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Lost Art Press: Chris Schwarz

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Updated: 1 hour 59 min ago

Credit in the Straight World: A Review in Make Magazine

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 3:50pm


Stuart Deutsch wrote a short review of “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” for the August/September 2014 issue of Make magazine, which is usually about building projects involving high technology.

In the review, Deutsch writes:

“The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” is not your average beginner’s book, and its author is not your average seasoned woodworker…. Schwarz’s writing style is unlike what you’ll find in any other woodworking reference. He speaks to you in a friendly and frank nature. It’s as if this book is his diary or a long correspondence to a personal friend.

While I don’t always agree with Schwarz’s approach, I feel this book should be standard reading for anyone who hopes to one day to call themselves a woodworker.

— Christopher Schwarz

Filed under: The Anarchist's Tool Chest
Categories: Hand Tools

Update on ‘The Naked Woodworker’

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 5:20am


“The Naked Woodworker” DVD is off to the pressing plant in Virginia, and I am uploading the massive movie files to our store’s servers as I type. So here are details on the project, when it will be available and pricing.

“The Naked Woodworker” is unlike any woodworking product I’ve worked on. It started last May when Mike Siemsen and I were talking at Handworks in Amana, Iowa. While examining his workbench there, we began throwing ideas back and forth about how to capture his bootstrapping methods and bring them to a wide audience.

The core principle: Buy a few good vintage tools, fix them up, build a sawbench and a workbench. Do it fast, well and with no machinery or woodworking power tools.

In February, John Hoffman and I drove up to Siemsen’s shop in Minnesota to film the DVD, the first for Lost Art Press. On Saturday morning we hit the Mid-West Tool Collectors Association’s regional meeting where we filmed Mike sifting through, evaluating, haggling and buying the tools we’d need. (Personal note: If you like handwork, join MWTCA. It’s inexpensive to join, and the rewards are extraordinary.)

NW_Disk1After lunch with some of Mike’s buddies, we drove to his shop and began fixing up the tools we bought. Mike rehabbed the planes, sharpened the saws and fixed up the braces – all on camera.

On the second day, Mike built a sawbench and a fully functional workbench using home-center materials. Both the sawbench and workbench are amazingly clever. You don’t need a single machine or power tool to make them. And they work incredibly well.

Mike finished up work on the bench just as his friends were showing up for his birthday party (hence the beers in the background during the final shots of the DVD). Everyone ate chili (at least, that’s what they were calling it) while sitting on the new bench and playing with the tools.

This spring, I edited the footage down to two short DVDs. One on buying and fixing tools. The other on building the sawbench and workbench. We also commissioned a very nice SketchUp drawing of the bench. And, most telling, we made a spreadsheet that details every tool, screw and stick of lumber we bought for the project. Both the SketchUp drawing and spreadsheet come with the DVDs.

We spent $571.40 for everything. Then Mike sat down and figured out what the prices would be if you paid for your tools more on the high side of things. That price: $769.40.

We hope this project will inspire new woodworkers to just dive into handwork and get started. I talked to too many people who are hesitant about where to begin, how to begin or think they have to buy every tool in the catalogs to begin. You don’t.

We also think “The Naked Woodworker” will be a great thing for experienced woodworkers who need a quick workbench and some sawbenches.

“The Naked Woodworker” will be available in August in two forms: A DVD set for $22, or a download for $20. The download will be available for international customers. We don’t know if any of our retailers will carry this product as of yet. If they pick it up for their catalogs, we’ll let you know.

Next month I’ll post some video samples from “The Naked Woodworker” so you can get a taste of the project.

— Christopher Schwarz

P.S. There is no nudity in “The Naked Woodworker.” Thank goodness.

Filed under: The Naked Woodworker DVD
Categories: Hand Tools

England. And then More Roorkees

Thu, 07/17/2014 - 1:40pm


I leave for England Saturday to teach two classes for the New English Workshop at Warwickshire College, but before that English experience, I have to tend to another.

Today I started roughing out the parts for two more Roorkee chairs in sapele that will incorporate some interesting details. One of the details will be this little piece of brass awesomeness.

If life doesn’t go off the rails I hope to get the legs turned tomorrow.

While in England, I’ll mostly be teaching and sleeping. I’m teaching two tool chest classes, which are about as grueling to teach as they are to take. But I am going to get to meet David Savage on Tuesday, which I am greatly looking forward to.

And I know some of the students in the class, so I’m packing extra ibuprofen for the inevitable hangover(s).

This is my first teaching assignment in England, and I hope it’s not my last. The Germans didn’t seem to mind my occasional nudity. I wonder if how the Brits will?

Better yet, perhaps I should pack one of my wife’s dresses….

— Christopher Schwarz

Filed under: Campaign Furniture, Woodworking Classes
Categories: Hand Tools

The Inglorious Conclusion of the Roorkee

Thu, 07/17/2014 - 7:20am


During my early research into Roorkee chairs I received at least a dozen e-mails from chairmakers and fellow woodworkers with this simple message: Turn back; the Roorkee is a bad design.

Many of these woodworkers had sat in mid-20th century versions and reported that it was like falling into in gunny sack with an anaconda. There was no support for your lower back (or any other part). And after a few minutes you lost blood circulation to your legs.

The Roorkee chairs I had built to that point weren’t like that at all. So I persisted in refining my chairs based on what I’ve learned about building Windsor-style chairs during the last 10 years. The result is a chair that I can sit in for hours at a time. Others agree with my assessment. Last weekend I took one of my Roorkees to the Lie-Nielsen Open House where people lined up to sit in it all weekend.

So what’s the difference between the chair in “Campaign Furniture” and the killer gunny sacks? Take a look at the chair above.

This is a mid-20th century copy of a copy of a copy of a Kaare Klint chair that was made to maim you. Mark Firley of The Furniture Record blog bought a pair of these chairs on my behalf so I could study some of their details.

There are several things that make this chair somewhat uncomfortable. Here is a short list.

1. The material is a flimsy vinyl backed by jute. So it actually is a vinyl-covered gunny sack. You might be able to get away with a thin material in the seat, but not for the back. The back offers no support.

2. The back is too short. This short chir back presses your flesh back above your lumbar. A thick material (such as 8 oz. leather) that reaches to your lower back supports the lumbar region quite well.


3. The thigh straps are flimsy and narrow. Out of the four thigh straps that came with the chairs, three were broken. Without these straps, which run under the seat from left to right, your legs get pinched on the front rail and go numb. I’m going to make a wide, leather thigh strap for this chair and see if it helps.

4. The rails directly under the arms. These prevent the arm straps from stretching too much (a good thing), but they are uncomfortable after a short while. Imagine relaxing your arms on dowels; that’s what it feels like.

To be fair, this chair has its charms. The tapered tenons fit into their mortises with a slight compression fit. This makes the chair feel stable and still allow it to move to adjust to an uneven floor. I’m going to have to play with this idea in my own chairs.

The other charming thing about it is its overall look. I can only imagine how many wife-swapping parties this chair saw.

Speaking of that, I had better burn the vinyl upholstery.

— Christopher Schwarz

Filed under: Campaign Furniture
Categories: Hand Tools

For the Workbench Nerds

Wed, 07/16/2014 - 10:28am


A have a new post on Basque workbenches on my blog at Popular Woodworking Magazine. Check out the unusual face vise.

— Christopher Schwarz

Filed under: Workbenches
Categories: Hand Tools

The History of Wood, Part 11

Wed, 07/16/2014 - 6:00am


Filed under: Personal Favorites
Categories: Hand Tools

New & Excellent Podcast: The Craftsman’s Road

Wed, 07/16/2014 - 5:23am


Woodworker Cory Mickelson has started an excellent new podcast series that is definitely worth subscribing to if you are interested in woodworking and making money at it.

Already Mickelson has interviewed William Ng, Shannon Rogers, Ron Riedel and myself on how we built our woodworking businesses. Viewing craftsmanship through the lens of commerce is a fascinating topic and you get to learn a lot about the people besides “Shannon likes hand tools” and “William Ng builds Greene & Greene pieces.”

When I listened to my podcast, I was reminded how wiped out I was when Cory interviewed me. I had just finished up a 12-hour day in the shop building a piece for a customer and getting material ready for a class. That, of course, is how we keep things going at Lost Art Press and the topic comes up during the interview.

Cory has good thing going. Subscribe to the free podcast via iTunes here. Cory’s web site is here, though I had some trouble accessing the shows through that route.

— Christopher Schwarz

Filed under: Personal Favorites
Categories: Hand Tools

2 Spots Open in a Dutch Tool Chest Class

Tue, 07/15/2014 - 4:33am


Due to last-minute cancellations, there are two spaces open in my Dutch tool chest class (the last one of 2014) in Warwickshire College, England, for July 28-29.

The price of the class is £295 plus materials, and the materials are reasonably priced and fantastic. The organizers of the course have arranged to get blacksmith-made hardware for the chests. Check out this post on the hardware. We will be building the chests from yellow pine.

If you want to register for the course, contact Paul Mayon directly here. You can read about the course and the sweet facility here.

— Christopher Schwarz

Filed under: Woodworking Classes
Categories: Hand Tools

Never Mind the Movie Star, Look at that Deadman

Mon, 07/14/2014 - 9:56am


Reader Charles W. Luetje sent me a link to this New York Times story that features Zach Braff sitting on a fantastic workbench with a beautiful deadman. I will definitely be stealing this form for a future bench.

From the wear marks on the bench, it looks like the deadman panels are stationary – not sliders.


Braff’s bench is quite similar to one I discussed in my 2007 book, “Workbenches: From Design & Theory to Construction & Use.” That bench was featured in the August 1882 edition of Carpentry and Building magazine (see page 58 of that book for details).

— Christopher Schwarz

Filed under: Workbenches
Categories: Hand Tools

Peter Follansbee Has Left the Building

Mon, 07/14/2014 - 5:20am


When I visited Peter Follansbee in his shop at Plimoth Plantation in 2012, it looked as if his shop had always been there and always would.

I wouldn’t call it cluttered, exactly. It was quite tidy. But it was filled with 20 years of tools, work and the bits and pieces that come with a joiner’s life. (For photos from my visit, go here.)

But after 20 years, Peter has left Plimoth to strike out on his own. On one hand, I could not be happier for Peter. Walking away from any organization with its meetings, internal politics and hassle is liberating. But it’s also the end of an era at Plimoth. It appears that Plimoth will not replace Peter.

Peter said they were talking about adding a candle-dipper and soap-maker in his place.

While I have nothing against candles or cleanliness, this is a step backward for woodworking research into the 17th century. Peter, Jennie Alexander and a few others have been at the core of exploring and understanding the lively and robust furniture and tools from the 1600s.

(This isn’t a commercial for his book, but if you don’t own “Make a Joint Stool from a Tree” and like green woodworking, you are missing out.)

Peter explains the shape of one of his bowls.

Peter explains the shape of one of his bowls.

No longer will you be able to visit Plimoth and watch Peter dismantle oak trees with sharp tools and a sharper tongue.

But there is a bright side to all of this. Peter is not slowing down or retiring from joinery. I spoke to him a bit at the Lie-Nielsen Open House last weekend about his new life and he’s keeping quite busy with commercial work, carving spoons and bowls and (I hope) finishing up a book for Lost Art Press.

Peter at work on some birch at the Lie-Nielsen Open House.

Peter at work on some birch at the Lie-Nielsen Open House.

That book, tentatively titled “Joiner’s Work,” will focus on the tools, methods and typical pieces of a joiner from the 17th century. He’s been at work on the book for some time – now he just needs the shop space to finish it up.

So if you love Peter’s work like we do here at Lost Art Press, you can lend a hand by following his excellent blog, picking up a copy of his book or DVDs from Lie-Nielsen or perhaps buying a spoon or bowl from his web site. Peter’s no charity case, but every little bit helps when you are starting out on your own.

— Christopher Schwarz

P.S. Hey Peter, sorry about the title of this post. I couldn’t think of a good Bob Dylan song to go with this post. Hence, Elvis.


Filed under: Make a Joint Stool from a Tree
Categories: Hand Tools

Tools to Make the Anarchist’s Tool Chest

Sat, 07/12/2014 - 3:55pm


The following is a list I should have made four years ago when I first started teaching people how to build the full-size tool chest in “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest.”

Apologies for the delay.

Here are the tools you need.

Dovetailing Equipment
Dovetail saw (15 point or coarser)
Cutting gauge, such as the Tite-Mark
Mechanical pencil
Dovetail layout square (Or a bevel gauge and smallish try square)
Coping saw with several blades (coarse blades, 12 tpi or so)
1/2” bevel-edge chisel
Mallet (I like a 16 oz. model)
Two pair of small dividers

One bench plane, such as a jack, jointer or smoother
Block plane
Rabbet plane or shoulder plane (if you have one)
If you have a tongue-and-groove plane (or match planes), use them
Beading plane (1/8”, 3/16” or 1/4”)
Plow plane with 1/4” cutter

Nailing equipment
Hand drill
Variety of small bits (1/16” up to 1/8”)
16 oz. hammer
Nail set
Nippers (if you have them)

General Marking/Measuring
12” combination square
12’ tape measure
Spear-point marking knife

Additional Tools
Crosscut handsaw (7 or 8 ppi)
Rip saw (4 to 7 ppi)
Your personal sharpening kit
Clamps (48” bars)

Hardware Installation Tools
Small router plane
Birdcage awl

— Christopher Schwarz

Filed under: The Anarchist's Tool Chest
Categories: Hand Tools

Campaign Birdhouse (And a Movie)

Sat, 07/12/2014 - 6:57am


Campaign birdhouse. It is real. Check it out on my blog at Popular Woodworking Magazine.

Filed under: Campaign Furniture
Categories: Hand Tools

The Making of the Oldtime Woodworker

Fri, 07/11/2014 - 4:11am


In a prominent place in a cozy Long Island home are two huge volumes. These interesting books contain a record of that second honeymoon which so few of us attain in this world, the Golden Wedding. The record is a careful description of a trip to the old home in England of Allen Moore and his wife in celebration of their fiftieth wedding anniversary. The books are illustrated with photos and letters, and on one page is a document which Mr. Moore—for half a century a loyal American—refers to in this way:

“I regard this document, which I have carefully preserved for 60 years, as my ‘Title Deed of Nobility.’ Some men inherit nobility, some get their titles by robbing other people, but my title came through hard and honest work as testified by Mr. Miller in his endorsement on the back of the indenture.”

“This document, which he has preserved with the greatest care, is the indenture of apprenticeship, under whose terms Allen Moore at fourteen years of age was “bound ‘prentice” for the term of seven years.

At engineering and other educational conferences, where teachers from trade schools, industrial schools and manual training schools meet to discuss the many points concerning these various lines of work, an expression often heard is “the old apprenticeship system.”

It is the belief of the writer that many of the rising generation have but a vague idea of just what the old apprenticeship system was. For the purpose of making a study of the system the subject of this sketch was asked to give his recollections on the following points:

1. What work did your master give you to do first?
2. What was your work the first year, second year, third year, etc.?
3. What was the attitude of the journeymen in the shop toward the apprentices?
4. How were you treated by your master?
5. What were your own impressions of your apprenticeship?

With his usual courtesy Mr. Moore replied that he was “not much of a scholar but would be glad to do the best he could.” His account is given below in his own words, as any alteration would spoil the charming simplicity and clearness of his recorded impressions.

The copy of the indenture should be examined carefully as showing the peculiarly intimate relations of master and apprentice and also how far we have traveled away from those relations in sixty years.

For example:—”The said apprentice shall and will faithfully serve his said master, his secrets keep, his lawful commands gladly obey and do—hurt to his said master he shall not do, nor suffer to be done by others.”

The apprentice was thereby made not only the guardian of his master’s trade secrets, but his personal protector as well; and again,—the mother shall furnish the apprentice with meat, drink, washing and lodging, “also necessary and suitable clothes and wearing apparel of all sorts during the seven years.”

The method of paying the apprentice is interesting. Keeping in mind the fact that at that time a first-class journeyman joiner received four shillings (one dollar) a day, the apprentice was paid nothing the first year, two shillings a week the second year, three the third year, and so on up until the seventh year he received eight shillings weekly.

In commenting on this seven years’ experience, Mr. Moore regards it as the finest kind of training, and the most valuable experience of his long and busy life.


“His Title Deed of Nobility”

This indenture, made the first day of March, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and forty-two, between Allen Moore, son of Martha Moore, of Liverpool in the county of Lancaster, of the first part and the said Martha Moore of the second part and Richard Miller, of Liverpool aforesaid, Joiner and Carpenter of the third part:

Witnesseth, That the said Allen Moore of his own free will and with the approbation of his said mother hath put, placed and bound and doth by these presents, put, place and bind himself a covenant servant or apprentice to the said Richard Miller, his executors, administrators and assigns, from the day of the date hereof, during the term of seven years thence next ensuing, and fully to be completed and ended.

And the said Martha Moore for herself, her heirs, executors, etc., doth hereby covenant, promise, and agree, to and with the said Richard Miller that he, the said apprentice, shall and will faithfully serve his said master, his secrets keep, his lawful commands gladly obey and do; hurt to his said master he shall not do, nor suffer to be done by others, when it is in his power to prevent the same; his masters goods he shall not waste or embezzle, the same give or lend without leave; day or night absent himself from his said master’s service; nor do any other Act, Matter, or thing whatsoever to the Prejudice of his said master, but in all things shall demean and behave himself towards his master as a faithful apprentice ought to do.

And also that the said Martha Moore, her executors or administrators, shall and will find and provide or cause and procure to be found and provided for the said apprentice good wholesome and sufficient meat, drink, washing and lodging and also necessary and suitable clothes and wearing apparel of all sorts during the whole of the said term of seven years and in consideration hereof the said Richard Miller doth hereby for himself, his executors, administrators, and assigns, covenant, promise and agree to teach, inform, and instruct, or cause to be taught, informed and instructed, the said apprentice, by the best ways and means he can in the art, trade or occupation of Joiner during the term of seven years and also pay or cause to be paid unto the said apprentice (except during absence as hereinafter mentioned) the sum of two shillings per week during the second year of the said term. Three shillings per week during the third year, four shillings per week during the fourth year, five shillings per week during the fifth year, six shillings per week during the sixth year, and eight shillings per week during the seventh year of the said term of seven years as and for his board wages. But it is hereby expressly declared and agreed that the said weekly sums or any of them shall not be paid or payable for or during any time or times when the said apprentice shall or may be absent from the service of his said master through illness or any other cause whatsoever.

In witness whereof, the said Parties to these Presents their Hands and Seals interchangeably have put, the day and year first above written.

Signed, sealed and delivered in (being first duly stamped) the presence of

                  Allen Moore,
                  Joseph Atherton,
                  Martha Moore,
                  Richard Miller.

The Endorsement

I hereby certify that the within named Allen Moore served me the full term specified in this indenture as a good and faithful apprentice ought to do.

        March 2, 1849.
                                    R. Miller.

Allen Moore’s Apprenticeship to Woodworking

I was “bound “prentice,” as the old saying put it, before I was fourteen years of age. The indenture is dated March 1st, 1842, but I did not reach the age of fourteen until the eighteenth of April following. In those old times it was considered necessary for a boy to give not less than seven years of his life to learn a trade thoroughly, and in many cases large premiums were paid for boys to become “Indentured Apprentices.” I did not pay any premium, the low scale of wages I was to receive being considered an equivalent.

Many boys boarded with their “Masters” when the parents lived a long distance from the shop, the hours for work being from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., except on Saturday to 5 p.m., with half an hour (7 to 7.30) for breakfast and one hour at noon for dinner.

Parents had to pay all expenses for board and lodging. When work was done away from the shop—on a new building say—the men were supposed to leave the shop at 6 o’clock a.m. and quit work at the regular time in the evening, the shop being considered the starting point for commencing work.

As a matter of course there were some advantages in being an indentured apprentice, for in the first place he was morally certain of learning the trade, he wanted to learn, in seven years if he had any capacity for it at all. Then again he was safe from any imposition on the part of the men, for he could appeal to the “Master” who was legally bound to see him righted, and it was beneficial in many other ways.

Then, when his term had expired, he could take his “Indenture” and all the best shops in the country were open to him, something like a school-teacher who holds a state certificate. Green hands without indentures stood a poor show for anything but the poorest kind of work and the poorest kind of pay.

It must be borne in mind that the conditions existing 50 or 60 years ago were very different from what exists now. You could not go to a factory and obtain doors ready made, or sashes, or moldings, or any of the things now made by machinery. All had to be made by hand, right from the big log or balk.

Planing machinery, mortising and tenoning machines and all the other woodworking machinery now in common use, were at that time entirely unknown. It may seem strange to relate, but it is quite true that the first steam sawmill in Liverpool was erected only about one year before my apprenticeship expired and it was considered quite a curious sight to see the gang-saws cutting up the big logs into boards of various thicknesses at such a rapid rate.

At our shop all that heavy work was done by hand labor, the great log or balk being rolled onto skids placed across the saw-pit and the top of it carefully aligned with a chalk line to the thickness of boards required. I sometimes volunteered to take the place of the “pitman” and pull down the big saw from below, the “topsawer’s” duty being to guide the saw carefully along the chalk mark as he stood upon the log.

The log being cut up into boards the next thing was to horse them, i. e., to stand them up on end the full length as they came from the saw-pit. This was no small job as the boards were often thirty to 40 feet long by, say two feet wide. Sometimes it required the strength of five or six men to raise these heavy boards, but the younger apprentices were always expected to lend a hand with this work.

moore_fig_01The boards being horsed, Fig. 1, were left there until they became perfectly weather-dried, the only boards kiln-dried being floor boards, the reason for this being that floor boards at that time were not tongued and grooved but planed with square edges by means of long jointing planes. When laid down they were pressed hard together with heavy clamps or dogs and the surface then traversed or planed perfectly smooth all over. Being kiln-dried they would not shrink any but might possibly swell a little and thus keep the joints absolutely tight. I never saw tongued and grooved floors until I came to America.

You will notice in the indenture that I did not receive any pay the first year of service and I remember quite well my first job of work. After being introduced by the foreman to the men at work in the shop, I was then conducted to the rear of the shop to a large anvil and a box full of crooked nails. The foreman instructed me how to straighten these and prepare them for further use, putting the different sizes into a box divided into compartments for this purpose.

I may mention that the hammer I used was not of the “claw” variety—in fact I never saw claw hammers used by joiners until I came to this country. If a nail went astray in driving it had to be withdrawn by a pair of pincers, which did not injure the surface of the work.

An apprentice did little the first year except the simplest kind of work and attending upon the men. He generally began the day by lighting a fire upon the open hearth with shavings and saw dust and then was busy collecting the men’s coffee cans in order to get them heated by breakfast time. He was at the beck and call of the men at all times when they required his services.

He had to turn the handle of the grindstone, when the men ground their plane irons, chisels, etc., make himself generally useful in any little way he could and be a good part of the time simply a looker-on to observe how work was done by others and thus gradually get familiar with the handling of tools, without any special work being assigned him.

Naturally the boy had to submit to many practical jokes on the part of the men and the older apprentices, but he did not suffer much from that if he took his medicine good-humoredly. I never had any trouble with any of the men, young or old, and being of an even temper soon became a general favorite amongst them. They gave me the nickname of “Daddy,” supposing such a small boy was unlikely to become a father except in the comical sense of being father to all the men and boys in the shop.

I was very fortunate in making the acquaintance of one of the older apprentices who was three or four years my senior. He belonged to a family about on a social level with my own and our friendship grew to be so close and warm that amongst our associates we became known as “David and Jonathan,” he being over six feet tall while I was small of stature. We were great “chums,” visited at each other’s homes—took long walks into the country in the long summer twilight evenings and our friendship remained unbroken until his death. His term of apprenticeship expired two or three years before mine and he left home almost immediately for America, traveling all over the United States and Central America, working his way from one place to another.

The indenture makes no provision for any specific kind of work each year because that depends quite largely upon the capacity of the apprentice, just as the promotion of scholars in public schools depends upon the ability of the scholar to master certain studies.

The shop foreman is the best judge of what kind of work each boy is fitted for, and so after the boy’s first year’s experience in the shop, getting acquainted with the names and uses of different tools and how to handle them, and getting used to the ways of the men he has to work with, the foreman will give him some simple bench work, such as planing boards for door and window casings*, the backs being left rough.

*He uses the word “casings” to describe what Americans call “jambs”.

moore_fig_02-03As a rule such casings were made from the outside slab of the first cut from the log and the back left rough just as it came from the saw-pit. The face side, however, had to be planed perfectly true and out of winding with the jack plane, jointing plane and smoothing plane—the edges being square with the face and parallel width to gage—one edge rabbeted out of the solid for the door to fit into, Fig. 2.

Skirting (base) boards with a molding or bead on the top edge, Fig. 3, was another form of simple planing work which the young apprentice had to practice on. The work was all solid, however, no separate facie board* nailed on to form the rabbet for the door, or loose molding nailed on top of base board.

*What we call a fascia board.

This is all plain work of course, but every piece was inspected by the foreman and any defects in workmanship pointed out. A boy was not considered a perfect workman if he succeeded in making one or two good jobs but was kept at same kind of work for weeks or even months together until he could be trusted to turn out the work required in good shape to pass inspection.

The proper use of saws and how to file and set the teeth was the next important lesson for the apprentice, the rip-saw especially, as all boards had to be cut up by the hand rip-saw for the different purposes required. For instance, if a lot of sashes had to be made, a board or plank of proper thickness—say two inches—would be taken down from the timber horse in the yard, carried into the shop and laid across two saw benches.

Then the foreman would carefully line it off with a chalk line to the proper size for styles, rails or bars as the case might be. The apprentice was then instructed how to hold the saw in a perfectly perpendicular position and make a clean cut on the down stroke so that the work would be the same size on the under side as laid out on top, with proper allowance for finishing under planes on the bench.

The apprentice was kept at this kind of work until he became thoroughly familiar with the proper handling and care of saws. All the different parts of sashes, doors, etc., were sawed out in this way and it was very important work for the boy to learn.

After this stage the apprentice was promoted to the finer kind of bench work and taught how to plane up the different parts of sashes, doors, etc., and by degrees initiated into the mystery of “laying out” work preparatory to the mortising and tenoning process. The latter was all done by hand, machine made doors and sashes being unknown and builders could not buy such things ready made.

moore_fig_04-05Sash making was a delicate job and required great care, not only in “laying out” but throughout the entire process. The regular form of the bars being what was called gothic, Fig. 4. required them to be carefully mitered where the bars came together—bars made with a square edge on front, Fig. 5, as commonly made now do not require such careful handling.

Another piece of fine work was the architraves for doors and windows. Such parts are now called “trim” and are made in a multitude of forms which in old times would have been considered somewhat barbarous, not to say “cheap and nasty.” A common form of trim nowadays is a square block at each corner with molding “butted” in between as in Fig. 6. The old-fashioned form—rarely seen now— had some pretension to architectural beauty, and owing to its section, made mitering at the corners a necessity.


The foundation for the architrave was a facie board and a molding strip, both accurately planed to width and thickness to suit the section required. The molding strip was glued to the facie, nails not being allowed as they would endanger the molding planes used in forming the ornamented part of the architrave, the construction being something like the sketch, Fig. 7. This is only a rough sketch, but it can be easily seen that every part of the finished face must be exactly true to get a perfect miter at the corners over the doors and windows.

I doubt if any such work is put into buildings in these get-rich-quick days, when builders put on as little labor as they possibly can so that it looks nice and they get well paid for it. These days may be called the “age of shams” for any house owner will tell you of the constant struggle to keep a modern building in a state of decent repair.

moore_fig_07-08A boy was seldom sent out to work on a building until he had worked in the shop for about four years. Then he began to take lessons in the erection of buildings, the walls being of brick or stone. He was then taught how to frame the floor joists around the chimney breasts and for the stairways and to lay the joists perfectly level on the walls, after the masons had built them to the proper height for the first story, and so on as high as the building was to go. After that came framing the roof timbers—sometimes quite an intricate job.

After the building was erected—roof on and slated—no flat tin roofs—the floor boards were laid down, door and window casings fixed and the building prepared for the first coat of plaster. When that was on and dry, along came the finishing work and the apprentice was taught to adjust all the fine inside work, including inside box shutters for the windows, which were all the fashion at that time. The doors and sashes, which the apprentice had helped to make in the shop, had to be fitted to their frames and the doors carefully hung so they would not be hinge bound or otherwise defective.

Not until the sixth or seventh year did the apprentice know anything about stair building except in a general way, as he was now supposed to be able to take a hand in all kinds of work requiring skilled labor. Stair building was not considered a separate branch of the joinery trade, although usually one or two men in the shop were considered experts at that kind of work and competent to take full charge of finishing the staircase after the floors were laid.

Mechanics fifty or sixty years ago, although they might be skilled workmen, did not take much stock in what they called “book-learning,” believing that practice only makes perfect, but the man who had charge of the stair building in our shop was cast in a different mold. He was an old Welshman and a great student of all kinds of abstruse learning, being well up in mathematics and geometry. He was something of a linguist too, but that might go without saying, for anyone who understands the Welsh lingo should be able to manage any language, dead or alive.

The old man was somewhat cranky, hut he was a splendid workman, and boys were fortunate when they were assigned to him to help on stair-building, for like all the work at that time every part was done by hand. The old man knew all about it from A to Z, and would decide the proper width for the steps and the proper height for the risers and also the pattern for the fancy brackets mitered onto the ends of the risers, something you rarely see nowadays.

The hand rails were, as a rule, of mahogany and templets had to be made for the curves around the “wells” and the curve to finish at the bottom step. The riser of the bottom step was also curved to match the curve of the rail, the rail being supported by an iron rod screwed into the middle of the block forming the curved end of the bottom riser.

The section of the hand rail being settled, a mahogany plank of suitable thickness was selected, the templets applied and the curved pieces sawed out by hand with a jig saw to be afterwards finished to the exact section and form required as in Fig. 8. In a first-class building the staircase, when completed, was the handsomest work in it and required the greatest amount of skilled labor. If an apprentice could accomplish that kind of work his seven years’ training was considered as completed.

A peculiar phase of the joiner’s work and which was common at that time was the making of coffins. Ready-made coffins and caskets were then unknown.

On the occasion of a death in any family a joiner was sent for and he measured the body. Then he returned to the shop, selected oak for the purpose and made the coffin, which usually was finished with a wax polish. The joiner then carried the coffin—a trip commonly made at night—to the house of mourning and performed all the duties of an undertaker, even to the point of going to the grave with the corpse. I was called upon many times to make coffins and act as an undertaker.
Two curious items I remember in this connection are the facts that women then did not attend funerals—a custom that still prevails in some parts of England—and the peculiar shapes of some of the coffins. In Manchester at that time a style known as the “fish tail”, Fig. 10, was in use, while in Liverpool the shape, Fig. 9, which is still associated in our minds with the word coffin was in use.

A little later “coffin shops,’” where ready-made coffins and caskets were kept in stock, were established and this was considered a very enterprising innovation.

Edwin W. Foster

Wood Craft – October, 1905

—Jeff Burks

Filed under: Historical Images
Categories: Hand Tools

Extravagant Economy

Fri, 07/11/2014 - 1:40am


The customers of a country cooper caused him a vast deal of vexation by their saving habits and persistence in getting all their old tubs and casks repaired, and buying but little new work.

“I stood it however,” said he, “until one day old Sam Crabtree brought in an old ‘bung-hole’ to which he said he wanted a new barrel made. Then I quit the business in disgust!”

Town Talk – 1859

—Jeff Burks

Filed under: Historical Images
Categories: Hand Tools

One (or Two) of Jonathan Fisher’s Workbenches

Thu, 07/10/2014 - 12:09pm


Jonathan Fisher built a number of workbenches during his life in Blue Hill, Maine, according to woodworker Joshua Klein, who has studied Fisher’s journal in detail.

One of Fisher’s workbenches is a lightweight model that uses a basic Nicholson construction with an unusual base that looks a little like a folding ironing board.

Here are some of the details Klein and I observed while looking over the workbench.

1. The front apron of the bench, which is facing away from the camera in the photo above, has two threaded holes in it that look like they were intended for a twin-screw vise.

2. The benchtop doesn’t have a planing stop. Instead it is bored with a series of holes for wooden pegs. Some pegs are designed to restrain the end of the board; other pegs are designed to restrain the board laterally. It looks a lot like workbenches shown in drawings of Nuremburg woodworkers.


3. The underside of the bench uses four diagonal braces and one horizontal brace to restrain the bench while traversing. The aprons are fastened to the legs with nails, which prevent it from swaying while planing with the grain.

fisher_bench_rear_IMG_9877 fisher_bench_notches_IMG_9878

4. The one thing that had Klein and I scratching our heads was the backside of the bench. It looks like the bench had a drop leaf attached with butt hinges. In the middle of the apron are some notches and a semi-circular dado. Our guess is that this was the mechanism for holding the drop leaf up. But we couldn’t figure out how it worked exactly.


Another bench at Blue Hill is a low workbench that looks like a Roman or Estonian model. It is pierces with a lot of holes for pegs (or jigs). There is some evidence of sawing and chiseling that was done on the bench – but not a lot.

This could have been a low workbench that Fisher used. Or perhaps it’s a sitting bench that was used occasionally for woodworking.

— Christopher Schwarz

To read more about Jonathan Fisher and his woodworking, check out these links.

Jonathan Fisher’s Tool Chest (and Tools)
Jonathan Fisher. Begin the Begin
Friday’s Fisher House Tour
The Congregationalist’s Tool Chest


Filed under: Workbenches
Categories: Hand Tools

The History of Wood, Part 10

Wed, 07/09/2014 - 6:00am


Filed under: Uncategorized
Categories: Hand Tools

Jonathan Fisher’s Tool Chest (and Tools)

Tue, 07/08/2014 - 7:18pm


Immediately after arriving in Maine last week, Thomas Lie-Nielsen took me and some of his key employees to the Farnsworth Art Museum in nearby Rockland, Maine. The trip was to view the tools contained in Jonathan Fisher’s tool chest.


Joshua Klein, a woodworker who has been studying Fisher, met us at the museum and we were quickly taken to the Farnsworth’s administrative offices upstairs. There, in a corner room, the employees had laid out about 50 of Fisher’s tools with his tool chest sitting on the floor against the wall.

It was an interesting, and somewhat unusual, collection of tools. Of course, Fisher was an interesting and unusual fellow who invented and built all sorts of contrivances and recorded them in his illustrated journal. Some of the things on the table we couldn’t identify. Could that be a slitting tool used to make woven hats (the Fisher family made a lot of hats)?

Other tools were quite familiar.

With the help of the museum staff we examined the tools, asked a lot of questions out loud and simply puzzled over some of the objects in this unique collection. Klein was interested in the tools because he has been researching Fisher’s woodworking (perhaps for a future book). Lie-Nielsen was particularly interested because Fisher is one of his relatives.

(By the way, if you haven’t read anything about Jonathan Fisher, check out the web site for his house museum here. The Wikipedia entry on him only scratches the surface. He was a remarkable and industrious man.)


During our visit to the Farnsworth, I kept focusing on Fisher’s long planes, especially his jack, try and jointer planes. All three of them were festooned with an unusual triangular indentation. The “stippling,” for lack of a better word, was only on the sidewalls of these planes. It wasn’t on top of the stock. And it wasn’t on the sole. (Interestingly, it also wasn’t on his smoothing plane nor any of the moulding planes we examined.)

What was this this for? Deneb Puchalski of Lie-Nielsen Toolworks wondered if it could be something to improve one’s grip on the plane. But the stippling was everywhere on the sidewalls, and not on the top of the plane where you grip it.

There was no rhyme or reason for the marks, and so my speculation is this: It was done by a bored child who was allowed to decorate the sides of the planes with a hammer and some sort of triangular tool.

We might never know the answer. Or perhaps Klein will uncover the answer in one of Fisher’s letters or an unread journal entry.

Next time: One (or perhaps two) of Fisher’s many workbenches.

— Christopher Schwarz

fisher_stippling_jack_IMG_9826 fisher_chest_detail_IMG_9820 fisher_lie-nielsen_IMG_9815 fisher_totes_IMG_9813 fisher_stippling_detail_IMG_9812 fisher_stippling1_IMG_9811 fisher_inspecting_tools_IMG_9806 fisher_name_stamp_IMG_9804
Filed under: Personal Favorites
Categories: Hand Tools

Melencolia Squares from Neil Cronk

Mon, 07/07/2014 - 8:43pm


Woodworker Neil Cronk of Nova Scotia has begun making Melencolia-style squares as shown in Albrecht Dürer’s famous print “Melencolia I.” The square, shown in the bottom-left corner of the print, is of a style that has all but vanished.

I’ve been making quite a lot of these squares myself and really like them. They are portable, easy to make and quite accurate for woodworking. Neil has begun making them for sale through his site The Cronkwright Workshop.

If you follow woodworking stuff on Twitter, you might have run into Neil, who live-tweets photos of his explorations into hand-cut joinery, from the simple to the quite elaborate. It’s worth checking out here on Twitter.

I ordered one of Neil’s squares and just received it. His squares are smaller than mine, but that’s because he scaled his off of the Melencolia drawing using the smoothing plane as the reference point. So his size is probably more accurate. He also made his squares’ handles out of one single piece of wood – not two bits that were glued up (like I did).


I’ve seen Neil’s work before, and it’s very good. This square is no exception. The details are crisp and everything is square and perfect.

The squares are $40 in maple and $55 in mahogany and can be ordered through his store here. He also has other layout tools in the works – I think he said that winding sticks are next.

So if you want to try a Melencolia square but don’t have the time to make one, here’s your chance. They are excellent.

— Christopher Schwarz

Filed under: Personal Favorites
Categories: Hand Tools

The Year of the Ankle-biters

Mon, 07/07/2014 - 8:08pm


The state of Maine has some amazing wildlife. And it, whatever it is, is biting me.

This week I’m in midcoast Maine to film a DVD on building a Dutch Tool Chest and attend the Lie-Nielsen Toolworks Open House on Friday and Saturday. Details here. If you live within driving distance, I highly recommend the experience. John Hoffman and I will be there with T-shirts and our full line of books. And we’ll be making Wierix squares.

Anyway, back to the biters. Something is feasting on my ankles. And while that’s inconvenient, my ankles will not be shown in the DVD (sorry, ladies). So really, my itchy ankles are of no consequence to you.

However, have you ever seen my “Sawing Fundamentals” DVD? If you watch it on a big screen, you can make a drinking game out of counting the flies shown in the DVD (the last guy to guess correctly the number of flies is now on a waiting list for a liver transplant).

We shot that DVD during the cold months, but something about the lights used during the shoot woke them up from their slumber. After every hour or so, we had to sweep up hundreds of the suckers.

We tried to scare the flies off by putting a few of their heads on tiny spikes (OK, the “spikes” were toothpicks), but the flies kept coming. Waves and waves of them.

Best thing I can say about them: They didn’t bite my ankles.

— Christopher Schwarz

Filed under: Projects, Woodworking Classes
Categories: Hand Tools

On a Higher Level

Sun, 07/06/2014 - 10:09pm


No man ever finished his work, for each task is but a preparation, which, being completed, should be put under our feet, that we may thenceforward labor on a higher level. Thus, no true worker was ever satisfied with what he accomplished, for, by doing that, he had qualified himself to do something better.

George Houghton

The Hub – August, 1875

—Jeff Burks

De Dorpstimmerman – Tony Lodewijk George Offermans (1854-1911)
Filed under: Historical Images
Categories: Hand Tools


by Dr. Radut