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Lost Art Press: Chris Schwarz

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Updated: 2 hours 58 min ago

Elephants at Work

Sun, 05/31/2015 - 9:05pm


…Early the next day, while yet cool, we visited one of the decided ‘lions’ of the city—the working elephants. Formerly these were very numerous, being the heavy workers in the timber yards and great saw mills. Machinery has now supplanted them in all establishments run by foreigners. In each of the native mills, where small orders are filled, two of the noble beasts yet perform the heavy labor which human hands unassisted could scarcely manage.

We visited some of these the second time on our return from up country, and were greatly interested. They draw the logs, many of them three feet in diameter and thirty to forty feet long, from the river, pile them up in systematic order, and when they are needed roll them to the ways and assist in adjusting them for the saw.

Lumber is not here sawed into boards, but the slab is taken off and the good stuff left in square timber to be ripped up into boards where consumed. This is done both for home consumption and for exportation. After the log is thus cut the elephant goes among the machinery, takes the slabs away, and then carries the good timber and piles it up or lays it gently upon the ox carts to be hauled.

A carpenter we saw wanted lumber from a particular log which was under several others. One of the monsters rolled the upper logs off and pushed the chosen stick to the mill. The way was not clear—the log butted against others. He pushed these aside, and guided his piece through them with a sagacity almost human. His stick became wedged.

He pushed and tugged; it would not budge, but at a whispered word from the mahout and the promise of a bit of nice food he bent to it. Still it stuck. With a whistle audible for a quarter of a mile he got on his knees, straightened out his hind legs, and put his whole force to it. He was successful. We could almost read his satisfaction in the gentle flap of his huge ears and the graceful curve of his proboscis as he put it up to the mounted mahout, asking his reward.

Sticks over two feet thick and ten to fifteen feet long are lifted up bodily upon the great ivories, and are then carried off and laid upon the gangways so gently as not to make a jar. One stick 22 inches thick and 22 feet long we saw carried in this way.

In carrying, the beast had a path not three feet wide among the masses of loose logs. He had to plant his fore feet upon these and thus walk a considerable distance. He looked as if he were walking upon his hind legs. The corner of a bamboo hut stood in his way. He lifted the log over its roof, and bent his body so that his sides gently scraped the corner of the house and did not shake it. A hundredth part of his weight would have caused it to topple from its pile foundation.

He was ordered to carry off a pile of 4×6 pieces 10 to 15 feet long. He ran his tusks under a few. The mahout told him that was not enough. He tried again and probably doubled his load. His driver gave him a fierce prod with his iron hook over the forehead. With a shriek of rage he sent his ivories under the pile and threw his snout over the top. He had to get on his knees to get the load up. It was a decent dray-load.

As he passed us, perched on a pile of logs, I moved away, for I thought there was blood in his eye, and thought he might dump the load on the foreigners. But when he came back he stopped before us, got on his knees, bowed three times, and held out his snout to us for a gratuity. I pitched a coin to the mahout. He whispered to the beast that his elephantship would get a part of it.

This seemed satisfactory, for he snuffed up a pint of dust, blew it over his rump, and marched off for a bath in a mud hole not far away. Each mill has a pair. They work only short spells, and take their rest when feeding in grass grown mud ponds.

A mahout (elephant keeper) was addicted to the use of opium. Orders were given that when the elephants came into town for supplies this man should remain at our station some miles away. The wily fellow had a long talk with his elephant—they seem to understand Burmese—and told him to go to town and get him some opium. Off he went and, reaching the village, tore around like mad. The villagers went to the trees.

The elephant nosed around, smelt where opium was stored, took a ball, and trotted to his keeper. This was done a second time, when the master gave orders that a small piece of the drug should be given the beast whenever he came to town. In this way the mahout was kept on very short allowance, for the elephant did not seem to comprehend the necessity of getting a ball, but was satisfied with a small bit.

At another time an elephant camp got out of sugar. It was near a trail along which a pony train from China passed. The mahouts knew a train was near at hand—one of them explained to his brute what he wanted, and sent him to intercept the train. He did so, and scared the men to the trees and scattered the loads of the ponies. The elephant found some sugar baskets, ate his own fill—they are fond of sweets—and carried off the basket to his keeper.

Each elephant has his individual keeper, but when they go into camp at close of day they are sent off alone to the jungles for dry wood, and never fail to bring the proper kind. From many things told me I am almost persuaded they have decided reasoning qualities and are simply taught tricks by rote. We watched the performance of several at Rangoon for two or three hours, and saw evidences of sagacity far surpassing the little tricks done in the menageries.

The mahout sits on a houdah on the back of the huge animal. He rarely speaks loud enough for one to hear him a few feet off. Mr. Lacey believes they understand Burmese. One day he praised one of the elephants in this language. The animal showed great pleasure. He then spoke disparingly of him. The vain monster gave such unmistakable signs of being angry that the mahout asked Lacey to desist to prevent danger.

Excerpt from Carter Harrison’s letter to the Chicago Mail

The Pittsburgh Press – Feb 21, 1888

—Jeff Burks

Filed under: Historical Images
Categories: Hand Tools

Social Economics

Sun, 05/31/2015 - 9:01pm


Interesting Figures Relative to the Cabinet-Making Industry

As a Fine Art It Has Been Killed by Labor-Saving Machines

The Chicago Trade and Labor Union held a meeting at Mechanic’s Hall, No 54 West Lake street, yesterday afternoon, at which about 200 representatives of the various trades and occupations were present. O. A. Bishop was called to the chair.

T.J. Morgan presented the following report on the condition of the trade of cabinetmakers: There are 5,500 men and boys employed in the 160 furniture factories, averaging thirty-five men. One firm employs 250, one 200, one 185, one 170, one 155, one 140, one 125, one 120, one 115, one 90. Two average 80 each, ten average 50 each; the rest employ 10 to 40 each: thirteen establishments on the North Side employ a total of 310 persons.

Small shops cannot compete, and most storekeepers buy from several wholesale manufacturers. “Easy-payment” stores have driven out of business a large number of retail furniture stores, and the retail manufacture is forever doomed.

The average weekly earnings during these prosperous (?) times are $8. Very few females are employed; the employment of child-labor amounts to about 5 per cent, with fast increasing demand. No apprentices are needed or employed. Trades-unions have no influence whatever on this trade.

The disastrous strike of this trade for eight hours in 1879, brought about by the general eight hour agitation throughout the country and by the Eight-Hour League of this city, under the weak leadership of A.R. Parsons, who prevented all discussion and examination of the chances of success and without ascertaining what action the workers of the other manufacturing cities competing for this trade with Chicago would take until it was too late, completely wiped out all Union influence. The division of labor in this occupation also tends to prevent any effective organization among the men for protective purposes.

Years ago the cabinetmaker was one of the most skillful and best paid of all the artisans, with dress and general bearing suited to those conscious of possessing the power to earn a good living for himself and family. The wife of a cabinetmaker states that when first married, the fact that her husband was a cabinetmaker filled her with a sense of pride and confidence, but this pride and confidence inspired by her husband’s skill has been rudely destroyed, for the last few years has been a bitter struggle for existence. Her husband’s last suit of clothes was purchased ten years ago and the weary journey to and from work morning and night during this severe winter has been made by him with no overcoat to protect him.

The introduction of machinery has done away with the skill and experience absolutely necessary a few years ago, the latter being no longer necessary. Wages have fallen very low, in some case below that of the common day-laborer. Ten percent only of those employed in this trade are competent cabinetmakers, and these are employed upon custom-work or upon articles made to special order. The 90 per cent of all the cabinetmakers may be termed factory-hands, and work only upon a part of an article of furniture, and are not capable of completing an entire article of manufacture.

Most factories confine themselves to making a single article, one making bedsteads, another desks or chairs, bureaus, etc. The work is done by the piece, each man working continually upon one part of a chair, table, bedstead, bureau, desk, school or church furniture, etc., and thus an immense amount of work is done for very little pay, because green hands with a few weeks’ practice can replace an old hand. The employers have absolute power to control and fix the rate of wages and fix the prices of goods, and they exercise that power to the fullest extent.

The workers are obliged to furnish a set of tools, a competent cabinetmaker requiring a set costing from $75 to $100, which he has to renew when broken or worn out, and recently some employers compel the men to furnish their benches also, thus making the men furnish part of the capital stock upon which the business is carried on. Extra work, such as extra finish or changes, has to be done without extra pay. New hands are usually compelled to work at cheaper rates than is paid for the same work to old hands.

One branch of this trade—that of varnishing—is carried on in a sweat-box called a “flaming-room.” Every window is hermetically closed, the floor kept wet, and the temperature at about 100 degrees Fahrenheit: this is to prevent particles of dust from settling on the furniture. These conditions are profitable to the employer, but the workmen become affected with the “turpentine disease,” which affects the bladder and kidneys, and often compels them to quit work.

Veneering is also very unhealthy, the dust of the wood and the heat of the rooms in which the work is done causing consumption. The veneer-workers and the poor devils in the sweat-box get an extra dollar a week to compensate them for their loss of health and life. The general conditions under which the cabinetmaker works is detrimental to health and long life, and every father who cares for the health and future of his children will prevent them from entering this trade.

No hope of becoming an employer inspires the efforts of the cabinetmaker: $20,000 at least are required to start in this trade with any chance of success, and the development of this business is so rapid as to inevitably result in the absorption of all the small shops by a few great firms.

Discussion On The Report

John Warner moved that the sentiment expressed in the report be indorsed by the meeting. Mr. McKee said that there was all through the report a spirit of animosity and prejudice against employers, and he denied that the power of the employer to regulate wages was absolute. John Warner remarked that he had heard Mr. Morgan express similar sentiments in regard to employés. T.J. Morgan said it was not a question as to the philosophical deduction made in reference to the relationship of the employer and employé, but a mere statement made from the cabinetmakers. The report was adopted in accordance with the motion of Mr. Warner.

The Chicago Tribune -February 21, 1881

—Jeff Burks

Filed under: Historical Images
Categories: Hand Tools

‘Chairmaker’s Notebook:’ Reviews and an Update on Plans

Sun, 05/31/2015 - 5:41pm


There have been several glowing reviews of Peter Galbert’s “Chairmaker’s Notebook,” but because of other book projects I haven’t had time to compile them for the blog.

Here are a few that I like:

One from carver David Fisher.

A second from chairmaker Ray Schwanenberger.

And a third from J. Norman Reid at Highland Woodworking.

We don’t solicit reviews, so these are the real deal. The most gratifying part of the reviews is that people are becoming aware that “Chairmaker’s Notebook” isn’t about chairs alone. It’s a deep dive into the world of high craftsmanship that starts with a simple walk through the woods.

In other chairmaking news, Peter and I are in the final stages of proofing the full-size plans for the two chairs featured in the book. These plans will likely be printed on one huge sheet of engineering-weight paper and be reasonably priced – about $25 to $28, if our supplier can deliver the quality we want.

More news on the plans is forthcoming later this week.

— Christopher Schwarz

Filed under: Chairmaker's Notebook
Categories: Hand Tools

Good Wood is Like Good Glue

Sat, 05/30/2015 - 12:25pm


This morning I finally cut into the stack of Port Orford cedar I’d purchased to build a Japanese sliding-lid box.

I picked up the stock at Northwest Timber while I was working out in the Portland, Ore. area and the company shipped it back home for me. (I wrote a blog entry about Northwest here.) I bought enough cedar for a single box with a typical amount of waste when I am purchasing good wood.

During my tour of Northwest, I was quite impressed by the quality of stuff the company sells. Every splinter of it is primo, photographed on the web site and ready to ship. Yes, it’s pricy compared to buying it from a typical lumberyard. But Northwest is no typical lumberyard.

Even though I knew the stock was perfect, I was surprised that I was able to easily get two sliding-lid boxes out of the four sticks. I had expected to get one box and a few extra parts. So the cost per board foot was effectively slashed in half. And because I’ll have two boxes to sell, It’s a big win all around.

Definitely check out Northwest if you are looking for figured or specialty woods. I have them bookmarked.

Back to the shop.

— Christopher Schwarz

Filed under: Personal Favorites
Categories: Hand Tools

On Teak

Sat, 05/30/2015 - 5:59am


There is some wood that I cannot bear to discard, no matter how small the scrap. A quick survey of my wood rack this morning revealed bundles of very old quartered yellow pine, huon pine, Honduran mahogany and stacks of little teak offcuts.

Though it has been a couple years since I completed the projects for “Campaign Furniture,” the teak from that book is still with me daily. I use it for making drawer runners, skids for tool chests and the occasional folding stool. It might be another 10 years before I get rid of it all.

As my teak is more than 50 years old, I wonder if it was harvested as per the following description (I thought I smelled elephants).

— Christopher Schwarz

“This (Tectona grandis) is the only true teak. As a constructive timber its only rival is British oak. Apart, too, from the limited shipments from Siam and Java, the world depends for its supplies on the forests of India and Burma. The teak forests suffered considerably during the Second World War. The value of the timber had been recognized by the Old East India Company and was used by the naval authorities early in the 19th century. Fortunately almost all of the areas in India containing teak are under government supervision….

“The tree, which may rise to 100 ft. or more in height, is noted for its exceptionally large and rough-surfaced leaves. These have been found up to 18 ins. or 20 ins. in length, with a breadth of from 9 ins. to 14 ins. To natives they serve as a substitute for glasspaper….

“The method of extraction from the Indian teak forests are interesting. Trees that are deemed by the inspectors to be in a condition or of a size that warrants their removal are first girdled; that is, an incision is made round the base of the trunk of the standing tree, right through the sap. This prevents the upward flow of the life juices of the tree and effectively kills the growth. It remains standing in this state for two years or more, and in the interval the wood loses a great part of its weight. This operation is necessary. If felled straightaway, the logs, owing to their great weight would not float; and, as the river currents are the only means of transport, this procedure has to be adopted. Consequent upon this method of extraction, and owing to the lengthy period it takes to prepare the wood for market after it has been floated to the mills, all timber is in a well-seasoned condition by the time it reaches our own and other markets. Trained elephants, with an intelligence that is said to be almost uncanny, are employed for handling the timber, and under the direction of native labour perform all the manual work, dragging the heavy trees down to the water-courses and moving the timber with their trunks while it is being converted at the mills and until it is finally shipped.”

— “Timbers for Woodwork” (Drake, 1969) edited by J.C.S. Brough

Filed under: Campaign Furniture
Categories: Hand Tools

Nice Video of Klint’s Safari Chair

Fri, 05/29/2015 - 4:55am

If you’d like a close look at some of the details of Kaare Klint’s Safari Chair, check out this video (OK, it’s a commercial) from Carl Hansen & Søn on the piece.

You get to see the elegant cigar-shape stretchers and how the slightly tapered tenons flow into the overall shape. Plus a bunch of nice close-ups of the way the leather is attached to the wood.

I’ve seen a lot of new Roorkee/Safari chairs on the market lately, some of them with design details I rejected. On my first Roorkees I used a vegetable-tanned leather that I left natural. Heck, I even sent photos of it to Popular Woodworking to use in the article published three years ago on building them. I quickly changed my mind on the leather color, thinking it to “fleshy” – almost a “Silence of the Roorkees” look.


But several design houses are now triumphing that look – natural leather with dark wood.

I’m still not a fan.

If you want to build one of these chairs, complete plans are in “Campaign Furniture,” now in its second printing.

— Christopher Schwarz

Filed under: Campaign Furniture
Categories: Hand Tools

Machine Shop Characters

Thu, 05/28/2015 - 9:06pm


There are many things to be learned in the machine shop by keeping one’s eyes open, and observing the characteristics and idiosyncrasies of our shopmates.

There is, for instance, the much talked about and well known man who “knows it all.” You can tell him nothing that he does not already know. It doesn’t matter what sort of a job you are doing, he will tell you how he generally does it, even though it is the first of its kind. He is always afraid that you will spoil the job, because you are not doing it as he thinks it ought to be done.

You will also find the man who thinks that “anything is good enough.” You will recognize him by looking into his tool chest or drawer. It looks like a veritable junk shop. His hammer handle is without a wedge, or it is split; his chisels always have a fringe on the top, which would make one think that they had been hit with a sledge; his squares and fancy tools (if he has any) are scattered about among the files and scrap that invariably accumulate in the bottom of his drawer. The work that he turns out is on a parallel with his tools; if he is a lathesman, he will try to cut out a sharp corner with a round-nosed tool, and as a natural consequence manages to cut a groove into the mandrel.

Closely related to him is the man who calipers his work until he has taken off too much stock, and then wonders why it is that “Jim” seldom or never spoils a job, while he is always in hard luck. If he is keying a wheel onto a shaft, he somehow manages to file off enough of the key to make it drive chock up to the head before he knows where he is.

I must not forget the chronic borrower. He has that nice, smooth, oily way of coming up to you with a “Say, Bill, lend us that center punch of yours, I’m having mine dressed,” and somehow that is the last you will ever see of that or any other tool that you loan him, unless you jog him about it, and then—“Oh, that’s so, I forgot all about it.” Verily, he is a fiend, and has made many a man resolve not to keep a decent tool in the shop, for fear that it will eventually find its way into the drawer of this shop abomination.

Did you ever see the man who imagines that the shop would go to smash if he wasn’t there to look after things? He rushes about as though the whole concern rested on his shoulders, and he has that careworn look that would suggest that he was responsible for the outcome of all matters pertaining to the future welfare of everything and everybody about the place. He thinks that nothing has been done right, unless it was done at his suggestion. Poor fellow, I really feel sorry for him. I believe that many of these men are sincere in their beliefs, but it is only a delusion. They don’t seem to realize that there isn’t a man in the shop, or any other place, whose position could not be filled by some one else with perhaps greater efficiency.

There is the chronic crank who has a growl for every one; he is the terror of the apprentice, who is afraid of his swearing and abuse. So I might go on—the man who does everything with a rush, but somehow never gets through any sooner than the man who takes time to use his brain, and brings into his work ideas and contrivances which more than make up for his neighbor’s expenditure of muscle.

The man who has a hobby, and who will talk about it whenever he can get any one to listen to him, “and a host of others.”

Charles Stelzle

American Machinist – February 18, 1892

—Jeff Burks

Filed under: Historical Images
Categories: Hand Tools

Walks to Office

Thu, 05/28/2015 - 9:01pm


Leo to Capricornus

Notwithstanding the noise, dirt, and discomforts of London, there are thousands of its population who prefer it to all other places. We have known some of these town-worshippers: when, after much deliberation, they visit a country friend, they are always miserable until they get back again. Charles Lamb, who

—’Ranged the crowded streets
With a keen eye,’

affords a memorable instance of love of urban life, amounting almost to a devout feeling. We have another example in Dr Johnson: his attachment to London breaks out in many parts of his writings. In one place he says: ‘The happiness of London is not to be conceived but by those who have been in it. I will venture to say there is more learning and science within the circumference of ten miles from where we now sit, than in all the rest of the kingdom.’

And Davy, speaking of the Metropolis, observes: ‘It was to me as the grand theatre of intellectual activity, the field of every species of enterprise and exertion, the metropolis of the world of business, thought, and action. . .. There society of the most refined kind offered daily its banquets to the mind, with such variety, that satiety had no place in them, and new objects of interest and ambition were constantly exciting attention, either in politics, literature, or science.’

To multitudes, however, London is a place to be inhabited only from necessity, which compels them to a weary and monotonous course of task-work. How many of those you meet during a walk to office are mere machines, who have outlived all desire to go and look upon a green field! Their holidays are spent in lounging at the corners of streets, or in the dingy parlours of out-of-the-way taverns.

Stand for a few minutes on any one of the bridges, and watch the human tide as it goes by. You shall see objects of misery such as can be seen nowhere but in London. Not mere penury or destitution, but hopeless misery, that stamps a wolfish expression on the victim’s features, and kindles a fiery madness in the eye. They move with the throng, but are not of it.

Notice, too, how some men’s trade tells upon their physical constitution: the one now approaching, with one shoulder higher than the other, head inclining a little to the right, the left hand always carried in advance, while the right, with bent fingers, is held back—he is a filer in some engine factory. The next, in threadbare coat, with a slight stoop, curved legs, slouching gait, and right arm swinging in uneasy jerks—is a tailor: you cannot mistake him. Here is another with a dirty canvas apron twisted round his waist; he takes long, slow steps, and turns in his left foot—he is a cabinetmaker: and in the same way might we go on reading off each one’s calling or character for a whole day.

The peculiar expression, however, varies in different quarters of the town. ‘Let any one,’ says the Tatler, ‘even below the skill of an astrologer, behold the turn of faces he meets as soon as he passes Cheapside Conduit, and you see a deep attention and a certain unthinking sharpness in every countenance. They look attentive, but their thoughts are engaged on mean purposes. To me it is apparent, when I see a citizen pass by, whether his head is upon woollens, silks, iron, sugar, indigo, or stocks. Now this trace of thought appears to lie hid in the race for two or three generations.’

In the daily walks to office much may be seen of the petty trades of London—the under-current of its commercial activity. Things are turned to account here. In front of patten and clog makers’ shops, stand small baskets filled with the little lumps of beech sawn off the ends of the sole pieces—’only a penny.’

A little farther on, at a place half shop, half shed, a man and two or three boys are busy sawing and splitting firewood. One saws the blocks to the required length, a second splits them, and a third, with the aid of a small lever and a strong loop, ties them up into bundles with marvellous accuracy and celerity. This, though classed among petty trades, requires the employment of large capital. We have seen a wood yard, half an acre in extent, by the side of the Surrey Canal, completely filled, and piled to the height of thirty or forty feet with the ‘chunks’ of pine brought from Canada, to be split up and sold four bundles a penny, to kindle fires in London.

A few of the old cobblers’ stalls, little dens, half in the cellar, and half in the street, are still to be seen. Pass when you will, their occupants are always busy; it does not appear, however, that any of them ever remove into a shop or more roomy premises. A parallel class of out-of-door workers, are the men who go from one butcher’s shop to another to sharpen and set the saws. Half-a-dozen files, a hammer, and ‘sawset,’ a wooden stand with screw-clamps, constitute their stock in trade. The stand is generally painted the professional blue; and the filers appear to be merry fellows, for they whistle blithely while at their work, generally performed at the edge of the pavement.

Another form of petty trade is presented by butchers’ and provision shops: the latter with pennyworths of bacon and scraps of cheese; and the former with fragments—cuttings and trimmings of mutton and beef—of most repulsive appearance. Yet nothing is lost: however indifferent the article offered for sale, there is always a purchaser for it. The New Cut, in Lambeth, the upper extremity of White Cross Street and Clare Market offer a spectacle fraught with profound instruction about the animal food supplied to the humbler classes of London.

‘Garret masters,’ as they are called, represent a considerable amount of petty trade. They are turners, carvers, cabinet and chair makers, and almost every other business that can be mentioned. How often, on a Monday or Tuesday morning, you meet the wife or boys of one of these small traders, with a plank and cane for chairs, or veneer for workboxes—material for another week’s struggle!

On Saturdays you will see the man with tea-caddies, a table, or half-a-dozen chairs upon his shoulder, panting along with hungry and anxious look to find a purchaser. Poor creatures! many of them are to be pitied; for very often the price they obtain does not exceed the cost of the materials on which they have expended six days’ labour. Several of the large advertising houses derive their supplies of goods from these sources.

Boys, looking keen and experienced as grown-up men, are seen both morning and evening delivering and vending newspapers—how they collect round the doors of newspaper offices on the announcement of a ‘second edition,’ waiting for news as jackals for carrion! A singular fact connected with these boys is, that they go “on ‘Change.” Turn up Catherine Street any afternoon about four, and there, within hearing of the Strand, you will find them congregated, and with a perfect Babel of cries exchanging papers. ‘Times’ for ‘Herald’—’Standard’ for ‘Chronicle’—who wants ‘Globe ?’—who wants ‘Daily News?’ are calls kept up for the better part of an hour with vociferous iteration. Watch the group for a few minutes, and you will see that the newsboy is as great an adept in turning a penny as the stockbroker farther east.

Our present purpose is to describe only the more obvious of what presents itself to the eye in a walk to or from office; much more might be written, were we inquiring into the multiplied resources for gaining a livelihood to be found only in great cities.

One more instance, and we must leave this part of our subject. Every day, ‘except Sundays and holidays,’ two rather grim-faced, weather-beaten men may be seen walking up and down under the portico of Somerset House. For years have they taken up their position in this place, from ten to four, and will probably continue to do so until incapacitated by age or infirmities.

They look like man-of-war’s men ‘in shore-going toggery;’ and their business is to stop the sailors, great numbers of whom are continually calling at the Admiralty Office, within the quadrangle of the building, and advise them how to proceed in making their inquiries. With the proverbial generosity of seamen, the applicants, on leaving the office, hand over a fee to their two informants, or invite them to drink at a neighbouring tavern. It is only in such a place as London that it would be worth any one’s while to come out in all weathers, with clean polished shoes, and well-brushed though threadbare coat, to watch for the chances of a living from such an apparently uncertain source.

It sometimes happens that the routine of official duty is disturbed by some unexpected stroke of business; on such occasions, a brief interval is allowed for refreshment at a coffee-house—a half hour, in which some of the peculiarities of London life may be studied. How the disposition to avoid all unnecessary expenditure of words appears in the short, technical orders issued to the attendants! With some customers it borders on slang: ‘Coffee and a thin un!’ or, ‘Dab o’ grease and ball o’ pipeclay!’ may be heard from some remote corner; the speakers’ requirements being a cup of coffee and a thin slice of bread and butter, or a pat of butter with an egg.

You may observe, too, how the demand for bread serves as an index to the season. In cold weather, brown and cottage loaves are most in request; but in warm weather, nothing will go down but light French rolls and tea-cakes. London coffee-houses would be nearly all that could be wished, if their arrangements included ventilation, and real coffee for the fluid supplied to customers.

Should it happen to be a Saturday on which the unexpected detention occurs, the walk home late in the evening reveals many new features of life in the great city. The people who now crowd the streets are quite of a different class to those seen during the day: labourers, operatives, and artisans with their wives and children, are making their purchases for the week or the next day. This is the time to see the infinitesimal system of dealing carried out at butchers ‘and grocers,’ or any place where food is sold.

Petty dealers, never seen at any other time, now station themselves at the entrance of alleys and corners of streets, offering skewers, meat-hooks, penny roasting-jacks, cabbage-nets; in short, a complete batterie de cuisine. They invite purchasers in most vociferous tones, and it is hard to say whether they or the beggars are the more importunate: the latter have to provide for a blank day on the morrow, and make most moving appeals to the charity of bystanders.

Presently you come to a ready-made clothes warehouse, flaring and flashy, in front of which half-a-dozen musicians, engaged by the proprietor, have been blowing away most lustily ever since noon, and will keep on till midnight. This is a frequent mode of advertising in the transpontine regions, and is often adopted by enterprising bakers, when the usual ‘glass of gin,’ or ‘penny returned with every loaf purchased,’ fail to attract. So bewildering are the noise and confusion, that you feel a sensible relief as the walk home-wards carries you into a quieter neighbourhood.

It is pleasant to note the succession of flowers, from the crocuses and violets of early spring to the roses and carnations of summer, offered for sale in the streets. The taste for flowers has increased of late years; some persons you will see never walk to town without a flower in their button-hole during the fine season. From the markets, as centres, they are carried in handcarts, barrows, or baskets, into every quarter of the town: even back streets and dismal alleys are visited by hawkers of flowers: and is it too much to expect that the sweet-scented things may have a humanising influence?

Another pleasure of the summer season, is the opportunity for varying the daily walk by a trip in one of the cheap steamboats. You make for the nearest bridge, walk on board, and for a halfpenny, are set down close to your place of business. These river omnibuses are admirable places for observation; here you may detect many peculiar characteristics of the Londoner.

Rather than wait two minutes and a half for the next boat, they overcrowd the deck until the little vessel is top heavy, and stand wedged together, half suffocated, without the possibility of changing their position. They will land at all sorts of inconvenient wharfs, with imminent risk of life and limb, week after week, and month after month, or until it may please the proprietors to provide better accommodation.

Extremes meet: and London is at once the fastest and slowest of cities. The man who cannot stay to answer your salute in the street, will live with exemplary patience close to some horrid nuisance for ten or twenty years. He wonders what people can possibly find to do with themselves in the country, and goes night after night to the same parlour, in the same tavern, to hear the same vapid talk that he already knows by heart.

You walk home leisurely on summer afternoons, resting a while to contemplate the animated view from the bridge you may choose to cross, or halting at some of the frequent book-stalls. All the world is thirsty: the benches in front of public-houses are crowded with porter drinkers, who imbibe the contents of pewter pots with infinite relish; and venders of ginger beer offer their cooling draught at every hundred yards.

Frequent parties of strangers are now met on the shady side of the street, gazing with wondering delight on all they see. Among these some have evidently come to settle in London: you may see them cheapening furniture at the brokers’ shops; perhaps a widow with two or three children, eking out a scanty income to the utmost.

According to Johnson, whom we have before quoted, ‘there is no place where economy can be so well practised as in London: more can be had here for the money, even by ladies, than everywhere else. You cannot play tricks with your fortune in a small place; you must make a uniform appearance. Here a lady may have well-furnished apartments, and elegant dress, without any meat in her kitchen.’

If the weather be at all rainy, the approaches to the bridges are beset by retailers of second-hand umbrellas: ‘Only one shilling each!’—’Save a shower for a shilling!’ It is a better business than would at first sight appear; for, apart from those who can afford only a shilling for an umbrella, there is many a well-to-do citizen who would rather lay out that sum than get wet to the skin.

Day after day, as your, eye glances along the line of clerks and men in office walking homewards, you are sure to see one carrying a blue bag. A blue bag is considered respectable; it has an official look about it; it suggests ideas of papers and parchments tied up with red tape. But appearances are often deceptive: if that young clerk there, who has not yet reached his first promotion, would show you the contents of his bag, you would see a leg of mutton, a bargain from Leadenhall or Newgate market. We have known oysters, ox-tails for soup, onions, crockery, to be carried home in a blue bag. The bag enables many to economise, who otherwise would be ashamed to do so.

But the days begin to draw in: by and by both sides of the street are shady; and those who look for sunshine as they walk home, see it only on the gilded weathercocks of church steeples, or slanting through the opening of some side street in long sickly-looking rays. And then, before you are aware of it, the return walk is all by lamplight; and the long suburban roads, with their lines of flame on either side, remind you, as you look down them, of the avenues described in the ‘Arabian Nights,’ brilliant with lights, but ending at last in a gloomy void. Butchers and grocers are decorating their shops again with holly, which reminds us that our Walks to Office have made the round of the seasons.

Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal – Saturday, February 5, 1848

—Jeff Burks

Filed under: Historical Images
Categories: Hand Tools

Not a Radical Break With Tradition

Thu, 05/28/2015 - 4:32am
A circa 1800 worktable. Thanks to Richard O. Byrne for digging this up.

A circa 1800 worktable. Thanks to Richard O. Byrne for digging this up.

“It is of no use to design furniture; it cannot be designed.”

— Kaare Klint, Mobilia Magazine, No. 56, 1960

As a teacher especially, Kaare Klint exerted a strong influence. With his students, he studied how a piece of furniture was to function and took anthropometric measurements. As a design theorist, Kaare Klint looked back to the crafts tradition and skilled craftsmanship, for which meticulous attention to detail and a knowledge of materials were essential. This was the basis on which new forms were to be created from existing forms that had proved their worth, not a radical break with tradition but rather an evolution.


Filed under: Furniture of Necessity
Categories: Hand Tools

Yes, we Have Studley Postcards. Here’s Why

Thu, 05/28/2015 - 3:46am


If you order a copy of “Virtuoso: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of Henry O. Studley” directly from Lost Art Press you will still receive a commemorative postcard with your order.

Our plan was to offer 1,000 postcards and order a few extra in case some of the postcards were spindled or mutilated in transit. When ordering from our supplier the next tier up was 2,000 postcards.

As a result, we have a few hundred left in our warehouse and will continue to ship them with every domestic order until they are gone.

One other note: The first press run of “Virtuoso” is nearly depleted. So if you are one of those people who desires a first edition, you better click quickly.

— Christopher Schwarz

Filed under: Virtuoso: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of Henry O. Studley
Categories: Hand Tools

Threatening Note? Or Greasy Gift?

Wed, 05/27/2015 - 5:44pm


This week John stopped by to pick up a pile of books left over from the Handworks show and tossed me a bag packed with computer cords and a silver bullet.

“Uh dude,” I said. “You left some ammo in my bag.”

“Nope,” John said. “Someone gave me that to give to you.”

“Oh great,” I replied. “Another death threat.” (Note: This is an exaggeration. I haven’t gotten a good solid death threat in 20 years. However, people do regularly threaten to beat me up.)

I examined the curious ribbed capsule and turned it over. Yup – the base looked like a shotgun shell. OK, time to open it up and read the threatening note inside that is do doubt written in all capital letters.

I twisted the top. It came off and I laughed. Inside is a nozzle. It’s an oilcan.


It turns out to be a Perfect Pocket Oiler, patented in 1889, that was manufactured by Cushman & Denison of New York. The little gizmos were sold to dispense tiny drops of oil on household machinery, such as bicycles and sewing machines.

Unlike typical oilcans, the Perfect Pocket Oiler has some nice details.

  1. The oil reservoir is all one piece so it cannot leak. Most oilcans are made from a base piece that is folded together with the sides. And they leak.
  2. Instead of the oiler being just a reservoir and a nozzle, this has a clever spring-activated pump and seal. Nothing comes out of the tip until you press the ring around the nozzle down. Then capillary action dispenses a drop of oil.
  3. A lid. So you can put it in your pocket without getting your privates oily (I realize some of you will actually see this as a disadvantage).

I don’t know who pressed this oiler into John’s hand at Handworks, but thank you. It’s getting some good use already because I loaned my two favorite oilers to Thomas Lie-Nielsen.

— Christopher Schwarz


Filed under: Personal Favorites
Categories: Hand Tools

The History of Wood, Part 56

Wed, 05/27/2015 - 6:00am


Filed under: Personal Favorites
Categories: Hand Tools

About Those Nubs of Yours

Mon, 05/25/2015 - 6:04pm


A fair number of tables from the Middle Ages and later appear to have a couple of extra pieces attached below the tabletop to thicken up the area where the leg tenons intersect the top. I call these “nubs” for lack of a better word, and they raise several questions.

These nubs are similar – very similar – to the battens in early stools and chairs found in Germanic cultures (I’ve also seen some in the Netherlands). Typically, these battens were attached to the seat using a sliding dovetail, they thickened the area for the joinery and they strengthened the thin seat. They strengthened the seat because the grain of the battens was 90° to the seat.

This grain arrangement is typically a Bozo No-No when it comes to wood movement, and a fair number of seats I’ve seen in Germany and American Moravian colonies have split. It’s also fair, however, to say that many have not split and even those that have split still work fine.

So are these Middle Age nubs attached with sliding dovetails? I can’t see any sliding dovetails in the paintings. Did they skip drawing the joinery? Many artists would draw in the wedged through-tenon joinery. But not the dovetails? Were they too small? Are the nubs parallel to or 90° to the grain? Again, many artists from the Middle Ages didn’t draw in the grain, so I don’t think we can answer this from paintings.

How were the nubs attached – if not by sliding dovetails? Were they simply captured between the shoulder of the leg’s tenon and the back-wedged joint above? My guess is this could work. Glue maybe? Nails? I’ve never seen any nails through the top in the paintings – though that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. They could have been driven in from the bottom – through the nubs.

Aw crap; now I’m going to dream of nubs.

— Christopher Schwarz

moravian_chairs nub4 nub3 nub2 nub1 moravian_detail
Filed under: Furniture of Necessity
Categories: Hand Tools

Makeshift Machinists

Sun, 05/24/2015 - 10:30pm


I really believe that a machinist who likes to see things, can find more solid enjoyment in some of the rough-and-tumble jobbing shops located in the woods, than he can in some high-toned manufacturing establishments, gotten up without regard to cost. The workmen turned out by such concerns are invariably of more value than those raised in nice shops.

* * * * A new man comes along and says he worked ten years in Hotchkiss’ shop. Now, Hotchkiss has the reputation of selling the nicest shafting known to the market. You want a man to turn shafting, and, of course, you ask this new comer if he worked any on shafting in Hotchkiss’ shop. He answers truly that he never did much else. You consider yourself lucky, and set the man to work.

You soon find that he turns the worst shafting in the world, and gets out about twelve feet a day. You go for the gentleman, and ask him why he can’t do some decent work and some reasonable quantity of it. He explains, in a very condescending manner, that if you want good work you must furnish good facilities. He explains that, when at Hotchkiss’, he used a special lathe with a wonderful carriage arrangement, carrying numerous tools, and with a centering and straightening attachment, and a burring rest for finishing to size. With this rig he turned a hundred and fifty feet of nice shafting in ten hours, and says he can do it every day in the week if you will bring him the apparatus.

Now, you know all about this kind of thing. You have been in Hotchkiss’ shop, and you know this man speaks truly. But you ain’t in the shafting business, and don’t propose to go into the business. You have shafting jobs now and then, and want to do the work fair in quality and reasonable in price. You don’t expect to do it as cheap as Hotchkiss does, who makes a specialty of it.

You see at once that this man, who was all right in Hotchkiss’ shop, don’t know anything about turning shafting at all. You hunt up a boy in the other end of the shop—a long-legged, long-headed youth, who has spent two years with you learning the machinist’s trade. He knows how to turn shafting, and you know it. You put him on the long lathe, and he gives you forty feet of shafting in ten hours, and it’s forty times as good as the machinist from Hotchkiss’ shop could turn. If your long-legged boy ever gets a job in Hotchkiss’ shop, Hotchkiss will have a rough diamond capable of high polish.

* * * * You give the new man another lathe and set him to boring pulleys. He bores about three miserable holes in a day. He finds no pulley-boring machine, no good chuck drills, no reamers, no nothing. He ridicules the idea of doing work without tools. He never looks at his own deficiencies, but looks at the deficiencies of the shop. He is a nice fellow, but is not smart enough to admire the men all around him, who, every hour in the day, are doing things he can’t do at all.

* * * * You tell the new man he is a failure on a lathe. You set him to key-seating some big pulleys. They must be chipped and filed. Does he go and get good, solid side chisels dressed, and does he lay a wide, straight edge in the hole and draw one mark to chip his key-seat to; and does he sit down on a block and send three heavy, nice, clean, straight, flat cuts through the pulley; and does he file five minutes and show you a nice, clean key-seat, out of wind and free from chisel marks, all done in forty minutes?

No; he don’t. He never cut a key-seat, and never saw one cut in this way. He was brought up alongside a slotting machine, and he is now five hundred miles from the nearest slotting machine. He knows he can’t do this job, and is smart enough to tell you so. This man is no machinist at all. He served a five years’ apprenticeship, and worked eight years in one of the best shops in the United States, but he is actually of less value than your youngest cub.

You put the case to him fairly; tell him you need men and like his looks, and that if he can point out any work in the shop which he can do properly, you will be glad to keep him. He feels badly; and after looking around, decides that he can’t do what the poorest men in the shop are doing.

He will do one of two things: If he’s a coward, without any coarse grit in him, he will abandon the “machinist” trade and tramp back to Hotchkiss and beg for a job on that shafting lathe. If he has the right stuff in him, he will start in and learn the trade. He has sense and experience and don’t need to commence just like a boy. He can start anywhere he chooses, at such wages as his work shows he earns, and increase his wages as he increases his value.

* * * * You go into one of these rough-and tumble shops and watch a man at a lathe. He whistles and sings and skylarks and smokes, maybe, and does a hundred other things which the high and mighty think ought to send a man to the penitentiary. But don’t that chap do the work, though! Don’t he earn and get good wages, and don’t the proprietor make more out of him every day than the high and mighty do out of three men who were brought up to use every modern facility, and who are stumped if one of the aforesaid facilities happens to get broken.

Watch this outre machinist as he works. He runs an eighteen inch lathe, perhaps, and the work brought to him might well be, and, in a better fixed shop would be, distributed among big lathes, little lathes, Fox lathes, planers, slotters, milling machines, cutting machines, drilling machines, screw machines, bolt cutters, gear cutters, etc.

But this chap does everything which is laid by his lathe. Some he does tip-top, some he leaves slouchy, but all of it is done as well as is required. He does this all the time. He lives on it. Every job he does is something he, or anybody else, never did before, but he does it all the same. This man is no mere machine wound up and set to running a shafting-turning machine. This shop isn’t a manufacturing concern with a system adapted to a special product.

This is one of my Simon Pure machine shops, doing job work, new and old, and this fellow we see is a lordly lathesman, a real machinist. You may set him down in any shop in the world where there’s a lathe, and a job to do, and he can do it. He will jump at new and better ways, but is not helpless in the meantime. He’s no baby. He’s a machinist, and he is worth money every day.

Oh, ye puny chaps that claim to be lathesmen! You only know one way of doing things, and that’s the way you were taught to do it. You only know how to do one job, and that’s the job you worked on while you were being taught, and you can’t do that job when you get in another shop away from home. Aren’t you ashamed to ridicule a poor, one-horse machine shop when every man in it is immeasurably your superior? Aren’t you ashamed to claim fellowship and equal wages with these sharp fellows, full of mechanical wit, who do work every day which you don’t even dare to undertake? You say they can’t do it well. You can’t do it at all. You don’t know how to tackle it.

* * * * Look at the job this lathesman gets. He is sitting on a casting and handling a connecting rod strap. It’s a rough forging for a strap to hold square boxes. You can’t see a bit of lathe-work about it anywhere, or a chance for any. Pretty soon he gets his present job done. Now he puts a miserable looking angle-plate against his face-plate, and sets this strap in some shape. He fishes a dirty piece of paper out of his tool box. This paper contains a memorandum of sizes which he took down verbatim as the foreman gave them. He goes to work, and in two hours, lays two hours of planing on the floor.

He has surfaced that strap nicely and squarely all over the outside. There’s one job of “lathework” done. There is but one planer in the shop, and that is too much crowded to be doing anything that can be done in any other machine. That same planer will stand still six months in the year, so it would be folly to get another, and thus be ready for a rush which never comes when you are ready.

* * * * Here goes for the next job. Twelve stubs about two feet long, one and three-quarters diameter, to have thread cut eight inches on one end. No turning, simply a thread to be cut. They belong to a bridge bolt job, and the bolt cutter has no dies for this size. Soon this job is done. It isn’t nice lathe work. Nothing to be proud of, but it is o. k. in every way. What next? He puts on a chuck and proceeds to chase out twelve hot-pressed nuts for these bridge bolts. Ough! how your teeth grit to see a lathesman having to do such a job. It’s a nasty job, but there’s no tap that size, and soon it’s done and off this chap’s mind.

* * * * Next comes some nice lathe work; a couple of valve stems and two or three small wrists. They are finished to the sizes given and nicely polished. He gets them done, and feels proud of them. Bless him, any lathesman can do such work.

* * * * Here’s a brass casting for a two-inch stop-cock, and by it lies the old one. It’s a repair job. The old one is bursted wide open. The plug is swelled, but not broken. Does a foreman come around and instruct this man how to do this job? No, sir. His orders were to “rig up that cock.” He takes the casting, chucks it, and in half an hour has a two-inch pipe thread chased in each end. Now he chucks crosswise, and you suddenly notice that this cock must be bored tapering. How is this fellow going to bore this hole? Will he go and get a nice taper reamer? I guess not in this shop. Will he fit up some kind of a reamer? Not be. He is fitting up an old water-cock, not making new reamers.

He’ll set the head of the lathe over, won’t he? No, he won’t. The head of the lathe can’t be swiveled. Will he set the Slate taper attachment over? Guess not, as he never heard of Slate; and don’t know what a taper attachment is. Will he use the compound rest? He may some day, when such a thing gets into the shop. Will he stick a wedge under the back wing of the carriage? No. He never heard of it, and is not so deep an inventor as to think of it just when he wants it.

Will he wrap a cord around his cross-feed screw-handle and tie it to his tail-stock, and thus get the taper? No, he has no time to invent this ingenious plan. Will he find a fancy little sliding-head boring-bar somewhere? Not a bar. Has he a mandrel which he can screw his chuck on, and thus do the job in the steady rest? No, sir. He won’t do any of these smart things, and he won’t tell you that the shop ought to have a Fox lathe for such work, and he won’t tell you how the Metropolitan Cock Company bore them out, for he don’t know, and, I am sorry to add, he don’t care. All he cares about is to lay that cock down on the floor and call it done, and as well done as is needed.

He whistles a very peculiar air in a very soft manner and turns his cross crank slowly to keep time. The result is a hole which is tapering, if it’s nothing else. It would have taken him just about as long to bore it straight. He takes the job out. Puts on a face-plate, and puts the old cock plug in the lathe. He chalks it and hammers the swells out, or in, rather. Then he sets his lathe over and takes a light cut over it. Then he marks a close fit in the cock, but keeps the plug large.

Now he goes to a vise and files the hole. It was tapering all right, but the sides were not straight. He files carefully but boldly, watching the tool marks in the hole, and trying the plug. Soon he is done with the filing, and, returning to his lathe, completes the fit of the plug. Now he grinds it in, and soon there isn’t a file mark or a tool mark in the hole or on the plug.

It is simply a first-class, water-tight taper job, quickly done in a third-class manner. He screws the thing together, and bounces the next job. Time on old cock, three hours and a quarter. You or I could not do it as well or as quick with all the cock-making appliances in existence. This man never fitted up a water-cock before. He is a machinist, and will hustle out any job you will bring him, and will do it as well as you want it done, and no better.

Extracts from Chordal’s Letters

American Machinist – January 17, 1880

—Jeff Burks

Filed under: Historical Images
Categories: Hand Tools

American and British Workmen and Machinery

Sun, 05/24/2015 - 9:40pm


During a recent visit to Great Britain I gave considerable attention to men and machines, and the following are some of my observations and impressions. Not desiring to criticize any special locality, I will simply use the word “Britain;” and in comparing with the United States will use the word “American.”

My first attention to mechanics was given to locomotive building, as I wished to solve some puzzling matters, such as the general claim that a given number of men in America will build over twice as many locomotives per year as the same number would in Britain—that American builders can compete against the British for foreign orders and yet pay their men about twice as much per hour. This is rather a big question, but I satisfied myself that I found enough to account for differences as great as the above, partly as follows:

The Americans use more special machinery, and thus make labor more effective; and this is still further increased by division of labor. The easy-going swing in the British works is quite noticeable, as compared with the greater activity and “push” in the American. The British carry a greater dead weight of counting-house, drawing office and pattern shop than the Americans—I would venture to state, two or three times as much, compared with the number of engines built.

Most of the British machines are such as are used generally in machine and engine works, while the Americans use a great many machines designed and built expressly for locomotive work. The application of milling to locomotive work has revolutionized methods in America in late years, while in Britain it is still comparatively little used.

The Americans are easily ahead in vertical and horizontal spindle milling machines, double face mills, horizontal face plate turning mills, cylinder boring and facing machines, screw cutting machines, special tools for stay bolt making, flatting of hexagon nuts, finishing cylinder ports, etc., and an indefinite number of ingenious methods some called “Yankee tricks,” all of which tend to an increase of product, as compared with the number of hours labor.

The general structure of the American and British locomotives makes a great, difference in erecting. The British build a stiff frame of plates riveted and bolted, and all through make a slow, laborious work of erecting the engine; while the Americans actually block up side frames and boiler over wheels, all in position, and seem to finish up all parts at the same time by different “teams” of men, so that the engine is run out of the shop in an incredibly short time.

In the matter of labor, pure and simple, the most important point in favor of America is the small amount of “hand-work,” as compared with machine-work; so great is this difference that in my first visit to an American locomotive works I actually asked where the bench work was done, after I had practically gone over all parts of the works. In the British works no such question would be necessary, for men literally swarm on what is called by them “fitting” (or bench work), filing, scraping and apparently “fiddling in their time” on work which would be almost finished by machines in America.

So prominently does this strike me that it would be little exaggeration to say that the Americans build a locomotive by machinery and unwillingly do a little hand-work; while the British make a desperate attempt to build it by hand, but cannot help doing a little machine work. The Americans “mill right to size;” the British “plane” and “slot” in an imperfect manner, and then add more expense, filing and scraping off the “allowance for fitting” which they leave.

Even with their cheap labor, this method costs more than the American method. I was informed that this British system is perpetuated by the railways themselves in sending inspectors who insist on extremes in testing the work, which have no practical value but to throw expense on the builders. This method, while necessary and proper in machine tool building, is useless in locomotive work, and sometimes even harmful, for a locomotive never does her best work till she “loosens up” enough to be perfectly free from the danger of binding and heating.

In the stationary engine the engineer can keep joints up much closer, because he can feel them constantly for heating, but in the locomotive there is no way but keeping working joints loose enough for safety. The Americans thoroughly grasp this difference, and use fine machines, and nearly always let in working fits without hand-work. I incline to think that types are more uniform in America, and as much greater numbers are built, the ratio which templates, gauges and pattern making bear to the total, is in their favor. The British forged wheel is expensive, ugly, and more liable to breakage than the cheaper, heavier, and better looking cast-iron wheel of the Americans.

Now, why these great differences? Apparently the value of labor in America stimulates the invention of tools, which bring the work nearer a finish, because hand-work is the expensive part. But beyond all this, and permeating the whole, is the greater elasticity and adaptability of the American character, not content even with the best, at any given time, but constantly reaching out for better methods—never satisfied, yet the happiest man on earth—for in him the optimism of constant advance is irrepressible.

Some peculiarities of the British locomotive bear sufficiently on national character to be worth noting here. It is a wonderful little machine for drawing “railway carriages,” but when you bring it to America it is practically useless for drawing railroad cars, and is found to be about powerful enough for shunting at the stations. It has a rigid frame, in which the axle boxes are fitted—but you ask, “How does it run on a curve?”

Well, the curve is made to fit it, half a mile radius being good practice, so it runs around that pretty well. It is driven by inside cranks, and by putting enough metal in these cranks, they stand, but as this necessitates driving the wheels through the axles, these axles must be of large diameter. The wheels are forged as if made light, to press easy on the rails, but as some pressure is necessary, even to draw the little “carriages,” a mass of iron called the “footplate” is riveted between the frames, and this weight reaches the rails through the axle boxes, but, as we have already made the axles very large, a little more added for this does not make much difference.

This foot-plate is intensely British, for it adds to the stiffness and clumsiness of the framework of the engine, so that if a curve is too sharp, so much the worse for the curve. The “driver” (engineer) stands on this footplate, behind the fire box, along with the fireman, and here another use for the foot plate appears; for it is proof even against their massive British boots.

Both driver and fireman stand openly in the weather; but this is easily explained, for the Britisher is never happy unless he feels a drizzling rain in his face, and there is not enough sunshine to be considered. Still, there is a limit even here, for sometimes during severe snow or hail-storms, even the British “driver” running up against the wind at express speed, gets more than he enjoys, so the builders take this kindly into account, and put up over the fire box a “storm board,’” in which two panes of glass, about a foot in diameter, are placed, and the humble “driver” is grateful to his superiors.

No pilot, bell or headlight are used, and the engine has a plain, forlorn look, as if a cyclone had ripped off all her trimmings, the result being that “she looks as if she had been cast in one piece.” The driving wheels are covered with shields, like small paddle boxes, but I utterly failed to find what they were for; I suppose, however, they are to catch the gravel and sand thrown up by the air currents, and to make sure that they are thrown down again on the axle boxes.

Coming to ship building, it is remarkable how little difference can be noted, in a hurried visit, between the American and British shipyard. In the engine department there is the general difference of method noted in locomotive building, but not so marked as in the latter, except in the smaller details of the work, in which the American methods are quicker and more ingenious.

There is enough difference to lead me to the opinion that the cost of production in Britain is not much less than in America, and that this is decreasing. The general method of handling work is more clumsy and laborious, and it appeared to me that more power is wasted in machinery, and more physical force applied by the workmen to produce a given result than in America.

Somehow the American strikes the nail on the head more precisely, and drives it home with less cumbersomeness than the Britisher. Everything tends to clumsiness. Forgings are made with a greater allowance for finishing, and consequently deeper cuts are taken off by the machines; and not only this, but there is less cutting done, the Britisher, apparently, preferring to tear or force off the metal with a blunt, heavy tool.

It is evident that the designers of machines must take this into account, as most of the details are too heavy, noticeably to feed motions. The answer to criticisms on this point is always, “Strength, strength, strength;” but the American designer has shown that mere weight of metal is not always strength, but often the opposite.

The British designer seems to put as much metal as possible in the framework; then he tries to make the moving parts heavy enough to break the frame, and he often succeeds. Hence the poor workman is loaded by everything he has to move; he has, therefore, to use more force, his motions are more clumsy and slow and he effects less. Where the British designer would throw in and out a feed with a stout lever, the American would do it more effectively by a little knob moved by the fingers.

But my British friend says, “These little gingerbread Yankeeisms do not last.” Yes they do—if used by the American workman, for whom they were designed; and this is just the kernel of the matter; for the British workman would find it awkward to move a little knob with his fingers—he nearly always takes hold with his whole hand. Anything movable is with him a hammer, and everything stationary an anvil. This deficiency in delicate touch is very plain, and influences all his actions. He appears to have little sensibility in the points of his fingers; hence his tendency to grasp everything in a “clumsy-fisted” manner.

Amongst unusually heavy tools I noticed the four-jaw chucks, and asked one of the tool builders I met for the reason, and he informed me that he had tried the American chucks and made a complete failure, as his workmen broke them in a short time, and he was compelled to build the heavy style. He did not dispute my assertion that the American workman with his lighter chuck, handled work quicker. Now, observe what the British workman gains by carelessly breaking tools of reasonable weight: he laboriously handles tools nearly twice the weight they ought to be, hour after hour, day after day, year after year.

This machine builder was by far the best informed man I met, as to British and American practice, and the only one I found favorable to the latter; but he had made a tour in America and made comparisons for himself. In his works I found three of the most distinctly American machines, viz., universal milling, universal grinding, and vertical spindle chucking machines, all by the firm which has practically created them —The Brown & Sharpe Mfg. Co., Providence, R. I.

These machines standing among first class British machines enabled me to make direct comparisons with this result. The British has a dead, heavy look, as if driven against its will; the American has a live, graceful look, and appears as if it enjoyed running. The British appears as if made from inert matter; the American seems to have a nervous system. The British is stolid; the American bright. The British is prosaic; the American the poetry of mechanics. The British is pessimistic looking: The American optimistic. The British looks as if built by a Calvinist who believed in hell; the American, the creation of a Universalist. The British is noisy; the American quiet. The British looks brutal; the American refined.

The prevalence of noise and jar in British machinery is amazing, and the workmen appear entirely indifferent—so much so that you would almost suppose they liked it! It is evident that the British designer has little incentive to work for quiet-running machinery. In America quiet running is a leading characteristic, and is placed at the top in advertisements and descriptions, and adds to the selling price of the machine.

Does not this indicate an obtuseness and stolidity in the British workman, and a nervous sensibility in the American? The greatest cause of this noise in British machinery is their persistence in the antiquated system of cast gear wheels. The Americans cut the teeth, and for very large pitches cast them large and then plane all over. In one of the largest British works I talked with the engineer (“driver”) of a department, and could hardly hear him for the noise and pounding of his engine, which he did not notice in the least. I asked him if he had taken indicator cards lately, and he replied that the makers had examined “her” lately, and he supposed they took cards!

The mental attitude towards American improvements is very funny—that is, to the American. I criticized a clumsy machine, and received this crushing answer: “Who had it first?” How could a machine be improved in America if the British had it first and used it most? He spoke and the question was settled. It was stated to me with that seriousness so peculiarly British, that “We have been longer at it, and having more experience, we must be in advance of America!”

I found that this very experience was often the weak point, for it had led to conventionalities in method which stand in the way of advance. In some instances methods would become fixed in localities, and even in families, till skill appeared to become hereditary, and this state of matters was always associated with imperfect and primitive machines and tools. Thus personal skill became the most important factor, so that the employer was put more in the power of the employee. In America it is just the opposite, for machinery and methods are the most important factors, and are brought to such a high point that “any handy man” can be quickly taught.

In one instance, I was shown work being done on the slotting machine, and as it was just the work for which the vertical spindle milling machine was invented, I challenged the method; but the manager promptly informed me he had tried the miller, and “timed” it against the slotter, and the latter was ahead. No doubt about it, and while that twenty-year manager and his present force of workmen are employed, the slotter will be still ahead.

To illustrate this difference between acquired skill and automatic machinery, let us suppose a British machine works suddenly put under boycott by skilled labor; it would be practically wiped out. Now, suppose a similar condition in an American works—what would be the result? Simply that men would be taken from “laboring work,” and taught so soon that little serious delay would be suffered. In both cases I assume that manager and foremen remain.

More than this boys from farms in America have introduced some of the best improvements. Why? Because they were not taught the “proper” way, and therefore tried some original methods, and often made a hit. The young American is much given to “rigging up” some attachment to his machine, and the foreman knows enough, generally, to give him reasonable liberties, and his success is often remarkable.

In Britain he would be told to “obey orders.” This brings us to the fundamental Americanism—the recognition of the individual. In one instance which I know of, a workman attempted to have a simple improvement tried, but was told that the manager did not like such things, and that he preferred a workman to “keep his place.” He refused, and now occupies a much better place than that manager ever did. America says a man’s place is the highest he can reach honorably.

In questioning British workmen you are impressed with their stolid carelessness in answering, partly from ignorance and partly from the danger of “knowing too much for their places.” I hardly think it would be possible to make clear to an American who had not visited Britain, this peculiarity which runs through nearly all grades of society, but shows most plainly amongst workmen, viz., an indefinite and indescribable fear that something they may say or do, even inadvertently, may offend some of “their betters.”

This is in distressing contrast to the bright and easy spontaneity of the American. In Britain the workman will answer you in a short, gruff way, without lifting his head from his work, almost as if he said, “You ought to be aware that I am not supposed to know anything,” while in America he will surprise you with the knowledge he has beyond what he is doing, and he will not hesitate to stop work for a short time to explain anything you may ask about, and he is in no danger from foreman or manager by so doing, because they know that he is more efficient with this liberty than without it.

The British workman is always a “workman”; he wears practically the same clothes the year round, and they are made and advertised for “workingmen.” He goes to and comes from his work in the same clothes he works in, and rarely washes his hands or face at the works, but comes home with all the dirt of the forge or the foundry, and often takes back quite a little of it next morning.

Look at him carrying his coffee can; he does it so well that there is no hope. Note his gait—a “workman,” and for the future, still a “workman.” See his son by his side—the coffee can, the lunch, the gait, the heavy boots, the shoulders getting round, the stunted growth and prematurely wise face, the stolid expression, and you exclaim—a “workman,” hopelessly a “workman.”

He said to me, “I’m only a common workingman.” Why should he not keep his place? I talked with another about the acquisition of knowledge and rising in position; he replied, “A man can only make a living!” It took a good many generations to make these men, and it will take many to lift them up again, if it can ever be done. Does any one suppose that Americans could be bred down to this? Or, are these only possible in a community founded on the class system? Is not this the result of a social system in which a man has his place?

A brilliant woman asked me, “Why is it that an emigrant returning from a few years’ residence in America nearly always comes elevated and brightened, while from any other place he usually comes just as he left, or worse?” Simply the freedom of individualism in America. It is here that the greatest fundamental difference exists between the two countries. In Britain you may be a “green-grocer,” or a “coal-heaver”; you may be a “gentleman,” or a “prince” out of jail; but never, never a “man.” There is no escape from this.

In America the first assumption is that you are a man and a citizen without blemish, and even if you fall short of this, your neighbors will assist you upwards, for they have no interest in doing otherwise. The element of contest is left out, for you do not encroach on any one. In Britain it is just the opposite, for in rising you are always an object of suspicion, and those “above” you resent you as an intruder. Still the vile unjust class system.

Now, to come back to the pertinent question of my fair friend. If there is any good material in an emigrant (and there generally is), he will feel these things in America very soon. I say “feel,” for it is deeper and more potent than any written or spoken language. If there is even a seed of self respect in him it will develop. Not only can he rise freely; he will, in a certain sense, be pushed up, for Americans resent humility—which he will likely show a little from habit.

The American who has succeeded will act as if saying to him, “Step up here; we believe in you.” There is a charm in the recognition he receives as he climbs up, of which he knew nothing in the Old World, and he will gradually acquire that uniformity of manner which marks the American. It is hardly possible to take the Britisher’s manners seriously: now strutting around, with his nose in the air, that he may sustain his dignity amongst his “inferiors”; then doubling up quickly like a jack-knife, till his head almost touches the ground, when a real “big-bug” looms up.

I have seen a man, who, under ordinary circumstances, was almost too dignified to look at the ground, dancing around a superior like a pet dog! Under these conditions the workman does as well as could be expected, and as there are distinct signs of improvement, partly native and partly a reflex action from America, there is good hope for the future.

James Arthur

American Machinist – November 24, 1892

—Jeff Burks

Filed under: Historical Images
Categories: Hand Tools

Where His Gunpowder was Only Snuff

Sun, 05/24/2015 - 10:28am


“Writing a book is like driving a car at night. You only see as far as your headlights go, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

— E.L. Doctorow

I was pissfarting around with my combination square today when Megan Fitzpatrick stopped by the shop to pick up a manuscript to edit (it’s the Hayward Project, by the way). She looked curiously at the panel clamped in my face vise.

“That’s a huge sliding dovetail in this…uh, what is this thing?” she asked.

I gave her the simple answer: a table. But the real answer is something more like: The sum total of a thousand ideas about contemporary furniture design that are finally taking shape – thanks to a manuscript from the 15th century.


Let’s back up. The last six months of work have been incredibly unprofitable for me. I’ve delayed several upcoming commissions (apologies; you know who you are) and I haven’t completed a single piece of furniture to sell since December. Part of this is because I devoted big chunks of time to “Chairmaker’s Notebook” and “Virtuoso.” But I also stumbled on a bright string in the forest that has led me to design, prototype and build pieces that explore new territory for me. So commerce can wait.

The images with this entry are part of the story, but certainly not anything worth commenting on. If you think the legs are chunky, I suspect you don’t even know what you’re looking at just yet.

I hope to have this “table” prototype complete this week. Then I’ll post some finished photos and explain the piece a bit more.

— Christopher Schwarz


Filed under: Furniture of Necessity
Categories: Hand Tools

English Dislike of Innovation

Thu, 05/21/2015 - 11:56pm


One great cause of the decrease in English exports is the conservatism among English manufacturers and their extreme dislike of innovations. They are inclined to stick to old processes and old styles, refusing to study the tastes of their customers.

They seek to impose their own notions and ideas upon the world. Hence, foreign buyers seek in America, in Germany, and in France, goods better suited to their taste and needs. French manufacturers are particularly ready and quick to suit their work to the tastes of their customers. They are especially apt in devising new styles and patterns, such as shall most readily meet the varying tastes of buyers.

They realize that variety is pleasing and fashion capricious, and never hesitate to change a machine, or a pattern, when the old one fails to suit; while the Englishman looks well at the cost, and prefers to continue “in the good old way,” with the hope that some day the fashion may come round again.

Another example of the conservatism of the English manufacturer is manifested in his preference for hand work over machine work. He refuses to believe that a machine can be made to do more perfect work than the hand. Hence, in the manufacture of watches, of sewing-machines, and of many classes of fire-arms, he utterly fails to compete with more progressive mechanics on this side of the Atlantic.

The more observing and thoughtful of Englishmen themselves are beginning to realize these facts, and have already raised the note of alarm. A British correspondent, who styles himself “A Skilled Workman,” who recently visited some of our manufacturing establishments, writes as follows to the Sheffield Telegraph:

“The use of files, rasps, and floats are superseded by other tools [machine tools] astonishing in their adaptability for perfect and rapid production. No written description could convey an idea of their great ability and method….. The skill of the engineer has taken the place of the skilled artisans; for mere boys are tending these operations, and yet quality is not ignored…..”

“The readiness of the employers to adopt any practical suggestion from any one of their hands is a notable feature in most American factories, whereas the cold shoulder is generally given such in England. We weakly waddle in the wake of America in the matter of inventions until a necessity is proved, when an earnest effort is made and progress is attained.”

“Old-fashioned methods of manufacture will have to be abandoned for newer and better ones, if ‘Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin,’ is not to be written across British commerce in the future. The individual skill and handicraft of the best Sheffield workmen I have not seen surpassed in the United States, but they are inadequate for all the requirements of the present age.”

The Californian: A Western Monthly Magazine – January, 1881

—Jeff Burks

Filed under: Historical Images
Categories: Hand Tools

Do Not Be Discouraged

Thu, 05/21/2015 - 11:24pm

word_to_apprenticesDo not let artisans discourage you from learning this or that trade because they have not made a success of it. They may tell you that a certain trade is overcrowded. Investigate a little and you will find that only the botch workman and chronic kickers are out of work. The cheerful, enthusiastic workman is idle only when misfortune overtakes the whole country.

We have here hundreds of mechanics who have no real heart in their work, and no sort of interest in the welfare of their employers. To be discharged is considered no disgrace, and to be in debt is no cause for worry. They work while the eye of a boss is upon them, and kill time when it is not. They growl at the workingman’s condition, but are solely responsible that they are not better off.

You will find them in one shop this week and in another the next, and their sad tales of being oppressed by bosses will make you shed tears—if you are green enough. It is a certain and undeniable fact that the poorest workman is the one who does the most complaining.

If you take up a trade push it to perfection. As an apprentice be prepared for many unpleasant things. To begin at the foot means more or less drudgery. Your inexperience will provoke ridicule, contempt, and sometimes abuse. Because you are a boy any man in the shop may feel free to order you about.

Be obstinate, sulky, and dilatory, and none of them will care how long it takes you to reach a higher round in the ladder. Be cheerful, obliging, and civil, and you will find every man ready and willing to speak a good word for you and help along your skill.

When you have become a finished workman bear in mind the well-worn but truthful maxim that a rolling stone gathers no moss. Steady work at fair wages is what piles up the dollars. A large share of our workingmen are ready to listen to the glowing accounts of the high wages paid somewhere else, and they spend a good portion of the year looking for the place.

Next to being settled in your mind be economical. One of the chief causes for dissatisfaction among mechanics and labourers springs from the lack of good management and the fact that so many of them are spendthrifts. In every city in the lands’ large proportion of workingmen chew or smoke or drink. Tobacco injures the system and robs the wallet. Drinks could better be replaced by cold water. Ten shillings per-week are taken from their wages to maintain injurious and selfish habits, and yet those who squander the most are loudest in their complaints about hard times.

The Australian Journal – September 1888

—Jeff Burks

Filed under: Historical Images
Categories: Hand Tools

The Hayward Project v. The Blair Witch Project

Thu, 05/21/2015 - 5:12am


John and I really should avoid alcohol when we discuss our business.

One of the first books we discussed publishing in 2007 was securing the rights to publish some of the fantastic writing of Charles H. Hayward, who was editor of The Woodworker magazine from 1937 to 1967. Lots of people have pirated his work (you know who you are shamey, shame, shame), but an authorized reprint hasn’t happened.

Could it be done? Thanks to the IPA we were drinking, we decided to try. John spent months negotiating the rights. I collected every copy of The Woodworker I could get, many of them bound into annual editions.

Then the real work began.


I won’t bore you with the details of the last seven years, but last night I printed out the first 771 pages of Vol. 1, Tools and Techniques for copy editing. We still have 400 pages left to design – an arduous process because we are rebuilding the pages from the ground up. This isn’t a scan-and-jam, print-on-demand book.

This first volume will be 1,100 pages – the maximum our bindery can handle. The second volume will be 700 pages.

Each time we touch this work for editing or design, we are personally amazed. This first volume might be 1,100 pages at 8.5” x 11”, but the density of information makes it feel like 2,000 pages. Every illustration (there are thousands) and page is packed with woodworking, mainlined and right to the vein.

Our goal is to publish Vol. 1 in time for Christmas. I won’t have information on pricing or availability until late fall, so I’m going to ignore those questions from people who didn’t make it this far into the blog entry.

Vol. 2 will be next year. My next book will be 32 pages long with lots of doodle space.

— Christopher Schwarz


Filed under: Charles H. Hayward at The Woodworker
Categories: Hand Tools

The History of Wood, Part 55

Wed, 05/20/2015 - 6:00am


Filed under: Personal Favorites
Categories: Hand Tools


by Dr. Radut