‘Sharp’ is Only the Beginning

We all have epiphanies. If I were to list the few most significant “aha” moments in my woodworking career, the use of wooden bench planes would be at the top of the stack. I’ve argued elsewhere for the benefits of wooden planes, and I won’t take the time to rehearse it all now, but suffice it to say, investing a few hours in learning to use wooden planes radically changed my woodworking. And I don’t use that word lightly – I mean it changed my work at the root level.

So, I’ve been posting at the Daily Dispatch quite a bit about wooden planes lately. I filmed a video examination of a pile of wooden smoothers, and I’ve been making a fore plane out of firewood too. There’s been a lot of discussion going on over there about planemaking and plane restoration. I’m planning to tune up a smoother in the coming weeks in order to walk through the process for folks who are trying their hand at it.

I’m doing all of this because I would love to see a wooden plane revival among today’s woodworkers. These things are so fun to use, so engaging, and so rich with opportunities to learn more about the craft. Learning to effectively sharpen your edge tools is good – it puts wind in the sails of a new woodworker. But “sharp” is only the beginning. 

Woodworkers should feel confident to make their own tools – they always have. As grateful as I am for all of the toolmakers out there who are supplying the ever-growing hand-tool market (and grateful I am), I also wish that the professionalization and uber precision of it all wouldn’t leave so many woodworkers paralyzed with fear of failure. It’s OK to make a decent tool – the next will be better. To paraphrase Chesterton, “If anything’s worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly first.” And I would like to submit that learning to make your own tools is a thing worth doing.

Have you ever made your own tools? If not, what are the barriers that keep you from diving in?

– Joshua


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