Paul Sellers' Working Wood book and DVDs, and one of my practice dovetails using his method.
Paul Sellers has released an excellent and thoroughly enjoyable DVD and book set on hand tool woodworking.
I first found out about Paul when his blog posts starting appearing on Luke Townsley's excellent aggregator site UnpluggedShop.com. I quickly realized he and I are on the same wavelength.
Paul has been a woodworker for over 45 years, apprenticing at the age of 15 in the UK. He's been published in Woodwork, Fine Woodworking, and Popular Woodworking Magazine, and now runs the New Legacy School of Woodworking in North Wales, UK. The school is in Penrhyn Castle, which is maintained by the National Trust. I think he wins the award for most amazing workshop venue!
In one of those minor coincidences of life, I was living in North Wales, PA, when I took my first woodshop class in 8th grade (from the first of three shop teachers missing a fingertip; jointer accident).
That was a couple years after Paul had completed his apprenticeship. So for most of the time that he's been a woodworker, I've been wishing I was a woodworker.
Paul is currently in the process of launching a US New Legacy School of Woodworking in upstate New York, scheduled to open in the Spring. You can read about it here. You can also see him this winter at several of the Woodworking Shows. He'll have a New Legacy booth at the Baltimore, Springfield, Somerset, and Fredericksburg shows. I'm hoping to meet him in Springfield.
There are several videos of him on YouTube, both in his workshop and at shows. These give a hint of his skills and presentation style. Note that for demonstration purposes, they emphasize speed more than accuracy. His DVDs show a much more accurate method for dovetailing, the results of which you can see in the following photo:
Closeup of my practice joint, the best I've ever done (ok, so this was my sixth attempt!). That black speck along the middle pin? Always be sure to THOROUGHLY wipe the honing oil off your chisel before returning it to the wood.
After watching the videos and reading through his blog, I saw that he offers the newly published Working Wood 1 and 2 DVDs and companion book. I promptly ordered the full set.
There are 7 DVDs total. They're available individually or as a set from Amazon, Lee Valley (US), Classic Handtools (UK), or directly from Artisan Media (full disclosure: I earn a small commission on sales through Amazon and Highland Woodworking links via their affiliate programs, though not through other links).
I watched the DVDs over a 3-day period, about 12 hours total viewing time. Series 1 consists of two DVDs, Woodworking Essentials 1 and 2. Series 2 consists of the remaining 5:
- Master Dovetails
- Master Housing Dadoes
- Master Mortise and Tenons
- Master European Workbenches
- Master Sharpening
The book is gorgeous, suitable for the coffee table (at least in a woodworker's home). It's best treated as a companion volume rather than a standalone text. In addition to background information, it has matching chapters for each of the DVDs. The whole package works best by seeing and hearing Paul work, then referring to the book when following along in the workshop.
Paul's educational philosophy is a bit different from mine. After briefly introducing methods, he likes to use projects to develop the skills. I like to focus on skills separately, removing the fear of mistakes ruining a project. But that's why there's chocolate and that's why there's vanilla. There will be those who prefer to learn by one method and those who prefer another.
The methods he presents are a mix of elements I've seen before and some new things. If you're a beginner who's never used hand tools, this would be an excellent series to use as your primary reference. If you're an experienced hand tool woodworker, it adds versatility and reinforces things from a new perspective.
Just remember that you're seeing a practiced hand here, so don't be upset if you don't immediately get the same results he does. As always, good dovetails require accurate sawing to a line. The reason it took me 6 tries to get the joint pictured above is that I was homing in on that with each one. How do you develop a practiced hand? The same way you get to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice, like this!
He presents a number of fine details in the process. Throughout, he emphasizes listening to the sound the tool makes, as well as the feel of the wood. These sensory aspects not only make the work more satisfying, they are critical to achieving the best results.
In Series 1, the first DVD is actually somewhat more organic than the rest. While the main focus of the overall series is on joinery, this starts with shaping wood to get an understanding of grain and how the tools interact with it.
He uses chisel, gouge, spokeshave, and axe to quickly shape a spatula, a spoon, a bowl, and a three-legged stool. These are great introductory projects, quite a treat to watch. If they don't have you itching to put tools to wood, nothing will. They remind me of the work of Robin Wood, Drew Langsner, and Peter Follansbee.
The second DVD introduces the tool set and techniques for accuracy. Paul goes through making a housing dado, a single-tail through dovetail, and a mortise and tenon (with multiple ways of forming the tenon).
Series 2 expands upon the information from Series 1 and applies it to several projects. Simple in design, they do an excellent job of focusing on a particular joint. First is a dovetailed box in the Shaker style. Second is a four-shelf wall unit in the Arts and Crafts style, using interlocked housed dadoes and through mortise and tenon. Third is a small side table, using haunched mortise and tenons. From here you can use these techniques to build anything.
The last project is a very nice English workbench. Paul addresses the logistical problem of trying to build a workbench without a workbench. The bench uses a classic Record-style quick-release vise. While Record is no longer in business, Anant versions of the vise are available from Highland Woodworking and Tools For Working Wood.
The final DVD covers sharpening of a variety of tools. Interestingly, Paul uses a convex bevel method similar to Jacob Butler's, which I wrote about in the Grimsdale Method. Jacob encountered quite a bit of negative reaction when he discussed it on woodworking forums, yet here we see another professional who has used it to great effect for decades. The DVD is organized differently from the rest, as a series of short reference videos by tool rather than a linear presentation.
If you enjoy reading this blog, you'll enjoy this set. Paul is currently at work on Working Wood 3.