Category Archives: Woodworking

Tools Beget Tools

I have, lately, been reading Yuval Noah Harari’s “Sapiens – a Brief History of Mankind” – a fascinating story about our evolution from simple and unspectacular members of the ape family to become the most powerful, dangerous, and innovative creatures on the planet. Imagining Harari’s description of Neanderthals and early sapiens who made tools (and weapons) with wood and stone, I can’t help but wonder if after making that first stone spear or cutting instrument, that early human might have next thought “maybe I can make a jig for that”? Or “Where can I find a new sharpening device for that”?

I am not alone in this thinking, Interviewing the new Chair of our local woodworker’s association, I was reminded of this theme when I asked how he came into woodworking. He told me his story about how his wife went to a wine convention and while she was away he decided to build a small wine box for her. He bought a few tools, built the box, and both of them were pleased with the result. So, he began to imagine other projects and bought more tools, and so on… and the workshop tool collection has continued to evolve ever since. I suspect that many woodworkers can tell a similar story.

A new Arrival

Just before Christmas, we were able to purchase a new cabinet table saw to replace our aging contractor-grade unit, a piece of equipment that had gotten us as far as it could but reaching its limits of utility. It was a significant investment for a small firm like ours but the thought was that we would not have to make such an investment for a very long time – maybe never again. What we hadn’t counted on, perhaps, were the other supporting investments that this one might require. For example, because the format of the saw top was very different than the previous unit, nearly every related jig and appliance we owned was now useless. So, time, money and material gets invested in building a whole new collection of tools to support the one I just bought.

Crosscut Sled
Crosscut Sled

Now I am not complaining about building jigs – as you will know if you have ever read my four-part series on the Joy of Jigs. Anyway, it was great to be able to take my cross-cut sled to the next level. But it doesn’t end there. Having a new powerful saw means a new dust collection solution, a few new blades, maybe a new dado set – and let’s not forget a new built-in router insert (since the old one won’t fit the extension wing) and, oh yes, I can finally get one of those nice adjustable clamping units that fit right over that new fence. And, by the way, since adding the new table means I now have almost all I need to do another kind of project I’ve been considering, I might as well just fill in that gap, too by buying the remaining things to finish up.

The Beast is Back

Thankfully, some of the existing jigs and tools could simply be re-configured like my favourite box-joint jig (aka The Beast) that really only needed to have the miter slider moved by about an inch to fit where the slot is located in the new saw. I’ve no doubt, however, that in the coming months I will find even more absolutely invaluable complementary devices and supports to acquire that will ultimately eclipse and surpass the initial investment in the saw. It’s just one of those unwritten “laws” of shop evolution (tools beget tools) – and just maybe, a primitive instinct – for woodworkers everywhere.

Tech Talk: Building Tradition with a Spokeshave

In April, Mary Elizabeth addressed traditional technology in one of our Tech Talk blog posts. Her post focused on hand planes, one of Mary Elizabeth’s (and my) favorite tools. The typical woodworker has at least four or five unique purpose planes (flattening, smoothing, shaping, profiling, etc.) of varying sizes – some so distinct from another that it is hard to reckon them to be in the same class of tools.

The spokeshave is ideal to shape this broadsword.

I was making a pair of replica broadswords for my son and grandson this week and – after preliminary cutting and shaping – had to refine the angles and surfaces of the swords’ blades. The right tool for this, in my mind is the lowly spokeshave and so I reached for one of mine to help me with this task. Evolving from primitive shaping tools like the draw knife and scraper, and considered to be a form of hand plane, the spokeshave has been around for eons in one form or another. Like all hand planes, a spokeshave may have a cap iron and a frog, is set up against the work with a sole , and slices off fine shavings using a fixed position blade that goes through the body. For me, that’s about where the similarities end.

Scrapers, spokeshaves, and hand planes.

I find that the spokeshave is much more versatile wherever practical, and, moreover, more tactile than typical flat-sole hand planes. This is in part because the motion is a pulling one using a set of handles at the side of the body (of course, there are many other planes that use a pulling motion). The sole may be flat, convex or concave depending on its function but, in either case, it takes practice to get the shave to address the surface for optimum effect. It also takes (and gives) a feel for the wood and the grain that is very special. When you have addressed the grain and surface well, long thin shavings feed out from the mouth of the unit with consistent dimensions, and the wood surface takes on a beautiful smoothness that is often ready for finish without any additional sanding or other surface preparation. The feel of that spokeshave slicing through the wood (as felt through those winged handles) is like no other tool I know.

Bill Howe’s presentation to the Atlantic Woodworkers’ Association in April inspired me to think about and use the spokeshave more and so I find I am increasingly going to it in projects of this nature – not only because it is an effective tool, but also because the feel of working with a spokeshave is extremely gratifying.  For me there is also a sense that I am working with an ages-old technology/ tool using traditional techniques – and that, in itself, is certainly appealing.

Replica broadsword.

In the current project, this sense of building and preserving tradition is even more enhanced since what I am making is a traditional weapon that dates back to the 6th century and which endured for centuries.  The broadsword was used in battle by medieval knights and was considered one of the knight’s most prized assets. For training and tournaments, rebated (blunted) and wooden swords were used to limit injury and so there must have been a time when wooden swords like this were being made to closely replicate the look and feel of their iron counterparts. I can imagine some 11th century woodsmith or swordsmith sitting down to a similar task with a spokeshave or draw knife to carve those same sword facets for a Lancelot or a Galahad.

Anon, with spokeshave at hand, I must away to this labor of love.

New Life – Small Scale

Our woodworking challenge for November was to work on a small scale.  I decided this would be the perfect time for a refinishing project that I have had on my list.

My find after general and basic repairs to drawer fronts.
My find after cleaning and basic repairs to drawer fronts.

The Original Find

This was one of my ‘street finds’ that someone had thrown in the garbage.  When I found it, there was no top and the drawers were stacked beside the carcass.  Continue reading New Life – Small Scale

2×4 and Tech Challenges


The 2×4 Challenge

This week, I have been finishing a 2×4 Challenge through  Taylor Timber Mart in Musquodobit Harbour.   If you are a woodworker, you might be familiar with the 2×4 challenge idea, which is popular with guilds and online woodworking groups.   The challenge is to create a unique project from a single 2×4, usually construction-grade wood.  This is not the best wood to work with but its availability and low cost making this contest great for woodworkers of all levels.  Rules can vary.  For this contest, rules are simple– you pick up a free 8’ 2×4 and create anything you like as long as it is comprised of 90% wood from the supplied 2×4 and no more than 10% of any other elements (adhesive, fasteners, decorative features…), determined by weight.
Continue reading 2×4 and Tech Challenges

Tech Talk: Traditional Technology

This weekend when we were puttering in the shop, Stephen and I chatted about some ongoing projects.  It is a rare occasion that we are both in the woodshop at the same time because of the size and layout,  combined with the fact that about 1/3 of our area is currently being used for storage and work-in-progress.   In addition, when we are both in there creating, usually there are power tools that preclude much conversation.  Continue reading Tech Talk: Traditional Technology

Renaissance Man or ADD?

Today’s post is written by Stephen Parsons.

Leonardo DaVinci – the Maestro

I have long been fascinated by the life and work of Leonardo Davinci. So, when my wife and I traveled to Italy in 2015, we sought out opportunities to explore historic sites that were connected to  the maestro. This renaissance painter, sculptor, mathematician, physician, builder, inventor and philosopher (among other talents) is an inspiration to me. My own Portfolio speaks to my curiosita and interest in numerous fields inspired, in part, by Davinci and other renaissance men. But recently, I came to wonder if I (and the maestro, for that matter) are actually renaissance men, or simply suffering attention deficit? Continue reading Renaissance Man or ADD?

Work in Progress: Passing the Torch

Today’s post was written by Stephen Parsons.

Warren Ervine – 1988 Olympic Torchbearer

Warren Ervine may not look like a legend, but thirty years ago, he did something extraordinary – something that only a few Canadians will ever do. Warren ran a leg of the Olympic Torch relay for the Winter Olympics in Calgary in 1988. On February 20, during our country’s sesquicentennial birthday celebration he will relive that event at the annual Sackville Business Association Snow Days Parade with a replica of the torch that he held high in ’88. That’s where I came in… Continue reading Work in Progress: Passing the Torch

For the Love of Wood

Today’s post is written by Stephen Parsons

The wood hoard…

As a kid, my first impressions of wood were those concerning its utility. Wood was for whittlin’, buildin’, and burnin’ and I knew certain woods were better at those things than others. As I got a little older and had the chance to work with my Dad in his workshop, I came to recognize distinctions between species and cuts of wood. To this day, I believe that one of the things that may have set me on a path to enjoy woodworking so much was the smell of wood in that workshop and the appreciation of the distinct odors of cedar, spruce, pine and birch. Continue reading For the Love of Wood

Tech Tuesday: That Internet Thing

Today’s post is written by Stephen Parsons

The staff at my office think that either I am becoming totally antisocial or have a secret affair going on. While they are gathering in the lunch room to share their sandwiches and a little office gossip, I heat up my bit of soup or leftover chili and biscuits, then skulk off to my office Continue reading Tech Tuesday: That Internet Thing