Mark ( on November 26th, 2008

Continuing the series of reviews for the SmartFlix Hand Tools course, this time I review the Chris Schwarz DVD Coarse, Medium and Fine.

Course_Meduim_Fine.jpgLike the earlier reviewed DVD on Hand Scraper preparation and use, this one was shot on location at Lie-Nielsen Toolworks in 2005. The DVD covers the subjects of surfacing rough lumber with hand planes, plane setup and use, and joinery techniques. During the DVD, Schwarz demonstrates the various techniques while building parts of a Shaker Cabinet to add some context for how and when to use each technique.

The basic premise behind Coarse, Medium and Fine is that there is a sequence of steps that should be followed (equally valid whether using hand tools or power tools, by the way) involving tools that offer a gradually finer finished surface on the wood. Specifically:

  • Coarse Tool – used to hog off lots of material from rough lumber at the early stages
  • Medium Tool – used to refine the surface left by the course tool and to prepare it for finishing with a fine tool
  • Fine Tool – used to bring the surface of the wood to a state that s ready for finish to be applied

As Schwarz mentions in the DVD, the important point to understand here is that you should not skip a level. If you do, you will expend significantly more time and effort to get to the end result.

With the concept introduced, the first thing covered was the process of surfacing rough lumber with coarse, medium and fine tools. Schwarz discussed both tool selection as well as proper techniques for use. This discussion included the thickness and quality of shavings to shoot for with each tool as well as where to spend the most time and when to switch from one tool to the next. Schwarz’s admonition is that most people tend to skip the medium step in the process (whether using power or hand tools) and that this presents a false economy.

Next Schwarz spent time covering the setup and merits of each kind of tool and when to use each. Included in this section were discussions on the size of the mouth of each plane, the camber of the irons and set up of the chip breakers. Also covered here was the relative importance (or unimportance) of the flatness of the sole for each level tool.

The final section of the DVD covered various joinery techniques using hand planes. This is where Schwarz utilized the Shaker Cabinet parts to illustrate when and how to refine joints with hand planes. Covered here were: fitting a shelf to a dado, rebates and fillisters, edge joints, mortise and tenon joints and creating and refining curves. As an added bonus, the plan for the Shaker Cabinet that Schwarz was building is included on the DVD as a PDF.

In summary, Schwarz defines true efficiency in the workshop as: using tools that were designed by their makers for a single purpose, in sequence. Course tools for heavy work, medium tools as a mediator between course and fine and fine tools to produce the finished surface. The process is simple and most efficient if followed as described. I found the DVD to be well done and informative. Most importantly, by understanding the designed uses for each type of tool it becomes easy to contemplate following the simple process from a rough to finished surface.

Even if you will not use hand tools to completely surface rough lumber, the process and its parallel to power tools is important. Using both power and hand tools in sequence in a hybrid approach is something that also becomes apparent after seeing the process unfold on the DVD. I think that the content is equally valid for both hand-tool-only users as well as hybrid woodworkers like myself.

Don’t rofget, if you are a new customer and interested in renting this DVD before the full Hand Tools course is developed, SmartFlix has offered readers of The Craftsman’s Path a $2 discount coupon for your use. Simply use the coupon code: CRAFTPATH when you check out!

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Mark ( on November 22nd, 2008

You may or may not have noticed that I have put a poll in the sidebar to the right.

I want to solicit the opinions of readers of the blog on what type of information you’d perfer to read about in an effort to better tailor content for the future.  So, if you have not done so already, please take 30 seconds to respond to the poll with your opinion.  Also, if I have not provided a selection in the poll that highlights what you’d like to see, feel free to add your thoughts with a comment to this post!


Mark ( on November 20th, 2008

This review is another in a series on Hand Tools that I am doing with SmartFlix to help them develop a curriculum of instructional DVD’s for hand tool work in the woodshop.

Hand_Scraper.jpgSimilar to the Charlesworth DVD’s that I reviewed previously, this DVD: Hand Scrapers, Understanding, Preparing and Using the Ultimate Finishing Tool was shot on location at Lie-Nielsen Toolworks. It is hosted by Chris Schwarz of Popular Woodworking and Woodworking Magazine fame.

During the DVD Chris takes you through all aspects of the preparation and use of the simple card scraper.   The premise for the content of the DVD is an article that Chris wrote for the February 2007 issue of Popular Woodworking and called “A Better Way to Sharpen Scrapers”.  The article and the DVD are the culmination of a comparison of different 14 methods to find the best way to prepare and use this useful tool.  As an added bonus, the article is also included on the DVD in PDF format.

Much like the Chrlesworth DVD’s shot at Lie-Nielsen, the video production is not fancy. However, it is adequate with clear video and minimal use of graphics to reinforce the techniques and principles.  Chris is very articulate and clear in his explanations of the techniques and the rationale for why the card scraper is such a simple yet valuable tool.

The DVD starts out with reasons why every woodworker can benefit from the use of a card scraper and briefly discusses the the mechanics of scraping using the burr on the scraper.  Some good examples of scraper use are shown including: dealing with wild changing grain in a board, leveling a sag in a lacquer finish and eliminting tearout left from a hand plane.

Scraper preparation is also covered in detail including: filing, honing and burnishing the tool.  Chris shares some good tips and jigs for acurate filing of the edge 90 degrees to the face as well as ways to avoid gauging your water stones during the sharpening process.  Leveraging from the techniques that Charlesworth uses to sharpen plane blades, Chris also shows the use of the ruler trick as it applied to honing the face of the scraper.  With the scraper sharpened and honed, burnishing the edge is also covered in detail with a complete but short discussion on varying burnishing angles.

With the scraper freshly honed and burnished, Chris moves to the wood to show how to properly use the tool to get good shavings and results.  This segment included a good discussion with examples of the correct kind of shavings to expect with a properly tuned tool as well as the differences between planed and scraped surfaces (especially when staining a project). Though this segment was good as produced, I would have liked to see a bit more on the use of the card scraper in various woodworking situations.  Last is a segment on how to re-sharpen the scraper including when to simply re-hone and when to go back to the filing stage.

Essentially, this DVD shows a combination of the best methods of the 14 surveyed ways to sharpen a card scraper.  The techniques are well presented and easy to understand.  If you have never used a card scraper, then this DVD will make you wonder why.  If you have struggled to get one sharp, the DVD provides a simple and repeatable method to get reliable results using this simple tool.

Don’t rofget, if you are a new customer and interested in renting this DVD before the full Hand Tools course is developed, SmartFlix has offered readers of The Craftsman’s Path a $2 discount coupon for your use.  SImply use the coupon code: CRAFTPATH when you check out!

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Mark ( on November 8th, 2008

Blackburn’s third pillar of design which complements both Function and Construction is Proportion.  The topic of proportion is something that I have written about here before.  So, I won’t repeat too much of that information in this post but rather, I will touch on some additional design paradigms that are useful in developing proportion in your work.


Proportion is an interesting element of design.  Not all people can develop good proportion in designs much like most musicians do not have perfect pitch.  However, in both cases most know when they are viewing pleasing proportion in a design just as they can discern when an instrument or voice is performing on pitch in a musical performance.  Of course, this is good news for all of us because just as one does not need perfect pitch to play music, we also do not need a perfect eye to develop good proportion in our designs.  Just like a hand plane or table saw, there are tools that we can use to develop the proportions in our designs.

Balance and Symmetry

Some additional concepts that are related to proportion and useful in design are those of Balance and Symmetry.  Typically, good design will always have balance.  However, a design can have balance and either be symmetrical or asymmetrical.  Contrary to what you might think, both can be pleasing to the eye.

Balanced_and_Symmetrical.jpgBalanced_not_Symmetrical.jpgAs an example of this, look at the two pictures.  The one on the left is both balanced and symmetrical, the one on the right is balanced but asymmetrical. Just as these simple examples depict, our furniture designs can be either symmetrical or asymmetrical and look appropriate to the eye.  However, it is more rare that an unbalanced design will have the same visual appeal.

Phi and the Golden Rectangle

As described in my previous post on proportion, there are several concepts that are of use when developing the proportions of a design. As discussed in that post, the Golden Rectangle, Phi (1.618) and the Fibonacci Series are primary design paradigms that can be used.

What’s interesting about these concepts is that they seem to be central to the way the universe is put together – everything from astrophysics and the way the planets orbit the sun to particle physics and the atomic weights of particles contain aspects of these relationships. While that concept may make your head hurt just to think about it, it is important to realize that though not absolute dogma, these tools can be used to help develop or check the proportions of your designs.

Table_Elements.jpgApplications of these paradigms are not only structural in nature, but can also be used to relate the dimensions of the parts of a design to one another. The example from Blackburn shown in the picture, depicts dimensions of the fillet, the table top, the apron and the leg which are all roughly related by Phi.

The important thing to realize here is that design paradigms can be mixed together. Furthermore, they do not have to be followed blindly or implemented exactly.

Geometric Shapes

Another way to develop a design or elements of a design is through the application of basic geometric shapes. Circles, squares, triangles and rectangles can be assembled to produce interesting and pleasing design concepts.

There are many examples of this especially in architecture. Many of the old cathedrals (when viewed from above) are actually a collection of square elements often assembled together in the form of a cross. The relations of some of the elements of the cross are often found to be related by Phi.

Gothic_Arch.jpgAnother example is the structurally sound Gothic Arch. As seen in the picture, this design element is actually composed from the intersection (shown in red) of three perfect circles . Their intersection forms the Gothic Arch that is found in many examples of ancient architecture.

Common Integers

Dimensioned_Door.jpgIt is often best to avoid unrelated differences between the sizes of components in a given design. To explain, consider an example design for a furniture component, say a door. Rather than sizing the door’s various components to include fractions of an inch, it is often easier as well as visually balanced and pleasing to size the individual components using multiples of common integers. In the picture you can see a door where the components are sized in this manner.

Hambridge Solution

Yet another technique for relating parts of a design is by using the Hambridge Solution. Like the Fibonacci Series, this technique is often used to develop things like the size of individual drawers in a bank of drawers by relating them to one another. In the Hambridge Solution, different elements of a design are related to each other by the square root of 2.

Hambridge_Drawers.jpgThis is best shown in a graphical example. In the picture, you can see a series of rectangles that represent a set of shelves or a bank of drawers. By drawing a diagonal and then swinging an arc from one rectangle, then next appropriately sized rectangle can be constructed. The only caveat here is that the first rectangle must be higher than it is wide (even if you later cut a portion of it off – to create a Golden Rectangle, of course!).

I think what’s important to take away from this discussion of the Three Pillars of Design is that these are things that fill a toolbox of paradigms and techniques which can be useful as we develop designs for furniture projects. I don’t believe that this information should be taken as gospel and applied blindly but rather, it should be used like any other tool to potentially help effect the outcome of a project. Many of the great designs in history (in art, architecture and furniture) make use of these paradigms either directly or indirectly. It’s helpful to explore these applications as they may relate to things that we are working to see if, by their application, we may strike upon something that is beneficial in our designs.

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Mark ( on October 27th, 2008

This post is the first in a series of DVD reviews that I will be doing here at the blog.  I am working with SmartFlix to help them develop a curriculum of instructional DVD’s for hand tool work in the woodshop. If you do not know about SmartFlix, take a look at my recent post on them.

After this Hand Tool course is developed, there may be other courses (Power Tools, Furniture making, etc.) that are are developed through my reviews.  My understanding is that they will offer the course in a different manner than the standard SmartFlix rentals.  For the courses they will rent the DVD’s to users for as long as they want them instead of for just one week at a time.

Just for the record, I have no particular affiliation with SmartFlix except for being a happy customer.  I will not receive anything for this effort except for the ability to review the DVD’s. My reviews of the DVD’s will be my own opinions.  If I do not feel that a DVD is worthy of being in the course I will make that known and it will not be included.

The three DVD’s that I viewed in this go around were part of a series by English woodworker and teacher David Charlesworth.  The first three titles in the series and those reviewed here are:

General Comments

These DVD’s were recorded at Lie-Nielson Toolworks in 2003.  Some of the footage shows David Charlesworth speaking to a class in a shop at the facility and other portions show him one-on-one with the camera in another location.   Some of the subjects covered are duplicated at both locations but the alternate scenes cover things a bit differently so, it helps to reinforce the points being made.

The video production is not fancy. However, it does the job adequately.  The clarity of the video and audio are generally very good and the use of graphics (though minimal) helps to reinforce the techniques being demonstrated.  There are enough close-up shots to adequately show the techniques, though I do think a few more close shots could have been inserted at times.

David Charlesworth has a very slow and deliberate delivery of the material.  He is very thorough and articulate.  His English slang for some things was not clear at first but, eventually it became clear what he was talking about.  In general, David is very methodical in his presentation – even repetitious. However,  in doing so he makes sure that important elements of each subject are reinforced.

Hand Tool Techniques Part 1: Plane Sharpening

Hand_Planing.jpgIn this DVD, Charlesworth covers what he feels are the three keys to effective pereparation of hand planes: getting a razor sharp blade, fettling the chip breaker and flattening the sole of the plane.  Sharpening of the plane blade is thoroughly covered as is the preparation of the chip breaker.  Though Charlesworth does not really show procedures for flattening the sole of the plane in this DVD, he does speak to why this is important.

The DVD starts with a discussion of sharpening with water stones as well as recommendations of two different brands. Also included are techniques for flattening the stones.  From there Charlesworth covers two different strokes for flattening the back of the plane blade – this is done in order to avoid tendencies for hollowing the stones.  Potential problems are discussed as well as their possible remedies.

Next is a treatise on sharpening the bevel of the blade including a discussion of grinding and honing angles.  Charlesworth chooses to always use a cambered blade and he discusses his rationale for this.   First is a demonstration of the Charlesworth “Ruler Trick” for honing the back of the blade.  For me, just seeing this one technique is easily reason enough to view the DVD.  This was followed by a simple and methodical method for cambering a plane blade using only finger pressure and a simple honing guide.

Charlesworth also discusses why the fit of the chip breaker is so important in hand plane operation as well as simple techniques for getting the best fit and operation.  Finally, the plane is set up with the chip breaker, blade.  Even this step is not without a simple tip for avoiding banging the freshly honed blade into the body.

Though this DVD is tailored toward sharpening plane blades (in fact, Charlesworth explicitly warns you never to use the Ruler Trick on your chisels) some of the the principes can definitely be extended to sharpening other tools.   All in all, this DVD shows a very simple, thorough and effective method for sharpening and getting the best out of your hand planes.

Hand Tool Techniques Part 2: Hand Planing

Plane_Sharpening.jpgWith the sharpening tasks behind him, in this DVD Charlesworth covers methods for hand planing edges, faces and end grain.

After a short treatise on what he calls Datum surfaces (i.e. reference edges and faces) Charlesworth develops a set of capabilities for hand planin both edges and faces of boards. These include what he calls Stop Shavings as well as Through Shavings.  With the use of these two techniques Charles demonstrates planing a slight hollow in the surface or edge thruoght the use of Stop Shavings and follows that up with through shavings in order to produce a perfectly straght or flat edge or surface.

Throughout this process with the use of simple a straight edge Charlesworth shows why he always prefers a slight hollow over a bump in the edge or a face of a board.  Similarly he shows how to eliminate bumps when they are discovered and aso covers the proper grips for hand planing and how the cambered blade works in the planing process.

In addition, there are sections on detectng wind with winding sticks and removing it with your plane as well as thicknessing a board to a gage line.  Also covered is the proper way to scribe a knife line and techniques for hand planing end grain and squaring edges with the cambered blade in the plane.

Though Charlesworth does most of the work in this DVD with a #5 Jack plane, he also shows the techniques with other planes including a block plane.  At the end of the program there is a bit of bonus footage covering how to flatten your workbench and showing how Charlesworth did exactly that to the bench used during the shooting of the DVD.

Even if you never plan to dimension rough boards with a handplane, this DVD offers techniques that are useful for fine tuning joinery and precisely sizing workpieces when building furniture. You’ll learn how the hand plane works and how to make the best use of it in your woodworking.

Hand Tool Techniques Part 3: Precision Shooting Simplified

Precision_Shooting_Simplified.jpgThis DVD is the shortest of the three reviewed here.  One might argue that it is the least useful however, my feeling is that there is tremendous value in the technques used for shooting accurate ends, miters and edges on smaller parts.

Throughout the DVD Charlesworth makes use of a very simple shooting board fixture and some accessories used with it to do miters in two different orientations.  Any inaccuracies of the shooting board itself and/or the squareness of the planes sole to its side are dealt with using a simple shimming technique to get perfect angles on the workpiece.  Also shown are methods for freehand shooting of edges for glue-ups as well as shooting veneer edges.

Something that comes out in this DVD is the “rhythm” of shooting a workpiece with a hand plane.  To me this is something that can only be realized though the use of video as a medium and not from reading it in a book.  Seeing and hearing this in action makes this DVD worth viewing.

As a bonus, on the DVD there are plans for the shooting board and accessory fixtures that can be printed for refence and building later.  Make a simple shoting board and armed with the information covered in the DVD you will have everything necessary for precision sizing of square and mitered parts.

If you are a new customer and interested in renting these DVD’s before the full Hand Tools course is developed, SmartFlix has offered readers of The Craftsman’s Path a $2 discount coupon for your use.  Simply use the coupon code: CRAFTPATH when you check out!

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