Seen at Colonial Williamsburg: Japanese tools force a new stance on woodworking
First, let me say that the conference is fantastic. I don’t do period work (I have in the past) and I am still being held rapt by the presenters. It has been absolutely wonderful. If you ever get a chance to attend, do it. You won’t be disappointed.
Now, on to what struck me most when watching Andrew Hunter working today. I always knew that Japanese woodworkers and carpenters worked differently than their counterparts in the West. Their benches are different; they use the ground quite a bit; bench vises are no where to be seen. But I’d never seen anyone work that way in person. A picture is one thing. A living person who is moving and working is another. Just by using the weight of his body and its position, Andrew is able to control the workpiece while he saws, chisels, and planes. I took a few pictures to show what I’m talking about.
Another thing that was cool about his setup. His bench is three large softwood beams set across two meaty sawhorses. You can pull them apart, slide them, etc. You would think that would be very unstable, but it’s not. Why? Because Andrew knows how to position his body to hold the beams in place and his tools are insanely sharp. I wasn’t too surpised by this, though. The top of my bench isn’t attached to the trestle legs and the top never moves, at least not when my tools are sharp. Andrew and I were talking after he was done presenting and we both agreed that if your bench is moving, your doing something wrong. You shouldn’t need a lot of brute force to work your tools if they’re sharp. Dull ones are another story all together. So don’t use them.
Finally, I took a picture of a piece of curly maple that Andrew was planing. It is very curly and the surface is unbelievable. Smoother than glass. It’s like he already put down shellac and polished it out. But it’s just a handplane finish. That tells me that he really knows how to sharpen his plane. Truly, it was the best bare surface I have ever felt. I hope to get him to write a short article about Japanese smoothing planes for the Handwork section of the magazine.
So, take a look at the photos to see what I’m talking about. And tune in for more tomorrow. I plan on taking photos of all of the benches here at Williamsburg. They’re cool and it would be fun to see them all in one place. I also plan on taking some photos of the cabinetshop.
Pull plane. I use a similar setup, pusing against a stop. Hunter pulls against one. Notice the dowels on the underside that hold beam in place.
Planing across grain. To flatten a board, Hunter goes across the grain first. Here is pulling into his body. That keeps the beams in place. A few dogs keep the board steady.
Kneel to rip. Hunter is making some rip cuts here. He uses the downward force of the pull saw to pull the workpiece onto the bench. The bench's resistance holds the piece in place.
Bench for a man on the go. Hunter's bench isn't like traditional Western benches. The top is three seperate softwood beams. The legs? Just some sawhorses. And no vise. Also, not the dowels on the underside. When Hunter is planing, the push agains the sawhorses, keeping the beam still.
Better than glass. This piece of curly maple has be handplaned, but there's not finish on it. Words can't describe how smooth it is. It is one of the smoothest surfaces I've ever felt.