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Keith Mathewson & Seattle Fine Woodworking

A “From the Road” Shop Tour

(With Keith Mathewson and Tom Brewer)

Last summer, while Tom Brewer and I were doing Roadshows in Washington state, we stopped by and visited with Keith Mathewson at his shop in Seattle. Keith specializes in custom woodworking, and he shares his shop with a few like-minded woodworkers. Everything that goes out the door of Seattle Fine Woodworking is a one-of-a-kind custom creation.

Keith Mathewson, working in his shop. (Note: Click any image to enlarge.)

Keith says, “I wanted a big shop but I didn’t want to have employees—I’ve been that route and didn’t want to repeat the experience. So I built the shop, setting it up with workstations that I could lease out. Then I went looking for guys who had skill sets that were complementary to the work I do. We pool projects and we assist each other, which actually works out well in good times and in slow times.”

While Tom and I were at Keith’s shop, not only did we get the nickel tour and a peak at a custom spiral stair that Keith was in the middle of building—one piece at a time—but we were lucky to get a few more tips on using hand tools.

Like many readers on the JLC finish carpentry forum, I owe a debt of gratitude to Keith for teaching me about hand tools and how important they are—not to collect and hang on your wall, but to learn how to use. There are countless tasks that machine-oriented carpenters face on a daily basis that can be accomplished quicker, and sometimes better, with hand tools.

As Keith said in a recent TiC article: “I think it is a shame—actually, a detriment to the craft, and to craftsmen—that the occasional use of hand tools is not more common on jobsites. Unfortunately, all of us tend to use the tools and techniques we have been exposed to, and, over the last several decades, exposure to hand tools has been reduced to the point where they are all but on the endangered species list. But they shouldn’t be.”

In another article, Keith kept up the harangue: “I think carpenters are being shortchanged today. They’re losing out on learning solutions to common problems. They’re not learning simple, fundamental techniques. And all those solutions, all those techniques, share one thing in common: hand tools. If a power miter saw is the only tool you know how to use, then the solution to every problem is a miter!

Watch this video, and step a little outside your current comfort zone. The video tour of Keith’s shop is less than fifteen minutes long, but I guarantee it will open your mind to new possibilities, which, in turn, will expand your understanding of wood. What could be better than that? (If you have a good internet connection, try the 720HD version.)


16 Responses to “Keith Mathewson & Seattle Fine Woodworking”

  1. Jesse Wright

    That video is AMAZING! that saw mark removal plane is a must have!
    Keith you are amazing at what you do.

  2. Mike Kennedy

    In woodworking, is there anything more satisfying than using really sharp tools? I really enjoyed this article. It is a pleasure watching Keith using hand tools.

  3. Josh O

    Very nice Keith. I second Jesse on the right angle plane!

    Really inspiring. I have most every tool and gadget in the book, but a SHARP chisel and block plane never leave my side on finish work –and they are the tools that often make the difference between a decent fit and an excellent fit.

    Thanks for inviting us in.

  4. Wayne

    The infomation, and the way it was presented by Keith was terrific. I, like other hobbyists struggle finding ways of doing things in the workshop. It was good re-inforcement to watch Keith use the same methods that I had ultimately arrived at through reading and trial and error etc. I’d spend a month working with someone like Keith at my own expense just to get this type of positive re-inforcement.

    Thanks for the article,

  5. Tom

    I’d still be digging out my router jig and bit in the time that Keith morticed that hinge by hand.


  6. Keith Mathewson

    Having power tools is essential, but finishing some tasks with handtools makes a difference you can see.

    There is so much good information out there today I’m sure you will do well. Here is link to some very good DVD’s

  7. Lanya LaPunta

    I don’t think that Wayne goes far enough.

    I’d pay decent dinero (not just work at my own expense) to have a month just sweeping the shop floor.

    As long as I could do that (the sweeping) at night, in order to observe the goings-on at his shop during the day.

  8. Kent Brobeck

    Keith, really nice shop brother! Wish I could have seen it in person. One of these days I’ll get out there. Keep on keep’in on!

    Gary, man, you are doing a great service to carpenters everywhere with this online publication. Just can say enough really, how much I appreciate this magizine and your imput. Keep on keep’in on!

  9. Dreamcatcher

    With the prevalence of amateurism in the field of woodworking, it’s refreshing to hear Keith’s take concerning the entirely necessary yet non-exclusive use of hand tools. Too often it seems that web forum filling hobbyist take a snarky stance against the use of power tools. Likewise, on the job site it happens that fellow tradesmen would rather run back to the truck then search for an outlet when the best solution could have been right in their tool pouches. I know there’s been several times I have been given cock-eyed looks for using a hand tool in lieu of power.

    As long as the hand tool is reasonably priced, easy to obtain, and razor sharp it is the obvious choice…. but that isn’t usually the case and that’s also part of the problem. Collectors have run the prices of used tools through the roof, Home centers and hardware stores (even pro-tool stores) don’t carry many essential hand tools or uselessly low quality tools, and keeping all your tools rust free and sharp can be a bother that most professionals in the field would rather not deal with if the alternative is simply replacing a blade or bit.

    It was a great video with several solutions I’d never been taught, never thought of, and hadn’t seen before but am really considering now. Thanks!


  10. Eric Tavitian

    Okay the right angle plane is a go. The butt depth plane is also a “must have”. Keith cuts a hinge mortise like I was taught by my dad in 1965. And he was a graduate of a guild carpentry school in Bergen Norway in the early 1950s. So I know it’s real “old school”. The only thing I don’t have is that depth plane. I made a wood taper clamp for a chisel that works but is not as refined. That collection of planes, draw knives, spoke shaves, dado planes and specialty tools is more than impressive. Someday I hope to half half of that in my shop. Until then I’ll just have to keep a hankie around to catch the drool when I think of Keith’s shop.
    So my hat is off to you Keith for showing us how it can really be done.

  11. Rob Potter

    Thanks for the shop tour and demonstrations, Keith. I admire your work and methods. Thanks for sharing and encouraging the use of hand tools. I wholeheartedly support your approach.
    I’d like to add a bit to what others have touched on in the comments. You really need to have a quality hand tool that is sharp. The Lie-Neilsons are well worth the money but an antique will do nicely if tuned up. And those tools must be sharp and stay sharp to work properly. So I’d advise anyone interested in working with hand tools to familiarize themselves with some of the different methods and equipment for sharpening. A future article perhaps?

  12. Jim Baldwin

    I recently had the opportunity to work in Keith’s shop and not only see his fine collection of hand tools for myself but actually use a few of them. It may surprise you then when I say, that Keith Mathewson is certainly no typical “collector” or some knowledgeable “connoisseur of fine antique hand tools”. No indeed, I know the type and Keith ain’t one of those. Keith is a “user” and he doesn’t give a fig whether a tool is new or old, just as long as it’s the right tool (and the best tool) for the job.

    I didn’t see any display tools hanging from the wall (strategically out of reach) or hand planes properly rusted-up with their original 19th century plane irons left unsharpened. You won’t find any original “precious patina” gingerly being preserved by a “hands off” policy or even a broken but classic keepsake.

    Keith is a carpenter who doesn’t have time for any of that nonsense. He is a “user” and if you’d like to know how to use any of Keith’s tools, just watch him and learn. That’s what I did for about a week and it was both an honor and an eyeopener.

    ’nuff said

  13. Alexander Grabovetskiy

    Where can I buy right angle bench plane ( for removing saw marks)??? Thank you very much God bless you!

  14. michael

    alexander, lie nielsen has a great right angle. i love watching keiths videos, i always am wanting more and excited to do some woodworking.

  15. J. Alvis

    Keith was gracious enough to treat me to Lunch last March as well as a tour of his Shop during a visit to Seattle. He is a true Teacher and not one for nonsense. I hope he takes some time in the near future to contribute another article.


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