Short Courses

Tool tuning – essential skills for hand tools

Revolutionise your sharpening and planing, learn to prepare and fettle chisels and planes.
• Stop struggling with your planes
• Perfect your sharpening technique
• Transform your old plane into a super tool
• Achieve a four minute sharpening time
• Working with sharp tools becomes a pleasure
• Eliminate a major source of frustration and error
Spend five days with the expert, someone who knows what to do, how to do it and more important why to do it. These techniques will revolutionise your work, whether at amateur or professional level.


Work through a series of different dovetail joints, starting with a through dovetail exercise. These iconic joints are found at the back of drawers and in boxes and carcases.
We will then work on single lap dovetails and secret mitre dovetails. The joints will be cut with hand tools, but I will also demonstrate a bandsaw technique for cutting tails.
Perfection not guaranteed on this course but improvements are!

Drawer making and Fitting

This course is intended to further develop your skills and is suitable for those who have completed the Dovetailing course or competent dovetailers. We will make and fit the smartest arts and craft style drawer, with a flush drawer slip.

Tool tuning course in detail

Most amateurs are not getting the most out of their hand tools. This week is designed to radically improve basic skills. Most planes should be viewed as a crude kit of parts. You will not believe the improvement in performance that can be achieved. See below for a more detailed description of the week.
(5 days) The aim of this course is to get your tools working as well as mine!
Every year at shows I see people’s jaws dropping with amazement when they use my planes and chisels.
The planes take tissue thin shavings (0.001″ thick) with practically no effort, leaving a polished surface which cannot be improved by sanding. The chisels leave a polished surface and cut with minimum effort.
It is unfortunate that plane and chisel manufacturers do not tell us that their tools do not work “straight out of the box”. A more serious issue is that a plane with a hollow in the length of the sole will not plane a straight edge with a fine shaving.
When fettling Stanley or Record planes it is very beneficial to replace the standard blade with a thick, high quality replacement iron. The new materials available today will hold an edge for three to five times longer than a carbon steel blade. Hock A2 or 01 blades are available from Classic Hand Tools.
We deal with chisel preparation, grinding and sharpening on Monday. The requirements for “sharpness” are investigated with the aid of a 40x microscope. The main work is to prepare a flat polished back, removing all trace of the manufacturers grinding marks. I prefer Japanese water stones as they are affordable, cut faster than any other medium and produce the best edge. However they wear fast and we must anticipate this wear in the way we use them. It is fatal to use a water stone in the same way one uses an oil stone! Razor sharp edges are more a question of equipment and technique than years of skill and practice.
On Tuesday morning we learn a reliable and repeatable method of producing a curved edge on a plane blade. I explain the need for a curved edge and the benefits of changing the amount of curve for different types of work. We also start to investigate the reasons why our planes do not work well. You strip your plane down to its component parts and start to fettle them. Seating the frog to the body casting provides a firm base for the blade and reduces sole distortion. The top surface of the frog often fails to support the blade because it is hollow at the critical point where the centre of the blade is supported. Every working part is improved and the chip breaker needs considerable work.
After final assembly the sole is flattened on a large sheet of “float” glass using a series of aluminium oxide abrasive grits. Your plane is usually ready to test by Wednesday evening or Thursday morning.
We then learn how to use it to prepare an accurate face side free from bumps or wind (twist). The squaring of an accurate face edge is followed by methods of marking and planing end grain. (Block plane, bench plane and shooting). The next job is to gauge and bring the work to thickness which can easily be done to better than 0.004″. I usually leave the work about 3mm over width and bring this dimension to size last.
On Friday afternoon we look at shooting if there is time. It depends on how much deviation has occurred! Some groups have a tendency to discuss general workshop issues, the whole of cabinetmaking and the meaning of life, instead of concentrating on the job in hand.
I often have to persuade people of the virtues of this course. We do not make anything! However these skills are the fundamental platform for building everything. It is impossible to build exhibition quality furniture without mastering these skills. If the basics are not right, errors have an unhappy knack of accumulating through the job.
This course will revolutionize the way you work wood.

Things to bring

It is essential to bring your own bench plane and a couple of chisels. The most useful bench plane in my opinion is a No 5 1/2 or No 5. Lower numbers are fine, the No 6 is heavier while a No 7 or No 8 can take a huge amount of time to flatten and are beyond the scope of this course.
Modern Stanley & Record planes are poorly made and though we can improve them radically, older ones are preferable. Lie-Nielsen planes require little work, Clifton a good deal more.
We can also tune up block planes. Stanley & Record numbers 60 1/2 and 09 1/2 are useful. Lie-Nielsen adjustable mouth and fixed mouth block planes are superb.
Old chisels are fine as long as the flat side is not badly rust pitted or worn convex in the length. I have some Japanese bench chisels if you would like try one.
Optional tools to bring if you have them are; engineers set square, marking knife, steel rule, marking gauge(s) and honing guide. Note book and pencils are essential. It is always interesting to see photos of your work, plans or work in progress!
Please discuss any tool problems with me, well before you arrive. I may be able to order planes, replacement blades or chisels for you if there is sufficient time. Some Japanese chisels and saws, bought through me – have a significant discount. Tool list