Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Most Important Tool

"To begin with, however, he finds Sam's bench so covered over with tools and shavings, that he really cannot lay the board upon it; not that Sam has been doing any very great quantity of work, but that he very much dislikes the trouble of putting away his tools and sweeping the shavings off the bench: but by this slovenliness he makes himself moure trouble after all,  for he can hardly ever find the tool that he wants: just when he has got the side of a box nicely placed to fit over the end, the brad-awl is missing which he needs to bore a hole, and five minutes are lost in searching fot it, if, indeed, he does not rather bang in the nail to make a hole for itself, without caring whether it split the wood or not. The tidy workman clears his bench every day when he leaves his work; his tools being all put by, he sees whether each is in its place, and if any are missing he recollects at once whether he has lent them to any one, or left them anywhere where he has been using them, or knows whether he had better look for them among the shavings."

-- The Joiner and Cabinet Maker, 1839

First of all, I hope you enjoy the wonderously long nest of clauses the author of the above employs constantly throughout the text.  I really do, mind-bending as the grammar can be. More important than the writing style is that early on in the text the importance of cleanliness is pointed out in graphic detail, and this truly is a foundational skill for a craft as messy as woodworking can be. I purchased a brush like the one above long ago, mostly for sweeping the mountains of sawdust off of my tablesaw and mitresaw. However, it is proving its worth even moreso to clear the incredible volumes of shavings off the bench. As with any good tool, it acts as an extension of the arm, and with an almost psychic ability, it is easy to tell the brush to flick the shavings off while leaving behind heavier tools and pieces of scrap wood. When doing an operation as shaving-intensive as thicknessing wood, it is likely to need to sweep shavings every ten minutes or so, filling huge tubs . Some woodworkers will put these onto a garden bed as mulch, some put them into the trash. I find them far too valuable to do either. Mine get my woodstoves started with very little effort. They ignite readily, burn cleanly, and as they are generally harder woods, they pack a punch when it comes to getting the stove hot and the kindling lit. This workshop appliance is not given much credit in most discussions of outfitting a shop, but I might say it should be the first "tool" purchased. 


  1. Good post, Rob - I agree that such a tool is an often-overlooked necessity. But I prefer my Br'all :)


  2. Chris - your Br'all is an envious device, and I should have mentioned that my straight-edge is generally a precursor to the brushing. Its not all that different from the hockey stick Ricky uses to clear his car of debris each morning before his commute in the wonderful show Trailer Park Boys. Nonetheless, your tool offers a lever of craftsmanship and finesse that is enviable, and I thank you for reporting it.