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Wednesday, 14 December 2011

The New Workshop Heaven!

We have recently moved into new larger premises at the Alkerton Oaks Business Park, situated between Banbury and Stratford upon Avon on the A422, about five minutes drive from junction 12 of the M40.

The local area is literally dripping with history, within a couple of miles we have RAF Edgehill where the top secret E28-39, powered by Mr Whittle's jet engine, was developed into the Gloster Meteor. There is also the field of the first pitched battle of the English Civil war in 1642 and the glorious Upton House which was built just 46 years later, developed and preserved by a family that started a little company called Shell, and is now a National Trust treasure.

The Upton Estate remains in private hands and has over 300 acres of woodland, managed in accordance with the higher level countryside stewardship scheme. The estate also farms 1400 acres of arable land, producing conservation grade cereals for Jordans.

The trimmings from the woodland management scheme (currently coniferous nurse trees planted to encourage straight growth in the main crop) end up in a biomass boiler that provides heat and hot water for our new offices and warehouse. As a result the only fossil fuels that the building consumes are a splash in the chainsaw and a dash the chipper. I am hoping that when the current batch of harvested hardwoods have been air dried we will be able to offer boards of premium furniture grade timber with the minimum possible wood mileage.

The building itself is incredibly well insulated, achieving an A rating for energy efficiency. The interior was custom built to our specifications and although we have had to wait a little longer than expected to move in, giving the contractors time to do their job beautifully has paid huge dividends in terms of the quality of finish achieved - heck if we can't appreciate and encourage good workmanship nobody can!

As before, we will continue to receive visitors by appointment and once the workshop area is complete you will have the opportunity to test out your purchases on the premises and receive free tuition in how to care for and use your new tools.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

New handles for Narex 8116 Cabinetmaker's Chisels

We really, really like Narex's 8116 Cabinetmaker's Chisels, superb steel, fine accurate machining, great profile and a great price, but I couldn't help feeling that the handles would be so much better if they were just a fraction smaller on the smaller sizes. We mentioned it to the management and before you could say "To bylo rychlé!" a sample of the new handle was resting comfortably in my hand!

The first shipment of the new ones arrived today, so we will be dispatching them with the smaller handles as standard when our new website launches (fingers crossed) on December 5th.

In the meantime, please use the shipping comments box to add 'smaller handles please' or 'larger handles please' and we will send you the appropriate chisels.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Lateral Thinking !

One of the minor points levelled against bevel up planes is that their capacitity for lateral adjustment is limited becuase the cutting iron is nestled down between the side wings.

Here's a quick and easy way to give your bevel up plane as much lateral adjustment as a bevel down one.

First mark up the sides of the iron with a permanent marker so that you can monitor your progress.

Next carefully hold the blade over a linisher (a well secured upturned belt sander will do if you don't have one). Allow the shoulder of the blade to make contact first and then gently lower the blade until the sparks start just behind your thumb. You are aiming for this (click for a closer look):

A nice even taper running from about halfway up the iron to the shoulder, taking about 1.5mm to 2mm out of the width on each side at the shoulder.

The result:

About twice as much adjustment as you had with the parallel sided iron, and the front end remains parallel so it will still fit into a side clamping honing guide.

The Quangsheng iron I am using here is differentially hardened carbon steel (only hardened from the slot down so that the soft upper part dampens vibration). Air hardening steels are all or nothing, so if you try this with an A2 blade the whole thing will be hard and it may take a little longer to grind back.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Free Shipping Fortnight!

...or you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours.

There are all mannor of things that can go wrong with an order - computer says one shelf says nil, lost in the post, defects, niggles and other fluff to sort out. True, it is rare, but it would be churlish to pretend that it doesn't happen occasionally.

We work incredibly hard to ensure that these problems never get as far as the customer, but if there is one thing that makes complete and total customer satisfaction easier to achieve it is time!

In order to sway the balance of time in our favour we are offering FREE shipping on all UK orders for the next two weeks (13 - 26 November) in the hope that we can persuade our regular customers to get their Christmas orders in nice and early. Just to spice things up a bit further we have waved our discounting wand over a selection of popular products and put them up on the homepage.

At the end of the day I don't want to spend Christmas day worrying about whether Mr Jones from Llandeilo received his Quangsheng No.4 in time. I'd much rather be enjoying the way my carefully waterstone sharpened carving knife will sever immaculate wafer thin slices of roast fore rib of beef with no downward pressure at all, or marvelling at the fact that my four year old son actually likes brussels sprouts! If you are prepared to indulge me this small favour I am more than happy to redress the balance with a bit of free shipping.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

The Combination Square

Invented in the United States in 1878 the combination square is a very versatile instrument indeed. I thought it might be fun to run through as many ways to use one as I can think of and then see if anyone can come up with any others.

As well as the obvious uses for marking lines square to or at 45 degrees to an edge, the combination square can also be used as a depth gauge:

A rudimentary marking gauge or panel gauge:

A protractor, dovetail marker or an extra sliding bevel if need be:

A graduated centre finder for both establishing and measuring from the centres of round materials:

Or a mitre gauge:

A small level, (and because it's a square you also have a means of gauging for plumb):

A greater level of accuracy can often be achieved by using the components independantly.

The square head can be used as an internal 135 and 90 degree square:

The centre finder as an external 90 degree square (note the cutout for the corner to rest in):

And the protractor head can be used as either a level or an inclinometer:

On a good one like this Moore & Wright 520, the anti glare rule is 2.2mm thick and the sides are precision ground so it is accurate enough to use as a straight edge too:

In almost all cases a dedicated tool probably will do a better job (assuming that you are looking at a similar quality level). However, for a lot of woodworking tasks the level of accuracy you can achieve with a decent combi square is perfectly acceptable.

If budgetary restrictions are a consideration then you may be better off getting one good quality combination set than struggling with lower quality individual tools.

The sheer abundance of things that you can do with a decent combination square make it a wise investment for the beginner and it will always be a useful tool to grab whether you are working in or away from the workshop.

If anyone can come up with any other ways to use combination squares, please feel free to share them.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Spoon Karving Cnives

Spoonerism - spoon carving knives - get it? Oh well never mind.

What you definitely should get is a set of these wonderful new spoon carving knives from Ray Iles. I've only had a brief play so far, but when it comes to a tool that you work so intimately with as a spoon carving knife, starry eyed love at first sight is a pretty good starting point.

Let's begin with the handles. Plain double turned beech ovals, but the belly is offset towards the rear, so it nestles under the middle and ring fingers before narrowing again for the little finger - hand shaped in other words. Towards the business end, the handle narrows in thickness to a slender lozenge cross section, making your index finger very 'aware' of the exact angle of the blade and able to alter it very precisely by squeezing or relaxing the grip.

Next the blades, hand forged O1, a material Ray has been using for most of his working life, tempered to RC59-61, hollow ground bevels, polished to a shaving sharp edge. I'm wondering whether I wouldn't be happier with a left bevel crook knife as I'd kinda prefer to use this beastie away from my body - maybe I'm just not used to it yet? If you are used to Moras the first thing you will notice is how much thicker the blades are (3mm). The whittling knife and the spoon knife have rounded backs so you can comfortably lay a thumb or fingertip on the back of the blade for very fine control. These two factors make a world of difference. I'm sitting here with a lap full of boxwood shavings, alternating between carving, typing, and watching in amazement as the best teaspoon I have ever carved appears before my eyes. It feels like I have swapped hands with Jon Mac!

Lastly the bit that normally gets forgotten - the tang. The balance on these knives is just beautiful. All of them balance, as they should, slightly forward of the centre of the palm. The barest fraction of weight bias toward the blade gives the necessary registration, but keeping it as small as possible keeps fatigue to a minimum so you can carve in comfort for longer. 'Full length tang' is often touted as a selling feature, but a 3/4 tang that has been balanced to give perfect weight distribution trumps it by a country mile in my book.

Ray has been making tools from the moment he could pick up a hammer, he was one of the last people to be apprenticed to the little mesters of Sheffield and is possibly the only man alive to have apprenticed under them as a Smith, Grinder and Cutler - three apprenticeships - now that's deciding on a career. The jump from making things that are sharp on the end to making things that are sharp on the sides is quite a leap for a toolmaker, but I am so impressed with these that I have decided to stock almost his entire range on the new website.

Happy spoon carving!

Oops - nearly forgot, no photos - didn't happen.

Here's the finished spoon, could probably be improved with a bit of sanding but hopefully not too shabby for a first effort.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Work smarter, not harder.

We have heard from a few people recently who have been trying to polish the backs of their plane irons and chisels to a mirror shine all over. This is a common enough misunderstanding and I have had to explain why it is unnecessary to some very experienced makers indeed. Most of them start out looking at me as if I have just come out of a tap and then the penny drops and they suddenly realise how many hours of unnecessary effort they have expended over the years and end up needing a cup of tea and a sit down.

The back of a chisel only needs to be polished for the first few millimetres under the cutting edge. This is achieved by hollowing the back by a couple of thou (no more) on coarse abrasives, preferably using a single line of contact to avoid the possibility of referencing off a bump. With the slight hollow achieved, you lay the blade flat on your finer honing abrasives and work just the underside of the cutting edge to a mirror finish. If you like to use the reflection in the back of the blade to gauge the geometry of your chopping cuts, then by all means carry on and polish the first 10mm. Zero to minus 2 thou is plenty flat enough for precision joinery so your chisel is still technically 'flat'.

The back of a plane iron is not a reference surface and only needs to be polished for the last millimetre. The back of a plane iron doesn't need to be flat, so elevating the other end of the blade by slipping a thin ruler / bit of paper / whatever underneath it when honing you can guarantee contact at the cutting edge.

The same goes for the irons of bevel up planes. The last couple of mm of the back is exposed in the mouth and doesn't register against anything, so there is absolutely no harm in using the Charlesworth ruler trick on them too.

If you find you are spending any more than ten minutes maximum preparing a new blade, there is a good chance that either the abrasives are inappropriate or the technique is not quite right. If you need some help, please get in touch and we will be happy to point you in the right direction.

Aside from saving a whole load of time and effort, the other advantage of minimising unnecessary polished surfaces on your tools is that polished steel is much more prone to pitting. A ground surface will tend to develop powdery surface rust all over, which if it does occur can be easily removed. The slightest imperfection in a polished surface (at a molecular level) will act like a sacraficial anode and fester away independently of the surrounding surface.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

David Barron visits Workshop Heaven

David Barron popped in today to drop off a copy of his new Dovetailing DVD and some Knew Concepts jewellers saws for me to try.

Man are these things light - but it's not just how light (120g vs 185g for our standard 5" jewellers saw) it's also how that weight is disributed. With a standard saw most of the weight is in the frame, resting on your index finger with 5" of mechanical advantage. With the Knew Concepts saw the majority of the weight is in the handle, so although it is only 1/3 lighter it actually feels about 2/3 lighter in the hand. They are also very stiff, so you don't get any compression of the blade on the forward stroke which is the biggest cause of blade fatigue.

Tension wise, they are about the same (although our standard adjustable frames do achieve a much higher tension than just about anything else on the market) with a heavier gauge skip blade installed what you really want to hear is a very short, high pitched 'plink', if it's still going 'pingggg' it's not tight enough.

The weight advantage makes the 8" version a no-brainer for me, the only disadvantage with a deep saw is the weight - take that away and you may as well just have one saw that will trim DT's in a 16 inch wide board. Having said that there will be those who don't want to stretch the extra few quid or never use boards wider than 10" so we will probably end up stocking both sizes.

All in all a very nice piece of kit. Essential? No. Best on the market? Yes.

Anyway, once I'd got over the whole 'David Barron - in my workshop - how cool is THAT!' thing, we had a really good chat about all sorts of tools and techniques. Here's a couple of top tips I picked up for freehand dovetailing.

Always engage the knife in the mark and then move the square to the knife. This is much more accurate than trying to align the square on your mark and then striking a line wherever it ended up.

When securing your board for sawing, use your dovetail marker to set the angle of the board. This way your saw is working vertically (as it was intended to do) and gravity is assisting accuracy rather than hampering it. Cant the board the other way to make the cuts on the opposite side of the tails.

David's DVD covers guided dovetailing - a foolproof way of achieving outstanding results. It is a well thought through technique, with guidance on how to make the necessary workshop aides and also has a very good aside on bench design and configuration. The quality of production and clarity of tuition are both outstanding and I am more than happy to recommend it.

Monday, 11 July 2011

A Grand Day Out!

Many thanks to all who came along to the Peter Sefton Furniture School open day on Saturday. It was a great day with plenty of demonstrations including Peter's live, public, review of the new Quangsheng 62 Low Angle Jack plane. I won't ruin the suspense for you, but as far as I'm aware this is the first time a new plane has been reviewed in front of a public audience, on some very challenging timber, by an independent expert suggested on a public forum, and then made available for members of the crowd to try out for themselves. The results will be published in Furniture and Cabinetmaking Magazine as well as on the various forums.

I was doing a bit of sharpening, showing some of the methods for honing trickier tools like cambered irons, skew chisels, fishtail chisels, shoulder plane irons and spokeshave irons with Richard Kell's honing guides. We also had some FAMAG drill bits available for inspection and copies of their new cataloge to hand out (if you'd like one just drop me an email and we'll pop it in the post). I love the way people's eyes light up when they see their first FAMAG drills.

Also demonstrating were Tom, Simon and Sarah from the brand new dedicated Festool dealer Intelligent Workshop Tools. These guys really know their stuff and have some seriously nice kit. Bob Jones (Bob the polisher) was teaching the dark arts of grain filling, staining and polishing, Russell Jones from Felder demonstrated the new Hammer A3-26. Chris Eagles and Paul Hodgson showed two highly skilled but very different approaches to woodturning, and Peter's excellent tutorials on handplaning and dovetailing gave visitors a feel for the sort of skills they can learn at the school and for Peter's crisply concise yet relaxed and friendly teaching style.

A fantastic free barbecue kept everyone topped up with first rate grub (Waitrose beef burgers - yummy) the weather held and the laid back atmosphere made it a really memorable day all round.

The event ended with the draw for a weeks training with Peter which, I'm delighted to say, was won by one of the people who entered through the site...!

If you couldn’t make it to the Open Day, you can read all about the Peter Sefton Furniture School in this article from F&C.

I'm already looking forward to next year's event; we will let you know as soon as the dates are announced.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Taste the Oak!

Oh My God! If you haven't tried this stuff you need to - it is absolutely delicious! Our postman is quite into his beers and we occasionally swap tasting notes and bring each other a bottle or two to try if we find something a bit special or unusual. I read a fascinating article about the guy who set up Innis and Gunn in an in flight magazine on the way to a woodworking exhibition in Hannover last month so I have been keen to try his brew ever since.

I've also recently been experimenting by barbecuing chicken long and slow on the gas grill with the lid closed and a big pile of oak shavings smoking away on the other side. Incidentally barbecue is a noun - not a verb, you don't barbecue food, you gently smoke it until it becomes 'barbecue'! (an interesting factoid to drop into the conversation next time your neighbour offers you an incinerated sausage with a raw middle). The best result so far has been to marinade the chicken in 1 part Japanese Mirin and 1 part Worcester sauce with a pinch of salt and a generous twist of white pepper.

The result is golden and succulent and utterly delicious with strong vanilla and toffee flavours. You can taste exactly the same oak imparted flavours in Innis and Gunn's original oak aged beer.

The concept originated when they were beer seasoning casks for distillers, the beer itself was supposed to be thrown away but the brewery workers were quietly siphoning it off for themselves. The boss's lad was working on the shop floor at the time (he had no intention of getting into brewing himself) but was so impressed that he ended up taking over the firm, abandoning everything else they were doing and focussing the entire business on what had previously been a waste product!

Net result - one of Scotland's most successful export beers ever! And I can see why. Hmmmm, maybe the postie can wait until I've been shopping again....!!!

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Cambering Plane Irons

A slight curvature on the cutting edge of a plane iron eliminates track marks produced by the corners of the iron on the workpiece. The most succinct description I have encountered of how a cambered iron works is as follows:

"Imagine a tub of ice cream and all you have to level it with is an ice cream scoop. First passes leaves scoop shaped hollows (width depends on how deep you go). Second pass you remove the top of ridges between the hollows - digging less deep. Third pass ditto." (Jacob Butler) posted on UKWorkshop. May 12th 2011

This is my method of cambering a plane iron, it is quick and easy to do and repeatable with quite a high degree of precision. It is informed by David Charlesworth's technique described in DVD#1 Hand Tool Techniques Part 1 and my own belief in honing guides with a wheeltrack wider than the tool being sharpened (making the guide master of the tool rather than the other way around).

Begin by wetting the lapping film with a few drops of HoneRite No.1, place a rigid steel rule (about 1mm thick) under one wheel of the guide as shown above and hone through 40 30 and 5 micron grades to produce a triangular polished facet on the opposite corner of the primary bevel.

Do the same again with the rule on the other side, then repeat the process using a thin flexible rule to create a shallower polished facet on either side. Finally hone the centre of the iron flat, just as you would for a square edge. This step is important as it broadens the shaving that the plane will take at shallow depths of cut. If you like you can also do alternate strokes with one wheel on the glass and one on the film to help blend the facets into each other. The result should be a plane iron with a smiley face. (please excuse the loss of picture quality, I was racing against the setting sun)

Take the iron out of the guide, turn it over, slip the thin rule under the safe end, and starting with the cutting edge off the sheet, draw the non-bevelled face of the iron onto the 30 micron film to remove the burr. Polish to a shine on the 5 micron again with the other end supported by the thin rule. (this bit is pure Charlesworth and saves a whole bunch of time and effort).

OK the light has really had it now, but this is what you are aiming for - a nice broad shaving that feathers out to nothing on either side:

In this case I'm doing quite a big camber for a jack plane iron, for a smoother the thin rule would be sufficient for the ends and maybe a sheet of good quality paper for the second set of facets. For block planes and bevel-ups you need more camber because the low bedding angle will reduce its effect. The Richard Kell No.2 honing guide I am using here can camber blades with up to 50 degree primary bevels using this method. It can also handle narrow or short bladed and tapered tools that many other guides struggle with.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

First photos of the new Quangsheng No. 62 Low Angle Jack Plane

The first shipment of the new Quangsheng Low Angle Jack Planes arrived this afternoon. I'm still unpacking the pallets but curiosity got the better of me so I stopped to have a play. Like all blokes the first thing I did was have a beaker under the bonnet - or in this case brushed stainless steel lever cap.

The lever cap has a countersunk keyhole so you can wind off anything up to three full rotations on the top knob, turn the whole plane upside down and shake it without any of the gubbins falling out - nice touch guys!

Lifting the cutting iron out we see the double threaded Norris type adjuster, This has a coarse thread running through the big dowel pin that seats into the casting and a finer thread through the small dowel that engages the cutting iron. The overall effect one minus the other, so you get roughly a 2:1 mechanical advantage and a fine, silky smooth adjustment. The one thing I'm not overly keen on about the Norris is that it combines lateral and projection adjustment in one, but as Norris adjusters go this is certainly a well engineered example.

Enough engineering, let's plane some wood!!! First up, a small piece of rippled sycamore yielded gossamer shavings with the 25 degree iron. I tried cutting with the left and right sides of the iron as well as the centre and couldn't make the blade shift position at all.

Time for something a little more exotic - this is a piece of Corrugatta or Rib Fruited Mallee, (RFM for short mate!) that I hit up with the 50 degree iron. If I had sharpened it first I dare say I could probably have got more continuous shavings, but in a sudden fit of pandering to the 'yebbut how does it work 'out of the box?' crowd' I was still able to take the top of this piece from bandsawn to this, with only the factory ground edge on the iron.

Since versatility is the whole point of low angle jack planes we are bundling a free 38 and 50 degree iron in with each plane as well as the standard 25 degree one that comes with it. After all, a Swiss army knife with only one blade is just another penknife!

Overall impression: This one's mine! Yours is here.

If you want a closer look at any of the pictures go ahead and give them a click (click a second time to zoom right in).

Oh, nearly forgot the price. £129.50 including VAT (and delivery if you are in UK, Eire, France, Germany or Benelux)

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Win a 1 week course at the Peter Sefton Furniture School!

Peter Sefton runs a modern, fully independent Furniture School in the beautiful Worcestershire countryside. He describes himself as a facilitator, keen to ensure that students are shown the full range of methods, combining quality of design and productive making.

The habitual selection of techniques that optimise safety, time, money and materials, along with the necessary skills and confidence to execute them correctly are the hallmarks of Peter’s graduates. There may be several ‘right ways’ of performing a task, but their training will help them to intuitively gravitate towards the one that suits them best without compromising results, whether they are making for pleasure or profit.

Highly qualified in both handwork and machining, Peter demonstrates for Felder and has taught me a thing or two about hand tool techniques. He is a natural teacher, very approachable and richly experienced.

The school itself is immaculate with plenty of natural light and a vibrant positive atmosphere. There are separate well equipped workshops for bench work and machining and bright comfortable classrooms for theory work and a student kitchen.

We are offering customers the opportunity to win a 5 day course with Peter, just follow the link on the homepage of our website and pop your details down.

Entry for the competition is free but not automatic so you do need to put your name down in order to be entered (even if you are already on our mailing list).

Email addresses will be used by Peter Sefton Furniture School and Workshop Heaven for marketing purposes, they will not be shared, sold or divulged to any other parties.

The winner will be drawn at the Peter Sefton Furniture School open day on 9th July 2011. Feel free to come along, we will be there demonstrating some sharpening and drilling techniques, along with Chris Eagles who will be demonstrating some turning techniques, and furniture maker Paul Hodgson will be doing a bit of chair making.

Just to give you a taste for Peter's teaching style here's a little bit of video from a lecture on veneering.

Peter Sefton Matching and Taping Veneers from Peter Sefton Furniture School on Vimeo.

Charity Auctions for Clic Sargent

This week we are auctioning a few items for a wonderful charity called Clic Sargent that provides fantastic support for children with cancer and their families.

Limited Edition Clifton Anniversary No.3 Bench Plane.

Lansky 8" natural Arkansas Bench Stone.

Boxed set of Famag 1622 Bormax Forstner Bits.

Cedar boxed set of Smiths Arkansas slipstones and a pair of bench stones for carving tools.

100% of the money raised will go to the Clic Sargent, so please do your bit to help support these amazingly brave children by visiting the auctions and placing a bid.

Sunday, 5 June 2011


Four thousand individual strips of veneer, carefully overlapped, systematically sanded through in waves and then polished to create a solid structure that realistically represents the appearance of a natural nautilus shell. The exterior is carved to replicate the effect produced as the natural growth rings are eroded by the sea, the internal chambers are formed with delicate Japanese lace paper.

Nautilus, a limited edition of 2 coffee tables, is the latest piece to be produced by Marc Fish at Robinson House Studio and was awarded Guild Mark number 435 by the Worshipful Company of Furnituremakers on Thursday 19th of May.

To the best of our knowledge this innovative construction technique has never been tried before but has been executed with consummate precision and skill. Our congratulations to Marc and his clients for giving the world yet another achingly beautiful piece of furniture.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011


I have just received these wonderful holdfasts, tenderly hand crafted by Richard T of UKWorkshop fame (who says they don't make anything in the Midlands any more eh!)

So the next thing I needed was a 3/4" Forstner bit to make the holes for them, but believe it or not, between my collection, the collection I inherited from my Dad, the odds and ends box and the stock in the shop there was not one 3/4 inch bit to be found!

Not to worry, a quick purchase order to the nice people at FAMAG and a big box of goodies arrives. I plumped for 19mm (3/4 inch = 19.049mm) so they are only half a gnats undersize and will slot neatly into our existing product range. If anyone ever needs imperial bits we can get them in in about a week - just drop me an email.

I suspect there may be others in a similar predicament so I have taken the libery of ordering a few more, listing them on the site and putting them on special offer.

Now comes the next question. My benchtop is about 50mm thick, and I've got a sheet of 12mm MDF and a sheet of 9mm ply winking at me and suggesting that they would love to be glued and screwed to the underside in a double sandwich taking it up to 82mm - nearly the full depth of the apron. The forstner will happily do 60mm on its own or up to 410mm with an extension, so either way putting the holes in is no problem.

Will the extra mass be worth it?

Will the holdfast holes wear better if they are in thicker material?

Have I got the time to do it, or will it become just another job on the list?

Whatever happens, I'll keep you posted.