The machine works, insofar as my workbench and hand tools can be considered as such.  In four days, I produced four carcases.  That along with visitors, housekeeping (such as it is) and trying not to make noise when the rest of the family is asleep.


I want to explain this effort:  My dear friend Matt Ross (artist, blacksmith, boatbuilder, woodworker) died early September at the age of 68, the diagnosis: idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.  He checked into ER in mid-August with symptoms of asthma and bronchitis, progressed to ICU, and was finally sent to hospice with a couple of days to live.  For once the doctors got it right.  I had about five minutes with him in hospital while he was still conscious and lucid, and he asked me to take care of his collection of Japanese tools.

These boxes are intended to house that collection, at least while I photograph and document and figure out what should be done with them. The two maple boxes 5 x 11 x 22 are for chisels and hammers, the large poplar box 7 x 16 x 45 is for saws, and the mahogany box will hopefully hold all the planes.  There are at least twenty planes in presentation boxes, everything else is in racks on the wall.  I’m going there this afternoon to begin.

Moving on, I have had this dream for years of a craft school here in Arkansas.  The people who should be doing this, Department of Heritage, are miserably incompetent and have assured me repeatedly that they (having tried once and failed) will never attempt such again.  That, and the fact that I took them to court several years ago (and won) leaves me pretty much a pariah.

Meanwhile, I have a respectable collection of woodworking tools, ranging from carving gouges to boring machines, all in excellent condition.  By that, I don’t mean collector’s “excellent”.  I mean that my tools are SHARP.  In fact, that’s the condition by which I inherit Matt’s tools.  In his estimation, I’m the only person he knew who could be trusted to know how to sharpen.  This is flattering, but doesn’t move us toward actually putting these tools to work.


This is not a “Bad Axe” saw.  It’s an old Disston that I restored and sharpened myself.  I refuse to pay $250+ to anyone for a backsaw (especially one who touts Ann  [sp.] Rand’s odious philosophy).  Likewise, Lie-Nielsen.  I have a “special” $40 dovetail marking knife waiting to send back because the point rolled over the first time I used it.  Lee Ferguson, just down the road from me, makes a much better knife for $20 that holds an edge and doesn’t roll off the bench.  The chisels I use are a duke’s mixture of brands that no longer exist (at least in this quality), Addis, Buck Brothers, Eskilstuna, Keen Kutter.

There is a desperate need (at least as I see it) for us to support crafts and craftsmanship (workmanship, if you’ve read David Pye), not corporations and marketing,

and to keep tools in use, not archived in a museum.

In the current issue of Wooden Boat, John Summers reviews  Japanese Wooden Boatbuilding by Douglas Brooks.

“Brooks researches and works in a tradition of maritime scholarship embodied by John Gardner, wherein one must build and use boats in order to properly write about and understand them.  His encounter with some Japanese maritime historians, who cannot understand why he spends his time working with poorly educated boatbuilders, and who feel that his research is of no value because it cannot be backed up by documents, was telling, even in a country that has long recognized craftsmen as living national treasures.  The book both acknowledges and rectifies a common issue in the preservation of material culture:  We save the object but ignore the processes and traditions that produced it, leading to museums holding row upon row of mute artifacts, divorced from the context and knowledge of their making.”


MAYDAY:  If anyone out there reading this has even the remotest interest in conserving our craft culture, let’s have a conversation.  I will be busy archiving tools that should be put to work, and posting more about my efforts.  e-mail:

About michaellangford2012

Timber framer, boatbuilder, dreamer, writer, musician; collector of books, tools, aphorisms. "There is nothing, absolutely nothing…half so much worth doing…as simply messing about in boats."
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3 Responses to Dovetails

  1. Greg Merritt says:

    My condolences on the lost of your friend Michael.

    The boxes are coming along nicely. The dovetail machine looks to be in fine running order. I do hope that you will share a few photos of the tool collection. I believe the collection is in capable hands at any rate.

    • Spent the afternoon getting acquainted with an old friend of Matt’s. Phil and I set the shop in order, made some shavings, built a fire in the stove, and explored various drawers and boxes. There’s a shelf of sample joints that I think you will appreciate.

  2. Thank you for the kick in my a$$, You are so right. We will talk at a later date …

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