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Thursday, 30 July 2015

Workshop Heaven Blue Moon Sale

Once in a Blue Moon Sale
Starts 31st July 2015

There hasn't been a blue moon (a second full moon in a month) since August 2012, but if you miss this one don't worry, there's another one coming up in two and a half years time. 

It's nice to have a little fun every once in a blue moon, so we are sharing a blindfold discount code with everyone who reads our newsletters and blog posts, or keeps in touch via facebook, twitter or instagram.

There are discounts applied to almost every single item on, but you'll only find out how much your total saving is when you enter the discount code at the checkout.

Please note:

The code will only work during the full moon, from Friday 31st July at 5pm until Sunday 2nd August at 8pm.

Discount code: BLUEMOON

Fill your boots,

P.S. Full credit to Ioana Davies for the stunning photograph.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Alan Peters Award for Rycotewood Student Avian Evans-White

I was lucky enough to see Avian Evans-White's Award winning ‘Revolve’ bedside tables in maple with a cherry inlay at the Rycotewood National School of Furniture end of year show last month.

Avian is taking the foundation degree (Arts) in furniture design and making and has just picked up an Alan Peters Award at the Celebration of Craftsmanship and Design to go with the Worshipful Company of Furniture Makers award pictured below.

The design is original, well conceived, and very well thought through. Three legs will always be stable, even if the floor is uneven, and the choice of subtly figured timber invites you to appreciate the quality and skill of the making.

Well done Avian and well done Rycotewood.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Tom Fidgen's Sawyer's Bench Course at Warwickshire College

This week I'm at Warwickshire College building a sawyers bench with hand tool woodworking expert Tom Fidgen of the Unplugged Woodshop and An Unplugged Life.

The training course, organised by New English Workshop, is one of several going on this summer with some of the most famous woodworking instructors in the world, including Roy Underhill, Christopher Schwarz, Peter Follansbee and Yannick Chastang.

We started with boards of rough sawn cherry, fairly unpromising to look at in this condition, but trust me, there's some seriously gorgeous fruitwood hiding under that rough exterior. The first job was setting out a cutting list and Tom took us through the process of adapting the design to suit both the timber and our own personal preferences for the project. One of the things I love most about hand tool woodworking is that it is working with the wood, rather than trying to impose your will upon it, as we tend to when emboldened by the power of electric tools. It was nice to get Tom's take on this and learn some of the clever techniques that he uses to save time and effort.

The stock was then dressed and roughly dimensioned by hand. For the cleaning up I've been using a Mujingfang jack plane, the tough HSS blade makes it a great choice for preparatory work like this. I've done at least 20 square feet so far and only needed to hone the blade once.

The blade has been honed with a relatively slight camber and then I've whacked on a load of lateral adjustment so that a corner of the blade bites really deep. This slices up the waste nice and quickly and with relatively little effort, kinda like a scrub plane but less aggressive. With a couple of quick taps you can easily switch sides or square the blade up to take a few levelling strokes and see how you're doing. It doesn't take long to figure out that keeping it as ugly as possible for as long as possible is the fastest way to get down to a nice level surface.

Once the Muji had exposed clean wood and sliced off the worst of the bumps, I switched to a Clifton No.6 to true up the surfaces.We are not aiming for set numerical dimensions here, it is a sawbench after all. If you can get away with producing evenly matched, four squared blanks, it's a lot easier to adapt the joinery than do unnecessary extra planing to thickness.

I tend to face and edge the convex side of a small batch of boards, then go back and true up all the concave faces. It would probably be better practice to finish each component completely before moving on to the next, but I find this breaks up the work a bit and helps me to stay very aware of time and progress through the day. If you are all done facing and edging before you're halfway through your time, there may be a chance to fit something else in before end of play. If you're past halfway, you get as much warning as possible that you need to ease your workrate up a notch. In either case, it is important to at least open up both sides of the board by the end of the day so that they lose moisture evenly and remain flat and straight overnight.

 The little low spot next to my thumb in the photo above is a perfect example of a job for the smoothing plane. The rest of the board is flat and is the same thickness as the matching board. Because this is part of a non-show, non-working surface that won't form part of a joint, I'll be able to sort out out that rough spot with a short soled smoothing plane. The smoother will follow the slight concavity rather than bridging it as the fore plane does, which saves having to plane the rest of both boards down to the same level. I've left it rough for now so that I remember not to square off that part when jointing the edge.

So there we have it, end of day two with almost all of the stock dressed and settling, hopefully tomorrow we can get into orientating the timber and laying out some joinery. Tom showed us a neat little technique for minimising blowout on the exit side of a saw cut, so I'm looking forward to practicing that again.

It's such a luxury to spend a whole week at the bench, especially in such esteemed company and in the beautifully equipped and lovingly maintained workshops of Warwickshire College. This is a first rate facility, kitted out in the 1960's with a lathe room, a fully equipped industrial machine shop and an eighteen bench hand tool workshop. Right, must get to bed - early start in the morning!

#unpluggedwoodshop #newenglishworkshop #workshopheaven #tomfidgen #warwickshirecollege

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

A little Peace (& Spafford) of Sheffield toolmaking history

I recently acquired this lovely Victorian 14" sash saw, which was made at the Eagle Works, Green Lane, Sheffield by Peaces, Spafford & Co.

The saw is in remarkably good condition, a little damage to the top horn, a little pitting on the sawplate, but overall it has survived 150+ years very well. It looks like it has spent most of it's working life in the service of a left handed craftsman, evidenced by a lovely depression in the left cheek of the handle where his fingertip has rested. Unlike many tools, it has not been stamped with any owner's marks, and close inspection of the parts not polished smooth by a left handed grip also reveals the faintest traces of rasp marks left by the man who made it.

This mark is of particular interest to collectors because it is very accurately dateable to a particularly good period of sawmaking. Peaces, Spafford and Co first appears in the Trade Directory in 1854 and again in 1856. Further research suggests that Abraham Spafford left to form his own company in 1858, so I'm pinning the manufacturing date down to between 1854 and 1858.

The Peace family started out as filemakers in the early 1800's, they started making steel in 1816, and by 1836 had set up Eagle Works - the factory where this saw was made some 20 years later. The new factory had 50 staff on the books, twin cementation furnaces and an impressive 'double 12 hole' crucible steel furnace that could brew up about 360 kilos of crucible cast steel at a time; they weren't playing at it. 

The site of the Eagle Works is currently being redeveloped for housing and was excavated by archaeologists before building work commenced. In the archive assessment by Lauren McIntyre, archaeologist Roderick McKenzie notes that the cementation furnaces were some of the best pre-1850 examples yet excavated and may have been among the first 50 such furnaces to be built in the city of Sheffield.

In the early 1860's the firm outgrew this factory and moved across the river to the Harvest Lane / Mowbray Street area (where our Thomas Flinn Pax and Dorchester saws are still made today), by that time they were employing some 150 people. They took the name 'Eagle Works' with them and the green lane factory was taken over by Ibbotson Brothers and renamed Globe Works.

The 1850's were a fascinating period of history, 1851 saw the great exhibition at Crystal Palace in London, in 1854 Britain declared war on Russia over the strategically important Crimean Peninsula, and in 1857 two men called Nathaniel Creswick and William Prest invented a new game called football and set up the world's first ever football club - Sheffield F.C. - I wonder what they would make of a world cup final today!

Back at the day job, saw manufacturers were working hard to compete with London's reputation for producing the best saws, there was nothing gentlemanly about their tactics. Factory seconds had poorly finished London pattern handles put on them and the blades were stamped with fictitious 'London' makers marks in order to damage the reputation of London manufacturing. They were fairly subtle about it, the 'London' saws were perfectly usable, just not quite as nice as the ones that had Sheffield stamped on them.  This practice still causes confusion among collectors seeking rare but very high quality London made saws. If you want to check before you buy, Simon Barley has kindly published a list of the known fictitious brands on the TATHS website here.

The decade was also marked by the growing power of the trades unions, who sought to control Sheffield manufacturing in the same way as the Company of Cutlers did, but by rather more violent means. There were rattenings (stealing the tools of a man's trade), beatings, shootings, bombings and murders. You might think that all this would have been directed against the factory bosses, but usually it was the workers themselves that the unions sought to control. One example is Thomas Fearnehough, a saw grinder who had quit the union and gone to work for a manufacturer whose workers the union had withdrawn, for which crimes he was murdered. In 1857 his home was blown up with gunpowder (with him in it) on the orders of William Broadhead, secretary of the saw grinders union. Broadhead's trial nine years later made the papers as far away as Australia and California.

Parliament deftly and effectively hobbled union power in the 1870's by forcing the Company of Cutlers to accept workers as well as factory bosses. Company membership soared, and as it did union power declined, owners responded rapidly by adopting mechanisation wherever they could, siezing the opportunity while it was there.

So this saw would have been among the last to be fully handmade, by well paid and highly qualified craftsmen under the protection of a strong union. It was made by a successful firm to compete with the very best in the world at the height of British imperial and industrial power, a perfect storm of factors that positively influence quality, which is why it is such a desirable saw.

I'm going to resist the urge to joint and file the teeth of this old girl, there is a good chance that the plate will have become embrittled and the teeth will pop off if I try to set them.
Instead, to fulfil my need for a main user (and my heroin like addiction to saws) I have ordered an almost identical spec, new, fully handmade, English sash saw from Skelton Saws. The quality of Shane's saws is even better than the Peaces Spafford would have been when new, and his production methods are almost identical to those that would have been used in the 1850's. All of which leaves me wondering where these two saws will end up 150 years from now?

skelton saws