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It’s time to down tools for a well-earned break

It’s been another very exciting but busy year in our workshop next door to our showroom. Our amazing team of eight cabinet and furniture makers have worked together to create some outstanding pieces for our customers. While each of them takes great pride in their work, their skills only come to life through their hand tools, each carefully chosen and cherished as their personal collection.

But what’s so special about a cabinet maker’s tools and how do they leave them ‘resting’ for Christmas? Here, Tim Birtles, explains.

Why does each cabinet maker like to have their own hand tools and work bench?

Everyone works differently so you need your own space and layout. It’s important to be able to rely on your tools being to hand so you don’t have to work around their availability.

You also become accustomed to the feel, weight and sharpness of your own tools, and you’re responsible for keeping them keen so that when you next pick one up you know exactly what to expect.

Which three hand tools are most important to you as a cabinet and furniture maker and why?

My block plane is invaluable. It’s an incredibly versatile tool used for fitting cabinet doors. I couldn’t do without my chisels either. Both these tools need keeping sharp, so a sharpening stone is essential.

It’s also important to have an easy-to-read steel tape measure or steel rule – imperative for accuracy.

Sometimes you create incredibly fine detail and elegant finishes, such as inlaying and veneering. Which tools are vital for this?

Cutting veneers and inlays is very demanding of accuracy as even the slightest gap or badly cut joint will show up spoiling the whole effect. So this is where a really good quality, finely ground and honed chisel is absolutely essential. A razor-sharp Stanley blade or Japanese marking knife is also a must. On a job with inlay and lovely veneers, I may be sharpening them every hour to keep a really fine edge.

For trimming the edges of veneers it’s my block plane again…sharp and shining!

If you were advising someone just learning this craft, which hand tool would you say they should invest in first, and why?

This would probably be a good Jack plane, the most versatile plane in the box but again, a block plane gets just as much use. Although you can’t really start without a hammer, a couple of decent chisels and a tape measure. And don’t forget a pencil!

When you finally down tools for the Christmas break, what special treatment do you give those tools to keep them in top condition for when you come back?

I may sharpen the chisels and plane so they’re ready to go on my return and, if it’s a long break, I might oil any blades to stop them rusting.

But if your tools are looked after properly in the first place, no special treatment is really needed. Just put them away.

You can tell a lot about a craftsman’s attitude to work by the way they leave their bench when they are on leave!

By Jonathan Coulthard16/12/2019
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