Pye and The Internet

I recently read David Pye’s book The Nature and Art of Workmanship.  I was introduced to this book through the frequent quoting of his catchphrase “the craftsmanship of risk,” which he uses to differentiate craftsman-made work from mass production. It’s an interesting read and is still relevant almost 50 years later. I found Pye’s book focused on developing a working definition of craft and individual workmanship that is focused on the refutation of definitions of craft that Morris and Ruskin  (particularly Ruskin), of the English Arts and Crafts movement, put forth. Academic invective is probably an appropriate description of his tone.

However, his final chapter is interesting in that it makes suggestions and predictions about individual craft in the future. The  four points in the final chapter are interesting and are still relevant today. Particularly point 1)

The workmanship of certainty has not yet found out, except in certain restricted fields, how to produce diversity and exploit it

I had never seen these before and these last 4 points he makes are far more important, in my opinion, than the notion of the “workmanship of risk”.  Some 50 years ago, Pye had already identified the problem that rapid  protyping and 3D printing is trying to solve. By designing in the virtual space (computers or CAD), you can marry the workmanship of certainty  to the diversity associted with the workmanship of risk. Now, this is far from perfect, anyone who has used a makerbot or similar home system knows that any given print is far from certain, but if you’ve had access to expensive production machines the world is different. Those machines just work. Almost without fail. Assuming you have some skill in designing items that work for printing.

This is all rosy and optimistic, especially since 3D printing is pretty limited in size and scope at this point. But the basic idea is there, great diversity is achievable within the framework of certainty.  Even if it is only doll furniture.

Image from

The Anxiety of Tool Care

Many of the tools I own and use are more than twice as old as I am. This actually produces a sense of anxiety about how I treat the tools and how well I care for them.  When you become, essentially, a keeper of the tool for the next generation, your relationship to these things change.  This bleeds over into my other, less provenanced, tools as well.

Take my set of 1990’s marples chisels for example. These were the bad-ass Dodge Stratus of the time and the entry-level chisel of every woodworker I know. And they’re still great. But my dog got ahold of the 3/4 chisel while I was sharpening one day and chewed the end. Thankfully no one was hurt, but the handle was mangled.

Did this change how this chisels worked? No way. But it changed how I felt about it.  The handle stared back at me from my tool chest and kept saying “fix me.”  So I finally did.  I have made one chisel handle replacement before for a long paring chisel that was just a simple hexagon.  For this handle,  I decided to make a modified london pattern handle .  There are a number of tutorials on making these handles on the wb (see here, here, and here, for example).

The basic procedure is pretty simple.  Take a block of wood, ash in my case, and plane (or saw) into an octagon.  Chuck this into a lathe and turn the curvy parts.  Drill a tang hole and pound the handle home.  For this handle I picked up a ferrule from Ron Bontz at Bontz Saw Works because they are nice looking and I wanted something other than the copper pipe cutoffs that are the standard for the typical handle replacement.

I am pretty happy with how it turned out.  The handle is a little tilted, but I was happy with the outcome from me free-handing it with the tange hole. When you put the handle on, try to line up one of the flats of the octagon with the plane of the blade.  It makes it easier to register when you pick it up.   I finished it with a little shellac and it’s now ready for another 20 years of work.

Stock Photos

If you asked someone what was is most fun part of woodworking, prepping stock is generally not everyone’s first choice.  While I wouldn’t sign up for a full week of prepping stick with handtools, I’ve found that I actually enjoy establishing a true edge and face.  I don’t have a jointer, so I have to do all the flattening by hand.  There is something satisfying about being able to run your square down an edge and have it all line up.  Makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something significant.


I still use my dewalt surface planer to do a lot of thicknessing, but you have to establish a flat face for the planer to work properly.  Like all things in handwork, the stock prepping process is so much easier if your tools are sharp.  Especially in hardwoods.  You can usually muscle through pine.

If prepping your stock by hand seems scary, check out this video that popular woodworking recently posted.  It’s a great step by step for getting it done. Not a huge fan of the intro soundtrack on this video….

On the equivalency of dowels and dominos

I’m trying to keep my natural tendencies to dork out to a minimum here, but no one’s perfect.  So here’s an engineering post. Complete with equations, tables, and words like “stress” and “shear strength.”

I would love to own a festool domino system. Actually, i would love to own a festool anything, but they’re a little out of the current budget. While I was (and am) lusting after this tool, I started thinking about the differences between floating tenon and dowel construction. I have been reading Krenov’s book, The Art of Cabinetmaking, and he is all in on dowels, which is a little surprising.  It’s been drilled into my head that dowels are pretty inferior when it comes to joinery. And I buy this argument, if a joint depends entirely on glue then it probably isn’t the best choice. That being said, the engineer in me experiences a massive bout of cognitive dissonance when I read articles touting floating tenons from people that wouldn’t dowel joint to save their lives. From an engineering standpoint, dowels and floating tenons are the same.

Assuming that the dowels and dominos are made of the same material, there are two factors that determine the strength of the joint. The surface area and the cross sectional area. The surface area is related to glue bond strength. And more is, in general, better. Cross sectional area of the dowel or tenon is related to tensile and shear strength of the joint. Again, more is better. Using this insight, we can create a Dowel and Domino Equivalency ChartTM. The picture below gives us the formulas to calculate the surface areas and cross-sectional areas of an idealized dowel and domino.  


CA in this image is cross sectional area, SA is surface area and L represents the length of the domino and the dowel (into the screen).  You can see pretty easily that the domino is gonna give you more cross sectional area and surface area for each individual domino.  So the question is, how many dowels do you need?  If we assume that the domino and dowel have the same diameter or thickness D_{dm} = D_d = D and that they have the same length, then we can write the following

Cross Sectional Equivalency
N_{CA} = 1+\dfrac{4W}{\pi D}-\dfrac{4}{\pi}

Surface Area Equivalency
N_{SA} = \dfrac{\pi - 1}{\pi} + \dfrac{W}{\pi D}

These give the following results for typical domino sizes (off the website)

D (mm) W (mm) N_{SA} N_{CA} N
4 17 2 5 5
5 19 2 5 5
6 20 2 4 4
8 22 2 3 3
10 24 1 3 3

So we can see that the cross sectional area drives the number of dowels needed. Interestingly, you never need more than two dowels to get the same gluing area as a domino, but you need as many as 5 to get the same cross-sectional area. So while the “glue joint” should be just as strong if you are talking only about the shear strength of the glue joint, the mechanical strength of the joint will not quite match up. In other words, if you replace one domino with two dowels, the dowels will mechanically fail before the domino would fail. Even though the “glue joint” should be equivalently strong.

None of this takes into account the additional time you would need to drill five holes for dowels, so the domino is probably going to be significantly more efficient than dowels. There is also an underlying assumption that the mechanical fit of the dowels and the dominos are the same. I think this is easy to achieve with good drill bits that are matched to your dowels.

Tl;DR: Believe Krenov. If everyone thinks dowels are trash and dominos are not, then they are wrong. You just need to make sure you have enough dowels.

The Cost of Tools

Right before the LAP forum was shutdown, there was an interesting thread discussion regarding the cost of the Crucible Dividers.  At $120.00, this is not a cheap tool, but they are beautiful and like all things Schwarz and Daed are part of, extremely well-made. I am patiently waiting for the new stock to go live so I can purchase a pair.

Taken straight from  Check them out!

The original poster’s main problem with the dividers was that they are priced like a “luxury” tool.  Not sure what they were expecting, but even nice mass-produced dividers cost around $70 a set (starrett 6 inch round leg dividers are 68-61 for a pair), which isn’t exactly cheap.  Especially when you can purchase “dividers” for just a few dollars at several well-known retailers.   (As I was writing this, a video showing how the dividers are made was posted here.  Speaking as an engineer, this process could be scaled, but you would need to make thousands of dividers to bring the cost down. It would probably be hard drive the cost to less than $60 to $80).

The drive to low-cost consumer goods that produced the $8 dividers has skewed everyone’s expectation of price. This simple observation is what I think is the heart of both The Anarchist’s Tool Chest and The Anarchist’s Design Book.  Objectively, low prices are not inherently bad, but when that becomes the primary driving factor the quality tends to suffer as well.  The other factor is that many people look at the “original” cost of similar tools in the stanley hey-day and say, wow!  chisels for $2.70.  Everyone knows that inflation exists, but it’s a rare person who can rattle that number off the top of their head.  That $2.70 chisel is a $22.50 chisel based on the CPI-inflation calculator here.    Not quite the same great deal.  However, a tool-based inflation hedge could work as a retirement strategy. Bed-rock jointer planes sell for basically the original purchase prices on ebay.

My alternative to a 401K.

The tools that Crucible, Lie-Nielsen, Veritas, Blue Spruce Toolworks, and a host of other makers build are amazing in terms of quality and thought. These tools blow away the vintage tools in fit, finish, and form.  No plane that came out of the stanley tool-works had the machining tolerances of a Lie-Nielsen or Veritas plane, those tolerances were simply unachievable for the economics of the day.  But, these new planes are about two times the cost of the comparable stanley in real terms, so you do pay for those improvements.  The market for these new makers is probably not the “everyman” that stanley was aiming for.  It seems that a modern commercial woodworker has to be machine-centric to compete with the factory (if that’s even possible) and the handtool-only approach is probably not going to cut it for a house carpenter or someone making a run of furniture.

The bottom line is that a serious amateur can purchase a complete set of top-of-the-line handtools for about the cost of a tablesaw of similar quality*. That’s a strong argument that the “luxury” tools are still a fantastic bargain in terms of functionality per dollar.  Plus these tools are made by people who care.  A lot.  Spending a premium to support someone who is making things, partly, out of a labor of love is something I am totally OK with.

*I am comparing a 3ph 3 HP tablesaw like a powermatic PM2000 or a sawstop cabinet saw.  I would consider these “top of the line” with respect to quality and power. You can definitely find cheaper and this argument becomes more muddled there because of the quality/cost ratio. My tool list and cost breakdown is here for you to rip on.

The Bar

Like all bad ideas, this blog started with alcohol.  Not directly from alcohol, but as a result of wanting to store alcohol in an attractive manner.  I was looking for some sort of desk top bar that I could put in my home office.  Something small, attractive, and wouldn’t scream “alcoholic” at a chance glance. I found this “campaign style bar” that was awesome looking and was pretty much exactly what I thought I needed.  Then I looked at the price. Nope.   My wife is understanding, but not that understanding.


I am a mechanical engineer in real life and the first thing that all mechanical engineers say about anything they want is “I can build that.”  So I hit google and started looking for campaign furniture plans.

That led me straight to Lost Art Press.  Chris Schwarz’s book Campaign Furniture showed up in my mailbox a few days later and I was hooked.  I put a bunch of LAP books on my wish list and I got the Anarchist’s Tool Chest for Christmas that same year.  That book blew away a lot of my accumulated thoughts about building and craftsmanship.  I already consider myself a person who is intimately involved in making stuff.  I design and build on a daily basis as an Engineer and I had a tendency to translate that approach to all things that I build.  I can design things in CAD that have no reliance on my own personal skill in fabrication.  I do get satisfaction in a well thought-out design, but the final product is somewhat hollow since I usually had no direct involvement in the actual fabrication.

To fill that gap, I have always built stuff in my garage.  This need to build, as Schwarz talks about in ATC, may be genetic. My dad is an Engineer and as a kid we were always in the middle of a project.  Car restorations, docks, decks, barns, pretty much anything you can image, except furniture. That was the one thing that we always discussed but never did.  I did build a TV stand out of plywood and pre-sized red oak from the big box store once.

ATC and other books, Robert Wearing’s book in particular, have caused me to want to build furniture.  So this blog is going to let me catalog my progress, or lack thereof, and give me a publically accountable outlet for my work.  I also write a lot as an Engineer, but none of it happens in a more free-form way for a wider public audience.  This blog is also a way for me to practice that craft as well.  Like all good (wannabe) joiners my first real project was a tool chest.  Because of space limitations I built the small Dutch Tool Chest.  This chest represents a bunch of firsts for me, my first dovetails, hinge fitting, tongue and grooving, panel glue ups, and breadboards.  I learned a lot and everytime I use it I simply feel happy. My red, rolling tool chest doesn’t make me feel that way.