Iain Tyndal – A Passion for Woodworking and Japanese Tools

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Awhile back a gentleman sent Japan Woodworker an email about some old Japanese tools that he had acquired, including a sharpening stone similar to one pictured on the cover of the September 2016 catalog. I decided to give him a call about the tools, and I’m glad I did. His name is Iain Tyndal, and as it turns out, he not only owns a few Japanese woodworking tools, but he is also quite an accomplished woodworker.

From Milk Bottle Carriers to Stools for Guitarists

Iain grew up in Edinburgh, Scotland, where he first became acquainted with woodworking. When he was about 12, he recalls finding some woodworking tools in his father’s shed and playing with them. In those days, milk was delivered daily in glass bottles, each with a little silver cap. Each morning, the empties would be replaced with new bottles of milk. For one of his first projects, Iain made wooden carriers with metal handles to hold two or four milk bottles and sold them to his neighbors. Iain’s woodworking skills and adventures grew from that early experience.

“When I went to shop class in high school, my woodworking teacher said I had an ability and I could be a very good woodworker,” said Iain. “I ended up becoming an engineer, but I never lost my passion for woodworking. I always held on to a lot of my hand tools.”

When he was about 23, Iain moved to Toronto, Canada, for a few years before moving to the United States. In both locations, he made sure he had a workshop. At his new home in Georgia, Iain first worked in the garage, making a bench and putting everything on a mobile base so it could be moved against the wall. However, he eventually outgrew that space and built a lovely workshop behind his house.

“That’s my sanctuary now. I have a woodburning stove in there, and it’s cozy in the wintertime,” Tyndal said. “I’m a solitary person that likes to work away on my own.”

Iain pursues his woodworking passion on and off as time permits, making coffee tables, dining room tables, end tables, and furniture cabinets. Currently, he’s been quite busy making stools for classical guitarists, a new project. One prototype already finished is made of Black Walnut and Beech (Beech legs, Black Walnut seat). He has another one almost finished with an Ambrosia Maple seat and Walnut legs. He also restores collectibles.

Another project involves crafting handles for marking knives that Iain purchases from Japan Woodworker. He laminates different exotic wood scraps together, such as a Yellowheart core and Wenge outsides, to make an elegant custom knife that feels good in the hand and appeals to woodworkers.

Gift Inspires Interest in Japanese Woodworking Tools

Iain expands his knowledge by reading and by doing. That’s one reason he said he enjoys the Japan Woodworker catalog so much because it tells little stories about the different craftsmen and information about Japanese tools. He said he very much appreciates having that information in the catalog, because he loves expanding his knowledge.

“When the Japan Woodworker catalog arrives, my wife gets a quiet evening, because I sit there and go through it,” Iain explained.

Iain’s interest in Japanese woodworking tools dates back to his time in Canada, when he met a retired Japanese cabinetmaker who asked him if he would like to use some of his tools. Iain was delighted to accept the offer, so the cabinetmaker gave him a sharpening stone, an ink line and a couple of old hand planes.

“I especially use the sharpening stone. The sharpening stone was clearly handmade; it was hand-hewn,” said Tyndal. “There’re chisel marks underneath where it had been flattened out a bit and there was a chip off of one corner. It wasn’t at right angles. He made a wooden base for it shaped like the stone.”

The ink line, he said, is a nice conversation piece. It still has the cotton wading in it with ink. Nothing has been replaced. It’s exactly the way it was when it was given to him 40 years ago. It’s something to admire. 

Iain explained that Japanese woodworkers like to buy plane blades and make their own plane blade bodies. According to Iain, the cabinetmaker clearly had done that with the plane that was given to him, using a nail to keep the wedge in place. The blade itself has Japanese characters on it from the maker, but Iain never found out who maker was.

“It’s just a nice thing that he handed me those tools,” Iain said.

Collecting and Appreciating Japanese Tools

The Japanese cabinetmaker’s gift grew into a larger collection, as Tyndal began collecting Japanese tools that interested him, such as Japanese chisels and dozuki saws. He uses the dozuki saws for dovetail work and describes them as quick cutting with a very fine kerf.

“I have a Nishiki chisel from Japan Woodworker. It was a bloody expensive chisel, but I wanted to add it to my collection,” said Tyndal. “I treasure it. You can see all the forging marks, and it’s been twisted into the tang. It’s a beautiful tool to use.”

As far as collecting Japanese woodworking tools, Iain said a lot of woodworkers have a passion for tools and will pay good money for tools that are unusual and beautiful – tools that you can’t buy at Home Depot or Lowes.

“I love the Japanese saws,” said Iain. “If I’m doing any dovetail work, it’s always my dozuki that I use. I love that saw.” Iain especially likes the “pull stroke” on the Japanese saws, explaining that you get a very clean cut. It doesn’t bind. You can get out of line with a western saw, he said. If you are making a dovetail, you want to keep that as clean and crisp as you possibly can. If you are cutting on the pull stroke with a Japanese saw, you don’t get that binding effect. He said it cuts straight and very quickly too, but he said you have to pay attention.

“It’s amazing, the Japanese Blacksmiths that make the tools are living national treasures,” said Tyndal. “They are revered in their country. They’re ultimate craftsmen.”

He is impressed with the patience that the Japanese craftsmen have. “They go through an apprenticeship and come out with lot of skills, and great deal of pride goes into what they do. There are some things you just can’t hurry up. Each step takes its needed amount of time, and only then can you move on to the next step.”

Woodworking’s Pleasures and Rewards

When I asked Iain why he is so passionate about woodworking, he explained that there are many reasons.

“I love working with wood. Each wood has its own qualities,” he said. “Wood’s a nice material to work with, and there are so many varieties, exotics and domestics that are beautiful.” 

Tyndal said sometimes when you put a finish on your project, it surprises you. And then, of course, there’s using the tools. For instance, Iain explained, sharpening a plane blade and then using it brings a “wow” of satisfaction.
“You get a beautiful shaving that comes off the plane because you touched up the blade. You get a reward for your effort,” he explained.

Iain finds pleasure in even the ordinary experiences. “When I walk up to my workshop in the morning, before I even get in the door, I can smell the wood and varnishes,” he said.

“There’s a lot to woodworking that is rewarding,” Iain said. “You’re creating something and putting your heart into it. When someone buys it, they are really happy. When you sell your woodworking, you’re selling a little bit of your heart.”

If you have any interesting projects or stories you'd like to share with us at Japan Woodworker, be sure to take a photo and send it to us along with your comments to Blog@JapanWoodworker.com.


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