Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Opinions; everyone's got them.

Now last week I admitted to having gone slightly mad with the credit card - and completely forgot that there was yet another book on order, which duly turned up. Made By Hand, Furniture Projects from the Unplugged Workshop by Tom Fidgen. As soon as I ran across reference to it, I was excited to read it - at last, a book of projects written with hand tools in mind. Unfortunately I was disappointed.

You see I have this, quite probably erroneous, notion that a project for making with hand tools should be aimed to get the best out them. Taking advantage of the efficiency that a dedicated tool - like a plough or rebate - can bring to a project. Using designs and joinery that make the best of them. But there I am, faced with lots of stopped housings and grooves again, just like every power tool project in every magazine and book. All of which seem calculated just make you regard the plough as a bog awful tool and where the devil did I out the spanner for the router...? Or at least it does to me. Which is why I was so happy when I thought it was a book of hand tool projects, not just projects built with hand tools. I confess I gave up reading them after the first two or three and just looked at the photographs.

The projects themselves are an interesting selection, and cover lots of techniques pretty well. The tool box design with the built-in shooting board is clever, although where in Hades I could find the hinges I have no idea. Having them all in one picture to get an idea of relative size is very helpful. I'll draw a veil over the actual designs, 'cos not everyone's taste is the same. I will say that the gallery proves that Mr Fidgen is no mean craftsman, but any small table that can be described with reference to Shaker, Japanese and Arts & Crafts is always going to be a challenge to pull off...

But none of that bothers me as much as the basic things, like terminology. Please, please don't describe a short-arsed planing board as a bench hook and a bench hook as a mitre hook - woodworking terminology is confused enough as it is, isn't it? A groove is not a dado, even if you are used to cutting it with a dado head in a tablesaur. And the contrasting wood on a set of winding sticks isn't to make it look pretty - the sticks are supposed to contrast with each other not themselves. It's just totally missing the point and - as you may be able to tell - drives me up the wall. I also fail to understand the point in having 'how to' sections, such as dovetailing, that are essentially someone else's teaching. Just say 'Buy Rob Cosman's DVD' and have done.

I wanted to love it, I really did, but too much of it made me grind my teeth. I'm sure there are loads of folks who absolutely love it and are sharpening their quills to tell me so even now, and that's good (Good that you like it, not that you're going to attack me with sharpened feathers!) I hope it gets more people to eschew their power cords for a change. But it's not for me.

It did get me wondering though, about what happened to the manuscript for a book on making furniture with hand tools called Chisel, Mallet, Plane and Saw written by Tony Konovaloff that John Brown wrote about back in September 1997. Like JB himself, TK was a bit too far ahead of the game then, hand tools still be regarded as old fashioned and past their sell-by-date. At the time he was making furniture entirely by hand in a workshop so small that larger pieces had to be built in two parts and joined with sliding dovetails. If you want to see the quality of work he produced just with hand tools and have The Toolbox Book, then you'll find his gorgeous tool chest detailed therein. Try not to dribble too much...

And finally, while I'm spouting off opinions on stuff I've bought, a small review of the Quangsheng No.3 Bedrock Pattern Smoothing Plane over on UK Workshop from yours truly. And a pretty picture to go with it...


  1. hinges are available at Lee Valley in Canada! I think that most if not all thechnique that people uses with power tools are from hand tools to start with, I might be wrong but dado, rabat, grooves etc... are frome pre power tools time! i realy enjoy the book my self, but there s a few little things that could have been done differently... it's allways easier said from the readers than the writer.

    On an other topic but in the same line, have had a chance to look at David Savage DVD's on technique? What do you think of them?

    Best regard

  2. David, the important word in my rant-ette is 'stopped'. Power tools lend themselves to stopped grooves and rebates - hand tools are often better at cutting joints that mean you don't need them at all. The mitred dovetail is a classic case in point, which is hellish to cut with power but negates the need for a stopped groove round the bottom of a box (as an example)

    Don't know a thing about David Savage's DVDs; not swum into my ken yet.

  3. Well I did enjoy the book but agree that there were some niggles and Americanisms that soured it a little for me. I've not actually finished it yet. Like you I drifted off into looking at the pictures and haven't been tempted back yet.

    Did you get the copy with a DVD at the back? I've not looked at that yet either.

    Great review of the QS3. I think a QS6 will be in the workshop of wizer very soon. ;)

  4. what happened to the manuscript for a book on making furniture with hand tools called Chisel, Mallet, Plane and Saw written by Tony Konovaloff

    Well this book seems to be more spoken of than seen. It is referred to seveal times in hits through google, and is mentioned in relation to the author as part of his bio as contributing writer of numerous texte. But as for the book - a bit like the unicorn I think.

  5. Hey Alf,
    I appreciate the honesty in your review- sorry it wasn't your cup of tea but like you said, everyone has an opinion and lord knows we can't please everyone!
    I just wanted to address a few of your points- believe me, this letter isn't to defend my work (I'm quite proud of it) nor is it an attempt to justify my methods; I just felt after reading your review I'd try to explain some of the things you mentioned.
    First off, is the idea of the designs being 'power tool' designs made with hand tools- This is actually a great point and a very interesting way to look at them. I didn't grow up using hand tools so I think your right in that some elements are indeed better suited to power tools (like a stopped rabbet-or 'rebate' depending on your geographical location but I'll address that in a minute)
    My designs are what I find visually appealing and I too hate the process of making stopped grooves !- on the other hand, I'm not a big fan of traditional design where pieces use decorative mouldings to cover exposed joinery such as a through dado so these were my attempts of blending the two forms. I like the look of modern pieces with clean lines and it was a way to cover some joinery options while only using hand tools. So in some examples these are things like stopped dados and rabbets. Not fun to execute but certainly are an option for the hand tool shop.
    From there you mention that my reference to Shaker, Japanese and Arts and Crafts is perhaps a stretch? When I read about Shaker pieces and design in books it never takes too long to find reference to Japanese aesthetic. Same holds true for Arts and Crafts- especially Greene and Greene which I think I mentioned. They were heavily influenced by Japanese style so calling elements of one piece Shaker, Japanese and Arts and Crafts doesn't seem all that strange- at least to me and my sense of design. (call me crazy!)
    Now onto terminology- this is and was the hardest area for me while writing about wood working. People use different terms for things all the time- you being in the UK I'm well aware of some of the terms you use (hey, I used to watch Corination street!) ;)
    But seriously, even from the UK to the US and me being here in Canada, more specifically from The East Coast of Canada, regional terms are very hard to get away from and I did try my best to address this in the text.
    The next point would be on dovetails-'say 'Buy Rob Cosman's DVD' and have done'.
    Good call indeed! It was through Rob that I learned this great technique for cutting dovetails but I'm not sure my editor would have approved of making it that simple - probably wouldn't make for a very good read either! Again, it was my intention to include these methods for the benfit of those who can't take a Rob Cosman class or watch his dvd's. It's nice to have that information in one platform so beginners don't have to jump from one book to another or one dvd to the next. Also on that point, I don't think Rob invented or patented these method and I've seen this same technique in countless publications. Rob himself actually says these were techniques he picked up from Alan Peters so in turn should Rob stop making videos and just tell people to read Alan's book?
    And finally, the Roto Hinges used for the tool box lid- good point indeed and this was just something else I missed-(hey, it's my first book!) I should have told readers where I purchased them. They came from Lee Valley Tools here in Canada and I believe Rockler carries them in the US. Not too sure where you'd find them across the pond but Lee Valley has a wonderful mail order service.
    Well, that's all I wanted to say- I'm happy you picked up the book and I just wanted to add my two cents. All the best-
    Tom Fidgen ( that's Fidgen without an 'O') :0

  6. Oh dear, absolutely no excuse for getting your name wrong (had the book right at my elbow the whole time, what's more); my profuse apologies and I've corrected it. Anyway, thanks for the comments.

  7. No worries at all !
    thanks for posting my comments and again I appreciate the honesty.
    It's refreshing to see in these days of regurgitated opinions and 'follow the leader' type information out there-;)
    I think it's important for potential buyers to get both views on a product even if it is in this case my own book.
    (sob,sob- sniff,sniff)
    I enjoy reading your blog- keep it up!

  8. Pulling no punches as ever :-) nice to see you back Alf (I just noticed!)

  9. Alf,

    Chisel, Mallet, Plane and Saw is now available in print.

    You can contact Tony via email at to see if he'll ship internationally.

    It is also sold through Lost Art Press, but I believe Chris still has an international ban on shipping.

    If you have problems getting a copy of it across the pond, please let me know ( and we'll figure something out.

    I'm working on my third read-through now. Minor grammatical issues aside, I think it is pretty well done.

    Ethan Sincox


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