Sunday, February 5, 2012

Review: Jim Kingshott's DVDs and Books

Jim Kingshott's DVDs and books.

After seeing multiple recommendations for Jim Kingshott's DVDs over time on woodworking forums, I recently bought them, and liked them so much I bought most of his books. These were all produced in the 90's. The DVDs are still available new at reasonable prices, but the new prices for the books indicate they are out of print; I got mine used. Note that the books especially were each written to stand alone, so there is some duplication of information between them.

I bought several of the DVDs from Tools For Working Wood, and the rest through Amazon (full disclosure: I earn a small affiliate commission on purchases made through Amazon links). These are an excellent resource for anyone from beginner to experienced hand tool woodworker.

Having recently reviewed Paul Sellers' new DVD series and book, it's interesting to compare and contrast the two. Kingshott preceded Sellers by 20 years. What I find particularly interesting about him is that he apprenticed in the UK in the late '40's, among the last of those to come up through the system that predominated prior to World War II. Following that was when we saw the significant growth of power tools, and the corresponding decline in hand tool usage.

Kingshott passed away 10 years ago, in February, 2002. He was a strong proponent of traditional hand tool methods, and has left us a wonderful legacy.

He was highly skilled, an excellent writer and teacher with a wonderful presence. He clearly loved his work and loved to pass it on. His accent reminds me of Michael Caine. Imagine Caine in his most grandfatherly role, showing how to sharpen a plane or cut a dovetail. You would have loved to have sat on a stool in Kingshott's shop to watch him work, and in point of fact, that's what the DVDs are like.

The DVDs are Bench Planes (Amazon shows an incorrect photo for this), Special PlanesDovetails, and Mortise And Tenon; they cover strictly hand tool techniques. The books I have are Sharpening, The Complete GuideA Woodworker's Guide To Joints, and The Workshop: Designing, Building, Equipping; they show some power tools in addition to the hand tools. The writing about traditional techniques has evolved from the very stilted days of Bernard E. Jones and earlier, smoothing out in the work of Charles Hayward, and Kingshott's modern style makes for easy reading.

You see immediately that he worked to the highest standard. One of the most fascinating aspects is that he mentions various anecdotes about working in a high-end shop in the old days. Did you know you could be fired ("get the sack") for wearing glasses? For sitting down? You would be fined for every stray tool mark; too many mistakes and you would end up owing the guv'n'r come payday.

If you have some experience with these techniques already, you can see the various differences that typically show up among different instructors. That's one reason I like to learn from different people, to get varying perspectives. I figure any method someone has used for decades is worth considering, even if it's diametrically opposed to someone else's method. If Kingshott's books and DVDs were your only resources as a beginner, they would serve you well, with knowledge passed along through generations.

Beyond the basic methods, they're stuffed with little tidbits of knowledge that even the most experienced woodworker will find interesting and useful. For instance, the origin of the double bevel is due to grinding on a large-diameter hand-cranked grindstone for heavy metal removal, followed by hand honing on a stone. I made an oil wick after watching him use one to lubricate the bottom of his bench planes. He strove for precision and efficiency, required to earn a living at the workbench.

While much of his work is in the traditional English style, with English tools, Kingshott also enjoyed working with Japanese tools. There are several sections devoted to them, particularly in the sharpening book.

He clearly had his preferences, such as in the choice of planes, but he was willing to admit to the possibilities of other tools and methods. Thus he addressed variations in the ways to doing things.

The bench planes DVD includes an excellent explanation of how bench planes work, using large wood and plastic models. It covers the use of wooden planes, metal Bailey-style Stanley planes, and fine infill planes, including sharpening and their use in basic stock preparation.

Similarly, the special planes DVD explains their use in making window sash and casing with models and diagrams (you'll appreciate what a complex bit of engineering a window is, letting the light in while keeping the weather out!). Then it covers rabbeting, grooving, molding, curves, trenching, and shoulder and miter planes.

The mortise and tenon DVD covers through and blind mortises, drawbored and wedged mortises, and a more complex joint in the corner of a frame.

The dovetail DVD starts out showing the magnificent tool chest Kingshott built at the end of his apprenticeship. Then it goes through the basics of the joint. Somewhat unique among dovetail videos, it focuses on half-blind dovetails, the more difficult cousin of the through dovetail joint.

The sharpening book covers a variety of tools, not just edge tools. There's a nice section on saw sharpening, as well as boring tools.

The workshop book covers many aspects of building one from scratch or adapting an existing space. It includes sections on workbenches, appliances, sharpening, and machines.

The joinery book covers a wide range, from simple edge joints to compound angled dovetails. Joinery is where the DVDs are especially helpful, since trying to visualize the process from the written word and one or two diagrams can be difficult. Meanwhile, in order to show that level of detail, the DVDs must be limited to just a few joints. However, in the process they include many related bits of information.

It's that vast wealth of fine details that really makes these worthwhile. They're all treasures, reflecting a lifetime of fine workmanship.


  1. I have had Kingshotts DVDs for years and also own a few of his books. I also have a (large) number of titles from other authors and presenters. I love Kingshotts presentation and manner of writing and teaching.

    I would highly recommend them to anyone.


  2. Steve, is there anything in particular in the Kingshotts DVDs that are not covered in the ones by Paul Sellers?

  3. There are of course individual differences in technique doing some of the same things, and these are simply different ways to do things, neither one being inherently better than the other. You might even pick and choose bits of technique from each depending on your own preferences.

    The two sets are actually quite complementary. Each shows a few things that aren't in the other. For dovetails, Sellers shows through dovetails, while Kingshott shows half-blind. Kingshott shows several more variations of mortise and tenon, while Sellers, because he's building complete projects, also shows forming some curved parts, setting hinges, and attaching tabletops. Kingshott does go a little more into different types of specialty planes.

    The one major thing that Kingshott covers that Sellers does not is stock preparation, going through the Face, Edge, Width, Thickness steps of the FEWTEL sequence in the bench planes DVD.

    It would not be a waste of money to own both sets. If you are forced to choose, that's a tough choice! The Sellers series might be slightly more appropriate for an absolute beginner, since he's focused a bit more on someone who's never touched a hand tool before, though he's working with pre-dimensioned stock. Maybe add the Kingshott bench planes DVD to them at a minimum, since Sellers relies entirely on a Stanley #4.

  4. Hi Steve,
    Another great review but I just ponied up and got Paul Seller's book/DVD series. Now you gave me an itch to get these. Like you, I like a lot of differnet perspectives so I can pick and chose what I like. Sounds like a must have to me.

  5. Watched the Dovetails video last night on your recommendation. 100% pure enjoyment on so many levels including his "whoopsie." No two teachers teach the same method. Kingshott's method may have something to add for others. Love the Michael Caine accent.


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