Rosewood Studio – Week 1, Excellence with Handtools

I’ve registered myself in Rosewood Studio’s 6 week Craftsman program run out of their school in Perth, Ontario.  Each week I’ll be writing a review of what we did to give people a better idea of what the school is all about.  While researching a woodworking school to go to, I found the number of reviews or information in general to be very slim, so hopefully this will be of help to some.  So without further ado…

Week 1 – Excellence with Hand Tools

My woodworking knowledge consists of what my dad taught me (not necessarily the correct way), what I learnt in grade 7/8 shop class, and whatever I’ve picked up along the way through books and the internet.  I’m fairly handy and have made quite a bit of stuff out of wood, but I always felt as if there were better ways to do what I was doing, and that my current tool collection was likely lacking.  Most of my tools were either passed down from Grandfathers, or were on sale.  The Grandfather tools were neglected (by them not me), and the tools on sale were generally bought for all the wrong reasons.  One of the things I loved about this first week at Rosewood was the free student tool kit that everyone gets to use.  It’s filled with very high quality tools so you can get a feel for what a good tool is, and it also means that you can “try before you buy”.  In fact the school recommends not buying new tools before the course so that they can guide you in your decisions.

We spent the week learning about hand planes, chisels scrapers, and saws, how to use them, sharpen them, and tune them.  I was able to restore an old handplane I had got at a pawn shop, but could also see what a Lie Nielsen plane was really like (included in the toolkit).  It’s also nice that Ron Barter (instructor) regularly tests tools for Veritas, so he has just about one of everything they make on site for you to try out.

So after sharpening up our chisels and planes, we set to work on our first task: the perfect board.  We were each given a piece of poplar about 14″ long, 2″ thick, and 10″ wide.  The boards were warped, cupped, and twisted, and we had to make all 6 sides smooth, flat, and square.  Many people would think this an easy task, use a jointer, planer and table saw and this task shouldn’t take more than a few minutes, but with only a collection of handplanes and a square, this task took the better part of a day.

Next it was on to cutting dovetails.  Using a dovetail saw and chisels, we joined two 3″ wide pieces of poplar together.  You start with poplar as it’s cheap and since it’s on the softer side of hardwoods, it’s a bit easier to use when learning.  After lots of fidgeting I finished my first set and was told I had done an excellent job for my first try.  We were told to write our names and the date on them so we could look back years from now and see how we have progressed over the years.  While still basking in the success of my work, Ron went to the table saw and cut two new pieces for me to work on… That’s what you get for finishing first I guess…  By the end of the week I had done 4 dovetail joints, each one with more tails and smaller pins, adding to the challenge each time.

We finished the week off with the Rosewood Studio Wood Challenge.  Ron laid out 20 pieces of wood and had us try to figure out what each one was.  It was way harder than I had thought it would be and I unfortunately only got 7 correct (the winner named 11).  Next week is mastering machines, which after a week of handplaning, my arms will be happy for the rest…