Woodworking in America 2008 #3: Woodworkers are Strange People.

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Blog entry by Texasgaloot posted 11-16-2008 06:34 AM 14626 reads 0 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 2: Day 1, or Is This Heaven or Am I Just In Sensory Overload? Part 3 of Woodworking in America 2008 series Part 4: Day 3, or like the song says, Is It Over Already? »

You can take the title different ways, but I have a specific “way” in mind. Over the last couple of days, I have rubbed elbows with (in no particular order) Adam Cherubini, Chris “The Schwartz” Schwartz, Roy “St. Roy” Underhill, Frank Klausz, Brian Boggs, Mike Dunbar, Robin Lee, Thomas Lie-Nielsen, Joel Moskewitz, Mike Wenzloff, Clarence Blanchard, Glen Huey, Robert Lang, John Economaki… the list could go on. I’m not dropping names here. I want you to understand the caliber of people giving presentations, demonstrating their products, and offering their knowledge. In some industries this would predictably be enough for significant competition of its own. In our community, it makes for great camaraderie. I had the opportunity to speak with each of the names above, some at length. Why would any of these individuals need to talk to me? They don’t of course, and yet a number of them earnestly desired to speak at length with me. How cool is that? I continue to assert that woodworkers of their very essence tend to be the nicest people as a group and as individuals, always ready to teach or to learn equally, and certainly share always.

This morning I had the chance to hear a presentation by Adam Cherubini on Western chisels, particularly those of Moxon’s period and slightly later, up to perhaps our revolution. Adam has found evidence that the Galoot of the period, of English/Colonial persuasion, would startlingly position a chisel over two fingers of the left hand (they were all right handed then, weren’t they?) and under the other two fingers, steady the chisel with the right hand, and provide forward thrust with the inner part of the shoulder just below the clavicle. He also made an interesting case for having a chisel handle that tapers from narrow at the metal to wide at the top—providing you with a better grip.

Next up was my first hand’s on clinic: chopping mortises with Frank Klausz. Frank was, as usual a very clear and effective educator in communicating his way of chopping mortises. I’ve made probably hundreds of mortises and tenons, many of them by hand. My usual MO is to bore them out and pare them with chisels until they are cleaned up. Part of my reason for doing so is that I do not own a set of mortising chisels, and until this morning I never wanted to subject my Sorby’s to chopping. I was sort of on the hook, however, and realized I was starting from behind as we all tried to implement Frank’s teaching. Knowing that I was pretty severly handicapped by my equipment choices, I wailed like crazy until my hands hurt and my back hurt and I had to complementary mortises chiseled on my “table leg” (poplar blank.) Then, using my crispy Independence Tools saw (predecessor to the LN saws,) I did a pretty fair job of cutting out the tenon. I fitted them with just a slight cheek paring, and then realized I didn’t leave any reveal on the leg. Sigh. I didn’t let Frank see the final.

Over lunch, I had the opportunity to sit with Craig Stevens of the Woodworkers Resource and to meet and talk with Robin Lee of Lee Valley Tools. Robin and I were able to compare notes on racing sailboats on Lake Ontario.

I’ve noticed that woodworkers tend to have well-defined senses of humor. My first stop this afternoon was supposed to be a comparison of Frank Klausz, Mike Dunbar, and Roy Underhill’s personal methods for cutting mortise and tenons. I say “was supposed to.” We got one of Frank’s immaculately logical and carefully didactic instructions on how to properly cut this joint at the top of a table leg which is joined by two skirts. Mike showed us how to bore and pare a mortise using a variety of bits—auger, spoon, and center. Roy showed us the besengue, talked about the history of certain tools, and usual antics. The thing is, the other two joined in the mirth with their keen wits, and once again my sides hurt. I think I’m so fatigued because we’ve spent our entire trip laughing.

From there, I attended another hands-on clinic offered by Adam Cherubini and Roy Underhill. Once again, despite his indefatigable knowledge, St. Roy deferred to Cherubini. Our task was to implement the chisel holding techniques of the colonial joiner. One of the biggest learning points: make sure your bench is situated at the right height for you. My bench was not.

This evening we were treated to a Barbecue supper which was very good. Topping it off were words from Steve Shaughnessy (Publisher of Popular Woodworking,) Chris Schwartz, Thomas Lie-Nielsen, Robin Lee, and the keynote speaker, Roy Underhill. Roy had us all rolling in the aisles with laughter from stories of historical truth to fantastic fiction (YOU look up the Appalachian Hoop Snake.) He topped it all off with a letter from a disgruntled Grandmother he is supposed to have received chiding him for not wearing his safety glasses and taking proper safety precautions while handplaning. You know how this letter went… it started out very politely, thanking her for her kind letter, and wound up with suggesting that she and her fictional grandson Timmy watch that guy who comes on TV after him “where the only thing not electric in his shop is his personality!” Roy finished with a Charismatic Preacher imitation calling each of us to police the young and raise the moral standards of woodworking; ”’Own a skil saw? Spend a month in jail!” on every 7-11 and Quick Pantry in the country!” He finished with a shout, “LET’S TAKE A BITE OUT OF NORM!”

Amen, Brother, Preach it. Well, he OUGHT to preach it… he’s St. Roy!

-- There's no tool like an old tool...

6 comments so far

View Lee A. Jesberger's profile

Lee A. Jesberger

6875 posts in 5194 days

#1 posted 11-16-2008 05:24 PM

Hi Tex;

I have to ask. Are you a writer by day, or does it come naturally to you?

Your postings are very well written, and enjoyable to read.

Nice job, and sounds like a great time.


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

View MsDebbieP's profile


18619 posts in 5375 days

#2 posted 11-16-2008 05:29 PM

another lovely read! I agree with Lee.
Nice job.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (, Young Living Wellness )

View Douglas Bordner's profile

Douglas Bordner

4074 posts in 5278 days

#3 posted 11-16-2008 06:30 PM

I agree with Lee. You’re quite good with a phrase. This has been a fun and informative series. Does this conference occur yearly? I’d love to pencil it in for the future.

-- "Bordnerizing" perfectly good lumber for over two decades.

View Texasgaloot's profile


465 posts in 4915 days

#4 posted 11-17-2008 06:31 AM

Thank you all for the wonderful compliments! (Blush!) Douglas—this was the “First Annual.” Go to their website and get on their mailing list.

-- There's no tool like an old tool...

View MelvinKey's profile


3 posts in 4983 days

#5 posted 11-17-2008 06:30 PM

Tex- I love your writing. It is completely satisfying. I make it a point to look up the definition of any word I don’t know. I only had to look up two words in this article. However, I was unable to define besengue. Could you help out an old guy who is still learning with the meaning intended in your blog.

View Texasgaloot's profile


465 posts in 4915 days

#6 posted 11-18-2008 06:16 AM

Hey MelvinKey -

You’ll have a hard time finding “Besengue” in any dictionary; even the exhaustive Salaman’s Dictionary of Woodworking Tools neglects this strange piece of old iron. I know about it only through an entire episode of The Woodwrights Shop that St. Roy devoted to this French concoction. It is a piece of forged iron about 3-1/2’ long or so, one end shaped to look like a large mortising chisel on steroids, the other end carefully sharpened to something like a 2” paring chisel, and with a hollow iron handle about 1/2 way down the shaft. Apparently it is used for chopping mortises in French timber-framed buildings.

Thanks for reading!

-- There's no tool like an old tool...

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