Is that Hepplewhite snickering?

I have been doing a number of hand tool projects lately, and I never knew how much cursing, mumbling, and muttering was a part of hand tool woodworking. But I just can’t imagine Andre Roubo or George Hepplewhite stomping around their shops cursing like a drunken sailor day in and day out. Could it be the following premise is true? Doctors are to horrible handwriting as hand tool woodworkers are to cursing?

First, I want to state that I am not complaining, I am just developing an even healthier respect for hand tool woodworkers. It takes patience by the barrel, and loads skills, good tools, a hefty amount of background knowledge, and some serious practice.

An English Layout Square

Right now, I am making an English Layout Square. If I were using power tools, this project would not be so hard, but man alive! This is a real challenge by hand. First, you have to get three pieces of wood the same thickness, length, and width. You may titter to yourself and say “how hard could that be?!” Just you try it with rough cut lumber. This is no easy feat, especially for someone somewhat new to the hand tool game!

This “little” project needs three types of saws alone! A rip saw, a fine tooth cross cut saw and a tenon saw are must haves. Oh yes, don’t forget the coping saw for the scroll work. Ever wonder why hand tool woodworkers have so many types of planes? Because you really need them! And I mean you honestly do need them! Today is the first day in my life that I understand why I need low angle block plane and a bull nose plane. To further my point, this project absolutely required my big Jack plane, my jointer, my rabbet plane, my new router plane, a block plane, and my beloved smoother. But oh how I wish I had a scrub plane and a low angle block plane to help.

I shudder to think of how many tools I will need for a big project! When I started The Hand Tool School, I thought it would be a breeze. I don’t think I have said “What the f*%k!” so many times in my life. Now I know why you had to be an apprentice for so long. It takes serious practice to get four square sides with hand tools. Just between you and me, I am beginning to appreciate my power planer more and more.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining. I’m learning a hell of a lot, and these skills will definitely improve my day-to-day commissioned woodwork. And even though there is a toxic cloud of mutterings trapped beneath my snow covered shop roof, I look forward to every hand tool session. I am sure Hepplewhite is up there laughing his head off at my hand tool shenanigans, but I hope he remembers how it was when he first started off.


About yaakov

Husband, Abba, Furniture Maker, Turner, Bookseller, and all around working stiff.
This entry was posted in In Yaakov's Workshop and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Is that Hepplewhite snickering?

  1. Hey, I’m at 9 saws and 11 planes and still climbing! Believe me, it never levels out.

  2. I think it’s nice that you’re trying to make things by hand. I’m sure you can devote a lot more into it in terms of the details. Plus it feels great to see something you made all by yourself.

  3. Too funny Yaakov, this is probably why George Hepplewhite decided to write a design book and let others build his stuff. That is a great looking square, keep up the good work and soon the obscenities will turn to just soothing music of hand planes and saws doing precise work.

    • yaakov says:


      Glad you enjoyed the article. BTW, that is not the square I am making. I am making it like you instruced us to do.
      Hope you can stay warm!

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