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Art and Craft

Working Wood 1 & 2 – The Artisan Course with Paul Sellers

By Paul Sellers

Illustrated. 320 pp. Artisan Media Ltd. $34.90 ($159.00 Book & DVD)

 

As much as I love my table and band saw, hand tools have established a prominent place in my woodworking. As often repeated by others, it’s a joy to set aside the ear plugs and embrace the therapeutic swoosh of a hand plane floating out whisper thin curls of wood. The problem with a screaming router is, with all that noise a man can’t hear himself cuss. And that’s important. It’s a scientific fact that cussing improves work quality. As when cross cutting a beautiful piece of mahogany and suddenly discovering that a hand written 3/5 measurement tragically, and disastrously, looked like 3/8. In that moment it’s important a power tool not muffle a full expression of disappointment. Hand tooling quiets the room. Now when I tear out a huge chunk of wood hand planning Ash my whole range of swearing can be clear and precise.

So it was while searching out hand tooling tips that I discovered Paul Sellers and his blog. A lively, if at times rambling dialogue on hand tools and techniques, including plenty of fascinating musings on all things woodworking. A link from there pointed to Paul’s YouTube video series for building a workbench using construction grade lumber. Loved the bench, both the style (sometimes referred to as “European benches”) and the low cost, readily available materials. Paul’s easy going mannerism, confidence, and genuine enthusiasm is contagious. Which lead me to purchase Paul’s Working Wood 1 & 2 book, including the optional and highly recommended 7 DVD’s (neighborhood of $159.00 for both book and DVD’s; mine came from Lee Valley Tools). Together the book and DVD’s make an excellent course for woodworkers interested in the fundamentals of hand tools and classic joinery.

Two chairside tables; one of mahogany, the other hickory. Candlestick box and small bookcase both built of pine.

The book can be viewed as a condensed version of the DVD’s. Although the instructions and cut list provided in the text are sufficient, the videos really expand on the techniques, describe alternative methods, and of course provide a stage for Mr. Sellers to showcase his 40 plus years of woodworking expertise.

The videos are well done, professional and engaging, although the “high tech” theatrics (mostly intercut digital effects for moving from scene to scene) seemed out of place from a man advocating century old wood working techniques. On first viewing the special effects were catchy, but then grew tiring as I repeated multiple segments while working through several projects. Great background music though, scenes that played out as the camera weaved through the impressive grounds of Pembroke castle, where the work was filmed.

The course starts with essential methods, then moves into dovetails, dadoes, mortise & tenons, sharpening, and ends with, as a penultimate project, a work bench very similar in design as to the one built on his YouTube video.

Deep through mortises for the workbench legs.

And what’s the first thing needed to build a workbench? A good workbench. Paul does a nice job addressing this circle logic problem with hints and examples for supporting the necessary work. The next big step, which does present issues, is selecting and dimensioning the wood. The challenge? Finding straight edged construction grade lumber. The unicorn in the world of home improvement big box stores. Doesn’t exist. Paul starts his work with 3 x 1 ½ square edged lumber, which someone out in the web world said is available across the pond. And yes, Paul is narrating this from England. Hand planning some eleven, five-foot-long common round edged Southern Yellow Pine boards is a long journey of splinters and blisters. Or as Chris Schwartz so subtlety stated in one of his articles – you’d be a moron. So the simple way, with apologies to Mr. Sellers and his hand tool philosophy, is to slap the round edged lumber on a jointer, followed by running it through a planer.

Trimming up the top built from squared construction lumber.

For those like me that do not have a jointer, there are many other options. My choice was to start with several eight-foot-long 2 x 12 SYP and rip them down to size on a table saw (outdoors on my job site saw). Doing so meant I could decide on the thickness of my bench top; 2 ¾ looked good and worked with my overall dimensions. Once the lumber was prepared the rest of Mr. Sellers directions flowed in an easy to follow manner. This last project of his is an excellent way to bring together the joinery most stressed in the book; mortise & tenon and dadoes.

Dadoes on the workbench aprons – leg frames in the background.

Very few mistakes in the text were found, even after working through all the projects in the book, except the wooden spoon and three-legged stool. The cut list and diagram for the small bookcase (or CD case, a more appropriate description given the size), were a bit odd. They were illustrations from Paul’s own notes rather than a formal printed list as provided in the other projects. It worked, but at the time caused me to pause wondering whether his notes represented a work in progress or finished project. And a small correction is needed for the chairside table; the turnbuttons should be 4 ½ inches long rather than the 3 ½ listed in the book.

Drilling out the holes for my front vise.

Interesting to note, several times I spotted slight variations between the instructions in the book compared to the video. As an example, two differing methods for adding the bearers to the workbench were presented. The focus was on how the bearer (piece of wood resting on top of the leg frame to support the bench top) will fit into the dado cut in the aprons. In the book, the bearer is the same width as the leg frame but cut short by one inch such that the apron is flush against the bearer with only the leg fitting into the apron housing. In the video the bearer is the same length, although wider, as the leg frame with both the bearer and leg frame fitting into the apron housing. Since the bearer is wider, it’s notched at the end to fit into the housing. I chose the book method, for no particular reason, but afterward would have preferred the video method instead. Screws need to be driven through the bearer into the table top, and with the narrower bearer (same width as the leg frame) that left just over a ½” of space to get the screws in. I had to drill them in at an angle, whereas the video method with the wider bearer would had given more work room, making this anchoring much easier.

Planing the top…fairly smooth.

Paul Sellers book and DVD series is an excellent immersion into the craft of hand tooled wood working. The subtitle of the book is “The Artisan Course with Paul Sellers”, and it certainly is. The material is well organized, the projects engaging, and the heart felt dialogue from Mr. Sellers is just simply fun. It’s enough to make almost anyone want to hand plane a whole stack of yellow pine.

Almost.

Completed workbench and it’s first project; the second chairside table built of hickory, a very unforgiving wood.