Machines in the Workshop, Part 3


Part 1 is here
Part 2 is here

HANDWORKER: Yes, I know the argument, and it is certainly plausible – in fact, it is its apparent soundness that makes it dan­gerous. It sounds a fine thing that a man is left free to do more skilful work. But you forget the lost skill that used to go to cutting out timber. Have you read The Village Carpenter or The Wheelwright’s Shop, in which the cut­ting out of boards and even veneers by hand is described? It was the patient, accurate, hard work of these men that gave them their skill. A slip meant that not only hours of their own time would be wasted, but that the time of others carrying out subsequent opera­tions would be spent unnecessarily. These men really understood the saw.

But that is not the worst part of it. The real trouble lies in the fact that once a man has installed a circular saw he doesn’t keep it just for ripping out. After a while he does his grooving on it; then his rebating; next he finds that he can work mouldings (of a sort); tenons follow as a matter of course; and, lastly, the saw belonging to his kit of hand tools is used merely for odd cuts here and there, and for any job where the circular saw is not conven­ient.

Herein lies the danger. A man soon loses his old skill; and the youngster, what of him? He will never have the opportunity of acquiring the skill. I doubt whether many boys to-day could cut a tenon accurately. I remember a job we had to do some thirty years ago. We had to make a large oak window frame about 15 ft. square with intersecting cross-rails and stiles. The parts were rebated at an angle and moulded, and all the joints were double tenoned. Every joint was cut by hand. Two men cut the tenons whilst others got on with the mortising. It fell to my lot to fit the joints, and I can still re­call the way those joints went together. The stuff was about 5 ins. in section, yet after cutting the shoulders and scribes the parts went together com­fortably hand tight with scarcely any fitting. Those men had used the saw since they were boys; and their skill was almost uncanny.

Now once you have a machine it will, in the long run, come to do practically every job, so that the man at home, instead of developing his skill and en­joying the exercise of it, soon merely feeds a machine and loses the entire value of his craft. I know that he may exercise ingenuity in the setting up of jigs and so on to carry out certain operations, but he will lose that won­derful combination of skilful hand and keen eye which is the great value of craftsmanship.

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Methods of Making Wooden Spoons


WOODEN spoons re­present a small commodity which can often be made from what is more or less re­garded as waste wood. Except for special cooking purposes, which necessitate lengthy shafts on the spoons, the ordinary article seldom exceeds about a foot in length, and hence all kinds of odd scrap sections can thus be utilised. Yellow pine is claimed to be worked most easily to the desired shape, but white pine and cheaper boxwoods have also been used, so long as the edges can be well trimmed. The wood must, of necessity, show no signs of splintering in any way, or foodstuffs might be contaminated. Sound branch wood, free from knots and of suitable size, is largely in demand for the work, and the diameter of the branches should preferably approximate to 3 ins.

The bowl of the spoon may be anything from 1½ ins. in diameter up­wards, but as a rule an oblong shape is preferred. Longitudinally, the bowl has a ratio of 2½ in length to 1½ laterally, and this ratio is more or less maintained with all sizes of spoons. The shaft seldom requires to exceed ½ in. in diameter, except where heavy cooking materials have to be stirred, whilst the handle is variable in size and shape.

The earlier practice of carving spoons by hand has largely been discontinued with the advent of improved mechanical methods, but improvised machines have been used by numerous amateur wood­workers.


GRINDING THE BOWL. Whereas other culinary wooden goods, such as potato ­mashers, rolling pins, etc., can be directly made by different turning operations, the spoon belongs to another category, as only the shaft and handle can be dealt with in this man­ner. In view of the strain put upon the wood during formation of the bowl, it is customary to prepare the latter first, and subsequently turn the shaft and handle.

The latest mechanism introduced for the purpose of forming the bowl directly consists of a pair of ribbed grinding wheels similar in shape to those used for oil drilling. The bottom wheel is bowl-shaped, with a hole at the centre to allow access to the fine sawdust which forms, whilst the upper wheel acts as the counterpart, and is semi­spherical (A and B, Fig. 1). Preven­tion of the ribs becoming clogged with fine sawdust is imperative to success of the operation, and these are cut sharply in spiral direction for both wheels, so that the motion causes the fine matter to descend continuously. If the rota­tion described a true circle, the bowl of the spoon formed would be circular, which thus limits its size; but in order to maintain the ratio of 2½ and 1½, the wheels are operated by a sliding cam, and in keeping with this motion both wheels are of greater dimensions than the ultimate shape of the bowl pro­duced.

Where selected branch wood is used, it is trimmed and cut to strips, but blocks of scrap wood are reduced by the band-saw to the desired shape directly. The strips are simply held in position between the wheels, and a lever causes the upper one to descend until the desired depth of bowl has been made. This, however, is not allowed to go so far that dissection is made from the parent section, as otherwise difficulties would be offered to the sub­sequent turning of the shaft and handle. In the way the fitting of the section at the head of the bowl to the tail-stock of the lathe is simplified, the centre being marked off in the usual manner.

The sliding cam which causes the wheels to operate to and fro whilst rotating is not really what might be termed an innovation, as the method was copied from the shuttle mechanism used in sewing machines. The action is a grinding one, and the nature of the motion prevents accumulation of sawdust between the ribs.

The wheels with the ribs are made of exceedingly hard chrome steel which are not readily blunted, and the art of making them depends upon the final tempering and quenching. The exposed faces of the ribs are as hard as the tools used for cutting steels, and hence are well able to withstand the effects of the continual abrasion from the soft wood. Each strip of wood is exposed to the foregoing treatment, and then passed over to the turner’s bench.


TURNING. The rough turning with the gouge is done easily and systematically so as not to exert any undue strain upon the weakened section (where a fraction of an inch connects the cut bowl to the parent wood), and more time is devoted to the final skinning than is customary for heavier objects such as mashers, and rolling pins, etc. Heavier gouges could probably do the work much more rapidly, but might run the risk of weakening the connecting section and further putting it out of alignment.

The turned shaft and handle are finished with glasspaper when the spoon is complete except for the parent wood attached to the bowl. This was for many years removed with chisels by hand, but recently a guillotine device has been adopted which removes the surplus wood very rapidly. In each case the edges of the bowl require to be trimmed and polished with glasspaper, when the spoons are ready for the market.

— The Woodworker, 1939

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The Machine in the Workshop, Part 2


Part 1 is here.

MACHINIST: Are you not painting altogether too gloomy a picture? That the machine has largely taken the place of handwork is true so far as the trade is concerned. There are not many shops left where handwork is practicable at all (though I know of several good woodwork shops where it still holds its own). But it is not of the trade I am thinking. I have in mind that body of men which the WOODWORKER represents; men who do woodwork in their own homes, and who do it purely for the love of the thing. To them handwork is as alive to-day as ever it was.

Perhaps, however, I had better make my position quite clear. I have no desire to see the home workshop completely mechanised, but I believe that there are advantages in the use of certain machines without any corresponding drawbacks, providing you use them for their legitimate purpose. In no circumstances would I alter either the design or construction of a job merely to enable a machine to be used. But where a machine would do a job equally as well as handwork (or possibly better) I would not hesitate to use it.

After all, remember that every woodworker does this to an extent in any case – unless he buys a tree, cuts it up himself, and waits a few years for it to season, etc. If he is purist enough to buy his wood un­planed he has at least allowed the machine to cut it into boards for him. Now where is the difference in allow­ing the machine to saw up his boards and in cutting it to size on a small power saw? I for one never did care about the back-aching job of ripping out tim­ber, and I fail to see how my work has lost anything since I invested in a small circular saw. I can in a way admire the purist spirit that prompts a man to rip out, say, some 2-inch oak, but I do not see what he has gained. Ripping out is an uninteresting job at best, and the machine does it equally well – possibly better.

I say, therefore, that a small circu­lar saw is a justifiable and useful addi­tion to the workshop in that it does just as well in a quarter the time a job which is donkey work in any case, leav­ing a man free to do other work which requires more skill and which is in­finitely more interesting.

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The Machine in the Workshop, Part 1


In 1938, The Woodworker magazine published a two page “conversation” between a handworker and machinist. It’s interesting and thoughtful. And so we are going to reproduce it here in short segments.

HANDWORKER: I think that one of the saddest aspects of the present age is the awful loss mankind has sustained in the almost entire disappearance of craftwork. Consider for a moment what this means. Take any craft at random – say that of the clockmaker. There are in London at the present time a few middle-aged and elderly men who could if required make a clock throughout by hand. Exactly how many I don’t know, but there cannot be many left who served an apprenticeship in a shop which was free of the machine, for even in the last century was heard the rumble of the distant drum.

When these men have passed on there will not be any man left with either the skill or the knowledge to carry out the countless skilled operations that go to the making of a clock. It will be as a great death. For centuries the trade is passed on, each man adding to it his measure of experience and handing it down to the young men who give as their contribution their zeal and enthusiasm.

Then one day the poisoned barb of the machine strikes it, and within thirty or forty years it lies stricken, a mere shadow of its former greatness.

Well, there is one of my arguments against the machine. It begins in a small way, apparently innocuous; then, one by one the various operations belonging to handwork go until the machine ousts handwork entirely. You cannot introduce one simple machine without running the risk of losing all. For where does one draw the line? Human nature, being what it is, seeks an easy way of doing a job, and, from using a machine to assist in heavy drudgery, it begins to alter the work so that it can be done by the machine, and there is the poison. The character of the work is sacrificed to the machine which makes it.

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Another Roubo with Shelf


Another Roubo with shelf: I mostly plane at this bench so I keep all my go-to bench planes on the shelf. Notice I over-built the frame to add enough mass to fully eliminate any motion under planing action. The bench sits a bit away from the wall to provide wall space to store my handsaws.

— Jim Tolpin

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Linseed Oil & Wax – Another Fine Finish


Today I applied the finish to my latest Welsh stick chair and opted for a blend of linseed oil and beeswax made by Swede Paint Enterprises. During the last year it has become one of my favorite finishes for traditional pieces.

I had considered using a soap finish for the chair but opted for the linseed oil and wax blend because it will darken with exposure to light and oxygen. A soap finish would have preserved the light color – almost ghostliness – of the sycamore.

Note: Before you read another word, know that Swede Paint distributes our books in Canada. We got involved with them because of their fantastic finishing products and business philosophy. We do not benefit in any way from sales of their finishing products. But we do love their products.

The linseed oil and beeswax mix is a joy to use. It has the consistency of something between mayonnaise and peanut butter, but is surprisingly not sticky. It absorbs readily into bare wood and forms a matte and smooth surface that is superior to linseed oil alone.

Like all finishes that involve linseed oil and wax, it is not a permanent or highly protective finish. You will need to apply more finish in a few years. But it is easily maintained and repaired. I prefer this quality (repair-ability) over film finishes such as varnish or urethane that can be difficult to repair.

Two thin coats of finish produced a beautiful and touchable luster. It is an excellent finish for beginners who are inexperienced with finishing. Even though I’ve used everything from high-performance film finishes, shellac, pine tar, asphaltum, pre-cat lacquer, to you name it, this finish suits me. It’s simple, natural and easily renewed. Check it out.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Shelf or Not?

When I built my Roubo bench several years back, I added the customary shelf between the stretchers. I mostly use this area for clamp storage more than tools. For whatever reason, it also tends to also attract scraps of wood, unused tools and bits of debris. About once a year I go thru the mess and clean it out.


My Moravian bench does not have a shelf, nor have I ever really missed it not having one. Today while cleaning the pile of accumulated junk from under the Roubo (again), I was thinking that maybe a shelf is more trouble than it is worth.

— Will Myers



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