Highland Woodworking Wood News Online, No. 142, June 2017
Working Wood 3 - The Cabinet Makers Workshop with Simon James
Book Review by J. Norman Reid

Working Wood 3 's subtitle, "The Cabinet Maker's Workshop," characterizes the contents of this book well, even if it obscures the wealth of details to be found within its pages. In this second volume in a series, begun with Paul Sellers's Working Wood 1 & 2 , James delves into a more detailed treatment of the methods and means of hand tool woodworking with an intensive review of the essentials of a well-equipped woodshop. He offers up a delightful read along the way.

The book opens with a brief review of setting up a woodshop that addresses the range of decisions each woodworker will confront, including, space, heating and cooling, lighting, dust and humidity control and storage being among them. The real meat of the book begins next, when James describes the measuring and marking tools he recommends for a woodshop. Edge tools follow and here James describes how to build a scratch stock, setting the pattern for similar shop-built tools and appliances that echo throughout the book.

Chapter Four introduces an extended treatment of handplanes. While Working Wood 1 & 2 emphasized the utility of No. 4 and 5 planes for general work, James discusses other planes he finds useful, many of them wooden-bodied planes such as the No. 7, including adjusting and using them.

The succeeding section examines "specialist" planes. First are rebate (rabbet) planes. James considers the merits of new versus older planes, as well as metal versus wood planes, and encourages users to restore planes to save their budgets. He gives special attention to the Stanley No. 78 rabbet plane and guides the user through the process of restoring a used model to peak performance. Then he shows how best to put it to work planing with the grain, across the grain and also when the grain is wild. Not neglected are wooden rabbet planes; he recommends a moving fillister as the best and most accurate option, but if that's out of the budget he suggests starting off with two unfenced wooden planes with their irons set flush on the right and left sides so you can work any part of the rabbet without making adjustments. A helpful discussion of common problems encountered in rabbeting follows his description of cutting stopped rabbets.

James next tackles plow planes. He is especially fond of the Record No. 44, a British plane made by the truckload and still widely available on the used market. He gives an extensive discussion on restoring a No. 44 to tip-top shape and follows this with helpful information on using the plane.

Moulding planes are the subject of the next chapter. His recommendation is to start with four planes: No. 10 hollows and rounds and two small ovolo planes. Following a brief history of these planes, he delves into an extended treatment of the methods for making mouldings. Though he pays homage to M.S. Bickford's excellent book Mouldings in Practice , James's extended discussion is an excellent guide to using moulding planes in its own right. An important section details the methods for restoring old moulding planes to good working condition, essential information given the prevalence and better affordability of used planes on the market. Included is information on straightening bent wooden plane bodies.

A separate chapter focuses on sharpening curved plane blades, such as those in hollows and rounds. James reviews the sharpening tools needed and the methods for sharpening blades that, unlike chisels, have irregular faces. A useful tip is to use a stack of Rare Earth Magnets to grip small blades while polishing their backs on sandpaper or stones. James also describes how to make and use dedicated strops that fit the profiles of each plane, tools that speed his ability to keep his planes razor sharp.

The next section presents a number of jigs and devices to facilitate hand tool woodworking. He describes how to build and employ a pair of sturdy sawhorses, bar clamp guides, caul clamps, square bench dogs held in place with springs shop made from hack saw blades, holdfasts, a sticking board, a long bench clamp, diagonal measuring sticks, winding sticks (and a simple process for ammonia-fuming oak), and bench hooks among them. He describes in detail how to build a jig for cutting tapered sliding dovetails. This is followed by a chapter in which he shows how to use the jig to make these joints that, with a cabinet back in place, require no glue.

An extended discussion is given to building and using shooting boards of several types and sizes. He offers an innovation I've not seen elsewhere: a moveable fence that can be advanced to support the work to prevent blowout as the fence itself is nibbled away through use.

A short final chapter gives an overview of glue types, finishes and grain filling.

This book is definitely intended for the hand tool woodworker. Those who rely primarily on machines for their work may find this an interesting read, but there is little here to help them in the woodshop. But for hand tool woodworkers, especially those starting out and intermediate woodworkers, as well as those working with hybrid methods, this is a valuable book. Even advanced hand tool woodworkers may find some of the jigs and hand tool restoration methods useful and they should not overlook it.

Working Wood 3 is intended as a stepping stone to the next book in the series, on cabinetmaking projects. Thoroughly and beautifully illustrated in full color throughout, it is easy to follow along on the restoration and tool-building projects James describes. Thus, it will be a useful reference for most hand tool woodworkers, especially because of its strong emphasis on handplanes, jigs and fixtures and its strong bent toward shop- built appliances.

As a somewhat curmudgeonly grammarian, I was dismayed at the frequent misapplication of "it's" throughout the book. But if that bothers you as well, I say get over it. This is an excellent and fun-to-read book that's a good resource and a rich source of ideas to make your work go more smoothly and accurately. I like this book a lot.

Find out more and purchase Working Wood 3 - The Cabinet Makers Workshop with Simon James

J. Norman Reid is a woodworker, writer, and woodworking instructor living in the Blue Ridge Mountains with his wife, a woodshop full of power and hand tools and four cats who think they are cabinetmaker's assistants. He is the author of Choosing and Using Handplanes . He can be reached by email at nreid@fcc.net .

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