Chris Schwarz's Blog

Hand Tool Fundamentals: Three Classes in 2007

One of my favorite things to do is teach basic hand skills. Unlike some other aspects of the craft, face-to-face instruction is the fastest way to teach sharpening, planing, sawing and chiseling. That’s most certainly the way I learned it. After reading extensively about all of these skills and trying them in my own shop at home, I always seemed to be missing something critical, and my success was always limited.   

What was missing? Immediate feedback from someone who knows what they are doing. Hand skills rely on body position, grip and subtle tool adjustment far more than routers or table saws do. Don’t get me wrong, table saws can be used in an extremely subtle way, but the basic operations are easily learned by reading a manual or a book.

Not so with a hand saw. How tight is your grip? Where is your thumb and index finger? How much downward pressure are you using? Can you see your cut line? Where is your elbow? Your right foot? Your left eye? Those are just a few of the important details you must tend to in order to make a straight cut. Once you are shown the basic steps, however, you get it, and your skills start to rocket forward at a breathless clip.

When I taught at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking earlier this year, even I was astonished at how quickly the students (many of whom had never picked up a tenon saw) could cut tenons that were world class. Their success had nothing to do with their previous woodworking experience. I had one student who had been building highboys before I was born and another student who was just getting started in the craft that week. Both succeeded brilliantly.

This year I am teaching three classes that will focus on these basic skills with planes, saws and chisels. Two of the classes are at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking in the spring of 2007 and one is at Kelly Mehler’s School of Woodworking in the fall. All of the classes are a little different. The class with Thomas Lie-Nielsen focuses on handplanes.

– Hand Planes and Their Uses With Thomas Lie-Nielsen
May 5-6
Marc Adams School of Woodworking
I helped teach this class with Tom in 2006 and it was an intense and challenging experience. While Thomas and I see eye-to-eye on a lot of issues, we are different plane users and both bring different perspectives to sharpening, setup and use. During the weekend class, we go deep into the topic of plane setup. We deal with sharpening angles, back bevels, sole flatness, chipbreakers, you name it. We also discuss what each plane is good for in the shop. I think that some planes are kind of useless for the majority of us, and it’s always interesting to hear that debate and decide for yourself. The students bring their tools and we help them tune and sharpen them during the two long days. This year David Charlesworth will be in a classroom next door teaching a class on dovetails and I expect that he will be involved in some discussions. By the way, it’s easy to tell me and David apart (despite the teasings of Robin Lee, wink). He’s the one with the British accent that makes our female editors swoon.

As to the other two calsses: “Hand Tool Fundamentals” at Marc Adams explores planes, chisels and saws with a very special emphasis on the workbench. And “Hand Tools: Saws, Chisels, Handplanes and Scrapers” deals with the tools in handwork and in building the appliances that make it far more accurate. For detailed class information, you can visit each school’s web site or read all about it here at WKFineTools.com.

Whenever I teach classes, I do everything I can to make sure the students get a complete education. I am the first one in the classroom in the morning and the last one to turn out the lights at day’s end. Plus, I am always up for a beer after class if you have more questions about anything in the realm of woodworking. If you have any questions about the classes, please feel free to drop me a line.

– Christopher Schwarz

One thought on “Hand Tool Fundamentals: Three Classes in 2007

  1. Eric Paisley

    I’m not going to touch the Charlesworth comparison other than to say, he needs a manicure. I’m not saying he should get something fancy but dude — his nails are so long that it’s a tad distracting during the sharpening technique DVDs.

    That’s a good looking Wenzloff & Sons saw. If your at liberty to reveal it, what size and style is that saw? How do you like it? I’ve been pondering getting set-up with a larger tenon saw.

    Tried to sign up for the class but they were all full up. Maybe next year.

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