery” would be right up my ally. It wasn’t. In fact, I was so bored with the whole thing that I truly struggled to finish it.

“For if the wood be hard, the iron must stand more upright than it need do if the wood be soft”.

The above quote is typical of Moxon’s “insights” into the historical “secrets” of woodworking. And that, I found, to be the rub of the book – there isn’t any, insights or secrets that is. What “The Art of Joinery” turned out to be for me was a very difficult and painful read to glean information that I already knew.

With the constant barrage of hype for the book on just about every woodworking web site and blog that I frequent, I was expecting it to be the be-all and end-all on everything to do with the craft. Throughout these sites, statements, such as “According to Moxon…”, or, “Listed in The Art of Joinery…”, are found so frequently and used so often to give credibility to one technique or another, that I was expecting the sales representative at Lee Valley Tools to lay a virtual “Bible” on the counter in front of me. Needless to say, I was more than a little disappointed when what he did present to me was the thinnest publication I have seen that wasn’t published by Hallmark, but once read, I was thankful it wasn't any thicker than it was. The two covers total exactly half the thickness of the entire book, which is only a ½ inch in total.

While I won’t blame Christopher for it, I do have to state that I knew I was in trouble with this purchase after reading his introduction which spans the first three pages of the book. While it is an explanation regarding what he had done with the original version, he also told me that Mr. Moxon hadn’t picked up a plane in his life and that his writings regarding those planes were going to be truly a pain in the butt to read. More importantly, though, Christopher told me, in that short passage, that I wasn’t going to get any “insights” into woodworking. Here, he stated that Moxon’s work was the equivalent of having, “watched the joiners at work for a few weeks and got to ask them some questions over a small beer”. To me, this immediately told me that there wasn’t going to be any revelations from this book because if I got to watch joiners at work for a few weeks, I’d be biting at the bite to get to work using the techniques I had witnessed over that time, not waiting to ask questions about them. Chris also pointed out, in these same first three pages, that he had “issues” with the illustrations provided in the book’s original form, as noted by his caption under the illustration of the workbench on Page 5.

What I did enjoy in the book was Christopher’s photographic descriptions of cutting mortises and flattening boards with hand planes. While informative, descriptive and an entertaining education into the processes used to achieve acceptable results in these two areas of joinery, I couldn’t tie Moxon’s work with Christopher’s. One was a historical narrative that told me very little, while the other was modern display of information and told me a great deal. It all left me feeling that the $16.00 would have been better spent towards the purchase of Christopher’s DVD entitled, “Building Furniture with Hand Planes”. It also told me that, while many things have not improved over time, but just changed, our ability to communicate with each other isn't one of them.

The bottom line is that the original version, while historical in nature, used incorrect illustrations, offered superficial descriptions of the tools used during that historical timeframe, was written in a language that today is difficult to understand and was all put together by a man who didn’t know firsthand what the hell he was talking about. As someone who is known for using the term, “stuff” to describe just about everything around him, the only thing I got out the read was the thought that maybe I should stop using it. Moxon’s consistent use of that term throughout was a royal pain in the butt and only served to show me that using it wasn’t cool in the 17th century, and is probably just as uncool today, but then again, I'm still using the term "cool", so what do I know?

I know it is bordering on the sacrilegious, and for that I apologize, but “The Art of Joinery” just didn’t do it for me.



    Having written an article on Christopher Schwarz's republication of Moxon's, "The Art of Joinery", and having read some of the comments made by a few, including Christopher himself, and as a result I think I failed to present my point about this publication in an understandable way. With that in mind, I would like to make a few clarifications, if I may.
    As a historical work, I completely understand the hype for Moxon. I "get" that it is, as Christopher pointed out, "the first English language woodworking book" published. I "get" that it gives an insightful look at the workbenches of the craft in the 17th century. The thing is, and the point I thought I made quite clear in my original article, is that I didn't buy the book for its historical significance. I bought it because I believed the hype.

    To quote my original posting, "With the constant barrage of hype for the book on just about every woodworking web site and blog that I frequent, I was expecting it to be the be-all and end-all on everything to do with the craft." Because this book is used so often as a reference, I was expecting a cornucopia of insightful descriptions of everything woodworking. I didn't get that with the book, and that is the point I tried to raise with the original post.

    To be as clear as I possibly can be about this subject, the remake of Moxon's "The Art of Joinery" holds the place of honour in regards to its historical significance to the woodworking community. It also possibly holds a great deal of historical significance to the publishing community as well. As for its significance for me - not so much. I am neither a traditional woodworker, or a woodworking historian. I am just a guy who likes old tools and like to build things with them. As a result, I am looking for books, magazine articles, DVD's and anything else that would teach me how to build those things a little better and with a little more accuracy. Because Moxon and I are coming at woodworking from different ends of the woodworking spectrum, the republication didn't do a thing for me and I found it a very difficult read that gave up no secrets for me and my hobby.
    The one line that, to me, states my original post's position, and the one I still stand behind, by the way, is, "It all left me feeling that the $16.00 would have been better spent towards the purchase of Christopher’s DVD entitled, “Building Furniture with Hand Planes”.

    I hope this clarifies my position.

    Peace one more time,


Tuesday 23 June 2009

Stanley - the Energizer Bunny of Old Just Kept Going...

If you were asked to buy stock in a company that developed a product at the end of one century, did the tooling for it, and then ran with that exact set-up, enjoying fair sales with it, until way past the middle of the next century, would you buy it? I probably would seriously consider it.

This is pretty much what Stanley Rule and Level Co. did for about that length of time. They came up with something, they refined it and then they produced it – for damn near forever.

Here are three images of the Stanley No. 97 Marking Gauge lifted from three of the four Stanley No. 34 catalogs that I have found in the public domain so far. One is from the 1914 edition, another from1934 and the third from 1958. Which one is which? They are displayed in order; 1914, 1934, and then the 1958 at the bottom of the stack.

By the way, I just bought one of these on eBay and it doesn’t match any of these illustrations. All three display the Stanley logos; the two earlier ones on the striking face and the ’58 model on its back. Mine, as you will see in the image below, displays a more Gothic scripted logo on the opposite face. What is weird about mine is that it has a Sweetheart logo on the machined screw. Either you can’t believe the illustrations in these catalogs, or mine is either older or newer, and has had the screw replaced.

Prices? The gauge sold for 47¢ in 1914, twenty years later, in 1934, it had jumped to 60¢, and by 1958, it was selling at the whopping huge price of $2.85. If you want to work that out in terms of inflation, from 1914 to 1934, the price increased 26%, or 1.3% per year. From 1934 to 1958, however, the price increased 475%, or almost 20% per year. Progress?

The next two images are from the same catalogs; 1914 and 1934. These are displaying Stanley’s top of the line Slide Mortise Gauges; the No. 77. Advertised as manufactured in Solid Rosewood and Brass, this baby sold for 60¢ in 1914. By 1934, the price had risen to $1.60, and by 1958, it had been dropped from the catalog.

A forth catalog that I have found is from 1898, and shows neither the No. 97 or the No. 77. It is not a complete catalog, though. I have, however, seen both these gauges offered by Stanley in other pre-turn-of-the-century publications. I just cannot show you them here as they are not in the public domain.

Here are three tools that I picked up over the last month; the Stanley No. 97 Marking Gauge, the No. 77 Slide Mortise Gauge and what I consider to be a very pretty awl.

The two gauges were picked up from eBay, but the awl came from I picked up the gauges because they looked to be in excellent shape, which they are. I was considering a Veritas Wheel Marking Gauge by Lee Valley, but when I saw this 97, I grabbed it instead.

The awl I purchased because it has the most beautiful yellow tone to the wood handle that I have ever seen. I have no idea what kind of wood it is made from, but it reminds me of the term, butternut. I also bought it because I needed it, ya, that’s it, I really needed one.

I got an email from another poster the other day asking me if I “enhanced” my images. I do. As you can see in the image below, I don’t alter the actual product, just the lighting, densities and backgrounds; the window dressing, so-to-speak. Sometimes I get a little carried away, but hey, you can't blame a guy for having a bit of fun.



Wednesday 10 June 2009

An Interesting Article On The Stanley Works...

Born in the fading days of the 40's, I'm a member of the Baby Boomer generation. As a "Boomer", I spent my youth fully immersed in the hippy movement, partaking in all the trappings and trimmings of that culture. Many who know me honestly believe that I am still stuck in 1967, a comment I find hard to argue with.

Now, as a college instructor, I deal with the current younger generation more than most. As I spend a great amount of time communicating with them, it is not surprising that I learn a great deal about their thoughts outside the ream of their artistic endeavors. It might come as a surprise to many of my fellow Baby Boomers, but these kids truly hate our generation, believing we represent greed and selfishness, an opinion I often agree with.

I often wonder what happened to the turn-on/tune-out crowd that I sat around the coffee houses with and listened to them pontificate about peace, love, equality and honesty, all while disclaiming any connection to “the man”, with his greedy, selfish ways. When did these kids turn from looking for a way to finance a dime bag of dope to financing a new BMW or Lexus?

As we Boomers now head off to pasture, we leave a world that, frankly, I wouldn't want to face. The world economy is in the toilet, governments are handing out billions in corporate welfare, money that will take generations to recover, and seemingly indestructible institutions are falling like flies around us. Let’s face it, who of you ever thought you would read the words, "General Motors" and "bankrupt" in the same sentence? What the hell happened?

Faced with numerous questions and no answers, a month or so ago I started to set aside an hour a morning to do some investigating. What I found was that no-one had definitive answers. To me, it seems that for every laid-off worker there is an armchair annalist spouting off a different reason for it. From what I gather, though, it seems that the mess we are in today really started decades ago.

Man, this is a long-winded introduction to an article, isn't it? Ok, to get to it.

This morning I stumbled upon this article, being drawn to it because of its title; The Stanley Works (now do you see the connection between this post and woodworking?). It is an excerpt from a book entitled, "The Disposable American: Layoffs and Their Consequences” by Louis Uchitelle. While the book is all encompassing in its subject matter, this excerpt deals with it as it relates to the Stanley Works and uses the explanations of that company’s CEOs to do it. It does an amazing job of giving the reader some insight into what lead up to our position in the Global Market today, greed and stupidity in the leaders of our financial institutions aside.

An excellent article on a subject that impacts of each and every one of us, not to mention insights into why Veritas and Lie-Nielsen are able to exist today.

Check it out at



Here's a Stubby I Bet You Didn't Know About...

We all know about the "Stubby" screwdriver, referred to as a "Chubby" in the UK, which was first introducted at Stanley in 1937.

Some of you may already know that the premier tool manufacturer, Snap-On, made the practice of cutting down perfectly good standard-length wrenches to get into tight areas obsolete with the introduction of the "Stubby" wrench around that same time. I have no idea what they call these in the UK.

What seems to be unknown to all of us, however, is that Stanley seems to have also produced a "Stubby" chisel, a #40 or #50, no less. I back up this incredible announcement with proof in the way of a just completed offering on eBay. For some reason, I guess disbelief that such a tool as the Stubby Chisel actually existed in Stanley's line-up, it went unsold, even though the starting bid was a mere $9.95.

Who knew?



Tuesday 2 June 2009

Tripping Down Memory Lane While Using An Old Tool...

I started a chisel rack yesterday for my almost complete set of Stanley #40’s, or #50’s, whichever version they happen to be. The problem collecting these things is that you just don’t know which model you have; the only difference between them being length. The #40’s are longer than the #50’s, opposite to what I expected, and as a result of this only difference, if you sharpen a #40 a few times too many, all of a sudden you own a #50.

Having to put beads on both edges of the stock for this addition to my tool chest, the first bead I ran was with my old wood bead molding plane. With the first bead done, I then remembered one of my latest acquisitions; the Stanley #66 Beading Tool. I dug it out and started to think things through regarding how to use it as I had never held one in my hands before receiving this one.

The first thing that struck me about this tool was its simplicity. Originally I thought I should go online to see if I could find some instructions for it but that thought quickly dispelled as I started to assemble it. You definitely do not have to be a mechanical engineer to figure out how this thing goes together.

As I have never been shy about discussing my old man in these posts, I will tell you that I thought a lot about him as I put that old tool together. My main thought was to try and figure out why he didn’t own one. I know it would be a tool he would be impressed with. In truth, for a carpenter, and a damned good one at that, he didn’t own a whole lot of tools.

His toolbox held:

  • Stanley #9 ½ Plane

  • Stanley #4 Plane

  • Stanley #7 Plane

  • Stanley #78 Plane

  • Stanley #28 & #29 Cornering Tools

  • Disston 28” Straight-Back Rip

  • Disston 26” Skewback Cross

  • Disston 20” Skewback Cross Panel

  • Disston 14” Back

  • Stanley #150 Open Front Miter. Box

  • Stanley #720 Chisels (a set of five)

  • Stanley #40 Screwdrivers (a set of five)

  • Millers Falls #610A Spiral Screwdriver

  • Stanley Bevels (3 different sizes)

  • Stanley #94 Butt Gauge

  • Stanley #77 Mortising Gauge

  • Stanley #373-3 ½” Butt Marker

  • Stanley #6 Awl (two)

  • Stanley #82 Scraper

  • Stanley Ratchet Bit Brace (I have no idea what model but he had two of them)

  • Irwin Bits (a complete set in a canvas roll)

  • Stanley #232 Aluminum Level

  • Stanley #87 Line Level

  • Hammers (2; one framing and one for trim)

  • Sand’s Craft Rafter Square 24”

  • Stanley #21 Combination Try and Miter Square

  • Stanley #20 Try Squares (6” and 10”)

  • Stanley #94 Boxwood Folding Rule (two)

  • Nail Sets (many)

  • Wrecking Bar

  • Nail Pull

  • Sharpening Stones (two)

Strange that I can list these, isn’t it? To tell the truth, it really isn’t. Not only was it my job to clean out that toolbox every Saturday afternoon for a number of years when I was a kid, but the fact is, I now own most of them. While you readers might think something poetic, like my dear father left me all his tools when he left this world, the reality is, he sold them to me. When I built my first house my father was retired. I approached him about borrowing many of his tools and his answer was that he didn’t need most of them any longer and if I paid him a thousand bucks, I could take what he didn’t need then and collect the rest after he was gone. While this may sound a little cold to you out there, in truth, I think it was payback time for him, and I will explain this if you read further.

With this simple set of tools, my old man started out in the building trade after be discharged from the army after the war. He got into building because the soldiers coming home needed homes to live in and given he had a grade 5 education, I think it was the only thing he could do. He bought a set of Audels Carpenters and Builders Guides, among others, taught himself the math required to figure out complex rafter systems and the like, and taught himself the art of drafting, something he became a true master at. By the mid 50’s, he had started his own contacting firm and was doing subcontracting with 10 men working for him. He also built a few houses on spec and renovated a number of others. Even though he was the boss, he built most of the kitchens in all these builds himself because that was what he excelled in – building cabinets, something that is no longer a craft because of the manufactured systems that are now in place.

By the late 50’s he was busted and broke. A developer he had subcontracted with to trim-out an entire subdivision filed for bankruptcy two weeks before the cheque was due. He went back working for someone else. He worked all the overtime he could to earn enough money to pay his men what he owed them instead of just passing on the loss by filing himself. I don’t think he ever recovered from that experience, but he kept at it until his failing health forced him inside. I can remember when I was a kid riding my bike to one of his sites he was working on to bring him his lunch and some cold pop.

Thinking about all of this yesterday and wondering about his limited tool selection, I realized that there probably wasn’t much money left over each month for buying extra tools once the bills for keeping a family was paid. There always was enough to meet his healthy beer budget, there is no doubt about that, but I think there just wasn't enough left to buy himself something like this beader. I guess it comes down to priorities and a limited budget.

Over the past five years I have taken his collection of tools and added to them considerably, which is what this tool cabinet build is all about; holding and displaying these wonderful examples of a bygone craft. Out of all I have so far, the only ones that show any signs of real abuse are the ones I listed above. Why? Because when I was a kid I liked to build things, just like my old man. I also wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, and as a result, I left his #150 Miter Box out in the rain, lost the depth gauge, fence, complete with both rods, and the spur from his #78, lost many of his Irwin Bits, left his #82 Scraper under a tree for over a month, used one of his chisels to open a can of paint and broke the end off, lost a couple of his screwdrivers completely, lost the wing nut off of his #26 6” bevel, broke the end off of both his Awls - often, and lost the majority of his nail sets. These are the things I can remember doing to his tools, so image what I didn’t realize I had done. Genius, eh?

As I put this list together in my head yesterday, I wondered how I would have reacted if my son had done such things to the tools of my trade; my camera equipment. I would have killed him. As I thought this, I realized that, despite destroying a good majority of the tools my old man used to earn the money to feed me, he never cut me off them. There is no way in hell he didn’t know that I would damage more of his tools every time I used them, but he never said no. Without question, he let me use every one of them whenever the need occurred and often suggested which tools to use for a particular task. For the life of me, I can't figure out if that was a truly impressive act of a good father, or the dumbest thing I ever heard of. I’m also not saying the old man didn’t give me a serious cuff every time I damaged one of his tools, along with a long, detailed oratory regarding his views of how tools are to be respected and cared for. I’m just saying he never cut me off them.

It took a number of years but his verbal directions delivered with physical emphasis regarding tool care has finally worked its way home. The nickel has dropped, so-to-speak. Over the past couple of years I have cleaned, repaired and replaced all the damage I did to those tools in my youth. The last line in that chapter was written last week when I finally located the wing nut for his #26 bevel, located on, a company in Australia. Mind you, with what it cost me for that one wing nut and bolt I could have bought a complete new example of this tool, but what the hell.

So there you go. Some personal thoughts surprisingly generated by using an old hand tool. You gotta’ love these things.