Blog — Issue Six RSS





Planemakers Didn’t Understand

Hayward’s writing is suffused with a poignant awareness that the 20th century was a time of inexorable decline in the use and manufacture of hand tools. All sorts of skills and techniques that were taken for granted in previous centuries disappeared, and the use of the double iron wasn’t immune from this trend. By the end of the 20th century it was common, as I noted earlier, to hear the claim that cap irons didn’t really stop tear-out. Some writers speculated that the real purpose of the cap iron was to stabilize or add heft to the cutting iron. One prominent author wrote that cap irons “do more harm than good in a handplane” – a statement that would have...

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Feedback From the Objects

M&T: Tell us about your process of making. Are any two objects ever the same? JS: They can be to a degree, but I love to give them a slight difference. For example, when I make butter knives in batches of 20 or 30, I use a paper template to make each outline. But when I shave them down, they always come out slightly different because of small variations in the material. I have to make a decision on each one – is this going to taper a little more here or there? I can’t produce exactly the same thing every time – although it is possible do that working by hand, but what’s the point? My aim is to...

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Everyone Made Their Own Tools

Because complex modern society is maintained only through specialization, most of us focus our career development in one narrow track. We develop skills in one area in order to get a job to make money to pay other specialists to make and repair our stuff. It is possible in the modern world to become a renowned expert in a particular discipline but be helpless in every other area of life. But it was not always this way. Before Americans turned to factory work in the 19th century, skilled tradesmen worked for the most part on their own or in small shops that offered diverse goods and services. Especially in rural settings, defining one’s occupation was tricky. Was humble Jack a...

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A Wild Material

The back-to-the-land movement (as well as more recent offshoots such as the farm-to-table trend in dining) seeks to short-circuit the elaborate industrial complex that produces most of our consumable and durable goods these days. Proponents of the philosophy point to the loss of skill that is evident in the average person for basic tasks; to the health and environmental effects of large-scale industrialization; and to the sociological harm that comes of being dependent on technologies that are beyond the control or comprehension of most individuals. This dependence becomes crippling when a technological or supply-chain disruption renders us incapable of executing those basic tasks that we have turned over to mechanization. Even as we enjoy the benefits and ease that these...

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Not Programmed by a Technician

The first challenge both men experienced was the exponential development of machine technology which began in earnest during Morris’ generation and continued on through Nakashima’s. Nakashima, Morris, and Ruskin before them, recognized that handwork, especially when undertaken with creativity and individuality, infused the work with both a tangible sense of human input and with a level of detail and quality that distinguished it from mass-produced machine work. That unique human quality went missing from machine-produced furniture because the latter relied on standardized dimensioning; repeatability; and mass-produced, surface-mounted ornamentation. Morris saw no future in these processes. In his 1884 lecture, “Useful Work versus Useless Toil,” he optimistically predicted the demise of machinery, which “would probably, after a time, be somewhat restricted...

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Dramatic Results

In the early 1990s, I began my woodworking journey with a couple of vintage Stanley bench planes and a Fine Woodworking book on hand tools. I dutifully followed the book’s instructions on setting up and sharpening my new planes, and everything was going pretty well until I came to the section on setting the cap iron (also known as the chipbreaker). According to the author, for difficult hardwoods I was supposed to set the edge of the cap iron “as close as possible” to the cutting edge. So I did, and disaster ensued. I could barely push the plane; it shuddered, shook, and quickly came to an unceremonious halt, the mouth hopelessly clogged with balled-up shavings. I moved the cap...

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I’m Not an Artist – I’m a Craftsman

M&T: Tell us more about how art connects with the slöjd tradition, and why it’s such a vital part of it. JS: I would say it’s about form following function. The knowledge of how to make common, functional items was always a big part of everyday life. They knew, for example, how thick to make a table so that it would be strong, how big that sliding dovetail had to be to make a stable joint. That knowledge of proportions – dimensions, thicknesses, and joinery – is part of the tradition, and is very practical. But when they made things that were connected to certain traditions, like the love gift of a spinning wheel, they made it extraordinarily delicate, with...

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Far Better in Difficult Grain

The origins of the double iron are somewhat mysterious, but probably date to the mid-18th century. A double-iron smoothing plane discovered in London during an archaeological dig may have been made as early as 1750. The most interesting feature of this plane is that while the business end of the cap iron is typical, there is no mechanism for fastening the cap iron to the cutting iron. The two irons are loose, held together by the wedge, so the owner would have to set both irons by tapping them independently. This arrangement supports the theory that the earliest double iron was simply two cutting irons that some enterprising craftsman placed back-to-back. The first written reference to the double iron dates...

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We Can Do All That

M&T: How is slöjd relevant to 21st-century society? JS: I think that people are probably just the same now as they used to be 200 years ago. We still want to try new things, to learn, to be more skilled, to express ourselves, and to show off. With slöjd, we can do all that by being producers and consumers at the same time. There was a philosopher in the 1800s, Friedrich Engels, who was one of the first to talk about that concept. He warned that the Industrial Revolution was going to cause social problems because the producers would be separate from the consumers and they would be alienated from one another. Instead of connection and unity, there would be...

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A Journey Full of Rewards

“The pursuit of independence through making your own tools is a journey full of rewards. The broader a craftsperson’s competency, the more successfully he or she will be able to open whole new realms of creative possibility and manage hurdles that come along in the making process. This bitstock project brings together various skills that many furniture makers don’t get to exercise often enough: long accurate boring, turning, casting pewter, burning mortises, and utilizing naturally crooked branches. Even more, it is a joy to work with tools that reflect your own unique personality and individual aesthetic preferences, something we miss out on if our tool chest is filled with those identical to everyone else’s.” – Joshua Klein, excerpt from “The...

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