Robust debate is a good thing when done right. Disagreements will arise in the pursuit of knowledge!
With respect to the mathematical machining of wood, how hand planes are employed, and flat workbenches as a reference surface in your work:
– I totally agree on your description of how planes are used, Ed. Excellent.
– On whether to dimension workpieces precisely, it depends on what you’re making. Most people are going to teach that accurate stock prep is the basis for good work, and allows for faster completion of a project in all later stages of joinery. Paul certainly teaches that.
– On whether a flat workbench is useful and much used, I look at the history and the present in traditional woodworking.
As far I as can see, many famous furniture builders have dimensioned boards that are resting on well-maintained traditional workbenches. No-one would accuse James Krenov of being a machinist in wood. He was the consummate artisan. Yet he emphasizes the importance of the workbench in his training as a young man, and the importance of it in his mature work. Including flatness, I must add. Add to this, people like Chris Schwarz, Rob Cosman, David Charlesworth, Matt Estlea and his connection to formal Academic English woodworking, and the picture starts to come into focus. Working on a reliable surface, and dimensioning one’s work accurately, is the norm that I’ve learned and now practice to some extent. And yet my attitude toward wood and furniture is more aligned with James Krenov than cleverly-machined furniture design.
For what it’s worth, I practiced woodworking on a plywood-top workbench with a quick-release vice bolted to it for a while. When I finally got my big workbench into operation, it absolutely sped up my work and made more things possible in terms of the efficient use of planes. This is because I can now drop a 7’ long x 18” wide board down on it, fasten it perfectly on both ends in seconds, and dimension it as quick as you like, in any direction. And again, as soon as I rough one side, I can flip the board over and flatten my reference surface very fast indeed, because of the reliability of its support on the bench. But smaller boards also prep faster on this setup too.
Ed, I won’t debate for a second that what you’re doing works for you with what you want to build. But as far as what all these other professionals do and whether it is standard practice or unusual, their techniques and opinions are on the record.
So.. go build stuff, yes. But take a little time
to square up your stock on 4 sides initially. You’ll feel good about your work, and your work will be the finer for it. And probably simpler and faster too.