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Williamsburg Day 3: Phil Lowe is a woodworking ninja

comments (2) January 14th, 2011 in blogs

AsaC Asa Christiana, Special Projects Editor, Fine Woodworking magazine
thumbs up 4 users recommend

Phil Lowes sharp spokeshave was a blur as he turned a rough-sawn back post into a perfectly fair, sinuous surface, ready for finish, in about 60 seconds.
Then he picked up a big ripsaw and made a 2-ft.-long cut down the side of the leg. The closeup cameras dont lie, and his cut never wavered from the line, even on the back side. Took him maybe a minute. Thats a well-tuned saw, and a lot of practice.
As usual, the great tips flowed faster than I could write them down and snap pictures. He improvised a quick guide block to be sure he didnt plane a tapered tenon on the back splat.
Where Phils ninja-like skills really come through is with a simple flat chisel. Here he pares perfect angled shoulders in end grain. He starts the chisel in his scribe mark each time. For the first cut he followed the angle scribed on the outside edge of the chairs long back leg, and then each subsequent cut referenced off the last one as he worked across. Fantastic. Try that cut on the tablesaw.
And he used that same bench chisel for at least five other types of cuts, because he could, and because it was quicker than picking up another tool. Here he chamfers the angled end of a tenon with a pivoting, shearing cut.
Phil Lowes sharp spokeshave was a blur as he turned a rough-sawn back post into a perfectly fair, sinuous surface, ready for finish, in about 60 seconds. - CLICK TO ENLARGE

Phil Lowe's sharp spokeshave was a blur as he turned a rough-sawn back post into a perfectly fair, sinuous surface, ready for finish, in about 60 seconds.


On Day 3 of "Working Wood in the 18th Century," the annual conference the FWW co-sponsors at Colonial Williamsburg, Phil Lowe took the stage, and stole the spotlight.

I've watched him work before, but it has been a while, and I had forgotten just how brilliant he is. If you watched closely, and we all did, there were priceless tips to be had with almost every move he made. I remembered how he always places the knife in or on his mark first, before sliding the square up to the knife and marking a line. I always forget that, and slide the square to the mark first, guessing at where my line will actually end up.

But what was really amazing was his surehanded aggressiveness and speed. In far less time than it would take to set up power tools, he flew through the angled joinery in the crest rail and back splat of his Queen Anne chair--even if the cuts had been possible with power tools (many aren't when it somes to angled joinery on curved pieces).

Tune in next week for Session 2. FWW's Matt Kenney will be there, giving his own highlights from the show. And mark the next conference on your calendars, in January 2012. I'll see you there.

More from Williamsburg 2011

Round Up of all the Conference Posts
Blog for Williamsburg's Anthony Hay Shop
Japanese Woodworking Tools
Phil Lowe is a Woodworking Ninja
Three Projects in One Day
Three Way Miter Joint
Asa Arrives at Williamsburg

Williamsburg in the Archives

Williamsburg Sketchbook by Jim McGlothlin
2010: Hand-tool lovers converge on Williamsburg
2010: Period Furniture society marks anniversary and honors founders
2010: Roy Underhill and a Unique Jefferson Bookstand
2010: Thomas Jefferson's Campeche Chair
2009: Woodworking the Williamsburg Way
ARCHIVE VIDEO: Touring the Colonial Williamsburg Shop
ARCHIVE VIDEO: Colonial Williamsburg Furniture Collection Membership Required
ARCHIVE VIDEO: Antique Tools are Modern Made  Membership Required
ARCHIVE VIDEO: How They Did It: Dimensioning Lumber by Hand  Membership Required
ARCHIVE VIDEO: How They Did It: Before the Router Membership Required
ARCHIVE VIDEO: How They Did It: Before the Bandsaw  Membership Required



posted in: blogs, chair, walnut, tenons, queen anne


Comments (2)

NeverBoard NeverBoard writes: Ninja; Excellent description! I loved his mnemonics he was throwing in between the chips flying everywhere, too. "Shoveling" is how you remove material with the chisel, and imagining the workpiece as a "stack of straws" to help figure out which way to shave (i.e. downhill). Obviously a seasoned instructor.

Also, he said he'd use the band saw to rough out the shape on his splat before finishing it with cutting tools. But, watching him do it by hand, I wonder if that would be faster...I'd like to see a "bakeoff" of him doing these two techniques, 'cause I just can't imagine the bandsaw being FASTER than what I saw on stage.
Posted: 10:20 pm on January 19th

donnbialik donnbialik writes: Too bad these demonstrations can't be made available for sale following the conference.
Posted: 12:44 am on January 18th

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