What ‘Made by Hand’ Means

 Editor’s note: The following is a guest post from one of my students at Lie-Nielsen this June. Adam finished his table and wrote up these thoughts about his time at the class.


“The planned obsolescence of modern consumerism is a real tragedy.  I encourage you to rebel against this.” ~Joshua Klein

After reading Christopher Schwarz’s The Anarchist’s Tool Chest cover to cover, an obsession began. This eventually led me to take Joshua Klein’s “Cut-The-Cord” class at Lie-Nielsen Toolworks this June. Joshua, whether he realizes or not, has played an integral role in shaping my thoughts and ideals about woodworking since my very first project not long ago.  

After taking my first-ever passes with a handplane at a Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event in Philadelphia, I went straight home and searched the internet for hand-tool workshops I could sign up for. Joshua’s “Cut-the-Cord” workshop stuck out like a sore thumb. This was exactly what I was after: pre-industrial woodworking. I have long held beliefs that what industrialism has done to music, art, communities, and our only livable planet has been painfully atrocious. I recognize the monumental improvements in health care and quality of life that it has given us as well, I’m just not sure we need so much damn stuff.

I set out the next weekend building my first project, which was the first project from Roy Underhill’s The Woodwright’s Apprentice - a folding workbench. I think I heard the sawmill owner chuckle a little bit as I walked away with a stack of oak. I took my very dull 5 ½ tpi Disston and set to ripping 8/4 oak on a couple of downturned five gallon buckets.  Hours later, I had a wobbled, rough, sad piece of wood.  After hours of planing with a no. 5 set to take a very thin shaving I had four very out-of-square pitiful legs.  OK, so, I need some guidance.  Watching old episodes of the Woodwright’s shop provided oodles of encouragement (and happiness), but some information was assumed.  That’s what I was missing.  I emailed Joshua some photos of my workbench legs and asked him if I would be ready to take his class.  After a few back-and-forths and some helpful encouragement, I was signed up and looking forward to June.

Joshua began the class by having us examine several examples of pre-industrial tables as well as the table he recently built. What an eye-opener to see this stuff in person. It gave new meaning to what it means to be made by hand. We watched a short film showing pre-industrial woodworkers from Sweden. It was amazing to see their speed, and how cavalier they were with banging home joinery. The class continued with Joshua demonstrating how to make the legs and rails of our table. His shavings were passed around the class and everyone was in awe at the incredible thickness he got from his fore plane. My goodness, I’ve been doing this wrong and absurdly inefficiently. (My fore plane got a thorough opening of its mouth when I got home as well as an even more pronounced camber on the iron.) Joshua showed us his planing technique, explained the concept of reference surfaces, and ripped and smoothed a leg. Then he said “OK, now go make 4 legs and 4 rails!! Work quick, time is of the essence!” The rails were fairly easy to get roughed out and the pine stock that we were working with was beautiful. Then came the legs. This is where a freshly sharpened saw is a life saver. I looked around the room at one point and everyone was drenched in sweat. Not many were talking, but all had smiles and the satisfaction that comes from this hand work. By early afternoon, we were getting close to having the rails and legs finished and Joshua began demonstrating how to lay out the joinery. 

It’s important to grasp the fact that none of us had plans. We did our best to eliminate using math and pencil marks - everything got knifed in and the dimensions came from the work itself. The only time I used a ruler during the entire process of building this table was when using the ruler trick to sharpen plane irons.

Day 2 began with chopping mortises, lining up joinery, planing, and sawing. It was glorious. I got my last mortise chopped and then we stopped for a drawboring demonstration from Joshua. He assembled one joint. It was a beautiful sight to see the pin suck the tenon shoulder right up against the mortise. By the end of the second day I had the front and the back drawbored and assembled. I found it a great help when switching gears or tasks in the project to sit down and look and think before whacking into something. We were moving as fast as we could, but there are parts of this project that require precision. That’s the trick: knowing when to be precise and when things can be left rough. That’s the true understanding of period tolerances. Another lesson I learned was to stop hitting the drawbore pin just before splitting the leg.  This requires a careful attention and listening. The resonance of the pin as it’s being driven in should tell you something. When that resonance stops and a deadened thunk is heard, that’s it. Put the wham-er-doodle down and walk away.   

When it hit 4:00 p.m. it was time to pack up. We said our goodbyes, thanked the LN crew and Joshua for an amazing experience and the incredible amount learned and gained. I can safely say that this experience changed the way I’ll work wood for the rest of my life.

-Adam Eisenreich (@oatsandtoads)


Would you like email notifications of our daily blog posts? Sign up below...