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Lost Art Press: Chris Schwarz
We’ve just put up for sale the final 150 copies of “Roman Workbenches” in letterpress. This is the last time you’ll see them on our site. We’re not reprinting the letterpress book.
The book is available to both domestic and international customers.
What about the two missing lines? All the copies have been personally repaired by me or Megan Fitzpatrick. We glued in the two missing lines on paper left over from the press run.
For those of you who cannot afford the letterpress version, I am working on an expanded edition that we will print on our regular offset printing presses that should be released at the end of 2017 or the beginning of 2018.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Roman Workbenches, Uncategorized
You can now purchase a set of Crucible Design Curves in our online store at crucibletool.com. The set of three curves costs $37, and that price includes shipping in the United States.
These curves are laser cut at Grainwell, which is across the street from my workshop in Covington, Ky., and is run by three hard working and creative sisters. I then sand the curves in my shop in Fort Mitchell (using both machine sanding and hand sanding).
We started with several hundred sets and they are selling rapidly. So tarry not. (More curves, however, are in the pipeline if we do sell out.)
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Crucible Tool, Uncategorized
This is an excerpt from “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” by Christopher Schwarz.
These planes earn their name because they consist of a metal shell that has been “infilled” with wood. And they also have been “infilled” with a fair amount of mystical hooey. Don’t get me wrong, I like infill planes for what they are (well-made, beautiful and functional tools), but I haven’t chugged the infill Kool-Aid that makes one believe they have superpowers.
I can say this because I have worked with many infills during the last 12 years. I’ve used $100 pieces of clap-trap garbage and a $10,000 masterpiece from the shop of Karl Holtey (pronounced Hol-tie, FYI), the grand master of custom planemaking.
They are just planes, and they face many of the same trade-offs that the metal, wooden and transitional planes do. Wood moves. Metal can be difficult to work.
So here are their advantages: They have a metal sole that may or may not need truing when you get the tool. After the sole has been flattened, it rarely goes out of true unless the tool is dropped, run over by an automobile, or the wooden infill inside the shell distorts the metal significantly when the wood moves.
Infills have scads of mass, which some woodworkers prefer. The weight really can keep the plane in the cut with less effort. Most infill planes have a screw-powered lever cap (though some infills secure the iron with a wedge). The screw-powered lever cap is both an advantage and a disadvantage. Its advantage is that you can screw down the iron with almost superhuman force. This creates a stable cutting environment and can close up a slight gap between your iron and chipbreaker that would spell curtains for other types of planes.
It also can make your plane’s iron difficult to adjust or – in some cases – be plane suicide. Most infill planes lack mechanical adjusters that control the depth of cut – you use hammer taps. However, infills that have adjusters use a mechanism that’s usually called a “Norris-style” adjuster. These are sometimes, but not always, fragile.
So if you cinch down your lever cap with lots of force then adjust the iron, you will wear out the adjuster quite quickly, and perhaps even strip the threads.
One of the other advantages of infill planes is hard to quantify. Most woodworkers (me included) find them fetching. So as a rule they are better cared for (like a sports car) and rarely abandoned to rust (like a Vega).
The disadvantages of infills are real. Because the iron is bedded on both metal and wood, you can encounter some problems with this marriage of materials. The metal won’t move, but the wood will. The result is the iron won’t be bedded securely, so you get chatter or inconsistent results until you file the bed flat.
Also, be wary of new infills that are filled with exotic wood. Exotics are notoriously hard to dry properly. And if your infill isn’t dry it could distort or crack as it acclimates to your shop. Always ask the seller or the maker about the moisture content of the wood. If he or she is not sure, you should be on your guard for possible problems ahead.
Infills don’t have movable frogs, and I know of only one infill that has an adjustable mouth. As a result, the mouth aperture is fairly immutable. You can open the mouth with a file. But to close up the mouth, you are going to have to invest in a thicker, custom-made iron or in a welding class to patch the mouth.
— Meghan Bates
Filed under: The Anarchist's Tool Chest
Jennie Alexander was born John Alexander on Dec. 8, 1930. She has lived in row houses her entire life, and their vernacular architecture defines, in part, not only the city she has always called home, but also a more intimate part of herself.
A lifelong Baltimorean, Jennie was educated in the Baltimore school systems, which were quite good, she says. “I was a lonely child. I had a very, very busy father and my mother was rather reserved — a good mother, but rather reserved. After 32 years of AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) I have come to recognize that they did the best they could. And I’m starting to recognize that I’m doing the best I can, rather than reaching further, further, further.”
Those who know Jennie consider her a pioneer, instrumental in designing the now-iconic two-slat post-and-rung shaved chair, and responsible for the revolution of “greenwoodworking” (a word she coined, and spelled as one word, she insists, because “it sings.”). Her complex, twisty past in many ways resembles the sinuous shavings that once hooked over her right ear (one of her favorite stories, more on that later), and is essential to understanding how a jazz musician turned divorce lawyer became one of the most beloved chairmakers of our time.
And at 86 years old, Jennie wants to share her story – all of it.
“I had a sister, but we weren’t close,” Jennie says, delving into her childhood while drinking a hot cup of Throat Coat tea. “I was intelligent. I was anxious. I was inquiring. I read out the local library. I was a child of the alleys. There was a park also fairly close by where I could romp. I was a great walker.”
The Alexanders’ maid, Maggie, was Jennie’s “most interesting influence,” and it was Maggie who Jennie was around most as a child. “She knew children and we got along very well,” Jennie says. “I can remember her sitting me on the window sill of the second floor and holding me firmly, singing to me to teach me to climb without fear, to teach me tone. Songs were powerful spirits.”
Jennie’s father, a well-known lawyer, was an anxious man, she says. “My father and I never got along. He knew that when I was a child I wasn’t going to be manly, because I was little. And he sent me to the greatest doctors at Johns Hopkins. As a result, they hung a swing set in the passageway between the kitchen and dining room, and I was supposed to swing on it and stretch.”
This, Jennie says, led to lifelong anxiety and feelings of isolation.
“My mother wasn’t exactly touchy-feely. She was a good mother, and by the way, they both did the best they could, 100 percent. But that led to a lot of these incidents that got me to where I went.”
The incidents Jennie is referring to come later in her story – mostly key people in her life that prompted transformation, including a psychologist, Charles Hummel and Peter Follansbee.
Kindnesses and Recognizing ‘the Flash’
Jennie spent her childhood pounding away at the piano and later became a self-taught jazz musician who played professionally. “I enjoyed that very much, and I met some wonderful people,” she says. “I grew up in the time when New Orleans jazz was being revived and at the same time be-bop was being created. And it was very interesting that the two groups coincided. In other words, they knew each other. They hung out together. We got together and had a good time.”
One of the more well-known jazz musicians at the time was a man named Benny, who Jennie said was very active on the be-bop side, when not in jail. The two never met until many years later, when Jennie was transitioning from male to female. It was 2007. The last job Jennie ever played as a male was with Benny on drums. The two were part of a trio playing at one of Jennie’s alma maters, St. John’s College.
“It was a wonderful job,” Jennie says. “I had driven Benny down from Baltimore and we drove back and I said, ‘Benny, would you like dinner?’ And he said, ‘Sure.’ And so I went upstairs, came back as a female and we went to dinner. We had a very pleasant dinner. He is just a nice, gentle person with a wonderful beat, by the way. And two-thirds of the way into dinner Benny looked and me and said, ‘John! You’ve really changed!’ And that was the nicest, from-the-heart little thing.”
Nothing more was said, and the two finished dinner. “It speaks to jazz, friendship and kindness,” Jennie says. “And those are such wonderful, wonderful aspects of life that I enjoy and, of course, friendship and kindness have much to do with woodworking, too.”
These days Jennie loves when a stranger calls, writes or visits, and she can tell that they’ve shaved wood and they know what that experience is like. “You can see it in their eyes,” she says, describing it as a flash. “It’s incredible. The beauty of that for me is this was given to me, greenwoodworking. And therefore my calling is to give it back. So if they call, I listen. I answer. I think. I’m willing to be called again. There is a spirit of shaving wood that fills a place in me that otherwise is not filled as a person, as a thinker, as a human being. It was given to me, so I give it back.”
Jennie has kept regular files of folks who have contacted her and responses, and every year a few stand out. “They become correspondents, students, critics, adventurers, and it’s such a blessing that that and music has sustained me,” she says.
Woodworking, never mind greenwoodworking, did not define Jennie until later in life. But the seed was always there.
From Student to Jazz Musician to Divorce Lawyer
As a teenager Jennie spent a lot of time taking down dead locust trees on her father’s country property. To do so, she would scrape out some dirt around the trees’ shallow roots and then simply push the trees down. “The problem,” she says, laughing, “you’ve got dead locust limbs up there. And we kids, we didn’t even have helmets on. Absolutely nuts. When we’d hear a crack, we’d run. And so we got the trees down, and I had a little experience with them.”
With both parents working, Jennie’s mother often left Jennie a to-do list, with the freedom to pick up any needed tools from Boulevard Hardware. Jennie says her mother told the owner, “If Johnny comes in and wants anything, you provide him with the best.” What Jennie’s mother didn’t say was that, as a child in Quincy, Mass., she was a student of the Educational Sloyd System, which provided training in the use of tools and materials, and, Jennie says, focused on proportion work.
“So Mother knew a little about wood and grain and so on, and she also had a post-and-rung rocking chair,” Jennie says. “But she never told me when I was growing up or when I was woodworking that I was doing it wrong or anything. Except that she told the hardware man to furnish me with any tool I needed.”
Jennie attended high school at Baltimore City Polytechnic Institute, which specialized in engineering. After graduating she enrolled at Johns Hopkins University as a sophomore to study engineering and was immediately bored. She says the only difference between college and high school at that point was they were teaching to four decimal points rather than two, so she had to get a better slide rule.
Jennie began singing and playing the piano in bars at night, and eventually dropped out of Johns Hopkins and worked for a while. She then attended St. John’s College in Annapolis, a participant in its “100 Great Books” program.
“I learned a lot, but not as much as I should have because in those four years, three of them were consumed with my relationship with Harlan James,” Jennie says. “He was a much better musician than I, but we were both students of traditional jazz, and we played duets for three years. He’s still in his 80s playing professionally in New York.”
After St. John’s Jennie began playing jazz professionally, up to five days a week, making a living. “But one morning I wake up and I have this hideous problem,” she says. “I’m not happy because I know that I’m a self-taught musician. And though I have worked things out – now I can play rather well, and in the style of traditional New Orleans music or blues – I know I’m never going to be a great musician.”
This, she says, was because she didn’t have the real fluidity of playing tone – improvisation. “I can do it, but I’m not free of it because I don’t have that much command, you see, of the keys and of the chords. And that’s very typical of self-taught musicians. Some of them go on to train themselves but that’s not going to happen with me, I know that. So I would love to be a musician but I want to be a very good musician and I’m close, but I won’t make it unless I study, and study isn’t in me for some reason.”
And then, while lying in bed another morning, Jennie hears a voice.
“Go to law school,” the voice said. “And I knew exactly who that voice was. The voice as the voice of Snowball, the imaginary voice of a banjo player who had played on local AM radio in Baltimore when I was 8, 10 years old – ‘Uncle Bill and Snowball.’ Snowball has come back, buried in me. So what do I do? I get up, eat breakfast, put on my best suit and walk to the law school. The University of Maryland is within walking distance.”
Jennie simply walked inside and asked, “May I see the dean?” The receptionist said yes.
“And the dean is an old gentleman, wearing the old library coat sometimes professors wore to keep their suits from getting dusty from books,” she says. “And he’s a Southern gentleman. And he says, ‘From what you tell me you graduated from Polytechnic Institute and from what you tell me you graduated from the Annapolis liberal arts schools, St. John’s. Those are excellent places to learn. You’re admitted.’ No background. No records. Nothing from other schools. And so on that day, probably the 12th of August, just before law school was starting, that’s what happened. Snowball and the dean sent me to law school.”
Jennie took night classes so she wouldn’t be tempted to play music. For each hour of class, she studied an hour, and at the end, came in first in the Maryland bar exam. “But that was also because of the approach I took,” she said.
Years before Jennie had spent a year working in her father’s law office. As a result, she answered her exam questions as if she was working back in that law office – if she didn’t know the answer, she said she didn’t know. “And the law examiner, he probably gave me an 8 or a 9 out of 10. He said, ‘You know, I like this kid because he doesn’t bullshit me. He doesn’t guess. Because when he’s going to work for me and gives me a guess, I’m dead.’ And I had figured that out working in my father’s office for a year. And that’s why I came in first.” That honesty extended into Jennie’s law career, and served her well.
To imagine Jennie as a lawyer, imagine her as she appeared in a magazine article that featured Maryland’s five best divorce lawyers: a 5’3” male wearing a three-piece suit with a vest, what she calls “Methodist minister’s shoes,” with little dots around them, and a red, white-dotted bowtie.
While being interviewed for that article, by the way, Jennie refused to share details about some of her more interesting cases. The journalist persisted but Jennie stood her ground, so as not to out and shame her clients. The journalist left and Jennie assumed she would be featured poorly. But she wasn’t. Twenty-five years later Jennie says she reread the article and realized love in a place she hadn’t seen it before. “I realized love appears in many, many, many places,” she says. “And it appears for me, also, when I’m shaving green wood. And in a piece of greenwoodworking.”
Like the sinuous fibers in a thin shaving, Jennie has come to realize that all of her experiences relate tenuously yet meaningfully, in a way that’s difficult to see until you reach the age of 86.
It was while lawyering that Jennie became interested in woodworking. By then Jennie, then John, was married to Joyce. “Joyce,” Jennie says, “my wife of years and years and years, who is now deceased, and a total sweet, blessed antidote to this very fast, very nervous, very jazzy, very anxious person.”
Jennie was reading books on woodworking and chairmaking, and had collected some tools. Her neighbor, Jack Goembel, let her use his shop. Later another woodworking friend, when he decided to stop woodworking to become a mail carrier, sold her his lathe, band saw and drill press. It was the first loan Jennie and Joyce ever took out and it was with Joyce’s insistence. “It was just so beautiful,” Jennie says.
Jennie and Joyce made several trips to Sabbathday Lake Shaker Community, where they met Sister Mildred. The first visit was to see the chairs. Sister Mildred said, “You know, it’s interesting. People think we’re chairs.” They visited a couple more times (to see the chairs, yes, but to also learn about the Shakers). Soon, Jennie decided that she wanted to build a Shaker one-slat dining chair.
Once home Jennie called a firewood man she found in the phone book and asked if he could deliver some 6’ hickory logs. He could, and did, and when he dropped them on the pavement out back, the whole house trembled.
Without a froe Jennie says she whacked them up into a somewhat cylindrical shape and put them on the lathe.
“Now the lathe had a 2-horsepower motor and the sticks were, let’s say, 4” in diameter and all bumpy and irregular,” she says. “The lathe danced across the cellar floor because of the lack of symmetry. So I danced along with them. And then, finally, I got down to the sapwood – and by the way, the wood is soaking wet, which is the other requirement I needed – and the sinuous shavings keep flying through the air and hooking on my right ear. They come off the gouge, hit my right ear and they’re soaking wet. I tell myself I will never go back to the lumberyard. That was my moment.”
And with that, Jennie made her first, rather clunky, she says, one-slat Shaker dining chair.
“I’m John, practicing lawyer, busier than the dickens, full of himself, and by the way I was a divorce trial lawyer, not just a settler,” she says, “which is about the worst profession for a human being that can be.” John spent a lot of his time listening to clients in crisis. Though successful, lawyering never had the flash that woodworking did.
It was around this time that Jennie became a member of the Early American Industries Association (EAIA). At an early meeting she met Charles Hummel, a curator at Winterthur. Charles was Jennie’s introduction to the academic side of woodworking.
Remember when Jennie was talking about that flash? Charles, she says, saw that flash in Jennie. “And his response was to show me, but never explain it,” she says.
Charles was often invited to museums a day before EAIA meetings to discuss complicated issues with staff regarding furniture and tools.
“Charles would often say, ‘John, would you like to go with me?’ And off we would go,” Jennie says. “So I would get exposed to the museum people, their problems, and the professional students. And I would get to listen. And some of these conversations took place down in what they call the Study Collection. Oh my goodness gracious. Here I am with my eyes popping, listening with one ear while looking at everything around me. And, of course, the beauty of what I’m looking at down there is it’s often broken up. And I’m a fiend for traditional joinery. And they were very generous, instructed me, gave me slides and all the information I needed.”
Charles knew what Jennie wanted to see and often, while walking around with a docent, Charles would purposefully lead the docent away, from, for example, a chair that interested Jennie. And while they’d be engaged in conversation, Jennie would be under the chair to get a better look.
“It was incredible,” she says. “We laughed together and we were very personable and I’m still dear friends with he and his wife and oodles of people because they, how should I put it? They loved me before I loved myself. And they treasured me. They sensed this little flame, you see, because they had this little flame. And sometimes, it was very interesting, it turned out I learned a little more about these things than they did. Particularly the construction.”
Jennie became an expert and her study of antique furniture grew into hours spent experimenting with theories on joinery. She decided to write a book (which later would be published as the revolutionary “Make a Chair from a Tree,” in 1978 by Taunton Press, and then later in 1999 in DVD form, directed by Anatol Polillo, a professional videographer and a former student).
However, just as the book was almost complete, yet another twist.
Inspiring a Movement
Jennie was slated to demonstrate at an EAIA event. A week before the event she got a call. “Oh, Mr. Alexander,” the caller said. “We’re terribly sorry but you can’t demonstrate.”
“Why is that?” Jennie asked.
“It’s because you’re using a lathe in front of an audience and we were told by the insurance people that if the spindle flies out into the audience and perhaps injures someone …”
Jennie was devastated.
“I’m down in the basement kicking and cussing and Joyce is upstairs,” Jennie says.
“John?” Joyce says. “Would you like a cup of tea?”
Jennie says she went upstairs, the perfect picture of despair. After Jennie sips some tea Joyce says, “Look. You cut down a tree.Then you take your wedges and your mallet and you split it up. And then you split it into smaller pieces. And then you drawknife and you make a rather good cylindrical piece of wood because now you know how to do all that, not like before. So why don’t you just keep going and shave the entire chair?”
And Jennie did.
And when she returned from the EAIA meeting, she brought with her the shaved chair parts, and made her first entirely shaved two-slat post-and-rung chair.
Once finished, the publication of “Make a Chair from a Tree” was one-and-a-half months away. John Kelsey, then the editor of Fine Woodworking, at Jennie’s request, removed all references to the lathe and the reader was presented with a book about a shaved two-slat post-and-rung chair.
“Give them a mallet, give them a wedge, pay them a lot of attention, give them a froe, fine split it, give them a drawknife, give them a spokeshave, and they’ve got a chair,” she says.
By now it was 1978. “And I keep teaching and teaching and teaching and traveling there and traveling elsewhere,” she says. “So the shaving, really, made the existence of the post-and-rung chair a reality in this country.” People from all over the country were becoming more interested in hand tools, traditional woodworking, greenwoodworking and chairmaking. Jennie’s classes at Country Workshops in North Carolina were filled with experts in the field of traditional furniture, folks like Robert Trent.
And Jennie says, over and over, that it was thanks to Joyce, and a cup of tea.
In addition to the traveling, teaching, demonstrating and chairmaking, Jennie was still visiting her beloved museums. And eventually, she was given permission to carefully disassemble the door of an unusual wall cabinet, which was located in Winterthur’s Study Collection. So she popped out the pins of the drawbored mortise-and-tenon joint and, “It was fascinating,” she says. “Totally fascinating and a large tribute to an incredible piece of joinery. Here I am, this divorce lawyer (and I think I might have been diddling with gin still then, which led to a 32-year career with AA, which has been a wonderful journey) and I take this thing apart and it’s unbelievable. There is no literature on this. There is no written thing to my knowledge of anybody describing the joint.”
“The museum people are fascinated by 17th-century woodworking so much that they want to distribute it and show it to the world,” Jennie says. “And so what they do is they glue it together. It’s creaky, it’s bumpy, so it’s bye-bye joint.” Most academics were more interested in who made the furniture and where it was from versus how it was constructed, Jennie says. “And then they met this untutored person, who now they’re quite familiar with, and they let me go down there and take the sucker apart.”
Another story: One day Charles took Jennie up to a little room filled with 17th century items upstairs at Winterthur. They come upon a chest covered with a rug. And on top of the rug, about $25,000 worth of trinkets — a small cup, a little brass spoon, etc.
“And Charles – I’ll never forget this scene – takes his necktie, droops it over each little item, holds it to the necktie and carries it to the top of the next chest so he can open this one,” Jennie says. “Not saying a word! And so I figured if Charles is not saying a word, I’ll shut up, which is rare for me.”
After all the trinkets were carefully removed, Charles threw open the chest.
“He doesn’t say a damn word,” Jennie says. “And this chest has two back posts, which are both terrible looking. They have knots. They have hatchet slashes. So there I am staring at these two back posts and all of a sudden it strikes me that these two posts are the faded, scratched mirror image of each other. That is if one has a bump, the other has a crevice. In other words, these two posts were rived. They were split.”
At this point Jennie was teaching at Drew Langsner’s Country Workshops. Drew and his wife, Louise, were instrumental in Jennie’s evolution as a chairmaker, particularly in the support they offered by providing a place for Jennie to teach, and bringing in students from all over the world which still, to this day, amazes Jennie.
While Jennie was teaching at Country Workshops, Peter was taking classes.
And the two, as Jennie says, “just hit it off.” They would often talk about joinery, these majestic chests made out of rived wood and the disassembled drawbored mortise-and-tenon joint Jennie discovered at Winterthur. And, as this was before computers, they would look at slides.
While Peter says he saw the slides of the disassembled cupboard door at Country Workshops, Jennie insists it was at her house, in Baltimore. But the where doesn’t matter. What matters is the resulting six books of correspondence sitting in three-ring binders upstairs in Jennie’s row house – page after page of ideas, arguments, drawings and questions between Peter and Jennie, which ultimately resulted in an article on the construction of 17th-century mortise-and-tenon joinery and “Make a Joint Stool from a Tree” (Lost Art Press).
Jennie describes it as a “wonderful explosion” and says Peter simply rocketed off. “It was just incredible to watch,” she says. And while Peter “zoomed off into space,” Jennie says, she, “somehow for some reason or another, said, it’s time to go back to making two-slat post-and-rung chairs. And that’s what I’ve done since.”
And she’s done so, “realizing with gratitude the kindnesses to a very precocious, young, unstudied man, from the academics and also from the really accomplished joiners in North Carolina and New England, Maine and Delaware. And it has been a tremendous blessing. A tremendous blessing.”
And Jennie’s comfortable with having stuck to two-slat post-and-rung chairs. (Her health is such that she no longer builds them today.) Many consider her design, which is not from an artist’s or designer’s perspective, she says, but rather a nod to the lumbar spine, the body, perfection.
Despite being responsible for revolutionizing the world of chairmaking, Jennie says “the wonderful thing about this is it has so little to do with me. It’s almost as I’ve been led step by step by step. It was like someone was pulling me by my nose – here we go, you little funny man with the hat.”
Mentorship and Happy Incidents
So who is Jennie today?
“First of all, I’m much, much better,” she says. “At 77 years of age it was suggested that I transgendered by my wonderful therapist who I see every fall when I get depressed.” In the fall of 2007 Jennie visited her therapist, as she does every year, and Jennie shared her “old sad stories with no new data.” The therapist listened, looked at her and simply said, “Are you ready to be a woman?”
“Now, obviously, I had a lot of indications along the way that I wasn’t exactly the full, red-blooded male, but I had never really considered it,” Jennie says. “My wife had died, god bless her, in ’96, my children (Jennie has three daughters) were up in age. I had never even thought about it. And she says, ‘Are you ready to be a woman?’ Seven words. I said, ‘Certainly!’ So we laid out a little course.”
And while transgendering helped Jennie, woodworking, she says, has always been the ultimate cure to years of anxiety and feelings of isolation. “That’s the place where I can be myself,” she says. “That was where I could express my creativity.”
Woodworking, and also playing music. If Jennie could be summed up in two words, it would be “greenwoodworker” and “musician.”
And, I would add, mentor.
Jennie talks a lot about the kindnesses that she has been given, the happy accidents and run-ins and introductions that have led to new discoveries, opportunities and lifelong friends. But in addition to the many students she has taught and corresponded with over the years, several stick out, including Evangelos Courpas, Nathaniel Krause and, of course, Peter.
Jennie taught Peter greendwoodworking, chairmaking, and introduced him to 17th century joinery. “He and I were co-apprentices, whatever that would be, for quite a while, all the way through the stool book,” Jennie says. “And we wrote back and forth and it was a most exciting time. And then he was just rocketing off in space and he is No. 1. He is a better carver. He is a better craftsman. There is no question about that. So I went back to making two-slat post-and-rung chairs, which is really where I belonged for a lot of reasons.”
Evangelos, who Jennie calls Geli, was born in Baltimore in 1960. He was 13 years old when he began a five-year informal apprenticeship in greenwoodworking with Jennie, which took place during the period Jennie was writing “Make a Chair from a Tree.”
Geli lived a few doors down the street from Jennie, and simply began hanging around Jennie’s shop. Eventually Jennie gave him a key. “The interesting thing was, and I don’t know why this ever happened, but I never told him anything,” Jennie says. “I never used words. He watched, you know I might go a little slower on something I was doing, and he watched and he watched and he watched. And after a long time I went to the basement one more morning and there was Geli, putting his chair together. He must have been doing this in the early mornings because I had never seen him making one. At this point, he was shaving rungs for me, or so I thought. And here was a darn, daggone chair. And I’ll never forget the shy, little smile on his face. He was making his first chair.”
But what Jennie found most interesting about Geli’s chair was that it wasn’t a copy. Geli’s back post-and-rung slats, which Jennie says are the most dramatic thing about her chairs, had been shaved just a little bit differently. “He had come up with a feeling for the back posts, which was his,” she says. “You could tell a Geli chair.”
After graduating with a studio art degree from Oberlin College in 1984, Geli began making art and furniture. He spent years building and creating, while also earning more degrees in things like ceramics and electronic integrated arts. In 2013, Jennie gifted Geli tools and a workbench, and since then Geli has gone back to his roots, opening up a woodworking studio in Liberty, S.C.
And then there’s Nathaniel Krause. When Nathaniel was a young teenager, Jennie received a phone call from a school in West Virginia where she was slated to teach a chairmaking class. “Mr. Alexander?” the caller said. “We have a young man here would like to take your chairmaking class and he’s a very nice young man.” He was a young teenager. Jennie said, “Certainly.”
It was clear from the start that Nathaniel was a good student. At one point, when the students were up to their hips in shavings, Nathaniel, who had finished all his parts, simply picked up a broom and started sweeping – something Jennie still remembers to this day.
When Nathaniel’s parents came to pick him up from that class, Jennie shaved and put on a clean shirt. She explained to his parents the importance of the youth in America being involved in traditional woodworking. “They seemed impressed,” Jennie says.
“And so Nathaniel expressed an interest to come to Baltimore in the summer and would you believe his parents drove him from West Virginia and he stayed six weeks, maybe eight weeks,” Jennie says. “And then he started to learn all kinds of things because I was playing with joint stools then, and joinery and chairmaking. And we just had a whale of a time. He is an excellent craftsman.”
The next summer, Nathaniel took the train to Baltimore and again, spent six weeks with Jennie. The summer after that, Nathaniel had his driver’s license and drove to Baltimore for another six weeks.
Nathaniel earned a civil engineering degree from West Virginia University and a masters in civil engineering from Virginia Tech. These days he’s an engineer in Baltimore City Department of Public Works’ Office of Compliance and Laboratories (and was recently named the 2017 Young Engineer of the Year by the Engineering Society of Baltimore).
Once Nathaniel stopped spending his summers with Jennie, for the next 10 years Jennie would still call him, asking him where a tool was – and Nathaniel would tell her. They still have dinner together most Thursday nights.
Jennie’s love of greenwoodworking is infectious. Another example: Jennie still lives at home, alone, and it was suggested that someone visit her five days a week to check on her and provide assistance when needed. Enter Jennie Boyd. In addition to helping Jennie Alexander with daily tasks, Jennie Alexander has been teaching Jennie Boyd greenwoodworking, which Jennie Boyd has fallen in love with – specifically spoon carving. Without much effort, Jennie Alexander has sparked the flash in yet someone else.
In many ways, Jennie attributes her success to others, and “happy incidents.” But the story of her life clearly paints a different picture. It’s the story of an intelligent, anxiety-ridden child who fell in love with music, put herself through law school, immersed herself into the world of traditional woodworking, revitalized shaved chairmaking, coined “greenwoodworking” and “two-slat shaved post-and-rung chair,” mentored many, and rediscovered herself at 77.
“I couldn’t be more fortunate,” she says. “I’m going to die happy, not unfulfilled.”
To end, “You Are My Sunshine,” sung and played on the piano by Jennie, as part of the Baltimore Jazz Trio. You may listen to it here.https://lostartpress.files.wordpress.com/2017/05/sunshine.mp3
— Kara Gebhart Uhl
Filed under: Make a Joint Stool from a Tree, Uncategorized
You can now purchase our poster of the H.O. Studley tool cabinet for $20. That price includes shipping anywhere in the United States and Canada.
Our poster features an image of the cabinet taken by Narayan Nayar, the photographer for the book “Virtuoso: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of H.O. Studley.” The 13” x 19” poster is printed in the United States on 80 lb. recycled stock with a matte coating and ships in a rigid tube.
Note that Canadian orders will be delayed by a week or so as we get our inventory transferred to the warehouse in Ontario. We hope to offer this poster to our other retailers, but we don’t have any more information on that just yet.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Uncategorized, Virtuoso: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of Henry O. Studley
Several years ago I picked up this little tool at an antique store. It works great for tracing shapes accurately. I had quite a few questions today about it, and I don’t know what it is called or if it can still be purchased. If anyone can identify this thing or where one could be bought please comment.
— Will Myers
Filed under: Uncategorized
Dreary days tend to make me dreary; it’s like I never fully wake up. Today has been one of the best rainy days I have ever had, fully awake and hitting on all cylinders.
I am visiting Hancock Shaker Village working on documenting several more pieces in their collection. Since my last visit, about 200 items that had been in a traveling exhibit the past few years have returned.
So, I have spent the entire day hidden away in the Brick Dwelling measuring and photographing some of my favorite furniture. It has been absolutely wonderful.
— Will Myers
Filed under: Uncategorized
We will have both Improved Pattern Dividers and Design Curves for sale in Crucible’s online store at noon Eastern time on Thursday, May 25.
Why are we waiting until Thursday? I’m still traveling after Handworks in Amana, Iowa. I decided to take a couple days off to see friends and clear my head after the last few months of grinding work to prepare for this fantastic show.
All of the tools are in the back of the trailer, which is parked on the prairie somewhere.
On Tuesday, I will drop these tools off at our warehouse in Indianapolis in the late afternoon. The warehouse employees will make a final count and return them to stock on Wednesday. So Thursday is the earliest we can make them available to you.
Thanks for your patience, and I hope everybody who wants one of these tools will be able to purchase them on Thursday.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Crucible Tool, Uncategorized
“While publications of the 1930s and 40s explored the origins of design, principles of construction and the materials employed, it was not until the 1970s that the joinery of such furniture was discussed in print. In a developing field where scholars and art historians were puzzling over dating, types, functions and materials this neglect is understandable. In addition, there lurks the suspicion that learned investigators, accustomed to intellectual pursuits, found the exploration of furniture making unbefitting to their station. Undoubtedly, ladies and gentleman at work on paintings or jades cut a more poetic and elegant picture than those sprawled below tables or chairs.”
– Grace Wu Bruce, a noted expert and dealer specializing in Ming and Qing Dynasty furniture was commenting specifically on the dearth of information on the joinery of Chinese furniture.
I think there are parallels in the study of Western furniture styles and the availabilty of information on joinery. Scholarship and publications on furniture styles often focused on classifying when a piece was made, where it was made, what woods were used and who was the maker. How the furniture was made, if investigated, was not always published.
In the last forty years or so finding out “the how” has become easier as woodworkers took on the task of researching and replicating historical furniture styles. In their research they opened up a world of variations in methods and tools. Publications that were previously limited to one language or one continent were made available to all readers and makers. Pushing these efforts along was the expansion of online resources and the use of blogs to document research and experiments in making furniture.
However, not everyone is conducting research for an article or a book. We still need those curious and intrepid souls who enjoy exploring out-of-the-way shops and regional museums and know how to charm their way into taking a closer look at that one piece that has caught their eye. If need be, they are perfectly willing to sprawl on the floor and get a bit dusty.
Filed under: Uncategorized
This is an excerpt from “Virtuoso: The Top Cabinet and Workbench of Henry O. Studley” by Donald C. Williams, photographs by Narayan Nayar.
Studley married Abbie Stetson of Washington Street in Quincy on Feb. 10, 1870. The details of their meeting and courtship are not known. He was 31 and she 25 at the time of their wedding, and their marriage lasted almost 50 years until her death in 1919.
The picture of prosperity for Studley’s family is unclear, but the same cannot be said of the Stetsons. Abbie’s father, David B. Stetson, was a prosperous merchant, with his fortune founded on a successful eponymous shoe factory in nearby Weymouth and at least one retail store in Quincy. He began as a very young man with a door-to-door shoe cart and eventually expanded every aspect of his enterprise to produce a stylish and sought-after line of footwear.
When David Stetson died 1894, his obituary asserts that “he had amassed a comfortable fortune.”*
The Stetson household was strongly anti-slavery; David Stetson was an original member of the Republican Party and devout in his regular attendance to the local Congregational church.
Apparently he instilled his four children with a sense of business and financial acumen that they practiced throughout their lives. At the time of his death, it was younger daughter, Ella, who managed the family business, considered to be one of the foremost shoe and boot purveyors in the Boston area. Brother Warren Stetson managed the shoe and boot manufactory, while brother Arthur Stetson was owner of a successful printing company specializing in artistic press-work. Abbie was by then married to Henry Studley, and was clearly an active partner in the couple’s growing real estate empire.
In short, both the Studley and Stetson families were diligent, hardworking, talented and successful clans. As their marriage began in 1870, Abbie was already accustomed to financial success through observing and working with her father.
We might think that the person who created this magnificent tool ensemble and the accompanying workbench was someone consumed by developing and honing this particular skill set to the exclusion of everything else and thus had no other outside interests. That Studley was committed to the practice of craftsmanship at the very highest level is beyond question, however, the intensity of his financial interests and activities outside the workshop were also fundamental parts of his life. The public record of the Studleys’ real estate transactions in particular is truly impressive. The fact that Henry was on the board of directors of a local bank for three decades certainly adds complexity to the tale and sparks a great deal of speculative reflection on the role of the tool cabinet in his life.
While we may be reduced to informed speculation about Henry Studley’s training, skills and woodworking accomplishments, we are not uninformed about what he and his wife were up to in their private finances, thanks to the tireless research of retired history professor John Cashman, who contributed greatly to the scope of this account. The Norfolk County Registry of Deeds records Abbie being a signatory to at least 342 real estate transactions during a roughly 25-year period. During the same period, Henry’s name appears as a signatory on at least another 80 transactions.
At first I wondered about this disparity in the public records, but when Cashman found the obituary noting Studley’s three decades of membership on the Quincy Cooperative Bank’s board of directors, an obvious conclusion to me was that his fiduciary responsibilities and regulatory restrictions curtailed his direct real estate investments as a matter of law. Further, as Cashman pointed out, Abbie’s aggressive real estate activities commenced soon after her father’s death, and perhaps with the infusion of liquid assets from his estate. In the model of a very modern power couple, Henry filled the “sitting on the board of the bank” role while Abbie did the buying and private lending.
Abbie’s will and probate records from 1919 paint a fascinating picture of her not as the wife of a prominent and superbly skilled craftsman, but rather almost as a partner in a real estate conglomerate. Even though her probate records state that she owned no real estate outright at the time of her death, the listing of assets being probated is noteworthy. Among them are almost 80 mortgages she held in her own name with a stated worth of $55,504.74. Not a huge fortune, but neither was it a paltry portfolio. Depending on which calculation model is used, Abbie’s estate would be worth between $750,000 to several million dollars in today’s economy (2014).
She and Henry had no children.
Sadly, the home where Studley lived his last 50 years is long gone, replaced by the new wing of the stone H.H. Richardson-designed Thomas Crane Public Library, but I have stood on the sidewalk where he walked for that half-century.
— Meghan Bates
Filed under: Virtuoso: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of Henry O. Studley
April March showers bring May April flowers.
Despite sharing a border with Canada, Ohio has a relatively mild climate, and spring usually arrives early. By April, all of the trees are at least beginning to leaf out. One of the earliest here is the yellow buckeye (Aesculus flava). Its digitate leaves unfurl at a time when most of the other trees are still in bud:
The flowers appear later in the month, in erect clusters:
Yellow buckeye occurs only in the southern portion of the state, mostly along the Ohio River. Brutus Buckeye, on the other hand, is the nut of an Ohio buckeye (Aesculus glabra). The leaves are very similar, and the flowers have the same general structure but different proportions:
The bark of yellow buckeye is fairly smooth, with a sort of gravelly texture:
Both buckeyes are generally found close to water.
A well-known flowering tree that blooms in April is flowering dogwood (Cornus florida). Most people recognize the four large white bracts that surround each cluster of flowers, but few notice the tiny yellow-green flowers themselves:
An unusual subtropical species that occurs as an understory tree in southern Ohio is the pawpaw (Asimina triloba). Its flowers are maroon/brown, hang straight down, and have a scent reminiscent of rotting flesh:
Given their aroma, it’s not surprising that pawpaws are pollinated by flies.
The pawpaw is the host plant for the zebra swallowtail (Protographium marcellus):
And, for no other reason than that I had my camera in hand when I saw them together, here are three different swallowtails; the top one is an eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus), and the middle one is a spicebush swallowtail (Papilio troilus):
A tree that any woodworker can appreciate is black cherry (Prunus serotina). Its flowers are distinctive:
Another sign of black cherry is the presence of eastern tent caterpillar (Malacosoma americanum) nests:
Black cherry appears to be their favorite food, although they are occasionally found on apples as well.
Rounding out the commonly occurring conifers in this neck of the woods is eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), easily recognized by its short needles and small cones:
Eastern hemlock occurs in the eastern half of Ohio; the trees are found almost exclusively on north-facing slopes and in deep, cool ravines.
Since the leaves have finally arrived, let’s look at them in more detail. First up are the maples. Red maple (Acer rubrum) leaves have irregularly toothed edges, and red petioles (leaf stems):
Silver maple (Acer saccharinum) is likewise heavily toothed, and the petioles are usually green, but may be red as well:
The keys to distinguishing the two species are:
- The sinuses (spaces between the lobes) in red maple are V-shaped, while those of silver maple are U-shaped.
- The center lobe of the silver maple leaf is longer than half the overall length of the leaf, while that of the red maple is about half the length or less.
The leaves of sugar maple (Acer saccharum) have smooth edges:
This is, of course, the “classic” maple leaf, as depicted on the Canadian flag. Most of the sugar maples around here have leaves where the three main lobes are fairly broad, and the two outermost lobes are reduced to near nothing. In these respects, they approach the proportions of the leaves of black maple (Acer nigrum). The variation in both of these two species has led some botanists to consider the two to be extremes of a single species. I was not able to find a good example of a black maple leaf, but this variant of a sugar maple leaf is closer to what a black maple’s leaves look like:
Surprisingly, these two sugar maple leaves came from different branches of a single tree.
Our last maple, boxelder (Acer negundo) doesn’t look like a maple at all, and in fact its leaves are disturbingly similar to those of poison ivy:
Both red and silver maples set seed early:
Red maple (on the left) has the smallest samaras, while silver maple has the largest. Both sugar/black maple and boxelder are in between in size, and don’t ripen until mid-May.
Another species that leafs out early is tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera). The shape of its leaves is unique:
Tuliptree also has interesting flowers, but since they’re all at the tops of the trees, I wasn’t able to get any decent photos.
I mentioned last month that April was the month for wildflowers; here are a few, starting with white trillium (Trillium grandiflorum):
Trilliums were especially abundant this year.
Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) bloom for only a short time in the middle of April, and by the end of the month, all traces of the plant (including the leaves) are gone:
(But why are the Dutchmen always hanging upside down?)
Hepatica (Hepatica nobilis) normally has white flowers, but they’re occasionally blue:
We spent a weekend at the end of April in Adams and Scioto counties, in south-central Ohio. There are a number of wildflowers there that are difficult to find elsewhere in the state, such as these yellow lady’s slippers (Cypripedium parviflorum):
I took photos of many other species, but rather than post them all here, I’ve put together an album that you can see online: https://www.flickr.com/photos/66983845@N03/sets/72157681988733910
In lieu of a sedge this month, we have this rather unassuming plant:
It has miniscule flowers, and its foliage isn’t much to look at, but the ability to recognize stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is a useful skill when you’re walking in the woods.
Filed under: Uncategorized
A 3 Part photo gallery from Handworks 2015 is available here. This is the consolation prize for those who will not be attending Handworks this week.
Filed under: Personal Favorites
I have devoted lots of brainpower to this bench lately, and I have many ideas and theories I will test when I build the chairmaking and mortising jigs Hulot describes for my own low Roman workbench.
For the time being, I’m going to hold my tongue and just let you enjoy some of the interesting details unearthed by Tom’s translation.
Tom provided two versions. One is a straight translation that embraces Hulot’s flowery cadence. The second is a condensed version that gets right to the point.
— Christopher Schwarz
Description of a Saddle which serves for planing, mortising, and assembling the work.
The Figure 4, Plate 13, represents a type of bench which is named a Saddle for planing and assembling; it’s a piece of oak of 5 feet in length by 12 to 14 inches in width, and very thick, carried on four strong legs below, R, Y, X, Z, which enter through as many round holes drilled in the bottom of the Saddle, A B. The Worker has his face turned towards the head, H B, which is a big piece of softwood, such as alder, and of which the bottom forms a flat tenon which passes through a mortise in the Saddle; the upper part [of the alder head] forms a type of stepped stop, of which the steps are notched in different ways, some perpendicular and shallow, for receiving the end of flat pieces to be planed on their edge [see vertical notch just to the left of the letter B, Fig. 4, Pl. 13]; the flat steps receive pieces to be planed on their face. Other steps are notched horizontally and vertically in the form of a little spoon, for receiving the end of a baton. There are more little vertical notches next to this hollow, which can be seen in the figure [Fig. 4]. Independently of the tenon which fixes the head H, it [the head] is supported by the cross beam K, also named the transom, head, or buttress of the head, & which is supported at the end & across the Saddle, by two strong pegs of strong and binding wood, such as ash or dogwood, which pass perpendicularly across the cross beam and the Saddle.
If the wood to be planed is big & long, one doesn’t sit on the Saddle, but one stands upright, & one places the end of the wood in the corner H K formed by the cross beam and the side of the head of the Saddle.
Description of the work planing Belly.
The Worker is obliged, in planing a piece of wood, to support its end against his stomach; & so as not to hurt himself, he has in front of him a mass or block of wood that’s named the Belly.
This Belly is a type of wooden palette of oak, a foot long, 6 inches wide, & about 1/3 of an inch thick, Pl. 13, fig. 10. The top part is cut in a roughly oval shape, F I, f G; the bottom part, F I, f k, is made in a roughly semicircular shape; & as the Turner places this Belly in front of himself, the cord of his apron passes from F to f, and by this method the Belly is held fast. In the middle of the oval, one places a block L, of softwood, round, 3 to 4 inches in diameter, by around 2 to 3 inches in thickness, made of end grain, and in the center of which has been inserted a pin l of hardwood, & which is held by a friction fit in a hole in the center of the Belly’s oval; one cuts the end of this pin flush off at the back so that it doesn’t hurt the Artist. On the face of this block, one makes a very shallow groove in the shape of a cross, which serves to hold the flat pieces to be planed, either on their face or on their edge. See Pl. 31, vignette, fig. 3, where the Turner is occupied in planing. Below figure 10, Pl. 13, we see the block shown in perspective; l, is the tenon or pin which enters in the hole in the middle of this block. The holes I, I, which are at the bottom, in the semicircle of these Bellies, serve to hang them on the wall when not in use.
Another use of the Saddle, which is also called the Assembly Saddle, is to firmly hold the workpiece by the means of three dogs I, D, D, fig 4, Pl 13, making three sorts of poppets of well-binding wood, such as ash, which enter by tenons and mortises into the Saddle. The tenon needs to be flush to the interior face of the poppet, which are named dogs [entaille means notch, literally, but that doesn’t feel quite right in this situation. I’m using ‘dogs’], & that their arris is on the opposite side, and on the exterior of the heads of these same dogs, so that they don’t reverse themselves under the forces of working; it’s between these three dogs that one holds the work that one wishes to mortise, regardless of whether the workpieces are round or square. I suppose that one has to mortise the two back legs of a chair E E F, which are turned, we have the custom of cambering them, so that the back of the chair has recurve, & is consequently more comfortable, which we will discuss later. These two legs are therefore placed between the three blocks D, D, I, one fixes them in this state by the means of a block of wood, square & straight L, & also by a wedge of wood C, which one drives with force with an iron mallet AB, fig. 3; this block L needs to be more or less thick, depending on whether the workpiece is more or less big, & one always places the wedge C, on the side where there’s only one block I, which must by consequence be larger than the others, so that these three points of pressure always maintains parallelism between the pieces which one wishes to mortise. On the head of the block D, which is to the right, one makes a hole flared in the shape of a salt cellar, which one fills with tallow, & in which one plunges the bit of the brace from time to time, which tends to heat up in drilling, which refreshes it [the bit], & eases the friction.
Ordinarily, one makes this Saddle 16 to 17 inches in height, so that the body of the Artist curves, and presses the brace against his stomach to make it work more quickly, finding thusly more force.
Plain Language Interpretation
Description of a Saddle which serves for planing, mortising, and assembling the work.
The Figure 4, Plate 13, shows a type of bench which is named a Saddle for planing and assembling. It’s a piece of oak of 5 feet long, 12 to 14 inches wide, and very thick. The slab sits on four strong legs held in four drilled mortises. The worker faces the head of the saddle, HB, which is a stepped piece of softwood such as alder that’s tenoned into the slab. The head has various steps and notches, which can be used to hold flat workpieces on their faces and edges. There’s also a hollow indent, used for holding the ends of round, baton-like pieces.
The headpiece is also supported by a full-width cross bar that’s firmly pegged across the end of the bench, using two ash or dogwood pegs. Larger work may be worked on standing up, with the end of the work positioned in the corner formed by the cross bar and the stepped headpiece.
Description of the work planing Belly.
When planing or shaving wood, the free end of the work must be supported by the Worker’s stomach. So that the Worker doesn’t get poked, it’s best to use a Belly.
This Belly is made of oak, one foot tall, 6 inches wide, and about a third of an inch thick – see Plate 13, figure 10. The top part is oval, and the bottom part is semicircular, forming a notch between the two forms. The worker ties the Belly on at this notch with his apron strings. A replaceable softwood block is pegged on to the center of the Belly with a friction fit, and the peg is flush-cut on the back of the Belly to ensure the worker’s comfort. This block has a shallow cross-shaped groove on its face, allowing wood to be held horizontally or vertically. The Belly’s use is shown in Plate 31, figure 3, and a detail of the block is shown in Plate 13, below figure 10. A hanging hole, I, is the final touch.
Another use of the Saddle bench is to hold work firmly with three wooden dogs, seen at I, D, D, fig. 4, Pl. 13. The dogs are made out of a sturdy wood, like ash, and are tenoned into the bench with an off-center tenon. The face of the tenon which is flush to the face of the dog is on the side that’s towards the work, providing an arris that helps support the dog during use. The workpiece is fixed between the three dogs using a wedge and a block, L C, which are sized proportionally to the workpiece and driven home with an iron mallet. The wedge is always placed on the side with just one dog, making sure that pressure is applied evenly to the workpiece. On the head of one of the dogs, there’s a hole filled with tallow that’s used to lubricate the bit of the brace when drilling.
The Saddle is usually 16 to 17 inches high, which allows the Worker to bend over and apply maximum pressure to the brace with his stomach.
We’ve had two late cancellations for the June 16-20, 2017, class on building a Moravian workbench at Roy Underhill’s school in Pittsboro, N.C.. If you are free that week and interested in building one heck of a workbench, you can sign up here.
— Will Myers
Filed under: Uncategorized, Workbenches
In the ancient Mediterranean world the Phoenicians were suppliers of timber to kingdoms poor in wood and other natural resources. The cedars of Lebanon, Cedris libani, were especially valued for their fragrance and resistance to rot and insects.
In the Old Testament, Hiram, King of Tyre sends cedar for the temple in Jerusalem and the houses of David and Solomon. Cedar was used in Egypt for constructing royal sarcophagi and the resin was used for mummification. Cuneiform inscriptions tell us the Assyrians imported timber from the region of Lebanon starting at the end of the second millenium B.C.
Assyrian King Sargon II (721-705 B.C) imported cedar from Lebanon for his palace at Khorsabad (present-day Iraq). A series of stone friezes from Khorsabad record how cedar logs were processed and transported in the ancient world. The friezes are in the collection of the Louvre and on permanent display.
The first frieze takes place in a mountainous area. Logs have been cut and are being hauled away. It is thought the logs would have been taken to a port south of Tyre.
The second frieze is a double panel. In a swirling sea teeming with marine life there are ten ships. Seven ships are loaded with logs and are towing even more as they sail north along the Phoenician coast. Towards the bottom there are two guardians in the form of bearded and winged bulls.
In the next panel several ships approach the shore to unload while other ships have already offloaded their cargo and are pulling away. In this scene it is easier to see the wonderful depiction of sea life: crabs, fish, a sea snake, turtles and a few other creatures. If you look to the far left and center (about the 9 o’clock mark) you will see a merman, another guardian of the sea.
The last panel shows the cedar logs are being unloaded and pulled by a rope. Other logs have been trimmed and holes bored to take a rope. Futher movement of the cedar logs to Khorsabad was by river and road. The top of this last panel is a restoration. All of the friezes have some restoration based on drawings done when Khorsabad was rediscoverd in the mid-19th century.
The fact that the friezes were made tells us the importance of cedar as a resource to the Assyian kingdom. We also see the organization the Phoenicians had to accomplish the arduous and months-long work required to transport these massive logs from mountain to port, along the coast to the safety of the next port, and finally the preparation to move the heavy logs over land. Even with the mechanization available today logging is hard work. Imagine what it was like in the time of the Phoenicians.
I must also mention, as someone who has spent many hours in and on salt water, my absolute delight in the swirling waters and marine life in the friezes…and the merman.
Filed under: Historical Images, Personal Favorites
At the first Handworks in 2013, I overheard a funny conversation about my credentials. I was standing in the Lost Art Press booth with my back to a bunch of bearded fellows who were debating the fine points of workbenches.
Beard No. 1: Chris Schwartz says that….
Beard No. 2: Shwatz is just a journalist. He’s not a professional woodworker, so he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
I know that Beardy No. 2 was insulting me by saying I’m “just a journalist,” but to me it was anything but. I am – unapologetically – a journalist. I trained to be a newspaperman at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and am proud I survived the school’s bloodletting process. I then received my masters in journalism from Ohio State University, which is where I learned about Noam Chomsky and American anarchism.
Like it or not, Lost Art Press wouldn’t exist without my training from these two journalism schools.
While it’s unpopular to be a journalist these days, I didn’t enroll in journalism school to become rich and universally loved. Instead, I decided in 8th grade to become a journalist because I think – scratch that, I believe – there should be voices who are independent of the government, mega-corporations and churches.
Of course, when you work as a corporate journalist for reals, you learn that you are an underpaid and overworked tool of all three institutions – unless you can plot an escape that doesn’t involve public relations. And that you need to live low to the ground. And be happy with a small audience.
So everything you love (or hate) about this blog is a result of my training. We don’t take free tools, advertising, sponsorship, affiliate status or Dick Butkus thanks to every moment I spent in my Law & Ethics class at Northwestern. I learned the value of document research in Investigative Journalism. I fell in love with history in the History of Journalism.
But wait, let’s go back to Beardy No. 2. Shouldn’t I be insulted by the fact that he said I’m not a “professional woodworker?”
Well, no. I’ve met a lot of professional woodworkers in the last 25 years, from Sam Maloof on down to the guy who just got a job making particleboard cabinets with a narrow-crown stapler. Just because you make a living from working wood doesn’t mean you have superpowers (anymore than being a journalist gives you a monopoly on the truth).
In the end, I hope to be judged by the work I leave behind. That includes the words, the furniture I build and the ideas that I’ll share with anyone who will listen.
And if you got to this point in the story then that might just be you.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Personal Favorites, Uncategorized
Customers complain when they miss out on a special poster, book or shirt with a common refrain: Wahhh, I don’t have time to follow woodworking blogs and websites.
I’m not sure what they want us to say in reply. Perhaps: OK, next time I’ll send John Hoffman to your house to rap on your window when we have a new product we suspect you’ll be interested in (because we’re monitoring your phone. And no, your foil-covered colander isn’t blocking the transmissions).
Truth is, it has always been the duty and obligation of individual woodworkers to stay informed on the latest findings, thinkings and crackpot theories in our beloved craft. In the 18th century you were expected to read all the books that came out, join a local mechanical society and attend their lectures. In the 19th and 20th centuries, you could join a society (or union), read a trade newspaper and read books.
And now we have the Internet (plus magazines and books – at least for now).
Luckily, technology can sort through all the new information and let you scan the headlines from the woodworking blogs. One way to do this is to visit a news aggregator, such as Unplugged Workshop.
I don’t use aggregators, however, because their interests don’t always match mine. That’s why I use a free RSS reader (I use feedly.com but there are many out there). These readers make a custom webpage for you that’s filled with the latest posts from your favorite websites. And you can add or delete sites that you follow with just a click.
Using an RSS reader is not difficult. In fact, you probably use them (or a similar technology) all the time on your mobile device (Apple’s News app works like an RSS reader).
Don’t know where to start? Below you can download an .opml file of many of the blogs I follow. You can import these into almost any RSS reader, then add or delete sites to suit your tastes. Note that about 20 percent of the sites in my feed are dormant. I keep them because sometimes they come back to life after someone gets a divorce, gets through a health crisis or simply has their chi adjusted by the local witchdoctor.
Give it a try. You’ll be better informed and have to wander around aimlessly a lot less.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Uncategorized
This is an excerpt from “To Make as Perfectly as Possible: Roubo on Marquetry” by André-Jacob Roubo; translation by Donald C. Williams, Michele Pietryka-Pagán & Philippe Lafargue.
One of the joys of researching the old ways of doing things is that every so often you encounter an amazing “new” way of accomplishing some task. Such is the case with the shoulder knife, an indispensable tool in the ateliers of Roubo’s world. The tool’s utility is remarkable, and I am still discovering new uses for it.
We all have our favorite shop knives; mine is a Swiss chip-carving tip that gets used in many ways. And – like you – I have tuned it exactly to my preferences. Yet, more and more I find myself reaching for the shoulder knife that I made at about the time this book project began.
One of the issues of knife work is balancing the power and control integral to its use. Typically one of the limitations is the amount of force you can bring to the cutting tip, and the precise control you can exert on it. The determining factor is often the amount of handle you can grab comfortably. In fact, that is why my favorite knife has a small blade but a comparatively large handle. Still, I am limited to having only one hand on the handle. A shoulder knife overcomes that because the handle extends all the way from the knife tip to, well, your shoulder. You can obtain great power and control because it allows you to grab its handle firmly with both hands and leverage it off your shoulder.
The shoulder knife has practically disappeared from the woodworker’s tool kit, and to my knowledge only one company supplies them commercially. Making one is fairly straightforward. Although it is a simple tool, mastering it is not so.
The first step in making a shoulder knife is to make apattern so it fits exactly your upper body’s dimensions and posture relative to the work surface. You can make a template from something as simple and disposable as heavy cardboard. A good starting point is to simply grab a yardstick tip in your hands, drape the stick over your shoulder and make note of the measurement from the work surface to your shoulder. Mark this out on the cardboard, then draw an arc to mimic the curve of your shoulder. Cut this out and compare it to your own body. Revise it until the match is the one you want. I made perhaps a half-dozen patterns until I got what I wanted, and then I cut that pattern out of three or four layers of cardboard and bonded them together to make it sturdy enough so I could get a good feel for its shape and fit. Just to make sure, I made a final pattern out of a piece of 6/4 softwood.
I selected a piece of scrap walnut to make my first knife, and a slab of ancient oak for the second, which is a few inches longer than the first. I used disparate methods for building each.
I made the walnut knife from two pieces of 3/4″ stock laminated together to make setting the blade much easier – even though the final thickness was 1–1/8″. I traced my pattern on both pieces and cut out the shape of the handle. Using a knife and chisel, I excavated a void matching the shaft of a Swiss blade purchased at a woodworking store on the two inner faces that were to be glued together in the final assembly. When the fit was perfect, I glued the whole package together with hide glue, with the knife blade embedded in and protruding about 1″ from the long handle.
For the oak-handled knife, I started with a 6/4 slab, then traced and cut out the shape I wanted. When I was satisfied with the overall shape, I sliced it lengthwise on the band saw. Recycling an old chip-carving blade, I excavated a pocket for the knife haft, then temporarily tack-glued the two pieces back together to shape the handle. (This is unlike the first knife when I assembled the knife and then shaped it.)
With spokeshaves and files I shaped the handle to my preference, inserted the blade and glued the whole thing back together with hot hide glue. After shaping the business ends and adding compression-fitting brass ferrules, I coated both handles with shellac and wax, made the leather blade guards and called them complete.
My skill at using the shoulder knife is growing, but it is not yet to the degree where it is second-nature. But classical marqueteurs probably used it about the way we would use a scalpel for cutting filigree in paper.
One of the main differences between the manner of creating marquetry between the way I did it for decades and the way that Roubo practiced the art has to do with the assembling the compositional elements into the background. I had previously always sawn them together in fairly typical tarsia a encastro technique, and frankly it is still the practice where I feel the most comfort. But for Roubo and his contemporaries, the elements were often set into the background by scribing the element’s outline into the background with a shoulder knife after the background had been glued to the substrate.
This is in great measure the definition of David Pye’s “workmanship of risk.” Careful examination of enough old pieces of marquetry will indeed reveal instances where the knife got away from the marqueter.
— Meghan Bates
Filed under: Uncategorized
When the doors open at Handworks 2017 at 10 a.m. on Friday, May 19, here’s a list of the stuff we’ll have in limited supply. In other words, stop by early to avoid disappointment. Also, please don’t ask us to reserve items for you via firstname.lastname@example.org or phone calls to John. To be fair to all of our customers, it’s first-come-first-served.
H.O. Studley Posters
These 13” x 19” posters are printed on 80 lb. recycled paper with a matte aqueous coating (in other words, they aren’t shiny like your Farrah Fawcett poster from high school). The poster features an image taken by Narayan Nayar during our work for the book “Virtuoso: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of H.O. Studley.” Both Narayan and the author, Don Williams, will be at Handworks, so you can track them down to get yours signed.
We’re bringing about 1,000 of these posters, which will be $20 each. We’ll have kraft paper and tape on hand so you can roll your own protective covering (we don’t have the room in our trailer for mailing tubes). After Handworks, we will sell these posters in the online store.
Crucible Improved Pattern Dividers
Raney and John have been working every day to finish and assemble dividers for Handworks. We hope to have 130 pairs or so to sell at Handworks. If we don’t sell out, these will go up in the online store as well. As you might know, we have had a heck of a time getting these made to keep up with demand. After this batch, I suspect we are going to retool the process (again), so this might be the last time we’ll have dividers for a while.
Crucible Design Curves
When I’m not editing or building, I’m sanding these design curves to get the sets ready for Handworks. We’ll be selling a set of three for $37 and they will come in a protective box suitable for traveling. I hope to have 250 sets of curves ready for handworks with another 750 sets ready soon after the show.
We are bringing our full line of books, plus a variety of American-made T-shirts for Lost Art Press and Crucible. Because books are heavy, we can tow only so much. As a result, if you are there to get a particular book so you can get it signed by one of the many Lost Art Press authors in attendance, don’t tarry.
Authors who have told us they’re attending:
Nancy Hiller (she’ll be signing her book in our booth at 2 p.m. Saturday)
Wesley Tanner (the designer of our Roubo and Studley volumes)
Narayan Nayar (photographer for the Studley book)
And me (duh).
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Uncategorized
Though we’re on the eve of Handworks (and are a little ragged around the edges), we’ll open the Covington storefront this Saturday to the public with lots of good stuff to see.
Here’s a quick list of interesting objects:
- We should have some copies of our H.O. Studley poster to sell at the special introductory price of $20. (They are supposed to arrive today.)
- I have two repaired letterpress copies of “Roman Workbenches” we can sell.
- Come try out the new Crucible Design Curves. I have the prototypes at the store now. I’m not sure I’ll have complete sets packaged and ready to sell, however.
- We have lots of blemished and returned Lost Art Press books this month. They are 50 percent off retail (cash only and in-store only).
- Come check out the Swedish gateleg table I just finished (it ships to a customer next month). And I have a couple other pieces that are for sale, including one of my staked three-legged stools with the charred finish.
Plus all the usual stuff: all our books, T-shirts, stickers and gabbing about woodworking.
The storefront is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is located at 837 Willard St. in Covington, Ky. The Covington Farmer’s Market will be running the same day from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. It’s a short walk from our store and a great place to get lunch or snacks. And pet a goat.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Lost Art Press Storefront, Uncategorized