When I started this blog I made a conscious decision to talk about tools as little as possible. There are enough people, far more knowledgable than I, who are talking about tools. I’ve always wanted the focus to be on the woodworking. The tools that I use or that you use, are immaterial. As long as they are sharp, they work. That being said, I’m going to break my self-imposed policy. Mostly because this blog serves as my woodworking journal, but also to give those of you who read it an idea of what in the hell I’m doing.
I’ll spare you the long version of the back story and make this as short as I possibly can. Many years ago, while pursuing the Craft section of the local library, I spied a new addition on the shelves. “The Workbench Book” by Scott Landis. As I thumbed thru the pages a single photo stopped me in my tracks.
This picture of Toshio Odate in his workshop represented to me the perfect workshop. I knew nothing about Japanese woodworking or the tools, but I was hooked. For a long time this small glimpse of Japanese woodworking was all that I had.
Fast forward a few years and the Internet is up and running strong. By chance I stumbled upon an online retailer that sold Japanese tools, “The Japan Woodworker.” There they were, all of the tools that I had seen hanging in the photo of Toshio Odate’s shop. Of course I still had no money or a workshop, so I contented myself with thumbing thru the catalog month after month. One Christmas though I was told to pick something from the catalog. I chose two hand planes, my first hand planes in fact. Japanese planes do not come ready to go. The end-user is expected to do the final adjustments to get the plane working. Of course I didn’t have the understanding or skill to set them up properly. I could make them cut, but I couldn’t make them sing. Nor were they in any way predictable in their use.
My issue is that I had not, nor have I, ever used a properly tuned Japanese plane. My only first hand experience is with my own planes. Essentially I’ve learned the hard way. I’ve made just about every mistake possible and have had to work my way back to a properly working tool. I’m still not there, but I’m getting close. Ironically, learning to sharpen and use western style tools went a long way towards my gaining understanding of the Japanese plane.
Along the way I have picked up a pull saw or two. I love them. The ergonomics of the pull stroke just seems to work better for me. I have also built up a collection of Japanese chisels. Again, ergonomics plays a major role in that decision. None of these tools are high-end. Just quality user-grade tools.
Do I think there is something magical about Japanese tools? Nope. The wood doesn’t care whether you push or pull your tools. The funny thing is that the more I learn and understand about Japanese tools, the more I realize that there is much more commonality than difference between Japanese and Western tools. Especially when comparing tools prior to the Industrial Revolution.
So there you have my convoluted path. My dream has been and continues to be, to work wood in the Japanese style. Simplicity and mobility, just the wood, the tools and myself. Have a look at the following video to get an idea of what I’m aiming for.