Sheesh, folks; a vague mutter on a mildly controversial thing and I get comments; a carefully crafted post on chisels and nothing? Nothing?!! It's about chisels. If you're not interested in chisels are you sure you're on the right blog...? ;)
Anyway, Paul Sellers; during my Advent blogging marathon, someone did ask if maybe I could blog about what I thought. So no time like the present- er, three months later... I could dress this up as a review of his first two DVDs, which I happened to see last year, but I can't honestly remember enough to be able to do that convincingly. So straight up in your face instead and entirely off the top of my head; in an inevitable mangling of a cultural reference, I'll call it the Good, the Ho-Hum, and the Ugly.
Try and stop me.
The Good, and the thing that really swayed me from a knee-jerk instinctive "I don't like this guy", is that PS really seems to like the raw material. Wood. Timber. Lumber. Dead Tree. An enthusiasm for the stuff came right through, and honestly, that's not always the case with some of the "gurus". Some folks seem so utterly focused on the tool skills that the material you're using them on could almost be anything. Even *gasp* plastic.
Which leads me to that side issue we'll outrageously simplify as "machine woodworking bad, hand tool woodworking good" where we came in. Except I didn't come in there, but never mind. Now completely idiotic though that statement is (and it is, it really is), if you were foolishly inclined to equate machining wood with treating it like any old raw material, then yeah, you might ill-advisedly describe machining as not being the crafting of wood. Of course it's much, much harder to ignore the habits of dead tree - principally grain direction - when you're the one providing the horsepower to work it. You'd be a damn fool to do so. But you'd be pretty foolish if you ignored it on your planer or jointer too. Wrong blade choice on your powered saw, and those electrons will be labouring, and you'll likely get a poor end result. And so forth.
Sure, if you're working wood like it was so much poly-carbon-multi-syllable-athene then odds are you'll be doing so via machinery. But just because you're using machinery, it doesn't mean you're not fully cognisant of the nature and beauty of timber either.
Okay, now The Ho-Hum. I have to be totally honest and say, no, I don't entirely agree with some of PS's methods. Not because I know better, but because so many other people who do know better seem to have done it otherwise that I can't believe that wasn't for good reason. I'll take as an example, because it stands out to my mind, mortising in the face vice. Or vise. Everything I've ever read or seen has said Don't Do It. There are good reasons not to. If you don't mind putting unnecessary strain on your vice and the mounting of same in the bench, that's up to you, but come within a mile of the Emmert with the idea of mortising in it, and I'll brain you. More relevant to the finished product, if the work is driven down in the vice as you chop, you face a real risk of damaging the back side of the work on the vice screw/guide rods. That can't be good by any man's, or woman's, measure.
I think a few folks have maybe chuntered a little over the chisel use too. Now that just made me speculate that half the divergence of opinion on chisels, and preparation of same, possibly comes down to where the protagonists are on the sliding scale between, "Patternmaker" and "Carver". They're the extremes, as I see it. At one end is the use of the chisel back as an absolute to register the cut, such as a patternmaker might with a paring chisel. David Charlesworth would be a good example of that approach in furniture making - and incidentally his DVD on chisels is excellent if you're looking for some guidance in that respect.
At the extreme other end is the carver who will manipulate a double bevel edge to cut to the depth and angle desired, dictated solely by their own control over the angle of the tool. Coming back down that sliding scale a ways - and losing the double bevel, but not fretting too much about the angles of the edge - I reckon you find PS. From the few bits I've seen, he pretty much carves with his bench chisels. The first project he tackles - a spoon - is perhaps an odd choice to start folks towards making furniture, until you realise he doesn't use much of the naturally built-in guidance from his chisels, and you're effectively carving everything. That also, if you think about it, probably explains why he doesn't find any benefit from a dedicated mortise chisel over an ordinary firmer. Personally I think that approach steepens the learning curve quite a bit and I'm not a fan, but clearly it works, and if it suits you...
So no, quite a bit of it doesn't gel for me, but that's a personal choice, and you can't fault the number of folks he seems to have enthused with the desire to torment trees. Personally I have no quibbles with anyone following their personal "guru" of choice.
Which brings me to The Ugly. It's a habit that's soured many a woodworking forum too, but controversy sells and PS is nothing if not an energetic self-publicist. That is the habit of convincing people of your methods not on the basis of why they're good and could work for you, but by rubbishing everything else. Explain to me why you're advocating what you do, present the evidence, and I may still not agree with you, but I'll respect you. Grudgingly. ;) Dismissing other woodworkers because their woodworking world view doesn't agree 100% with yours is the route to my internal Ignore Button. It's unnecessary, small-minded, and incidentally makes you look rather insecure.
Dammit, folks, we're all in this against a common foe. If we squabble amongst ourselves the trees could easily get the upper hand while our backs are turned.
So there ya go, chew on that; I expect the comments box to be heaving. Hey, we could talk about chisels in there...
Oh, you rotten lot.