I ran across an interview today of Phil Lowe on Fine Woodworking.com that became surprisingly controversial. Typical to most internet articles I run across, the comments afterward seem to take things to the extreme, hypothesizing attitudes and making statements about the person in question that were a far stretch from the actual article. But something about this one really frosted me. Not only did many of those responding to the article take Mr. Lowe's statements out of context, but also took to criticizing him for the way the author decided to spell "vise" - as if Phil had some influence on the way the article was spell checked. It was totally ridiculous. Now, I don't know Mr. Lowe personally, nor have I taken any classes he's taught. I did take the post-article firestorm personally, however, and for reasons you might not first think of.
Apparently, Mr. Lowe has a bit of an aversion to block planes. He believes - and I'm sure with some significant knowledge of his craft and the tools used - that block plane origins were primarily designed for carpenters to do light trimming on the job site. They were especially useful for when you only had one hand free, such as when standing on a ladder. He also feels that since the furniture maker has a bench and vise (or "vice", if the alternative spelling offends you) that a bench plane is better suited for the work they do because they can use both hands on the plane. It was stated that Mr. Lowe makes this point in his classes by insisting that if anyone wants to use a block plane in his class, then they should use it one handed while standing on a ladder. I know you can see the horror inherent, in such a teaching technique.
Now, you may think I'm full of sympathy for the poor students that must endure such block plane oppression. On the contrary, I feel sympathy for Mr. Lowe and am embarrassed for the internet woodworking community. Here you have a master craftsman and teacher being ridiculed by what is obviously a bunch of armchair, weekend woodworkers who think they know better. I personally use a block plane on occasion, but, I did see a video of Phil a few years ago showing him using a #4 smoother to flush up dovetails and dados in a fashion that many would use a block plane for. Well, I tried it out myself, and found that having the extra mass of a bench plane made the cuts I was attempting much easier and potentially more stable. It gave me a new perspective on how to use some of my planes and I was thankful for Phil's video. The same can be said for Frank Klausz's "3 minute dovetail" video where he bangs out some decent, workable dovetails quickly with two rather large frame saws. His statement " if they don't fit right away, get a bigger hammer" was funny, but it also disarmed the notion that dovetails HAVE to be so exact in every situation. I believe with that statement, he was trying to lessen the mystique and level of "expertise" of hand cutting dovetails that typically hinders amateur woodworkers from trying to make them when they first start out.
Woodworking was a relatively untouchable hobby for most people not that long ago. To truly learn the craft, most had to rely on previous generations or, if they were lucky, be able to spend time in a cabinet shop as an apprentice. Now we have this huge internet woodworking community that allows the average hobbyist to learn from masters of the craft, free of charge. The problem with the internet is that the anonymity it affords sometimes breeds a false sense of expertise and lack of respect for our teachers and each other. My point that I have been fumbling around trying to make is that we should be thankful for masters like James Krenov, Sam Maloof, Frank Klauz, and yes, Phil Lowe for taking the time to share their knowledge, often free to thousands on the internet. When those masters share that knowledge, we should give them the respect they have earned through years of the craft. Then, filter the info for ourselves, give their suggestions a try and see if they work for us. Finally, we need to stop taking ourselves and the craft so seriously. Most of us are simply hobbyists and we are all taking this journey together. Share your knowledge freely, but remember that everyone has different experiences to contribute and your opinion isn't the only one that matters. True craftsmanship is a blend of technical skill and art, and you can't be successful without balancing daring ingenuity with time honored techniques.
Many of us grew up with the desire to work wood but thought it would never be accessible to the average Joe. Thanks to Phil and other true masters of woodworking for sharing their knowledge and time honored techniques so freely, enabling us to be successful in our woodworking pursuits.