La Forge Royale

Well, it only took a year and half to get started, but I finally got a chance to build that carver’s vise from benchcrafted..

Not much to say about it so far, I’ve barely used it.. But like everything Jameel offers, it grips like crazy, and is of very high quality.  The mounting system is very cool too.  Works in any of your dog holes, although I think I’ll give the mounting post a permanent place on my bench somewhere, so I can quickly toss the vise up there.



I got a dead quarter-sawn piece of maple from Greg Pennington, and it was a joy to work with.  Also, those rough edges you see on the jaws are the leather! It doesn’t look nearly that bad in person, but I can see now I’m going to have to trim those up some more with a razor blade.



Besides manufacturing the best vises you can buy, Jameel Abraham (the guy behind benchcrafted) is also a constant source of inspiration. I always watch his blog because he does the most amazing work, yet presents it in such an accessible manner. Being able to peek into his shop through his blog has been an unmeasurable help. The lesson is that high quality work doesn’t just magically show up on your bench. Everything counts; every cut with the saw, every stroke of the plane. Are you tools sharp?  Are you marking off your reference face? And it shouldn’t be a tedious process. You just learn that your best work is the *only* kind of work.


And fine work is achievable by all of us. We’re all using the same tools; there isn’t magical woodworking fairy dust in one person’s shop and not the others. Just pay attention to what you’re doing, and then pay attention even more.

Figuring out this mindset has really helped me progress. I don’t get *nearly* as much time in the shop that I like to, but when I do get out there, it’s like I never left.  These are the only two dovetails I cut in 2014:


Not perfect by any means.. But I’ll get better. One other idea I really subscribe to is valuing efficiency over mastery.  I got that one from Konrad Sauer.

My goal with woodworking and planemaking is to become extremely efficient while continuing to improve my accuracy… and in that order…

Konrad has a great post on the subject here. (btw, Konrad’s blog is also required reading.  Just start at the very beginning and go from there)  It really resonated with me though. I don’t have a lot of time in the shop, so I don’t want things to take a long time. Anyone can dovetail a drawer perfectly.  But until you can do it perfectly in an hour or two, you haven’t really mastered things. So, over the past few years, I’ve consciously valued efficiency first (and produced plenty of warts and mistakes in my projects), and that’s forced me to become better. Largely because I’ve relied less on crutches to achieve a result.

Those seem to be mutually exclusive viewpoints.. “do it fast!” and “pay attention, only your best work will suffice”. But they aren’t at all. Once you are efficient in your work, once you can accurately saw, chop, plane, and layout almost without effort and thought, then you can turn all your focus into producing things of a high caliber.

Sharpening is a perfect example of this. I used to use jigs and waterstones. This was too slow and time consuming (for me), so I would use a dull tool because sharpening wasn’t an easy and quick thing. I finally decided to suffer though learning how to sharpen freehand, and my work has improved as a result. I now never work with a dull tool, because it is second nature to reach over to the oilstone and strop sitting on the bench and touch the blade up. And if there is one thing that you need to do good work, it is sharp tools.

Anyways, enough of me blabbering on like the guy in those lincoln commercials. One thing I always love are the pictures Jameel has on his blog of some exquisite piece of handwork surrounded by a few artfully placed tools and shavings. So here’s one of my own.



Ha! Funny.

But seriously, thanks Jameel.  Thanks Konrad. Keep on blogging, I would suspect you’re having more of an impact than you know.

– Matt