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JOEL Joel's Blog

Barry Iles 1961-2022 RIP


Barry Iles 1961-2022 RIP 1
I am very sad to report that Barry isles, managing director of Ashley Isles, brother to Ray and Tony Isles and the youngest of Ashley Iles' three sons, passed away last week at the age of 61 after a long illness.
Barry entered the business started by his father when Barry was in his early teens. His first job was sharpening carving tools on a buff. He told me his record time from picking up the tool to putting down the tool sharp was 9 seconds. He estimates that in his early years of learning the trade, sharpening tools constituted most of his work and he he must have sharpened a quarter of a million tools. That's a lot of tools. He was trained in all forms of tool manufacture and became expert in their use too. I had the opportunity to hang out with Barry several times when he would come to the United States for woodworking shows. The first smartphone I saw was probably Barry's. He had a little video of his dog doing a back flip on his phone, which was amazing on many levels. Not only was he a really fun guy to hang out with, I learned tons from him.
Barry of course did tool shows with his dad from the time he was a little kid. At our first tool show, when the rest of us were whining about the concrete floor being uncomfortable and the unpredictable waves of monotony and showtime, Barry was able to stand relaxed, alert, approachable but not over-eager. When asked for his secret, Barry just smiled and said, "Do this from the time your no older than 6 years old and you'd be able to do this too." He had an encyclopedic knowledge of tool manufacturer, very interested in not just how tools used to be made but how they could be made more efficiently. When I met him at his first US show, he brought a couple of dozen Ashley Isles bench chisels. They weren't very popular in England at the time, but he figured, Eh, why not bring some bench chisels along? We put them in on display in the booth, and we sold out in 40 minutes. This was the American start of the incredibly popular Ashley Isles bench line of chisels that we can never keep in stock.

Our exchange of information encompassed realms beyond tools. He taught me how to freehand grind, a skill that has been awesome. I have written articles, including one in 2008 for Fine Woodworking, about how to grind but my expertise is basically regurgitating stuff Barry taught me. I couldn't do justice in those articles to watching a master craftsman grind tools. Barry had a fluency with a grinder and steel that I've never seen in person before or since.

In exchange I showed Barry some of my favorite things about New York. He and Ray, who were traveling together, were not particularly sold on the big city, preferring the charms of Lincolnshire. One exception was a giant pastrami sandwich Barry enjoyed at Katz's Deli when Ray went off on his own. Barry eyed his polished clean plate and said with satisfaction, "I expect Raymond would have enjoyed that sandwich."

We will miss this kind gentleman and master craftsman. Tony Iles, also a master tool maker, is continuing managing the company with members of the Iles family and he has assured us tool making will continue.

Barry leaves behind his brothers and a tool making legacy that will be long remembered.

Join the conversation
05/21/2022 Art Kieres
Another master has left us. My favourite edge tools all bear the Isles name. What sad news.
05/21/2022 Robert C Elser
What a lovely obituary!
05/21/2022 Dennis Droege
Thanks, Joel.
05/21/2022 Daniel Burgoyne
Condolences to the family and friends of Barry.
05/21/2022 Alan Golichowski
Such sad news. No matter how much is passed on, with each passing some skill or knowledge is irretrievably lost. In that vein (and perhaps you’ve discussed this before), I have long been amazed at the Renaissance German carvings and have wondered about the steel that was available to these carvers. What is know about the alloys and their characteristics? How much time, do you think, that the apprentices spent maintaining the edges?
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