The small treasure trove of family tools at my disposal often throws up an interesting thing or two. I did not know we even had this holdfast. The style most popular today it the proper old school smack down type needing firm blows to secure them. What I potentially like about this type is the noise reduction. Depending on where and at what time you are able to do you work the potential noise, even of hand tool work could soon annoy neighbours and even worse.....wake the kids! Dusting it off and taking a look it was something that looked to be right up my street. Rugged, simple with a bit of history. On examination I found the shaft of the holdfast had been "improved" in the same way the English Woodworker advises.
These barbs allow the holdfast to really bite! In addition to being quiet it also seemed this type of holfast would be less abrupt in use as well. Gently winding on tension should be easy. I say should as the 3/4" holes that take my current holdfasts are too small. This one requires a hole closer to 1". I'll bore one and then give it a go. I can imagine this tool being very helpful to a Wheelwright, a great way of cramping awkward components. The name of the maker was also something to check out. These days it's just too easy to find things out that only a few years ago would of taken days. It seems J.V.Hill was a successful tool maker, saws and planes were also part of what the company offered. The company looked to of been going between 1834>1909. I would speculate this is at the late end of the spectrum. I'm very interested to see just how this version will work.
Are you new to woodworking or interested in a good solid core of hand tools? Would you like the "facts" written in an informative and impartial style? Do you want to get to the point without the extras? Do you want to hear the experience from an apprenticed and seasoned woodworker? Yes I hear you cry then you will love "Tools for Woodwork" by Charles Hayward. More broadly the theme of essential tools has become much like the story of Sisyphus. A subject to be recycled ad nauseam due to it's appeal for the new to the craft. And that's cool, as an occupation and as a leisure interest woodworking in all it's facets need new blood, new perspectives to help lure folks in and inspire them. And if that means the boulder of essential tools has to be rolled up the mountain one more time then so be it.
Who would benefit from this book? I think anyone getting into hand tools or even woodworking with both power & hand would love this book. The biggest hurdle any reader of this book will need to overcome is arguing back with the text on the basis that they think a set of 12 Chisels is great value or they must have engineering tools for woodworking. Another hurdle will be buying the book. To the best of my knowledge it's not in print but the good news is you can buy a copy via Amazon for well under £10.00 delivered.
When you do dust off your copy you will be gripped by the simplicity of it all. How you will be able to make some of your own tools, how worrying about innovative tool steels is a red herring, how simple a sharpening system can be. There are 51ish tools picked out in two phases. A get you started set and an add it later or when you need it stage. Perfect! I think any Carpentry, Joinery or Cabinet Making apprentice would not go far wrong with adding the get you started list of tools before they stated work. To me at least they seem as relevant now as they did when this book was published.
The book did have an effect on me, it was not a born again moment where I became evangelical, it was more along the lines of things really can be that simple if you want them to be. How it's worthwhile to take a look back and see the experience of those in our quite recent history who bridge the gap between the old ways and the people of today. I will be experimenting with the recommendations within the book and share them here but in the mean time do yourself a favour and grab a copy of the book and make up your own mind.
Firstly a big thank you to some clients of ours who were kind enough to let me use this image. It's existence came up in a chance conversation and once I knew about the photo I could not wait to see it. Why am I so fussed about a photo of an old Wheelwright's Workshop only a few short miles from our own workshop? I'll start with the obvious. My Great Grandfather (G S Haydon) was trained as a Wheelwright and finished his indentured apprenticeship at the time this photo was taken, thought to be around 1915. It's always been rather fun to imagine just what type of environment a typical rural Wheelwright would of worked in. Also our two former workshops 1926 - 1931 & 1931 - 2006 in the first instance were Wheelwright workshops with the 31 - 06 becoming a Joinery workshop overtime.
What can I tell you about the photo? I'm not a historian but I'm practical and I have a half reasonable knowledge so here's what I think. The date of 1915 seem a fair estimate. Even in this rural setting the goods of the industrial revolution are present in the form of circular saw, band saw and lathe. Within our workshop these machines were run with a donkey engine (not a real donkey, slang for a stationary engine) and flat belts. Depending on how you frame the world around you these changes helped remove the burden of incredibly hard work or they removed a skill from the community and put pit sawyers out of work. One thing's for sure you can't stop change! I would speculate that output from this workshop would of changed hugely within the next 15 to 20 years with the need to evolve services offered. The way we negotiated this change was by doing other agricultural work, repairing barn doors, putting up barns clad with asbestos sheeting etc along with a move into more focus on Joinery services. Even that change did not last long, agricultural buildings moved quickly into the realms of steel portal frames and a bigger scale no longer suitable for a rural woodworker. That's what the modern world does, no matter if you're in sleepy Devon or in a big city change is not far away.
This workshop, like ours had a perimeter bench fitted beneath windows. Ours were fixed to the wall with a tool well and were not for moving. The scale of the Wheelwright's work means things would be typically be build in front of the bench with the bench used for making components with most projects put together on trestles or built up from the ground. I hazard a guess the bench in the photos was the same. It's a quick and sturdy way to make a bench. The window position is obvious, in a pre electric rural world daylight was king. We had an oil lamp in the old workshop but nothing beats sunshine.
There seems to be a ladder in the photo behind the circular saw and in front of the lathe leading up to the loft space. If these chaps were anything like us the need to hoard was hard to fight. If there was a bit spare you'd be loathed to throw it out knowing the effort that had been imparted in it's creation. And you can bet you're life if you throw it, you'll need it next week! I'd speculate also that the ladder was made by the Wheelwright. We certainly made ladders and wheelbarrows and the knowledge that ladder rungs, in the same way as wheel spokes, should be from split stock and not sawn was something I remember my Dad mentioning.
I can't be certain about other things, looks to me like there is a metal "American" brace hanging in the window and with the machines present this was a forward looking woodworker who was happy to invest to keep the service they offered competitive. On the less analytical side of things I love the authentic feel. The photo is not staged like 90% of woodworking images, the Wheelwright could be having lunch outside while the photo was taken. This is the biggest victory of this image, it's reality. It's not a Victorian painting of a country scene depicting contrived rural bliss. It's not rose tinted spectacles and a craving for simpler times where only hand tools were used, you'd need to head to the 18th century for that. There is no sales pitch with an option to buy the T shirt and DVD. It's shows the danger of exposed blades, dust and an environment that would take only a hint of flame to be ravaged by fire. It shows the last moments of a trade that was to become largely moribund. Most importantly it give me the closest thing to seeing George's possible environment as an apprentice and perhaps hints of our workshop in those early days. It makes me respect the work of my Great Granddad all the more. That's him below in a photo from the early 1950's. So my thanks again for this image, if anyone else has photos like this I'd truly love to see them.
Not being a "writer" as such the idea of putting together a blog was a move outside of my comfort zone. To give me the best chance of coming up with something I focus mainly on the tradition and hand work side of things that I enjoy so much. What struck me though was we do quite a bit of work every day that may be of interest and I hope will bring something extra to the blog. It's different in feel and I'm not sure quite how to share the story but here's a first shot of what will likely be a two or three times a Month section. Last week some of the team were making some very simple Oak "A" Frames, a very simple kind of roof truss. Being a joiner means you get the chance to give most things a try. Our line of work blurs from a core of windows, doors, stairs into kitchens, simple furniture and also some of the heavier projects like structural carpentry.
Work of this nature is a welcome contrast. The less frequent projects often tax the mind and promote creative thinking. Making the best of our workshop facilities was high on the agenda but when you break most woodworking down it comes down to some kind of joinery. Here the size and weight was the issue. Using Green Oak means in addition to lugging around Oak 4" x 10"s your are lifting a great deal of water too. Most of the solutions to the making were in line with how most of our work is done, power provides the heavy lifting and hand tools provide the finesse and finish. The No.10 plane in the top photo is not there for a joke, it's size made it ideal for making sure the lap joints met nicely after the bulk of the waste was chiseled away.
It would of been good to see some pictures of the complete A Frames but they went out in kit form, later in the year when the structure is finished I hope I can grab a few photos! For those readers familiar with working Green Wood care of the tools is critical. Leave and metal tool in contact with the wood over the weekend and you'll have some heavy rust, ask us how we know.......someones square got rusty! The smells too are distinct, the unmistakable smell of Oak is further enhanced over using kiln dried stock. For us to do this work the numbers need to add up so clients will place an order and I'm glad they did in this case. Those blurred lines of a typical rural joiner's workshop mean the team who made the framing got the chance to learn something new, got a feel for working with wood different to their normal fare and I'm sure will be more rounded woodworkers for it. And for me I have a nice stock offcuts that in a year or so will make lovely slow burning logs for the stove!