Blast From the Past: Sharpening

Dear Readers,

Greetings – I hope you all had a good summer solstice weekend and Father’s Day weekend. I continue to deeply appreciate your wonderful comments and emails!

As the title of this post says, this is a blast from the past…

In the fall of 2004, Chris taught a Japanese carpentry workshop on Gabriola Island, British Columbia, his home for several years. I stayed with him for a few months on the beautiful property he was renting on the island, which included a private cove and a shop building. It didn’t really have normal living quarters, but that was OK as the rest of the place was spectacular. We didn’t care that we were sleeping on a mattress on the floor in what used to be the show room that went with the workshop…Eagles nested in the trees by the cove, mountains were visible across the Strait of Georgia, and the sun set over the water. In 2005, Chris left the property and ever since, I have wished I could see the place again.

Participants in the workshop, which was organized by the Timber Framers Guild, spent their days on the property with us and stayed overnight for the duration of the several day workshop (was it a week? Feel free to chime in if you were there and remember!) elsewhere on the island or camped on the property. I really enjoyed having the chance to see Chris teach and see the participants work on their projects. Lasting friendships were formed.

Participants from the 2004 Workshop on Gabriola Island.
Chris is in the front row, second from the left.

One of the workshop participants brought his wife with him and asked if she could sit in and film the entire thing. She had good video equipment with her, so we said OK, as long as she shared the footage with us and other participants after. Unfortunately, we never received the footage from them, and I figured the chance to see any of the workshop on video was lost.

Then this spring, in the recent wake of Chris’s death, a participant from the 2004 workshop named Ian Lawford sent an email to me and several other participants. The email included a link to raw VHS footage that he’d had digitized, including some from the workshop!

Watching it was like walking into a memory. Suddenly, the young, healthy Chris I knew at the beginning of our relationship was there on the screen. Yup, I cried. Later, I showed some of it to Ryden, and we had a conversation about how cool it would be to be able to become tiny and walk into the video and see Daddy. But I digress…

It’s from VHS, so there’s buzzing in the background and it’s pretty fuzzy, but I hope you will enjoy it. This is the first of two posts with footage of Chris from 2004.

This one is about 50 minutes of Chris demonstrating and explaining tool sharpening techniques. He refined his sharpening technique more over the last 15 years, but he already had quite a bit of experience at the time of the workshop. I hope some of it is useful for you. I decided to leave the footage raw end unedited, so you may want to skip parts of it. This way, you have your choice and can watch it all if you like!

If you do watch until the end, someone asks a question about different types of steel used in Japanese tools. I included a couple of links that explain this more, as the footage ends while Chris is talking about this and he doesn’t provide much detail.

The differences between white steel, blue steel, etc. used in Japanese tools.

Tamahagane “iron sand” steel – OK, this site seems a bit cheesy, but it does explain what tamahagane is, which. is really cool stuff. Chris had a small piece of it, and if I find it, I will bring it to the memorial service we WILL have when gatherings are possible.

The second chunk of footage, coming soon, includes Japanese carpentry layout information and some footage of the property itself.

Stay tuned also for a guest post by Julio Alonso, a woodworker and reader of this blog who lives in Spain, about his visits to the forges of blacksmiths Funahiro and Kiyohisa in Japan!

Thank you for stopping by The Carpentry Way.

Love to all. ~ Ilana

16 Replies to “Blast From the Past: Sharpening”

  1. Ilana, that is a treasure of a video, what a gift to you and all of us! Thank you so much for sharing! Wow.


  2. Dear Ilana,

    Thank you for sharing this video with us all.

    It made smile to see Chris in his element and to see his relaxed teaching manner and also how very engaged the course participants were.

    It is always wonderful to see knowledge being shared so that it can be passed on to each generation in turn.

    I hope that you and Ryden are well and also your family.

    Take care and all the very best.


    1. Thank you very much, Herbert. Yes, thank you for pointing out how relaxed he was and how engaged the participants were. That’s very much the way Chris was as a teacher – Although he was passionate about the work and an introvert who generally didn’t try to be the center of attention, he was often very relaxed talking about his work in front of a group because he was so focused on the subject matter and wanted to share it. It was a wonderful group of participants, some of whom he/we stayed in touch with and some of whom stayed in touch with each other. All my best to you as well, Ilana

  3. Hello. Thanks for sharing that wonderful material, watching master Chris teaching is so inspiring and full of awesome information, really appreciate it. Thanks again for let me the amazing chance towrite the guest post, it is a tremendous honour and I hope you like, I am already working on it but now I realize it is not something I can do in 5 minutes because there are a lot of things to tell and photos to select, so I beg you for a little patience 🙂 Also I am afraid there was a small confusion, and I am really sorry if I express badly, it´s true I was visiting Funahiro and that´s the guest post about, but unfortunately I had not the chance to go to kiyohisa furnace, although I have got several of his tools, I will speak about it as well.

    My best wishes and take care.

    1. Thank you very much, Julio, and take all the time you need! No pressure to rush at all. And thank you for letting me know I misunderstood about Kiyohisa’s forge. I will correct that in the post above, and I am sure that everyone will be very interested in seeing your comments and photos about Funahiro’s forge. Look forward to being in touch! All my best, Ilana

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