Great Woodshops: The Woodwright’s School


Check your cell phone and dozuki at the door.
By Christopher Schwarz
Pages: 62-64

From the August 2009 issue #177
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Roy Underhill picks up the grungiest wooden jack plane you’ve ever seen and cradles the old tool tenderly in his workhardened hands.

The tip of the plane’s tote is missing. The iron is dark and short. The wedge looks like it has been struck by a thousand golf balls. The entire stock of the plane is covered in a jet-black substance, with the exception of three areas: the plane’s sole, its tote and a hand-shaped area at the toe.

“It’s covered in mutton tallow,” Underhill says about the plane. “They used it on everything. A lubricant.”

If a proper collector picked up this plane, he would do one of two things: Clean it until it gleamed or heave it into the burn pile with the rest of the world’s grungy jacks. But for Underhill, this plane is almost a holy relic.

“This is the rarity I’m into,” Underhill says. “See where his hands were? This plane saw a tremendous amount of hard use.”

This Greenslade handplane belonged to Robert Simms, a traditionally trained English joiner who later worked restoring pieces for Colonial Williamsburg. Simms got the plane from another joiner before him. And now Underhill has it. But the tool isn’t under lock and key. It’s a working tool and lives in a tool chest.

As Underhill explains the plane’s provenance he picks a thick shaving from the tool’s mouth. It’s a fresh curl of pine or ash that he’s been planing in his new shop and woodworking school in Pittsboro, N.C.

This plane is one of the dozens of tools Underhill has been sharpening and tuning in preparation for the first classes of The Woodwright’s School, Underhill’s latest venture in woodworking education. After 30 years of writing and hosting “The Woodwright’s Shop” television show on PBS, Underhill has decided to also offer classes in the style of hand work he demonstrates on the show.


From the August 2009 issue #177
Buy this issue now