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Lost Art Press: Chris Schwarz
This is an excerpt from “Woodworking in Estonia” by Ants Viires and translated by Mart Aru.
Until the beginning of the century, spoons and ladles for home use were generally produced by the peasants themselves. The preferred timber was that of birch, hard pieces of birch root and sometimes juniper. To prevent these articles from cracking, they were frequently boiled in hot water (they were also known to have been dried in the bread oven).4 The bowl parts of the Estonian spoons (as well as the Latvian and Finnish ones), are of elongated shape, differing in this respect from the Russian round-bowled spoons.5
Often the spoons were covered with carved designs (Fig. 73). The Russian spoon with the round bowl, often pointed, became known in Estonia in the course of the 19th century mainly through being introduced by men returning from military service from Russia. Only toward the end of the century did the Russian spoon appear in the shops, or they were bought from by hawkers. The following is from Räpina: “Later, about 40 years ago [= ca. 1900] then no longer country spoons were made for eating. The Seto people started to bring and sell wooden spoons. The Seto exchanged spoons against grain and rags. There was a factory in Pihkva (Pskov) that made them. It was better to eat with factory spoons than with spoons made by ourselves. There was thick paint on them and there was no need to wash them so thoroughly and the color stuck well. Country spoons remained only for making of butter and cooking. Old people, who had not been accustomed to eat with the other spoons, ate a long time with self-made spoons.”6 In the first decades of the 20th century metal spoons put a full stop both to country spoons as well as the Russian wooden spoons as tableware. Wooden spoons remained in use only in cooking.
It is worth mentioning that although the Estonian and Russian wooden spoons were quite different, the word “lusikas” (south Estonian “luhits, luits”) is actually an old Russian loanword (Old Russian “льжька,” Russian “лoжка”), as a result of which it has been believed that Russian spoons were spread already quite early as an article of trade among Baltic-Finnic people, and because of it the original old names have been forgotton.7 One of such old names could be “koost,” which denotes a wooden spoon on the western shore of Saaremaa and Hiiumaa (Karuse and Varbla). That Russian spoons were actually found in the Baltic counties at an early time is confirmed by a find of typical Russian spoons in Riga, in all likelihood from the 13th to the 15th centuries.8 To a certain extent the previous position is in a certain contradiction with what people have stored in their memories – which, as we have seen, link the appearance of Russian spoons at a rather late date. It is also interesting that the word “lusikas” (spoon) has in its turn spread into the speech of Russians on the other side of Lake Peipsi as “лузик”9 (it may be to distinguish it from the different spoon with a longish bowl which Avinurme home industry people could have sold on their commercial travels in the 19th century on the other side of Lake Peipsi).
The words used for ladle, “kulp” or “kula” (the latter is a west Estonian term used to describe a ladle with the bowl at an angle, used to scoop milk from the urn), are probably of Baltic–Finnicorigin.10 On the other hand the south Estonian term “kopp” originates from the Lower German “koppe.”11 The same word is applied in other parts of Estonia to mean a wooden bowl with a handle. In the Võru dialect and in other eastern parts of the country the wooden bowl with a handle, especially the one for use in the bath, is known as “korets, karits” (Russian “korets”).
Bowls (Fig. 74) were usually made of softwood – linden, aspen, alder, sometimes also from birch. Usually they were made from a stem cut in two, crosswise, although lengthwise was sometimes preferred. The latter were not as durable and had a tendency to crack. Tools used in the manufacture of homemade bowls were the scooping axe, the chisel and the draw knife. However, in the 19th century most bowls were already being produced by turnery, and the bowl ceased to be a homemade article (see the chapter on Turning). There are only a few such bowls in museum collections, as by far the greater number of bowls have been turned. This shows that in the 19th century making of bowls was mostly the duty of turners, and no longer belonged to the circle of the peasant’s home carpentry.4 e.g. KT 101, 9, Räpina. 5 Such spoons with an oval bowl occur in the Slavonic area in Central Europe (Opole) since the 10th to the 12th centuries.(Hołubowicz, Fig. 122:1 p. 277). Wooden spoons used in the 15th to the 16th century are relatively similar in their shape to Russian spoons of the 19th century. (Рабинович. Из иcтoрии быта, Fig. 10:7. p. 51). 6 KT 101.9–10 (Joosep Hermann, b. 1866), cf. also EA 15, 116 Avinurme; KV 78, 124 Jõhvi. 7 Mikkola, p. 45, 66; Kalima, Slaavil, san., p. 120. 8 Šnore, plate II, 5, 8. 9 Kalima, Ostseefinn. lehnwörter, p. 157. 10 Хакулинен I, p. 103; Ariste, Hiiu, p. 176. 11 Saareste p. 245.
— Meghan Bates
Filed under: Woodworking in Estonia
Lie-Nielsen Toolworks is hosting a Hand Tool Event at Braxton Brewing in Covington, Ky., on March 10-11 (details from Lie-Nielsen are here).
We will have a booth at the brewery both days and will have our storefront open on Saturday only (not Friday; nor Thursday) from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Our storefront is a seven-minute walk from the brewery.
On Saturday night we are organizing an outing to Rhinegeist brewing in Cincinnati where we shall play Hammerschlager – a competitive nail-driving game. The winner of the evening (likely the one person left standing) will receive a letterpress hammer poster (long sold out and coveted). We’ll bring the stump, the hammer and the nails.
The event at Rhinegeist will start about 8 p.m. We recommend you go to Eli’s barbecue at Findlay Market to get your dinner beforehand and walk it a block north to Rhinegeist to eat it. (That’s what we’re going to do.) Note that Eli’s closes at 9 p.m. Tarry not.
I hope that we will have some other special stuff to show or sell, but that all depends on trucking and production schedules. More details, soon.
Last year’s show was fantastic. Braxton has excellent beer. Covington has a lot of great places to eat and drink (more on those later on). And yeah, Cincinnati is awesome, too.
Hope to see you there!
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Uncategorized
Last night at dinner I laid out the finances involved in printing the deluxe “With All the Precision Possible: Roubo on Furniture,” and I think I saw the blood drain out of my wife’s face – just a little bit.
It’s like sending a child to college. It’s vitally important, and so you somehow find the money to make it happen. But when you stand back and count up all the dollars involved you wonder how the heck you did it.
We are pleased, thrilled and a little anxious to offer you “With All the Precision Possible: Roubo on Furniture,” the largest, most expensive and most incredibly built book we’ve yet to offer. We think the investment is worth it. Don Williams, Michele Pietryka-Pagán and Philippe Lafargue dedicated years of their lives to translate A.J. Roubo’s 18th-century masterwork “l’art du Menuisier” and have done a magnificent job. Designer Wesley Tanner has captured the experience of reading an 18th-century book. And so we have decided to put all our chips on the table.
If you approach this book with an open heart and mind, I think you will find yourself challenged to become a better woodworker in everything you do. It is the most involved piece of woodworking writing I’ve ever encountered. It is for beginners, intermediates and the advanced.
Even if you have zero interest in building French furniture, I think this book will speak to you as a maker and give you insights into how things are made “with all the precision possible.”
The book is $550 and will ship this summer. You can place your pre-publication order here.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: To Make as Perfectly as Possible, To Make as Perfectly as Possible, Roubo Translation
If you have never seen one of our deluxe versions of “To Make as Perfectly as Possible: Roubo on Marquetry,” this tour will give you a small taste of the scale of the book and the quality of its components.
Since the release of this book (it’s long since sold out), people have come by the storefront or to shows to see a copy and it’s always a treat to see their reaction. First, they are amazed at the size – 12-1/4” wide x 17-1/4” tall. It’s uncommon to see a book of this size outside of a library’s rare book room.
But my favorite part is when they open the book. The printing and detail is so crisp that no matter how close you get, it holds up.
Oh, and the A.J. Roubo translations themselves are an incredibly important piece of woodworking history. Roubo’s “l’art d’Menuisier” is still the legal yardstick in many countries for what is good workmanship. And this is the first time his sections on furniture are being printed in English.
On Wednesday at noon we will begin taking pre-publication orders for the deluxe version of “With All the Precision Possible: Roubo on Furniture.” Full details on the book are available here. We are printing 1,000 copies, which will ship this summer.
Also, I neglected to mention that everyone who purchases a deluxe copy of the book will receive a pdf download of the standard edition. It will be delivered after you checkout.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Roubo Translation, To Make as Perfectly as Possible, Uncategorized
We will begin taking pre-publication orders for the deluxe version of “With All the Precision Possible: Roubo on Furniture” at noon Eastern time on Wednesday, Feb. 22.
The book will be $550, which includes delivery to the U.S. and Canada. International customers will pay an additional charge based on the actual cost to ship it to them (you’ll be contacted before the book ships about this additional charge). We are printing 1,000 copies. No more.
This book is expected to ship in summer 2017, barring production or transportation delays. Before you order, please read the following important information on being a “subscriber” to this book.
The Important Part: Please Read
Customers who order before March 15 will be listed as a “subscriber” at the back of the book. By default, we will print your first name and last name exactly as it appears in your order for the book (so please spell your name correctly). If you do not wish your name to appear in the book, you must send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org before March 15 along with your order number and a request to have your name omitted.
After March 15, no changes can be made to the list of subscribers.
The Scary & Amazing Part
As we were negotiating the print job with the plant, I calculated that by the time we pay for this press run we will have spent more than $500,000 on the Roubo translation project, a mind-blowing figure for someone who drives a beat-up 10-year-old truck.
I am not saying this to impress you, but to 1) Thank you for your support and 2) Thank you in advance for your support on this deluxe version.
The Manufacturing Details
Measuring 12-1/4” wide x 17-1/4” tall by almost 2-1/4” thick, “Roubo on Furniture” will be the largest and most luxurious book we have printed since Lost Art Press was founded in 2007.
The 472 pages of text will be printed on #100 Mohawk Superfine paper, perhaps the finest domestic paper available today. To match the fine paper, the images and plates will be printed in full color at a linescreen few presses can achieve.
The result is a level of detail and clarity rarely seen in any book of any era.
The book’s signatures will be sewn, casebound and reinforced with a fiber tape that will ensure the binding will outlast us all. The hardbound boards will be covered in a beautifully printed pattern with a cotton cloth cover on the spine. The spine will be then debossed in gold and black.
The entire book will come in a custom-made slipcase covered in a complementary-colored cotton cloth.
Our deluxe version of “Roubo on Marquetry” (long since sold out) was manufactured to these same high specifications and was named one of the “50 Books of the Year” by by the Design Observer, in association with AIGA and Designers & Books.
We are happy to answer any questions about the book – just leave us a comment and we’ll do our best. Tomorrow I plan to post a video tour of the deluxe version of “Roubo on Marquetry” so you can get a feel for the manufacturing details of the deluxe “Roubo on Furniture.”
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: To Make as Perfectly as Possible, Roubo Translation
John and I are quite particular about how our books are made and spend a lot of time and money on details that most readers don’t notice. We want our books to be able to survive floods, attacks by babies and dogs and – most of all – time.
There are an enormous number of manufacturing steps our books have to go through, especially compared to digital, print-on-demand (POD) publishing. While POD is good for some things, such as bind-ups of classroom material, it has a long way to go to compete with traditional printing and binding.
And so we stick with the time- and labor-intensive methods for our books.
In late September, John and I visited one of the plants where our color books are printed on sheet-fed presses. Our black-and-white books, in contrast, are printed on web press. The difference between the two is somewhat akin to the difference between paper being fed into a photocopier (sheet-fed) or printing out your book on an enormous roll of butcher’s paper or paper towels (web press).
The above is a short peek at the process a typical book goes through. Note that I’ve left a lot of steps out and simplified things (so if you are in the printing industry, forgive me). It took two full days to tour the plant, so 5 minutes of video is going to leave out some details.
Thanks to Jostens of Clarksville, Tenn., for opening their doors to us and allowing us to photograph anything we please. And thanks to Phil Nanzetta of Signature Book who purchases most of our printing for us and helped arrange the visit.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Personal Favorites, Uncategorized
Don Williams says his love of learning was probably fostered by the fact that his father was going through seminary when he was a child. Don grew up in a household without television. Instead, his family listened to classical music and read.
“But much to my parents’ dismay, I veered off into jazz as my primary interest, so they were pretty much convinced in my teenage years that they had picked up the wrong kid in the hospital,” he says.
Don maintains a love of jazz.
Jazz can loosely be defined as a combination of polyphony, syncopation and improvisation — simultaneous but independent melodic lines playing at the same time with unexpected and off-beat rhythms achieved extemporaneously. For Williams, jazz is not only what he listens to, still to this day, but serves as an outline for how he lives his life.
A self-proclaimed conservator, educator, scholar and all-around inquisitive guy, Don was a curious child who delved deep into varying topics – some unexpected – and from a young age, found connections.
“I think that being interested in many things, not everything, but many things allowed me to gather a lot of information,” he says. “And since I didn’t necessarily accept the rubric of the classroom, I think I’m able to see connections between distinct bodies of knowledge that wouldn’t necessarily be apparent if you were stuck in the tyranny of specialized knowledge.”
Don believes that the whole notion of specialized knowledge is a modern thing. “In the past, our predecessors in much earlier generations saw knowledge as the continuum rather than a series of cubbyholes,” he says. He mentions Robert A. Heinlein, who famously wrote:
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
Don believes pluralism and knowledge to be good things. “That’s part of why I was able to study lots of different things, both formally and informally, and manage to synthesize them into some body of working knowledge,” he says. “It doesn’t necessarily [make me] an expert at anything, but it does make adaptable I think.”
But expert, he is. In many things.
Williams spent his early years in southern Minnesota, and his adolescent and post-adolescent years in South Florida. His mother was an office worker, his father a pastor. Williams is the fourth child out of five.
At that time there was a program in Florida called the Faculty Scholars program that pinpointed high-achieving students on factors outside of grade point average. Williams had his high school guidance counselor convinced he was a solid “B” student.
“And then when the senior standardized placement test results came back, she literally left her office, came and dragged me out of class and read me the riot act,” Don says. He had received the second highest score in his very large high school.
This test result, through the Faculty Scholars program, allowed Don to begin college as a junior. He enrolled at Florida Atlantic University planning to double major in economics and political science. “This was 1972 and everybody was pre-law in 1972,” he says.
Around this time Don was working in the finishing room of the now-closed Schindler & Son, then a well-known restoration shop in West Palm Beach, Fla. “I found my attraction and interest at the workbench,” he says. “[The work there] was so much greater than the stuff I was studying in college that I dropped out of college around the beginning of my senior year. It just didn’t pull my fascination.”
Don began working full time for Schindler in 1974, and there met Nick Hlopoff, an internationally renowned decorative art conservator. “He was an exotic figure to me,” Don says. “Being a kid of the Midwest, Baptist parentage, here was this fellow who was an ethnic Russian, born and raised in Paris, trained by his father to care for artworks of exquisite importance.”
Nick, who lived outside of Detroit, would come into town and use shop space to care for the artworks of one of Schindler’s clients. “He was the guy who introduced me to the world of museum conservation as a livelihood,” Don says.
So Don decided to go back to college. “I still didn’t know precisely the path to art conservation as a career so I did the closest thing I could find which was to go to the University of Florida and major in architectural historic preservation.” But a year and a half in, the university changed its curriculum in a direction Don didn’t like. So he left school again.
Don worked in restoration and reproductions at Colonial Woodworking in Archer, Fla., and then in 1978 got a job at Maddox Foundry and Machine Works. “I worked as a patternmaker, which is ultra-precise woodworking,” he says. “I mean, ultra-precise.”
At Schindler’s, Don learned all about historical furniture, having worked on thousands of old-money European and French furniture pieces for wealthy clients in Palm Beach. At Maddox, he learned all about precision woodworking.
It’s the early 1980s now, and Don has married Carolyn, who he met on a blind date at his sister’s house. Carolyn wanted to pursue graduate work, and Don wanted to pursue art conservation. So they chose the southern most of the four colleges in North America that offered both — University of Delaware. Don enrolled in an undergraduate art conservation program, which was an interdisciplinary triple major of studio art, chemistry and art history. “Those are the very disparate disciplines that are the foundation for art conservation,” he says. “It’s fully left brain and right brain, both evolving simultaneously.”
There were 17 incoming students in Don’s program, but by the end of the first semester of the second year, Don was the only one left. “For most people either the hard science is going to weed you out or the fine art is going to weed you out,” he says.
A semester shy of graduating, he received three job offers in the museum field.
“I accepted the job offer from the Smithsonian with the promise that I would finish my studies and get my degree.” He did. It took him another year and a half of commuting one day a week to Delaware and back, but in 1985 he earned a B.A. in “Technology of Artistic and Historic Objects.” (The degree is now, more simply called “Art Conservation.”) Don was the program’s first graduate.
One of the ironies of the Smithsonian gig was that Don was hired in part to be on a team that was developing an art conservation graduate degree program, even though he hadn’t received a graduate degree himself. “So my time for the first couple of years was split between working on the curriculum for this new master’s degree program and doing hands-on caretaking and inquiries and research into the materials and artifacts that related to the Smithsonian.”
Don was 29 when the Smithsonian offered him a job. “You pinch yourself,” he says. “You just can’t believe it.” In his later years, when working alongside his best work friend, Melvin Wachowiak (“With All the Precision Possible: Roubo on Furniture” is dedicated to him), Don says they would often say to each other how unbelievable it was that they were being paid to do this type of work. “Because it was so much fun,” Don says.
Don describes the small group he worked with as semi-autonomous, with a think-tank-like culture. “We were given just extraordinary latitudes in pursuing the intersection of our interests and Smithsonian collection needs,” he says. His official job description, which he wrote, was 15 pages long. When asked to distill that down he says this: Be productively curious.
He was. And he was good at it.
“Part of my success in this poly-dimensional disciplinary world was that I could synthesize information from completely unconnected sources,” he says. “I hope I’m not bragging about it but it’s just a way, it’s a familiarity with the way I work. My wife has identified me as severely ADD so that’s perhaps worked out well there.”
Day to day, Don said he got to “literally intrude into the fabric of some of the most prominent artifacts in the history of the nation. And so some days I was working on irreplaceable treasures, and some days I was just sitting and reading. And still, the paycheck showed up at 12:01 a.m. every other Tuesday morning.”
The pieces that most interested Don during his time at the Smithsonian weren’t those with historical prominence but rather those that had “attractable degradation.” He talks about a 19th-century replica of a 17th-century French desk with spectacularly decorated marquetry but was run-of-the-mill in the 19th century.
“But it was in the Smithsonian collection,” he says. “And it was undergoing really catastrophic damage because the carcass underneath it – the veneer was coming apart. Working on that was really an amazing experience. But it wasn’t owned by anyone important. It wasn’t made by anyone important. It was a typical sort of French replica that an industrialist of the gilded age would have in their sitting room or library to kind of evoke a false nobility.”
Don also worked on a desk that was one of the earliest and largest examples of artificial tortoise shell. “I’m nuts about tortoise shell,” he says. “I’ve invented a really persuasive imitation tortoise shell for my own work so studying that piece was really great.”
During the second half of Don’s career he was very much involved in the caretaking of the Mace of the United States House of Representatives (look it up on Wikipedia). “Most people don’t know about it, but it is one of the biggies, it’s right up there with the Liberty Bell,” he says. “For me, that was a such a powerful, powerful artifact symbol for us as a nation. And that has touched me to this day.” For 20 minutes Don’s work on the Mace was featured in a C-SPAN documentary called “The Capitol.” (The next time you watch C-SPAN, and they offer a panoramic view of the House Chamber in the Capitol Building, you’ll see the Mace at the very left edge of your screen.)
After more than 25 years of service to the Smithsonian, Don left his job on the last day of the last pay period of 2012. “I was ready,” he says. Don describes the Smithsonian as a scientific arts bureaucracy wrapped inside an academic bureaucracy wrapped inside a federal bureaucracy. “For us, geological timeframes were not merely some abstract idea, that’s how things worked sometimes,” he says. “It was pretty clear that my own particular interests no longer coincided with the organization that I worked for. That’s not malevolence or anything else. People’s priorities change. My priorities stayed pretty much the same, my organization’s priorities changed. They offered me the chance to retire at the age of 57 with lots of years of woodworking left and I said, ‘Wow. That’s pretty good.’”
By now Don and Michele Pietryka-Pagán had already begun working on “To Make as Perfectly as Possible: Roubo on Marquetry.” And Don had begun work on “Virtuoso: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of Henry O. Studley.” The Smithsonian (which demands right of first refusal on all intellectual property relative to your job when employed) had no interest in either. So he already had two projects dialed in that he knew were of interest to Lost Art Press. “I already had a working relationship with Chris and he was very much interested in the kind of scholarship I was trying to pursue,” Don says. “So really, Lost Art Press was a big part of my decision-making for this fairly substantial lifestyle change because frankly, it was a really, really good job. It was way too much fun, part of it, and paid way too much, but somebody had to have that job and it might as well have been me.”
So Don and Carolyn left Washington for a new life on a secluded property in the mountains of Virginia, which they had purchased a dozen years before.
These days, Don follows his muse. On the day we spoke he had plans to finish formatting photos for an article he wrote for Popular Woodworking Magazine. Then, lunch. “One of the advantages of me being here is that there’s always a fresh, hot lunch – every day. I’ll come down the hill and my wife will have made us a wonderful, wonderful lunch.” In the afternoon he’ll continue work on replicating a desk for a client.
He does a lot of writing. In addition to his woodworking-related writing he says he also has a “fairly vigorous email circle of circumstantial and political and economic commentary that I carry on with my virtual community of observers.” He also writes fiction – thrillers, specifically. His latest is about a museum conservator who has withdrawn to the mountains and gets drawn into a mystery dealing with documents hidden in a piece of furniture. Those documents threaten the structure of Western civilization, and the bodies start piling up.
“My wife says I like to do it because I get to put words in everyone’s mouth,” he says, laughing.
Often, while drifting off to sleep, Don says he’ll compose things in his mind — an artistic design, an essay on the state of the civilization, theological apologetics.
“One of the things that I celebrate the most is that I do not have to regimen my life,” he says. “It’s fairly mercurial. To be utterly frank about it I’ve reach a position of status in the artifact world that you know clients are willing to wait for whatever it is that I do.” (A recent call with once such client resulted in a request to call back after Christmas 2018.) “And I never for a moment take for granted that blessing. I’ve been restoring furniture and decorative objects with some level of accomplishment now since 1971. So that’s a fair amount of time.”
While Don says certain kinds of problem-solving skills are innate to him, he says his success is due, in part, to some marginal native artistic talent. “And I do mean marginal,” he says. “But through skill you can overcome limitations and challenges. Because skill is about repetition. It’s like in writing. The more you understand the meaning, the power, the organization of the words, the greater facility you have using those words for their intended purpose. And when you’re talking about working with artifacts it helps to be interested in and able to comprehend the nature of the materials from whence they are fabricated, the technologies by which they are fabricated and then the trajectory of their degradation. And I guess the thing that I am every thankful for is that I, for reasons unknown to me, can sort of put those pieces together. I’m not sure if that’s a talent or a skill or something else, but it’s something that I just sort of get.”
And frankly, he says, he loves being intimately associated with beautiful things. And not just aesthetic beauty. “Sometimes just thinking skillfully or thinking clearly or thinking creatively is a beautiful thing,” he says. “I love a beautifully crafted concept.” He says his daily expenditure of resources, time and energy spent on restoration is diminishing, “in part because there are other new avenues of rediscovering historical craftsmanship. The related expression is much more prominent on my horizon than before.”
Don’s ideal week is not a whole lot different than what he’s doing now. He hopes to make more replicas of prominent, historic, smaller-scale furniture. He hopes to continue working for a very few number of clients whose collections he has a strong affection for (think: caring for tortoise shell). He has a series of sketchbooks, and the drawings in them are a car wreck between James Krenov’s car and André-Jacob Roubo’s car (his words). “I’m trying to apply some of the technology and artistic vocabulary of Roubo with the technology and artistic vocabulary of Krenov with a dash or two of some 16th-century Chinese furniture in there.” He likes writing. He likes collecting. He likes communicating. He doesn’t like traveling. For Don, a 50-50 mix of studio time and time spent at the keyboard is a good mix.
“I would just like to continue what I’m doing both artistically and intellectually and stay healthy,” he says. “I’m going to be 62 coming up. I just returned from Florida where we celebrated my mom’s 100th birthday, so I figure I have about 40 good years of woodworking left so I want to be careful so I can do it.”
Don and Carolyn live in the least populous county east of the Mississippi. Folks keep up with him online at donsbarn.com. The Barn on White Run, a three-story 19th century barn he found on eBay, houses his studio, classroom, library and dorm space. It took several years to dismantle, move and rebuild the barn, but for Don, it’s a dream fulfilled, a dream he’s had since he was a teenager.
Don enjoys the solitude of rural living. Since he was a child he’s sought out remoteness and isolation. “If I have an mp3 player, that’s about all the human contact I need most days,” he says. “I love being out here. It is exceedingly remote.”
At least four times a year Don and Carolyn head over the mountains to Charlottesville, Va., where he visits University of Virgina’s ophthalmology department for some issues with his eyes. They make a day of it, eating a nice lunch and stocking up at Trader Joe’s and Costco. He also relies on online shopping, and says he’s learned to appreciate “the astounding sophistication of the economy and its distribution network.” Most items arrive in 48 hours.
“You know, I’m just at traditional guy pursuing my faith and my family out in the mountains here,” Don says. “I have daughters who I love to death and a wife who I’ve been married to for 35 years, hopefully we’re on our way to forever, but that’s pretty much it.”
Except, it’s not. His life is an eclectic mixture of conservation, restoration, woodworking, finishing, metal casting, collecting obscure books, tools and shellac (yes, really), writing, gardening, presenting, discussing politics and making connections between all of it while forever remaining curious. All while listening to podcast lectures. Or, of course, jazz.
— Kara Gebhart Uhl
Filed under: Roubo Translation, To Make as Perfectly as Possible, To Make as Perfectly as Possible, Roubo Translation, Uncategorized, Virtuoso: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of Henry O. Studley, With All the Precision Possible
“The Woodworker, The Charles H. Hayward Years, Vol. IV, The Shop & Furniture” wasn’t supposed to arrive in our warehouse until next week, but it’s here now. And, according to the photos John sent me, it looks fantastic.
Our warehouse will begin shipping all of the pre-publication orders on Wednesday. Then it should take about five to seven business days for the book to arrive in your mailbox.
This is the final volume of “The Woodworker” series, and it caps many years of work by people all over the country and globe. The four volumes comprises 1,492 pages of work spanning 30 years of writing in The Woodworker magazine in Great Britain.
The final volume covers two broad topics: the workshop, plus furniture forms and styles. The workshop section discusses workbenches, tool chests and useful appliances for handwork. The section on furniture forms and styles gives you an education in different historical styles (and their hardware), plus hand-drafted shop drawings of historical pieces.
The book is $39 (that price includes shipping to the U.S. and Canada) and can be ordered from our store here.
Like all of our books, this one is made entirely in the United States: printed and bound in Michigan from durable materials. The hardback book is casebound. The signatures are section-sewn, glued and assembled with a tough fiber tape.
— Christopher Schwarz
P.S. Many readers have asked if we are going to offer all four volumes as a set for a special price. The answer is: no. We never punish our customers who are early adopters. The price can only go up, as the cost of raw materials goes up.
Filed under: Charles H. Hayward at The Woodworker, Uncategorized
This is an excerpt from “The Woodworker: The Charles H. Hayward Years: Volume I” published by Lost Art Press.
Moulding plane cutters are of two kinds; those used with wooden moulding planes, and those made for the Stanley Universal plane. Except that the latter type is short, whilst the former have a long projecting part which reaches up beneath the wedge, there is little difference between them, but there is one feature which affects the sharpening; the wooden plane cutter must be sharpened so that its edge follows the shape of the sole, whereas there is no shaped sole in the universal plane. This means that, although it is desirable for the cutter to keep its original shape as far as possible, it is not vital.
Since the sharpening of the wooden moulding plane is the more exacting job of the two, we will deal with it here. When first obtained, the cutter is ground to the shape of the sole, and it requires only to be given a keen finishing edge with oilstone slips. As an example take the cutter in Fig. 1 which will work the moulding section, shown at A. Two separate operations have to be carried out; the small hollow shape which works the bead has to be sharpened with a small round slip, and the rounded portion which forms the hollow has to be treated either with a flat slip or on the ordinary oilstone.
Take first the small hollow. Select an oilstone slip which approximates to the shape when it lies along the bevel. The fact that it fits or not when held at right angles to the cutter is no test. Place the slip flat on the bevel. If anything it should be of slightly smaller section. Apply lubricating oil, and, holding the cutter at the edge of the bench, as in Fig. 2, rub the slip back and forth. Do not consciously start a fresh bevel, but press the slip slightly towards the cutting edge, otherwise there will be a great deal of metal to remove and the work will take a long time. Avoid dubbing over, however.
One important point must be watched. In an endeavour to get an edge quickly there is a temptation to rub the sides of the shape at the cutting edge only, so that the bevel begins to assume the tapered shape, shown at C, Fig. 1. This is clearly impractical because the back or heel of the bevel is narrower than the shape at the cutting edge, and it will be liable to bind. If anything the bevel should taper the other way as at D, this affording a slight clearance. Test for sharpness by seeing whether a burr has been turned up.
The rounded part of the cutter can be sharpened with a flat slip, or on the oilstone. Some men prefer one method, some the other. Fig. 3 shows the normal oilstone process. A sort of rocking movement is adopted, an effort being made to keep to the original bevel as far as possible. Finish off by reversing the cutter flat on the oilstone and rubbing back and forth once or twice.
Now place the cutter in the plane and, giving a minimum projection, see whether it follows the sole contour uniformly. If not, note the high parts and rub these down more. Note, however, that the corners of an old plane are bound to have worn more than the rest, and it would be an obvious mistake to follow these. Corners intended to be square should be square. When all is satisfactory strop the edge to a final keenness and so get rid of all burr. This can be done with a piece of leather dressed with oil and fine emery powder. If folded it will approximate to the shape. The back is stropped on leather held down on a flat board.
Some cutters are simpler than this; others more elaborate, but the principle is the same in all. If you have not a slip that will fit in a small hollow exactly (and it is unlikely that you will be able to buy an exact fit), you can always alter the section by rubbing it down on a piece of marble, using fine emery powder and oil or water as an abrasive. Extra hard stones may require fine carborundum powder.
A little experience in sharpening a moulding cutter will convince you that it can be a lengthy operation, especially if really dull. The best plan, then, is to sharpen as soon as it shows signs of becoming worn, and to do as much preliminary work as possible with the ordinary bench plane which is clearly much more straighforward to sharpen. Fig. 4 shows three sections, in which the black portion could be removed first with the bench plane.
— Meghan Bates
Filed under: Uncategorized
A couple weeks after starting to wreck the interior of The Blaze bar in 2015, I had a moment where I thought I should go see the doctor.
This is embarrassing and personal, but there’s only one way to say it: My night soil sparkled.
After a few anxious moments, I made the logical conclusion that I was taking in too much glitter during the demolition. You might think I’m exaggerating, but every painted surface was covered in glitter. It would become airborne – weaponized glitter – as I tore out the painted walls, floors, tiles and bars that ringed all of the rooms.
I wore a mask when I could, but it must have sneaked in through the beard, into my saliva and then, like Raquel Welch, coursed through my entire being.
Today, 18 months after taking ownership of this building, we hauled out the last of the glitter-covered tiles from the utility area at the back of the building.
I won’t say that we are free of glitter (it’s like herpes don’t ya know) but we have no more active glitter-containment protocols. No more glitter Superfund site. It’s been (I hope) remediated.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Lost Art Press Storefront, Uncategorized
This week, Katy has been crazy busy down in the workshop making soft wax. In fact, she mixed and packaged 77 tins in three days – a new record. I asked her today what kicked her into high gear.
“I need money for food and stuff and….”
“Maybe a potter’s wheel.”
Last week, Katy’s art class took a tour of a commercial pottery. And when the potters asked if any of the students had used a wheel, Katy raised her hand (she’s taken a couple classes on using the wheel). By the end of the tour they had offered her a summer job, and Katy remembered her love of throwing pots.
So she made a bunch of wax. And now she has her eye on a wheel.
I’m not going to dissuade her. If you would like some wax, now is a good time to buy it and stock up (I’m buying a couple tins myself). It’s a really excellent soft paste with a gorgeous smell – perfect for the interior surfaces of woodwork or for restoring wooden surfaces that have become dried out by time or weather.
You can order it from her etsy store here.
— Christopher Schwarz, who might be surrendering part of his shop to a young potter.
Filed under: Uncategorized
It’s a good day when I find three new images of stick chairs. Researcher Suzanne Ellison sent me the September 2015 issue of Antique Collecting recently, and I devoured it this morning while juggling some technical publishing problems.
Inside the issue were three stick chairs – two likely Welsh and one labeled as Irish. All are notable for one reason or another. Let’s take a look.
The chair above was listed for sale by Suffolk House Antiques and has a burr ash seat that is 2-1/2” thick. There are several things I like about this chair. Its spindle layout and armbow are similar to the chairs I’ve been building recently, but the crest rail and back spindles are quite eye-catching. I like the way the crest rail is curved along its top edge – very graceful.
The three back spindles look delicate and fragile, though I doubt they are. I really like how the maker bent the two outside spindles outward. It’s a nice contrast with the density and verticality of the lower spindles and seat.
The second chair was featured in an article on auction results. Though it’s not specifically called out as Welsh, it looks it to me. This chair has a charming lightness to it, despite its 14 spindles. Also, take a look at the “hands” of the armbow. They end in a nice semi-circle. Finally, the ogee on the ends of the crest rail is a nice classical surprise on a folk chair. Who knows if this detail is original to this chair. But it works.
The third chair is listed as an Irish fruitwood chair from the 18th century. I’m charmed by the low seat and the overall boxiness of the thing. Also, if you look close at the seat you can see there is a hole that is plugged at the rear of the seat (it could be a knot but I think that’s unlikely). This chair might have started off as a 3- or 5-legged chair.
Finally, a fascinating pig bench from Suffolk House antiques that might be from the Middle Ages according to the magazine. This bench proves that sometimes warped wood can be your friend.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: John Brown Book, The Anarchist's Design Book, Uncategorized
The Ma’agan Mikhael, a 5th-century BCE Cypriot merchantman, was found off the coast of Israel in 1985. The wreck was an important find in learning more about ancient shipbuilding techniques and trade practices. After excavation and preservation the reconstructed hull was placed in the Hecht Museum in Haifa.
Three wooden boxes were found in the wreck: one in a heart shape with a pivoting lid and two violin-shaped boxes. There is plenty of evidence in the archeological records that these boxes were of a type used for cosmetic pastes and creams.
In 2004 Yigal Sitry published, “Unique Wooden Artifacts: A Study of Typology and Technology” part of a series of research articles in “The Ma’agan Mikhael Ship – The Recovery of a 2,400 Year Old Merchantman” by Yaacov Kahanov and Elisha Linder.
In his article Sitry provides a full description of the heart-shaped box and outlines, with illustrations, “the order of operations” in the making of the box (and easy for a modern woodworker to follow).
The box, before conservation that caused uneven shrinkage, measured 110 mm x 109 mm x 34.5 mm (about 4.3″ x 4.3″ x 1.4″) and was made of oak. One note: the heart-shaped box has been renamed the ivy leaf box as that shape was more consistent with shapes found in contemporary pottery and art.
The link to Yigal Sitry’s article is here.
For the “recently spurned:” Put Nirvana’s “Heart-shaped Box” on a loop, make the box, burn it, repeat.
— Suzanne Ellison
Filed under: Historical Images, Personal Favorites
In the years since I wrote about and hosted a video on building the knockdown workbench from the collection at Old Salem, N.C., folks have sent me hundreds of photos of the benches they have built. I absolutely love getting these. I am always interested to see the different vise set-ups, materials and alterations different people have done with the design.
I few days ago, Luther Shealy sent some photos of a Moravian work bench he has nearly completed. Shealy is in the U.S. Army stationed in South Korea. He had to leave his Roubo bench behind when he was deployed overseas.
Fortunately the Army base has a morale and welfare shop the servicemen can use, and he decided to build a bench for use while in Korea. He was able to source the pine parts of the bench on location, but the oak part proved to be problem. Undeterred, Shealy had friends back home mail him enough white oak for the short stretchers. He brought the oak vise chop over in his luggage; that must have been interesting trip thru TSA!
I very much admire Shealy’s determination to make this happen in a less-than-ideal situation.
— Will Myers
Filed under: Workbenches
We have new information on these three Lost Art Press projects for you this Monday:
The Woodworker, The Charles H. Hayward Years, Vol. IV, The Shop & Furniture
The final book in our series from “The Woodworker” is supposed to finish up at the bindery this week and be put on a truck to our warehouse on Friday. If we don’t run into any transportation snags, that means we’ll start shipping the book to you next week.
With All the Precision Possible: Roubo on Furniture
The standard version of this book is still in production at the printing plant and is on track to ship to our warehouse in mid to late March. In the meantime, designer Wesley Tanner is laying out the deluxe version of this book and it should be ready for the printer by the end of the month.
The deluxe version is going to be printed at the same plant that printed the deluxe version of “Roubo on Marquetry” and we are trucking the entire press run to New Mexico to be bound and have the slipcases made by hand. The deluxe edition of “Roubo on Furniture” will be the same width and height as the deluxe “Roubo on Marquetry,” but it will be much thicker. “Roubo on Marquetry” was 248 pages; deluxe “Roubo on Furniture” will be 472.
We have ordered 1,000 copies of deluxe “Roubo on Furniture” and the price will be $550 for U.S. customers. The book will be available for Canadian and international customers with an additional charge for postage. It will not be sold through our retailers.
Like the deluxe “Roubo on Marquetry,” all customers who order the book early can opt to have their name listed in the book as a “subscriber.” Also like the deluxe “Roubo on Marquetry,” this book is a significant financial risk for us. We know it will be a fantastic piece of work, so we’re happy to do it.
Because of all the handwork involved in this book because it is oversized, my guess is we will open ordering in about a month and the book will ship in June.
We have sold out of the 500 copies of the letterpress version of “Roman Workbenches.” What happens now? You can still buy the pdf of the book for $15. After we print and ship all the copies that have been ordered, we might have a handful of extras that we will sell online. We also hope to have some unbound copies for sale.
I know this all sounds vague, but it really depends on how many copies are destroyed during the binding process. Commercial binding can destroy up to 30 percent of your press run (I know that sounds crazy).
Several people have asked if we’re going to offer a standard offset-printed version of “Roman Workbenches” and the answer is: We hope to.
I have two research trips coming up this year. If they are fruitful and people seem interested in the topic, we’ll print an offset version that is expanded with lots of photography and the additional information from Italy and Germany.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Charles H. Hayward at The Woodworker, Roman Workbenches, Roubo Translation, Uncategorized
My daughter Maddy has almost run out of our second batch of Lost Art Press stickers. So if you want some of these three recent designs, don’t tarry.
You can order the stickers one of two ways. For customers in the United States, you can send a $5 bill and a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) to Maddy at:
Stick it to the Man
P.O. Box 3284
Columbus, OH 43210
Maddy will take your SASE and put three high-quality vinyl stickers – one of each design – in your envelope and mail it to you immediately. (If you send $10, she’ll send two sets; $15 will get you three sets). She also has been throwing in some bonus stickers….
For customers outside the United States (or those who don’t want to use an SASE), you can order stickers through Maddy’s etsy store. Stickers there are $6 for domestic customers. Because of the international postage, sets are $10 for international (sorry, but there are fees and this and that).
Maddy came home last weekend from Ohio State and we talked about how her sticker business was going. If you have ordered stickers from Maddy, you have made a huge difference in her life. This might sound corny, but now she can afford name-brand granola bars instead of the generic ones (this is a big deal). Also, she and her boyfriend could afford to attend a rodeo last month and saw a monkey ride a sheepdog that was herding sheep. She’s an animal science major (and animal lover) so this was really sweet (and kinda strange).
So thank you all. This little sticker business means I don’t have to sell my plasma so baby can go to the rodeo.
— Christopher Schwarz
P.S. Please note that the puppy shown in the photo above has not been drugged or harmed by the sticker. He was running around trying to eat some garbage and then fell asleep in Maddy’s lap.
Filed under: Stickers, Uncategorized
I was flattening some panels by hand the other day (too wide for my machines), and that got me thinking about plane blade camber. If you search online for discussions of blade camber, you’ll find that a great many electrons have been spilled on the topic. One common thread in these discussions is frequent confusion over the fact that a bevel-up blade requires more camber (i.e., the center of the blade needs to protrude further beyond its corners) than a bevel-down blade to have the same effect.
On the one hand, everyone seems comfortable with the notion that as the blade’s bedding angle decreases, the effective radius of curvature of its edge increases. This is easy to see. First, find yourself a thin disk (e.g., a CD or DVD) and hold it up at arm’s length:
When the disc is perpendicular to your line of sight, the apparent radius of its lower edge is equal to its actual radius (2-3/8″ in the case of a CD/DVD). But start tilting it from perpendicular, and the curve flattens; its apparent radius increases:
Tilt even more, and it keeps increasing:
From the point of view of the wood fiber that’s about to have its head chopped off by an oncoming blade, the greater the tilt from vertical, the greater the apparent radius of curvature, and consequently the less the depth of cut at the center of the blade. And since the blade in a bevel-up plane is tilted further from perpendicular, its apparent radius of curvature is larger than that of the bevel-down blade unless we make its actual radius of curvature smaller (i.e., increase its camber). Easy.
On the other hand, we’ve also all seen diagrams of bevel-down vs. bevel-up planes seated on their respective frogs:
The resulting cutting geometries in the two cases are identical. The blade’s cutting edge comprises two intersecting planes, one formed by the back surface, and the other by the bevel. The only difference between the two configurations is that these two planar surfaces switch roles.
This is where I think some people get confused. If the two setups are equivalent, why can’t we measure the blade camber in the same way with both? In truth, we sort of can, but there’s a difference between the bevel in a cambered blade vs. a straight blade. When the camber is small, that difference is also small (and negligible), but with a strongly cambered blade, such as one we might use in a fore or scrub plane, it’s not. With a cambered blade, the bevel is not planar. In fact, the bevel is a section of the surface of a cone:
That’s where the equivalence breaks down, as it’s no longer possible to directly superimpose the cutting geometry of a bevel-up blade onto that of a bevel-down blade. And so we go back to always measuring the camber with respect to the back of the blade.
Anyway, is any of this important? Only to the extent that you get a feel for how the different parameters interact, so that you’ll know how much to camber your blade to achieve a given depth of cut.
I’m avoiding the math here, because it’s been covered before (such as here and here), but I did put together a little online app that lets you plug in some numbers to see how this all works. Here’s a screenshot:
You can find the app here. To use it, enter your bed angle and blade width, and one of the other three values. The app will compute the other two corresponding values for you, dynamically updating the display as you modify the values. The bed angle is in degrees; the other values can be in whatever length units you choose, as long as you’re consistent (inches, millimetres, furlongs, it makes no difference).
Now, I know that someone is going to read this and then get out their micrometer and measure their blade camber to three decimal places, to which I say,
STOP!! PLEASE STEP AWAY FROM THE PLANE!!
The point of the app is intuition, not prescription. The precise value of camber that you end up with is largely irrelevant, as long as you’re in the ballpark.
Don’t worry, plane happy.
Filed under: Uncategorized
If you have been interested in the low Roman workbenches I’ve been writing about, here’s your chance to follow along while two woodworkers build them. You can even join in and build your own with home-center materials and firewood (more on that in a minute).
Joshua Klein and Mike Updegraff of Mortise & Tenon magazine are each going to build Roman workbenches and blog about the experience starting on Feb. 20. You can read more details about their plans here.
When starting with rough materials, these workbenches take me about 10 hours to build (that includes the time to document the process with photos and notes). But I have an electric lathe. I think that balances out the equation – I think anyone can build this bench in about 10 hours.
If you don’t have a slab on hand, here’s what I would do: Buy a 12’-long 2×12. Crosscut it in half. Glue the two halves face to face. That’s the benchtop. For the legs, go buy some firewood from the grocery store if you don’t have a big firewood pile already. Split the legs out of firewood billets.
The low Roman workbench is a lot of fun to build. But it’s even more fun to use at the end. You get to sit while you work – nice!
It’s also funny how the low bench has become the community center for my workshop. When I have visitors, they naturally gravitate to the low bench and sit there (I’m the only one who sits on my Roubo bench).
If you’d like more details on why the Roman bench is a marvel of early technology and workholding, check out the article I wrote on it for Issue 2 of Mortise & Tenon magazine.
I’ll definitely be following Joshua and Mike’s progress that week. But I won’t be building along. I’ve already got one….
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Roman Workbenches, Uncategorized
Yesterday Chris and I had a Q & A session about stick chairs, the Hall’s Croft chair, chair design and more. It was only towards the end of the evening portion of our chat, and after he had consumed two beers, that it was necessary to redact a line or two.
Suzanne: The last time we talked about chairs was in January 2015, your pre-condition was we had to be naked (although we were about 550 miles apart) and it was titled ‘Naked Necessity.’ What pre-condition do you have this time?
Chris: Let’s say hirsutus maximus.
Suzanne: Sorry, I’m rejecting your hairy pre-condition and going with a jolt of Tia Maria in my afternoon coffee. Let’s get started.
When you see a stick chair what do you find pleasing to your eye?
Chris: Well first it’s the angles. Peter Galbert, the bard of chairmakers, nailed it when he wrote this: “The angles of the legs, along with their design, help give the chair a ‘gesture.’ Whether the desired result is a visual lightness and sense of action or stability and weight, angles are important.”
I’m looking for a gesture that is somewhere in the neighborhood of “f-you world.” I like chairs that have an animalistic stance – like they would jump up and lick your face or tear you to shreds.
Most Windsor chairs have a stateliness that leaves me cold. In contrast, Welsh stick chairs are more like a crazy uncle.
Suzanne: For the woodworker in you what do you like about these chairs?
Chris: These chairs were not manufactured. And in many cases they were built by the same people who used them. So every chair is different and is connected to a person.
Plus, the makers didn’t follow the same rulebook as the Windsor makers of High Wycombe. They used angles that were more rakish and severe (and got away with it). They used construction methods that were simpler (and many of these chairs survived 200 or more years). And they used found materials. The armbow of many of these chairs is a curved branch they nicked from a coppice or from their own land.
You don’t have to be a professional chairmaker to make nice Welsh stick chairs. You just have to have some sticks, a plank for the seat and a few tools.
Suzanne: When you and Roy Underhill stumbled upon the Hall’s Croft chair what were your first impressions?
Chris: Roy and I had spent the entire day crawling around the floors of the dwellings of Stratford-on-Avon, photographing all the stuff that was fascinating (I filled a 32gb SD card). There was a short bed, for example. Why is it so short? Was it because people were shorter back then? Or was it because beliefs at the time were that you should not sleep flat – you should sleep upright – so evil spirits didn’t get in through your mouth.
When we saw the Halls Croft chair we both just stopped for a minute. Unlike a lot of the stuff we’d seen that day, this chair was out of the norm (by the way, I really doubt it was contemporary to the house; many of these chairs are much younger than dealers suspect or advertise).
The first thing we did was set up a perimeter. I poked my head into the dining room to make sure the docent was facing the cafe. Then Roy started putting objects on the chair that were an identifiable dimension – such as a touristy pamphlet – so we could scale the chair’s parts when we got back to the States. We took dozens of photos each whilst I kept a lookout for the very helpful employees of the house museum.
We did it without upsetting anyone and without anyone (me) having to say: I’ll create a diversion!
I think Roy liked the odd crest rail. I really liked the birdcage-like structure of the spindles.
Suzanne: You encourage woodworkers to explore many furniture forms to develop their knowledge of joinery and their own designs and suggest carrying a sketchbook, camera, etc. What else do you do to get a good record of a piece of furniture?
Chris: I always carry a camera with me. It’s a habit I picked up as a newspaper reporter and has served me well as a furniture designer. I also carry a credit card – not to pay anyone off but to put it in photos so I can scale the object in Photoshop. And I try to take photos that resemble construction drawings: a straight-on elevation, a profile and (if possible) a plan. Then I take a “beauty shot” to remind me of how all these pieces add up together, and I take photos of the important details.
I rarely make replicas. But knowing what a maker did – exactly – with a beautiful piece is solid gold information.
Suzanne: As for measuring the chair I’m surprised you didn’t use body parts as measuring devises. And no, not that body part (this isn’t ancient Rome after all). I mean the width of your palm, elbow to wrist, etc.
Chris: Using body parts works in a pinch. I usually have a 6” rule in my man-purse when I travel – that’s the easiest gnomon to deal with because you can pick out 1/16”s easily. I know all this sounds a bit wacko, but a good image inventory of pieces you’ve encountered is a huge help when designing. It’s like a sketchbook of other people’s work that you love.
Suzanne: Would you say your experience as a chairmaker plus the image library you have built provides you with a “muscle memory” of seat proportions, back splay, etc.?
Chris: That’s a good way to put it. Once you see thousands of designs you quickly see any design as a collection of angles, segments of circles, boxes and other assorted shapes. It’s a bit like seeing the code in “The Matrix” or the magic point where you think in a foreign language.
Suzanne: To use Peter Galbert’s term “gesture” of the chair the features that caught my eye, besides the crest rail, are the roundness of the arms and the gap in the back. The arms curve around to embrace the sitter plus the surface of the arms are rounded. The gap in the back adds a lightness overall. You posted a photo of a similar chair. In your study of these chairs have you seen this feature very often?
Chris: Sitting in the chair is very much like receiving a hug. There is an amazing compactness to it. It’s so close to you that it feels like an exoskeleton or a carapace.
While the compactness of the chair isn’t common, having the arms threaded by the back spindles is fairly common. As I have been told by our John Brown team, Welsh chairmakers didn’t do much steam bending, so this technique allows them to cut the arms from solid material (no bending) and yet create a pleasing horseshoe shape.
To be honest I was skeptical of this style of armbow until I sat in one. They are amazingly rigid thanks to the spindles below.
Suzanne: The original chair was made from elm. You chose sycamore. Why and what do you like and not like about sycamore for this chair?
Chris: Vernacular chairs were generally made from whatever materials were on hand. So that’s the philosophy I use when building chairs. Elm is difficult to get here – you have to find it and cut it yourself. And Dutch elm disease made finding elm a tricky business.
When you look at the materials available around the Midwest, sycamore is a logical choice. It’s a junk tree of no real commercial value. Its grain is interlocked (like that of elm), which makes it impossible to split. (That’s a good thing with seat material.) And it can be had if you ask around.
Like elm, sycamore is an enormous challenge to work. If your tools are not razor sharp, it will tear out horribly. Its density varies greatly depending on the color of the wood. But if you take the time to conquer it, the rewards are spectacular. The quartersawn figure is like a field of stars.
Suzanne: The Hall’s Croft chair has a unique crest rail which I have dubbed the Trinocular. You indicated the form might be an exercise in geometry. Explain, or do we need to bring in Jim Tolpin?
Chris: Well one of the themes underlying the geometry of woodworking tools is that if you set your dividers to the circumference of any circle, then that distance can be stepped off exactly six times around that circle’s circumference. Hollows and rounds are one example of how this plays out in our tools. If you want to know what radii a certain plane cuts, you measure the cutter’s width. That width equals its radius. That makes layout predictable.
So the crest rail is three half circles. That means the length of the crest rail is exactly six times the radius of each circle. The radius also equaled the width of the area below the half-circles. So the maker laid out the entire crest rail with one setting of his or her dividers. I don’t know if they were lazy, in a hurry or winking at the person who stumbled on it 200 years later.
Suzanne: I just had a flashback to 8th grade Geometry class.
You made several different crest rails and finally put aside the Trinocular. You also made other design changes to the chair. Describe what you did and why. Did your changes include resizing the chair for the modern body?
Chris: I don’t make replicas unless a customer requests it specifically. I made replicas for many years to get inside the heads of early makers, but I’m at the point now where I sit in a chair and know exactly what needs to be changed to make it suit me and the modern frame.
For my first version of the chair I kept the seat dimensions and leg angles true to the original. I wanted to see how the chair sat because I didn’t get to sit in the original (promise!). But when it came to the crest rail, I had to make changes. The trinoc crest rail was too quirky, low and flat. I made a couple trinoc crests and just couldn’t fall in love. So I increased the length of the four back spindles and carved a curved crest out of solid beech.
I also made some minor changes to the seat profile and arms, but nothing major.
For the third version of the chair, which I’m building now, I’ve changed a whole host of things. The seat is slightly wider and deeper but retains the same overall feeling of getting a chair hug. The rake and splay of the leg angles are all new. I wanted to give it a slightly more aggressive stance and make it more stable in back.
I saddled the set to add comfort (the original had a flat seat). And I’m working on a slightly different crest rail that will tuck under the sitter’s shoulder blades. Most people will see it as the same chair. But the third one is a different animal.
Suzanne: What did you learn from making this chair? Did making the Hall’s Croft chair help you with your design of the staked armchair that you didn’t get to include in the “The Anarchist’ Design Book”?
Chris: I really love the birdcage effect of this chair’s spindles and will use that a lot in my future work. This chair gave me some clues about how to deal with a staked armchair a la “The Anarchist’s Design Book,” but that chair is on hold right now. I pushed things a little too far with its design and ended up pinching the sitter’s side meat – not good. So I’m finishing up this other chair and am putzing around with the staked armchair. As of now, I’m detaching the arms from the back spindles and trying to see if the chair still feels durable.
Or it will go in the burn pile.
Suzanne: You are also planning a staked settle. Where are you in designing that piece? Have you made a settle before?
Chris: I have made a number of settles over the years. They’re kind of a weird form with their own sets of rules that aren’t exactly like chairs.
I’ve designed this staked settle a couple times, and I think I have it nailed. But I won’t know until I build it.
Suzanne: I am ever hopeful you will build one of those Welsh pub settles with the bacon compartment.
Chris: Anything with a bacon compartment is a good thing. One might call it the “meat pocket.”
Suzanne: What kind of finish did you use for the chair?
Chris: Organic linseed oil and beeswax.
Suzanne: I am slightly obsessed with the Trinocular crest rail. Do you see any other use for it? Door stop? Bookend? Trivet?
Chris: [Redacted – Heavily Redacted] OK, I’ve had two beers. Please excuse that.
I don’t know. They look like a pair of “wooden knuckles” to me. Maybe they could be used in a massage situation. The shape is utterly odd – like the face of a three-eyed frog. I like it, truth be told. But I can’t see it as a component in my furniture – yet.
Suzanne: Do you have any questions for me? I take that back. Chris, thank you! We will have to do this again in another two years.
Chris: Thanks for doing this little chat. It’s actually an interesting exercise to put some of this stuff into words that has been swimming around in my head.
Off to find beer No. 3.
Suzanne: While you enjoy your beer I’m going to update my woodworking dictionary with some meat-based terms: meat clamp, sitter’s side meat, meat bushing and meat pocket.
You can read our first chair Q & A, ‘Naked Necessity’ here.
You can read more about the Hall’s Croft chair here.
Chris did five posts on building a stick chair. Click on the titles listed below to go directly to the article.
The gallery has a collection chair of photos from the Instagram feed.
Filed under: The Anarchist's Design Book
We are down to 30-something copies of the letterpress version of “Roman Workbenches.” This book is currently in production and will ship sometime in April 2017.
Brian Stuparyk at Steam Whistle Letterpress and I are trying to create a book that is as perfect as the technology will allow, but no more. Using a sheet-fed proofing press, there are limits to how precisely you can get 16 pages to line up on both sides of a 19” x 25” sheet.
Brian is a maestro with his Vandercook press, so I know that the pages will be in near-perfect registration. But we’ve been negotiating with the bindery, which is accustomed to laser-line precision. That’s not what we’re after with this job.
As with anything handmade, there are small (very small) imperfections that accumulate to produce an object that is not technically perfect, but is aesthetically so. So a page might be 1/32” out of register. Another page might have its image tilted a fraction of a degree. These things are not visible to the eye. They can only be measured with precision tools. But they can be sensed.
Will we succeed? I have every faith in Brian. We’ve worked on a couple of very tricky jobs together (and many non-tricky ones). “Roman Workbenches” is going to be something to see.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Roman Workbenches, Uncategorized