WIA11 Seminar Impressions

17th Century Joinery, Peter Follansbee

I am a hybrid woodworker: I use power tools and handtools. I like to think I have balance in my force. I won’t run tiny pieces over a power jointer, nor will I start my projects by wandering into the woods with an axe and handsaws. Both power tools and hand tools are awesome, and have their place. I was interested to see Peter Follansbee (whom I’ve never seen speak before) talk about 17th Century Joinery. I was expecting that a lot of his talk would be similar to the Lost Art PressThe Jointer and Cabinet Maker. Peter took us further back in time though, and I wonder if the trend will continue. Should I expect to see “Woodworking in 50,000BC with Ook-Ook the Neanderthal” next year? I enjoyed the class overall, and here were my key takeaways:

  1. Peter doesn’t use a pencil. Sharp things make lines.
  2. He splits his own logs, and works them when they are fairly green. He doesn’t worry about cracks or splits from cross-grain stresses very much.
  3. He rarely uses a saw, and mostly splits wood to free boards from logs, then planes the boards on the face side if necessary.
  4. He uses a saw to create tenon cheeks, then splits those too
  5. He pins his mortises, and they are rock-solid. He makes his own pins for tenons with a chisel and straight-grain oak.
  6. He tells you to throw a lot of things away. Basically everything invented after 1699 I’d imagine.
  7. His beard is epic. ZZ Top epic.


12 Rules for Traditional Tool Chests, Christopher Schwarz

The Schwarz has moved on from benches, and is now organizing his tools. Based on the work he did collecting data for The Anarchist’s Tool Chest, he’s put together a set of guidelines for building a tool chest. I’ll be building a hanging tool cabinet soon, so I thought some of these ideas would apply. From what I could summarize I think the twelve rules are:

  1. Paint it, but not on the inside or bottom
  2. Nail on the bottom so you can replace it*
  3. Nail on battens that you can replace*
  4. Don’t cram things in, use space
  5. Keep the saws off the floor of the chest*
  6. Stack the molding planes blades against the side, facing down so the blades don’t fall out
  7. Build it light and strong
  8. Don’t French your tools into nice tight little places, it’s less flexible
  9. Be able to get to your tools in one hand motion
  10. If it doesn’t fit, you don’t need it
  11. Sliding bins: 3, or 2, or 4
  12. Opposing dovetails hold it together

*These rules are necessitated because of wet floors that would rot wood and rust metal.

And special rule 13: Benjamin Seaton’s tool chest is a bad example, because Benny didn’t do real work.

Overall these were good guidelines, but I’m not sure how many help me with a wall hanging cabinet. If you have some good links, please share them in the Comments section below.

The Contrarian Cabinet Maker, Steve Shanesy

This was a very open-ended discussion. Steve was basically making the point that there really are no rules in woodworking. If people tell you that you should only use hand tools, they’re wrong. If they tell you that you should only use solid wood, they’re wrong. If they tell you always cut pins first, they’re wrong. He showed an example of a drawer made for shop furniture from Baltic birch with metal drawer slides, rabbet joints and stapled together. He also showed an antique drawer with dovetailed sides, a solid raised panel bottom, and one screw holding the bottom in to the drawer through an elongated slot to accommodate seasonal changes. Both are correct. Because the discussion was so open-ended and freeform, I struggled staying engaged.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Chuck Bender

With George Walker not in attendance, this session covered design and the classic forms. He had great examples of ball-and-claw legs ranging from the very straight and vertical, to the very curved. All were appropriate, but just not for the same piece. Chuck took us through his slide show, and we identified the leg on the piece in the Bender Leg Curviness Scale. I didn’t think the very curvy legs would look correct, but in some cases they were perfect. Here’s a refresher on the class forms:


Tradition Improved at Lie-Nielsen Toolworks, Thomas Lie-Nielsen

This was very interesting to me, for a few reasons. First, I was able to listen to one of the great toolmakers describe how and why he got into tool making. I like that his tools are made in America, and he also showed a “How It’s Made” style video showing manufacturing processes in place at Lie-Nielsen today. And he hinted at tools that are coming soon.

Thomas Lie-Nielsen is clearly an expert in tool making and the engineering and science required to be the best. He discussed the properties of brass and steel including discussing powdered steels, carbon content, and hammering the slag out of iron blooms. Thomas also runs a business and discussed the challenges of running a business in a small town, finding and managing labor, and ensuring quality remains consistent. For example: there is one person at Lie-Nielsen that does the final shaping of all saw handles, because that guy is just the best at it.

Watch the video below, but know that it’s incomplete without Thomas’ commentary.

What tools did he say are in the works? I’m not sure I can share that, so I’ll respect that the information he shared is confidential.

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