going from high finance to planemaking, Bickford has made the
transition look smooth.
It takes guts to show off the tools you're selling while
using them on a workbench that's painted pink.
But that is exactly what Matt Bickford is doing this
early spring day at a woodworking show in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. He
has a nice piece of cherry on his pink workbench and is showing how
to make an ovolo moulding with his moulding planes. As he works, he
tries to get other woodworkers to give it a try.
After working for years with trashed vintage moulding planes and
Clark & Williams versions, I contend that the moulding planes by
are an excellent combination of craftsmanship and utility.
"I am a huge proponent of learning the process and
building the skills to use that process," Bickford says. "There's a
place for these (moulding planes) in every person's shop. A lot of
people don't know what they are or how to use them. The problem is
the planes that are out there have been mishandled. Wood moves. The
irons don't match. The wood is warped."
Bickford was convinced that he could make a living
selling moulding planes. In fact, he was so convinced that he traded
life as a high-powered derivatives trader in Philadelphia to make
moulding planes full-time (and mostly by hand) in a basement shop in
a house in Haddam Neck, Conn.
That's a risky career move. In fact, some people
might say that making wooden planes in this age is even more gutsy
than working in public on a pink workbench.
The Pedigree to Make Fine Tools
Bickford didn't start out life knowing that he
wanted to become a toolmaker. He's a native of Hyde Park, N.Y., and
graduated from Yale University with a history degree. He wanted a
career in engineering or math, but he studied history because that
is what he wanted to read about. After he graduated, he started
immediately in the field of finance.
"I always liked the stock market," he says. "I liked
the markets, betting on the markets and the like."
But Bickford soon stumbled into woodworking by
accident. He met a cabinetmaker in Haddam Neck where his wife is
from and visited his shop while the guy was building a sleigh bed.
"It was really the first time I had seen how things
were made," Bickford says. "Yale has a phenomenal furniture gallery,
and it never occurred to me that work like that was going on now. I
saw his sleigh bed with the finials on top – one was done and one
was not. I realized immediately that this (woodworking) was now my
hobby, despite never having done much of anything outside Boy
Scouts. I fell in love right away."
With a simple rabbet plane and a handful of hollows and rounds,
you can make almost
any moulding. The tools are liberating, like using a proper backsaw
for the first time.
Bickford returned to Philadelphia and began doing
more projects around the house. He began spending his vacation time
in the shop of the Connecticut cabinetmaker. Before his first trip
to work there he had never seen a jointer or a planer.