Friday 8 November 2013

Workbenches of the Indian carpenter

We in the developed western world seem to have a major fetish over our tools, a desire for spending huge amounts of money, and/or time on making or buying the best. To me, much of this is about buying status. The person who makes for a living often just makes a bench that works, as I certainly have over the years. The only requirement is that it functions. In India I only saw benches in towns and villages in roadside workshops, and I was intrigued by how most of them did not have a vice as we know it. If any one of us inherited one of those benches we would probably immediately chop it up for firewood. They are definitely not things of beauty and often are cobbled together with bits of wood. They function, as tools for holding wood to be planed or sawn. A lot of mortise work can be done on the floor. 
I saw a lot of hand planing being undertaken, both surface, with 2 people, and jointing. The average length of board seems to be 7 to 8 feet. 
Jointing large boards is done by placing the plank in a slot on the front of the table and locking it in place  with a wooden wedge. This slot can also be used to help cut tenons and short rails.

Watching these guys sharpen was interesting, as most of them only seemed to have one stone, some of them were not particularly flat either.

 Most planes have quite a crown on them which produces a grooved cut, basically like a scrub plane. This can be seen on the floor boards above. One of the guest houses we stayed in at Dr Grahams was wooded throughout and you can still see the plane marks on the wood. It was apparent that if the grain direction changed in the wood that the planing direction just carried on, no turning the board around, and planing with the grain. So in a lot of the woodwork  you could see chip marks in the wood, in the whole scheme of things it all looked great. I actually loved seeing the imperfections and the tools marks in the wood. It made everything feel authentic and real, it had been made by craftsmen, not machinists.

The workshops did not have many tools in, just the basics, but what came out of them was amazing. I am a great advocate of the "just do it" school of woodworking. As long as it functions then that's great. It is best that we learn techniques, and practise, rather than chase after that next tool.

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