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Lost Art Press: Chris Schwarz
It has been said that “cleanliness is next to Godliness.” This is an axiom and does not need demonstration to prove the truth of it, but we may go a little further and say, that when applied to shops and mills that it is necessary to prosperity, for wherever you may go, or whatever mill, or yard, or shop you may go into and find everything at loose ends, and tools laying around promiscuously and many of them hung up on the floor or shied away under the benches, or if you go through the lumber yard and find piles of boards or plank or nice timber uncovered, and piles of boards left with part of them thrown down where they ought to be piled up nicely and covered, I say that where these conditions exist, you can take your note book out and write down. “This concern will eventually go to the bad, unless it becomes converted to the gospel cleanliness and order.” “Order is Heaven’s first law ” and unless we obey that law to the letter, we shall surely have to suffer the penalty for disobedience to its demands. Order and cleanliness about any place of business, is just as necessary as sunlight to the growth of vegetation.
The loss of time spent in hunting for mislaid tools amounts in the course of a year to hundreds of dollars in shops where everything is left to take care of itself which somebody has got to pay for, and in lumber manufacturing places it comes on the owners because all the work is done at the owners expense unless you are sawing or turning or planing for your customer by the hour which happens only once in a while, and then if your bill amounts to more than he thinks it ought to, next time he will go some where else with his work and indirectly you are a loser because you do not have the work to do.
There should always be a well regulated system for keeping tools and appliances about a mill in their places. Have a place for everything and have everything in its proper place. When you are through using a wrench or hammer or file, or any other tool or thing, even to a broom, have a place for it, and return it to its place, immediately after you have done using it. Don’t lay it down and say, well, when I get things agoing I will put it where it belongs. Perhaps while you are getting agoing your tool has been going too, for any tool lying around loose offers a great temptation to those who are always ready to pick up tools and put them in any place, but your thousands of dollars worth of tools find themselves put up in some pawn broker’s shop, when, if the one using them had put them up in their proper place they would have been saved the journey to the P. B. S., even though it was a free ride. Saws are great tools to ride in that direction, while wrenches and hammers are invited home like the Frenchman’s pig, to stay a week, and never come back.
To a certain extent employees ought to be rigidly held responsible for tools of whatever kind in their care. If they were so held, I am sure there would be fewer tools lost. I know of one large mill that lost 30 cant dogs in much less than a year’s time, and no one knew which way they traveled or where they stopped. Now, had there been some one to look after and account for these tools, and put them in some place out of the way of those who make it a business to pick up everything, no matter whether it is a tool or a horse, they would have been saved, and the price paid for new ones would have gone to the profit account on the owner’s books. Had this company held the man in charge of this gang strictly responsible for those cant dogs, I very much doubt if a single one of them would have been lost.
The habit of going to a pile of any kind of lumber and taking some and throwing down some and leaving it, is a terrible source of loss to those who allow their men to get in the habit of doing it. Nice boards and planks are often ruined by being left helter skelter and pitch poled every which way, and left to warp and get out of shape so no person will buy them, and if you use them yourself to fill an order, you have to plane them down, and you must lose quite a large percentage on the thickness in order to make it of any value to you, or if you put it through a cylinder planer, ten to one you do not split it, and the trimming to make it salable, wastes a great deal.
Every owner is responsible for everything being at loose ends about the yard and mill. He should not only see to it himself, but hold the foreman of the yard responsible for stock broken up and wasted without sufficient cause. Tornadoes may come and scatter your lumber around, but careless and irresponsible foremen are worse than tornadoes for the waste is constant the whole year through.
Just as soon as you are through overhauling a pile or lot of lumber, it should be piled up at once and never left till a better opportunity comes, for it never will come, and every day a lot of lumber lies, that is thrown into a helter skelter pile, it will deteriorate in value, and you actually lose more by letting it lie, than the time you would use in piling it up properly would amount to. Every owner of lumber yard or mill, or more generally where both are connected, should have an eye out for these little leaks, for these little leaks cause many a staunch and able vessel to go to the bottom.
Every piece of board or plank or timber, should be made to count for something, for each piece has a value, and is worth, and will bring you something if you look out for it, and this little something saved, you will find helps you out a great deal when you get pinched a little, and a few hundred dollars would just even things up, and put you fair and square on your feet again. I wish I might specify some particular kind of business where this careful looking after these little bits of waste would not be needed. If we take the regular cabinet business, how many thousands of the little pieces can be put to a good use, and save cutting out of whole stock, what could be easily picked out of cuttings that come from jobs where we must cut from whole stock.
Each kind of cuttings should have its own place for waste pieces, so when we want a piece of black walnut we will not have to hunt long enough among a lot of oak, and ash, and maple, and mahogany, to pay for a good plank in the time spent in hunting. There are those who are sharp and clear headed enough to see where these little pennies saved in this way amount to dollars when they come to take account of stock, and foot up a year’s work. Cabinet making and house finishing, which, in the costlier style of houses is another branch of cabinet work use up in the aggregate an enormous number of small pieces of wood, especially the costlier kinds of wood and a sharp look out for the waste pieces around cutting up saws, not only keeps things in order, but also saves buying good high priced stock, And makes the dividends very much larger.
Now in common lumber yards, how common it is to see sticking pickets lying around just where the piles were taken down, and not the least care taken of them, everywhere you go around the yard you stumble over a lot of these pickets always in the way, and never taken care of. When lumber begins to come in for sticking, hurrah boys, we must have a big lot of pickets sawed. But where are the ones used last year? Lots of boys who make it a business to gather in just this kind of stock have had a watchful eye on these things, and thousands of them have taken a free ride, and will never come back to tell who gave them the ride. One man said to me a few days ago, I have seen more sticking pickets go by my house this winter than ten horses could draw at one time, and considering the hard times of the winter just past, no doubt but that he came very near the truth. These ten loads of pickets will have to be replaced and somebody or bodies will have to pay the cost of making new ones.
Boards and plank by the load, taken one by one from these helter skelter piles go to new homes, and, like the pickets, never come back to tell who carried them away. The only way to save and have all these things show in the time when you take account of stock, is to have order on the BRAIN. We know it is more comfortable to sit in the office in the cold winter days, but if your yard or mill is suffering for want of care it is for the owner’s interest that he makes a tour of inspection over his premises at least once a day, and see that everything is close reefed and snug.
Builder and Woodworker – May, 1885
- Jeff Burks
Filed under: Historical Images
I haven’t abandoned my “Furniture of Necessity” book. Suzanne “the Saucy Indexer” Ellison, simply won’t allow it.
While my days are spent in teak and mahogany making campaign furniture, Suzanne has been feeding me a steady diet of vernacular forms that I browse late at night when I’m too pooped to work in the shop.
Her latest missive is an exhibition book from 1982 for an exhibit titled “Common Furniture” at the Stable Court Exhibition Galleries. The book is a gold mine.
My favorite piece – one I should build for the book – is a Welsh stick chair that I haven’t seen before. I fell hard for Welsh stick chairs thanks to the late John Brown. This particular example isn’t in his book, though some similar chairs are.
From the exhibition book:
Welsh, probably 18th century, second half, Ht. 32 in.
Hewn elm seat, whittled ash legs and splats, the armbow cut from a naturally curved elm branch. The seat and upper frame betray traces of three paint layers – red, light and dark green. At one time there were two (or possibly 3) rear legs. Rugged chairs of this type are commonly found in Wales, the Isle of Man, Scotland and Ireland (where they are today quaintly called ‘famine’ chairs) and could fairly be described as a native ‘Celtic’ pattern. No documented or dated examples are known and they probably developed independently of the Windsor chair tradition, being produced well into the 19th century. This one was acquired in the Cwm Tudu area of Cardiganshire.
Lent by Crispin.
— Christopher Schwarz
P.S. The title of this post is the name of a great song by Rhett Miller, the lead singer of the Old 97s.
Filed under: Books in the Works, Furniture of Necessity
It is surprising how little is known about glue, even among artisans who are constantly using it in their work, especially when we consider that the strength and durability of glued work, and, ultimately, the reputation of the artisan, depend largely upon the quality and proper use of it.
It is an indisputable fact that poor glue, or the improper use of good glue, has caused the wreck of many an otherwise good piece of work.
In order to select or handle glue intelligently, it is necessary to understand something about its manufacture. Glue is an impure gelatine, and is made from the refuse of tanneries, such as parings and waste pieces of the hides, ears, and tails of cattle. Some light-colored glues of poor quality are made from sheep skins, pig skins, and bones. Bone glue is prepared by boiling bones, to remove the fatty matter they contain, and then treating them with hydrochloric acid. This renders them soft and translucent. They are then washed in an alkaline bath, to neutralize the acid. The subsequent treatment is much the same as that followed in the other process. Glue made from bones has a milky hue, owing to the presence of phosphate of lime.
A very strong, though offensive smelling, glue is made from fish bones, but the most reliable and economical glue for the woodworker is made from sinews and pure hide stock. In preparing this glue, the clippings are first soaked in quicklime and water for two or three weeks. This removes the hair and acts as an antiseptic. They are then washed and given another lime bath; then washed again and partially dried, or drained, in the open air. When well drained, the “glue pieces,” as they are now called, are placed in large, fiat-bottomed boilers of copper. These boilers are provided with false bottoms, to prevent the material from burning. The pieces are partly covered with soft water, and gently heated until all the gelatinous part has been dissolved out and the remaining glue has attained the proper consistency ; it is then drawn off into “congealing boxes” of wood. As it cools, it becomes stiff and jelly-like, when it is turned out and cut with wires and wet knives. The pieces are then removed to drying racks, where they are supported on nets and dried in the open air. This operation of drying is often a cause of much anxiety to the manufacturer, the reason being that decided variations in temperature have disastrous effects on the product. When dry, the dull appearance of the pieces is not very pleasing, and to give them a bright gloss they are wetted and subjected to artificial heat.
A knowledge of the processes followed in the manufacture of glue enables the consumer to readily judge the merits of any sample offered. The color is a matter of great importance. Good hide-stock glue is clear, light brown, free from streaks or specks. As already mentioned, very light colored glues are usually inferior. A very dark color indicates that poor material was used or that the glue was obtained from a second boiling of the glue pieces. Muddy glues are sometimes bleached by the addition of zinc or whiting; the result is, of course, a very poor quality; but some furniture manufacturers use such glue, as an excess of it on the work is not readily seen, and the expense of cleaning it off is saved.
Another test for glue is to break a piece of it. Good glue, if bent quickly, will snap into pieces with a glassy fracture ; but, when bent slowly, it will bend nearly double, turning white at the bend, before breaking. – Some kinds of glue that are made by the acid process, have an acid taste. This indicates that the acid was not properly neutralized, and this has a detrimental effect.
A very important test of glue is that which determines its “water-taking” properties. In this test, the dry-glue is placed in the glue-pot, and cold water poured upon it. Good glue will not dissolve in cold water, but will absorb the water. Poor glue will absorb very little water, while a first-class quality will absorb an astonishing amount, swelling up until it stands above the top of the glue-pot. This alone should prevent any one from buying cheap glue, under the impression that it is economical. Water is cheaper than glue, and a pound of good glue will make two or three times the amount of prepared glue that a pound of poor glue will make.
When preparing glue for use, no more should be dissolved than is needed for immediate application; glue is animal matter and, like ham or beef, will go bad if exposed. The pieces should be soaked for about 24 hours, or at least overnight, in as much water as they will absorb. Then, with the addition of a little more water, they should be boiled in a glue-pot or double cooker. The pot containing the glue should be surrounded by water and steam, and should never come in direct contact with any heating flame, as a temperature higher than that of boiling water is detrimental. The glue should be boiled until all the lumps are dissolved and the liquid has the consistency of heavy oil. Some classes of work require thick glue, and others thin glue. If the glue is too thick, it may be thinned by stirring in some hot water. A very convenient glue-pot, made of simple materials, is shown in the accompanying figure. The outside can is such a one as contains a pound of infant’s food. A hole may be cut in the cover just large enough to admit the body of a small baking-powder can. This answers very well for home use.
In making a glue joint, it is necessary that the pieces fit together exactly, and are perfectly dry. It is also a good plan to warm the surfaces to be glued. The strongest joints can be made when the grain of the wood lies in the direction of the joint. End wood joints are very difficult to make secure, and require thick glue.
Among amateurs there is a common misconception that the more glue used, the stronger the joint. This is a great mistake, for while it is necessary that all parts of the joint shall receive a coating of glue, the effort should be to immediately squeeze out as much of it as possible. A perfect joint should be discernible only by the difference in direction of the grain of the wood, and not by a black streak. The strength of a properly glued joint is very great; in fact, when tearing apart glued articles—furniture, for instance—the wood itself often separates before the joints will yield.
In some shops, it is the custom to make up a quantity of glue sufficient for several days’ work, and allow the men to replenish their supply from this “stock solution.” This is a bad practice, as glue which is allowed to stand in moisture rapidly ferments and loses its strength.
If, after a glued joint has stood for three or four hours, the glue sticks to the chisel when an attempt is made to clean off the surplus, it indicates that the glue was not cooked enough. In drying, glue should return to nearly the same condition as before cooking, although in warm or damp weather it will not dry as fast as in cold, dry weather.
In wood-working establishments glue is useful in a way which many people know nothing of, namely, as a healing agent. This is particularly fortunate, for at the cabinetmaker’s and in the pattern shop, etc., where glue is always at hand, finger cuts are frequent and need prompt treatment. If the injured part is wrapped with a piece of paper that has previously been covered with hot glue, the cut will stop bleeding instantly. The cut should be drawn together well while applying the glue-covered paper. In cooling, the glue contracts and tends to still further close the wound, in much the same manner as the collodion used by the surgeon. When the finger has healed, the paper can be readily washed off in warm water.
For some classes of work, ready-made liquid glues are very convenient; but they will not answer for large joints, as they dry very slowly. For small work, however, and for mending crockery and glass, they answer very well. Common glue should never be placed in contact with glass, as it contracts so rapidly that the glass is certain to break.
Liquid glue may be made by dissolving 1 part of isinglass in 3 parts of No. 8 acetic acid. Another recipe is to slowly add nitric acid to the ordinary preparation of glue, in the proportion of 10 ounces of the acid to 2 pounds of ordinarily prepared glue. A damp-proof glue can be made by using skim milk instead of water, and preparing in the usual manner.
In making a joint with any kind of glue, the surfaces to be joined must fit each other, and as much of the glue as possible squeezed out, either by rubbing the pieces back and forth, over one another, or by squeezing them together between the hands.
Where the joints or the pieces are large, clamps or presses may be used with advantage for squeezing the glue out. The clamps should remain on the work until the glue has set; this takes from half an hour to several hours, according to the temperature and humidity of the air. Cabinetmakers usually screw their clamps up very tight, and immediately afterwards release them slightly, to take the strain off the screws. If this is not done, the clamps are very apt to give way in a short time.
In working with hot glue, everything should be ready before the glue is applied as it begins to chill immediately, and if exposed to the air too long, a poor joint is the result. The stock of glue should never be kept in a damp place, or the glue will mold and spoil.
George F. Lord
Home Study Magazine – 1899
Filed under: Historical Images
NYC Urban Lumber Harvesting- Perquisites and Pitfalls
It’s been an interesting journey these past few years, to say the least. We have watched our company swell and shrink, from one guy to seven guys and back down to two. We’ve been overwhelmingly busy and dismally slow; the amount of all-nighters pulled in the shop in hopes of meeting deadlines being roughly equal to the amount of sleepless nights spent wondering (worrying?) about how we are going to drum up sales and keep the whole affair afloat. Small successes are always met with slightly smaller defeats, enough so that the carrot does ever dangle. Basically, when we’re not busy high fiving each other, we can be found banging our heads against the nearest wall. At the end of the day we are able to maintain a constant level of psych for this pet project turned full time job/obsession, and that is due to a trait peculiar to most people but familiar to woodworkers:
We get giddy about the wood.
Just about every time we cut a new log, we find ourselves ogling the grain, taking photos, ooh-ing and ahhh-ing over each new slab as it comes off the mill.
We run our hands over the freshly cut surface, feeling the tree’s cool moisture, silently judging the quality of cut from the blade. Many times I’ve repeated the same idle vow: “now this one I’m keeping for myself”.
This base reaction to freshly cut boards has been the fuel that keeps us going, especially when the going gets tough. And it does get tough. New York City is a land of tiny backyards accessible only via trespassing and calisthenics. We recently found ourselves finessing 10’ long, 300+lbs. mulberry slabs around a tight 90º turn and through an 18” wide “alley” to get to the stairs, and finally onto the trailer. Good thing there were only eight of them.
Another fun incident was trying to extract large silver maple slabs we milled from a tree downed by Hurricane Irene. These slabs were 9’, 8” long because that was the absolute maximum size I determined we could get down the stairs to the basement, across the building, up the stairs, around a dogleg turn with a four-step rise, through the door and into the truck. That was a big tree so we got to practice that dance 21 times, finding near-perfection by the end. The 9’8” thing actually worked, just as soon as we removed the front door.
An unexpectedly fun aspect of this business turns out to be amusing the public. Folks in Brooklyn, NY aren’t accustomed to seeing guys with chainsaws, especially not 48” long chainsaws. Wielding these monsters on the sidewalk in Bushwick draws a crowd. A nervous crowd, on the far side of the street. The audience that gathered while we were trying to unload a large sycamore log from the pickup by hand really got their money’s worth. By that time we had ironed out most of the kinks in the “drop clutch removal” process so our onlookers were treated to the workings of a well-oiled machine. The procedure is as follows
- Back vehicle up to a reliable anchor (a 10” span of brick wall between my loading dock and a doorway worked nicely).
- Chain log to anchor.
- Remove vehicle’s tailgate (very important).
- Instruct driver to perform a drop clutch launch.
We have actually elicited applause with this technique. We’ve also folded a couple tailgates. For more quarter sawn sycamore, with its characteristic lace wood-like figure and striking pink, blue and yellow color I would happily fold as many tailgates as it takes.
So you see, not lack of sleep, nor anxiety induced heartburn, nor sore and fatigued muscles can diminish our zeal for revealing the hidden beauty in each new log. In fact, there is a doozy waiting for us in the yard right now. It’s a giant chunk of crotch hickory, about 60” wide and 9’ long, with lots of telltale ripples under the bark hinting at the figure hidden inside. We know with certainty that this log is going to kick our butts. Hickory is just way harder and heavier a material than the human physiological form was build to handle at these sizes. I can’t wait! These slabs are going to be amazing, truly one of a kind. And I’m probably going to keep one for myself.- Roger Benton
Filed under: Uncategorized
While up in the Boston area last week, Peter Follansbee, the joiner at Plimoth Plantation, commented on the lack of images of shavehorses from the 17th century.
That kind of question mark interests me.
Earlier I had stumbled on some engravings of people whose body parts were the tools and materials they worked with. The print, Habit de Menuisier Ebeniste, showed a cabinetmaker made from his tools.
Jeff Burks (naturally) turned up the plate shown above and several more that were similar. This one shows a cooper with a shavehorse at his feet. Here’s what Burks says about the artist and what is known about the plate:
These were by Nicolas de Larmessin II (printmaker; French; c.1645 – 1725). Engraver; brother of Nicolas de Larmessin I. Father of Nicolas III. Worked most of his career for his elder brother, and later his widow. Seems to have published little himself.
The dates attributed to these engravings vary from 1690-1700 and beyond. I don’t think anybody really has a concrete date for them. It also appears that they also don’t agree about how many were in the original set. Some say 77, some say 97, and there were copycat artists who came after, plus reprints of the originals, sometimes hand-colored.
The image is from Gallica. And we will keep looking.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Historical Images
I spent the morning digging through some very old 8/4 and 6/4 mahogany at Midwest Woodworking. This material will be for my June class on building a Roorkhee chair at Kelly Mehler’s School of Woodworking in Berea, Ky.
If you are in the class, you are in for a real treat. This material is beautiful.
And if we are cautious and quick we might have enough time and material to make a Roubo folding camp stool, too.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Campaign Furniture
This saying was evidently born in a blacksmith’s shop. It has done service in every kind of shop, and has passed into one of those proverbs which are as often false as true. Indeed, this is the character of the greatest number of proverbs. True in a limited and special range, they are used as of universal application. Now, though a man may have “too many irons in the fire,” it is just as true that he may have not enough irons in the fire. It is foolish to take on more work than one can do well. It is wicked to work so excessively as to exhaust the strength, weaken digestion, impair sleep, and shatter the nervous system. When these results are produced by an inordinate use of the passions, they are called dissipations. But they are none the less dissipations when they spring from an inordinate addiction to business.
But it is not in this direction that men are said to have too many irons in the fire. When a man is carrying on so many separate enterprises that he must neglect some of them wholly, and can attend to none of them thoroughly, he is properly said to have too many irons in the fire. But the same phrase is applied to a man who turns his hands to many different kinds of trade. It is the serious belief of many that a man can not be a good workman in more than one art; that, if a workman means to be skillful, he must devote his life to a single trade, and in confirmation of such notions proverbs fly thick—”Jack of all trades and good at none,” being a specimen!
In olden times, when men had little education, and were slow and dull, it may have been true that a man could master but one trade. But with the growth of intelligence among laboring men, their brains are nimbler, their hands are quicker, and they can pursue a more diversified industry.
At any rate, the working-men of America have kicked this proverb out of their shops. It has been the pride, and the thrift, too, of free labor in America, that it could do any thing. A farmer does not confine his labor to one or two crops. Whatever will pay well in the market he soon learns to raise, and is all the better for learning. A real Yankee may learn the carpenter’s trade. Having a taste for fine work, he teaches himself cabinet-making. Or if occasion serves, he carves or builds models for machinery. Times being slack, he comes down to the coast, hires out in a ship-yard, and, after a little, is a very good ship-carpenter. No one after that would be surprised to find him in a wheel-wright’s shop, and, at last, he settles down as a carriage-maker.
Is there any thing in these several trades so difficult as to require for success in them the whole of a man’s life and his undivided mind? They are all of a family. The knowledge which a man gets in one is applicable to them all. Nay, they help each other. In the ship-yard a man gets ideas of strength and solidity that would make him a better house-builder. In cabinet-making he will obtain an accuracy and fineness of work which will improve his hand all the way down through coarser trades. His mind will be improved. He will not be likely to get into ruts. He will be apt to carry the habit of thinking into all his business. It is said that farmers want to buy all the land that bounds their farm. A working-man should be curious to understand every trade that touches his trade. A man of a single trade is like a knife with a single blade. Every blade in addition makes it a better knife, up to the point when it becomes too bulky for convenient use. And this figure very well illustrates the benefit of being able to pursue several different avocations. If the blade of a one-bladed knife breaks, there is the end of it; but if it has two blades, it is serviceable yet. A big blade for coarse work, a fine blade for fine work, a sharp-pointed blade, an awl, a lancet, in short, blades that are tools for half-a-dozen different uses, make the knife all the more valuable. A one-bladed man is not to be despised. But he is, after all, but a kind of jack-knife man. Commend me to a man that carries a whole handleful of blades!
So far from exhorting a young mechanic to stick to one thing, I should urge him to be master of his trade as soon as possible, and then to be curious of all other trades that are nearly related to it.
A carpenter ought to be a good roofer, whether in pine-shingles, in slate, in tin, in felt, or in paper and gravel. A village blacksmith ought not to be content with shoeing horses, mending plows, setting tires, etc.; he should become a manufacturing blacksmith; competent, if other work gives out or a profitable demand exists, to make tools, to fashion the hundreds of articles which pass under the name of house-furnishing goods. Of course, he will do the most of that which pays the best; but variety will make his work pleasanter, will prevent his income from being greatly affected by periodic disturbances in the market, and will always give him one blade with a cutting edge.
As we rise from inferior to superior trades, and, still more, to professions, the more striking does this truth become. An inferior trade is one in which hand-work is largely in excess of head-work, and a superior trade is one in which the head-work predominates. And whenever, in any calling, the chief part of the business is thinking, it then has become a profession.
No man is capable of carrying on a profession or a superior trade who is not able to organize many distinct branches into one. Work grows complex as it rises upon the scale of value. A man who can do but one thing, or who understands but one industry, will always be a subordinate. It is this power to comprehend variety and to organize them to unity that makes a master-workman. Each superior trade results from the combination of several superior trades. Each material which goes into the working of a given industry comes from some subordinate trade. A contractor brings together in the building of a single house the products of half a hundred separate shops. He should possess a general knowledge of the quality and working properties of every one of these elements. Here is a place in which, if he is not Jack-at-all-trades, he will be good in none, or, rather, he will not be good in that one trade which unites all the rest!
We are not unconscious that there are many trades which require peculiar training and fineness incompatible with much meddling with others; that there are some products that are jealous, and refuse to yield their best forms to any thing but an almost exclusive addiction to themselves; that at a certain stage of manufacturing there comes in an element of fine art— the finishing stage. At this point, delicacy and perfectness can be had only by steady and long practice. But the general truth remains, that in the common industries of life a workman who makes himself acquainted with many allied branches of trade is apt to be better educated, more intelligent, more prosperous, better armed against revulsions and depressions of business, and more likely to rise from a subordinate to an independent condition. In short, a man of few ideas and narrow skill will always live on wages. The man of enterprise and various skill will soon be able to live on his capital. Some sturdy old Englishman, we forget who, derided the maxim, “Too many irons in the fire,” saying, “You can’t have too many; put them all in—shovel, tongs, and poker!”
Henry Ward Beecher
The Manufacturer and Builder – March, 1869
- Jeff Burks
Filed under: Historical Images
“Green Woodworking” by Drew Langsner is a passport to an enormous area of the craft that has been long-neglected in the literature. Using simple tools and materials from around your house, Drew shows you how to coax these materials into useful household objects that would be difficult or impossible to build with lumberyard wood.
The projects range from beautiful Cherokee and Cree containers made from bark and lashed with hickory, to a traditional hay rake and a firewood carrier.
But the projects are really only a small part of Drew’s book. He spends most of the time preparing you to work with the material, from felling a small tree to stripping the bark to making the basic tools. The core of the book is Drew’s explanation of the raw material. After you read his description of how wood works, I think you will look at the material in a whole new way.
Even though I have made many chairs and tables from green wood and willow, “Green Woodworking” filled in a lot of blanks in an easy-to-digest and encouraging style.
“Green Woodworking” has long been out of print, but now Drew has brought it back himself and sells it through his Country Workshops web site. You can order the book directly from Drew here for $35.
It’s an excellent book, well worth having in any woodworking library. And by purchasing it from Drew directly you will be supporting directly one of the pioneers of the green woodworking movement in the 20th century.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Personal Favorites
We’re starting to pack up for the Handworks event in Amana, Iowa, this weekend. If you are attending, here are some of the things we’re bringing to sell at the event (in addition to a selection of our books).
1. H.O. Studley T-shirts. The screen printing is complete (whew) and they look great. They are a light grey, 100-percent-cotton American Apparel shirt – made in the USA, of course. The front features a stylized image of the engraved nameplate that Studley attached to his tool chest. The back features the title of the forthcoming book from Don Williams.
We will bring sizes medium to XXL. Price: $20. We will offer these for sale in our online store after we return home from Handworks.
2. H.O. Studley Register Calipers. Inspired by the calipers in the Studley chest, these are machined from brass. Studley’s were steel with some sort of plating. We had 50 of these made for us. Price $45. These will be one to a customer and will be offered first-come, first-serve starting when the show opens on Friday.
We’ve had many readers urge us to make more and sell them in our store, but I’m afraid that is not going to happen. We have no desire to get into the tool-making business. This is a special one-time event. We hope that another toolmaker will produce this tool for sale to the general public.
We take Visa, MasterCard and cash.
Hope to see you there. Our livers are trembling in fear.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Products We Sell, Virtuoso: The Toolbox of Henry O. Studley
It is a wonder that the file, rather than the hammer, has not been recognized as the sign of the manufacturing industry. Its range, powers, and usefulness are far beyond those of the hammer, and it can assume the functions and perform the work of a number of auxiliary tools to which the hammer holds no analogy.
Whatever cannot be done by the set and power-driven machines in the shops where the metals are worked is sent to the file. The file reduces protuberances, smooths roughnesses, changes inclinations of surfaces, cuts scores, forms levels between parallel drill holes, prepares surfaces for the scraper, evens the roughness and inequalities of lathe work, cleans out the suggestion of the rib-like projections of the planer, shapes the tool where the most delicate grinding apparatus fails, makes a better finish to the eye than any scraping or stoning, is a saw at times, may be used as a chisel, takes the place of a plane, smooths the roughnesses of castings and forgings, reduces their proportions to size, and finishes them to fit. Except for drilling holes through solid metal the file can take the place of any tool used for any other purpose on the metals.
In England, Scotland, and Wales the filer is a man by himself; he has little to do with the lathe man or the floor man. He is the prince among machinists. Here we think all the work of the machinist may be done by one man, and the lathe man, planer man, floor man, and vise man may be compromised in one. But this general ensemble is getting out of date here.
There is more need of attention in our shops to the uses and usefulness of the file. It is the most abused tool that was ever employed, and it seems to be the most neglected tool. The writer ventures the assertion that in broken or whole discarded flies lies a portion of the buried stock of defunct companies which could not make both ends meet, and the neglect of the file interest is one of the reasons why manufacturing stock “don’t pay.” To be sure, a single file, however fine its cut or large its cost, would not bankrupt a company nor move a mark in the dividend list by its loss; but files are in continual use; they are called on for every emergency, and they are doing duty in the hands of almost every employee of a metal-working establishment. The supply of files is one of the “large” bills of every machine-building establishment in the country.
How to use these tools ought to be a fixed line of instruction in all shops. It is an outrage on common mechanical taste to go through one of the best of our shops and see how this tool is misused, abused, and thrown aside half used. It is a mistake in this country to try to make a good planer, a good lathe man, and a good filer out of one man. It has never succeeded—unless in some remarkable instances—and it is not generally practicable.
The number of shapes of the file demanded in the ordinary business of machine-building and tool-making is enough to appall the beginner and sufficient to employ the shop life of the journeyman in their use. At the great exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876 there were show-boards of file-makers from England, Belgium, France, Germany, and home, which showed a collection that would almost make a museum. And yet none of these specimens were gotten up for show merely, but were bona fide specimens of tools called for and made in response to a demand. Looking at these, it would be folly to claim a mastery of the art of filing. But with the diminished number of shapes and sizes we use in our general machine shops, the workman is a remarkable one who can handle them judiciously and economically.
The waste in files in our home shops is enormous. There are some, as the bastard files, which lose their value with the sharpness of their teeth; but all the fine-cut files have as many lives as the traditional cat. The writer knows of instances where fine-finish files have “held their own” for eleven years constant (occasional) use. A better finish can be put on a surface of cast or wrought iron by an entirely worn-out file than by the finest emery—if the workman knows how to use the file.
Cold Chisel – Boston Journal of Commerce 1882
If you would like to learn more about files, refer to:
A Treatise on Files and Rasps Descriptive and Illustrated by William T. Nicholson – 1878
- Jeff Burks
Filed under: Historical Images
The discovery of an intact 18th-century joinery shop in Duxbury, Mass., set off a storm of interest last year in the small outbuilding behind a school.
Now, months after the discovery, preservationists and employees at Colonial Williamsburg have begun to piece together the interesting story of the site, to document every peg and nail and take the first steps toward stabilizing and preserving the building.
This week I took a tour of the site with Michael Burrey, the restoration carpenter who discovered the shop while working nearby, and Peter Follansbee, the joiner at Plimoth Plantation.
The working area of the shop is about the size of a single-car garage, yet almost every inch of the room is packed with clues about the work that was done in the shop, the tools that were in use and how they were stored. There is so much detail to see that after two hours of rooting around, my senses were overloaded and there was still much more to see.
As a workbench enthusiast, I was quite interested in poring over the benches that lined three walls of the shop, creating a U-shaped ring of working sufaces along the outer wall.
The benches were all fixed to the structure of the building. I haven’t written much about this style of bench. These fixed benches seem to first appear in the 15th century as best I can tell (see the evidence here). These fixed benches exist at the same time as the typically freestanding Roman-style workbench. Eventually the Roman benches disappear (though not entirely in Eastern Europe), and a replaced by the movable forms we are familiar with now.
The benches in the Sampson shop have seen so much use that the bench along the back wall had been recovered with a new benchtop – you can feel the old mortise for the planning stop by feeling under the benchtop. None of the benches had end vises or even dog holes. There are planning stops and a couple huge holes that may have been for some metalworking equipment, Burrey says. There was at least one leg vise.
Dendrochronolgy on one of the benches indicates the top was pitch pine from 1786, Burrey says. That lines up nicely with the 1789 date painted on a beam in the storage area outside the shop door.
The shop was known in the area as a shingle shop, but it’s likely that a lot of other things went on there. One of the benches has been converted to a lathe, with a large metal wheel above it. The original owner of the shop, Luther Sampson, was (among other things) a planemaker, Burrey says.
Sampson was one of the founders of the Kents Hill School in Maine. And the school has some of his tools and the name stamp he used to mark his planes. Burrey also indicates that they have found shelves in the shop that were likely scarred by moulding planes set there.
Other tool marks suggest some other operations. Along the back wall, Burrey suspects that bench was used for crosscutting. The area is under a window. Right above the bench the wall is pierced with hundreds of jab marks from a marking awl. Above that is an unusual rack that would hold try squares. And the back wall looks like it has been hit by the tip of a backsaw repeatedly.
In fact, every square inch of surface seems to hold some message. There are bits of old newspaper pasted in places. The shapes of sailing ships are scratched into the walls with a nail or awl. A hatted figure is painted on one of the shop doors. And inside that painting is a series of concentric scratches made by a compass.
Empty tool racks are everywhere, many of them elegantly chamfered.
Burrey and Follansbee are cautious about making any firm declarations about how the shop was used.
“We’re just looking at ghosts here,” Follansbee says.
Follansbee is correct. The place is haunted. Like many unrestored old places you cans still feel the heavy presence of the work that went on inside the walls. And now the really heavy work begins for the people who are not ghosts: Figuring out how to stabilize and preserve the building.
I don’t have any insight into the status of that end of the project. If I hear of any news, I’ll report it here.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Personal Favorites, Workbenches
By James Francis
A GREAT MANY men who use as common a tool as a plane cannot do a good job in keeping the tool in order. It is quite a knack to sharpen a plane in good shape, especially to set an edge on the plane iron with an oil stone. Figs. 1 and 2 show how to do it, and how not to do it. Supposing the plane iron has just been ground: it is placed upon the oil stone in the position shown in Fig. 1. The bevel of the tool is brought to bear flat upon top of the stone, then the back of the bevel is slightly raised, perhaps two or three one-hundredths of an inch, and while in that position the plane iron is carefully moved along the stone from end to end. The required pressure is applied by the finger, care being taken not to give the plane iron too rocking a motion.
Some mechanics fall into the habit of moving the tool as shown in Fig. 3. This motion is fatal to good work, and makes the bevel of the tool as shown in Fig. 4. The bevel is supposed to commence at a and should run nearly flat to b. Instead of this it is rounded, and as a good mechanic would term it, “is as crooked as a dog’s hind leg.” Fig. 5 shows a tool that has been whetted many times upon an oil stone and is ready for grinding. The bevel proper extends from a to c. The effect of the oil stone is shown from b to c, where the secondary bevel has been formed. This is the correct way to whet a plane iron. It should not be done as shown in Fig. 6, which represents the type of plane iron known too commonly among careless workmen.
Fig. 7 shows a plane iron that has just been ground, the bevel being sharp and clean from c to d. When the tool is placed on an oil stone it should be held in the position shown in Fig. 1, and in larger view in Fig 8. In the latter cut a represents the plane iron and b the stone. It will be seen that there is very little difference between the heel of the plane iron c and the stone. As the tool is used and the sharpening must be repeated it is necessary to raise the heel of the bevel more and more each time the whetting is repeated. After the tool has been sharpened a dozen times it will occupy a position on the stone shown in Fig. 9. Here it is seen the actual cutting bevel of the tool has become more stunt and the heel e is raised considerably further from the stone. When a tool gets whetted down as stunt as shown in Fig. 9, it should be taken to the grindstone and given a dose. Fig. 10 gives a view of a plane iron that needs grinding. It will be seen that the oil stone has extended only one-third of the way up the grinding bevel. Trying to whet a tool like this on an oil stone is a mere waste of time and elbow grease. A tool should be ground until it looks like Fig. 11. It will be seen that there is the least possible bevel to be distinguished. In fact it is impossible to draw a picture of the slight bevel left after the tool is ground; it is less than the width of one of the lines used in the drawing. When looked at with the eye it appears to be a mere line extending along the edge of the tool. It is so narrow that one or two rubs on the oil stone will remove it entirely and give a keen edge to the tool. The careless grinder is apt to grind a tool more than this, and raise what is called feather edge. This is somewhat imperfectly represented by Fig. 12, where what should be the cutting edge of the tool looks like a mess of iron filings stuck in a row on the cutting edge. It is to avoid such an occurrence that the slight bevel shown in Fig. 11 is left after grinding.
When the edge shown in Fig. 12 appears, either from carelessness—and that is the cause nine times out of ten—or otherwise, the edge of the tool should be drawn over one corner of a board. Usually the grindstone suffers from this business, and the writer has seen several frames which looked as if the rats had gnawed them. Fig. 13 shows how a feather edge is removed; indeed, it is about as well when such an edge appears to touch the tool square upon the face of the stone for an instant, as shown in Fig. 14, thus removing the edge entirely and leaving the end of the tool blunt, as shown in Fig. 15.
The bevel must now be carried up to the dotted lines a b, making it necessary to remove enough of the metal to have lasted many weeks with careful use. This shows how careless grinding will wear out a tool much more than ordinary use. Sometimes the apprentice boy has had luck with a plane, running it on to a bench hook or a nail, and giving the tool the appearance shown in Fig. 16. This means a grind right off. If a tool in this condition is to be ground the metal must be removed to the letters c d of Fig. 17. In doing this nine times out of ten the man who grinds will place the tool on the stone in the usual way, and the first thing he knows one corner of the iron is ground off too much, as shown in Fig. 18 at c. The only remedy is to keep grinding, but it is much better before attempting to carry the bevel up to the line c d in Fig. 17 to square off the front end of the plane iron, as shown in Fig. 14. Grind boldly the whole edge of the tool up the line a of Fig. 19, which will remove all the nicks and broken places, and goes about up to the line c x, shown in Fig. 16.
With the tool in the condition shown by Fig. 20 it can be ground to an edge very quickly without the possibility of grinding off the corners, as shown in Fig. 18. A man who uses planes a great deal finds that he must grind them differently for different kinds of wood. For pine he will grind them about as shown in Fig. 21, leaving a long, thin bevel. If oak or walnut is to be cut the bevel is more like Fig. 22. The latter would not cut pine worth a cent. The one shown in Fig. 21 would cut hard wood all right as long as it remained sharp, but the edge would be gone by the time the first shaving had been made. For soft straight-grained wood the plane iron may lay very flat, as shown in Fig. 23; but for cross-grained and hard wood it should stand at a greater angle, as shown in Fig. 24, and also have a cap fastened to the upper side of the plane iron, as represented by a in this cut. The action of the cap is to break off the chip and prevent slivering up the wood that is being planed. For finishing curly maple and other very cross grained wood the iron should be very stunt, as shown in Fig. 25; while for planing the ends of wood for fitting the ends of clapboards, for example, the iron lays very flat and is turned upside down, as shown in Fig. 26.
These last few engravings will be a useful guide to the man who has planes to grind. He will in all cases adjust the angle of bevel so that it will just clear the work after the tool has been whetted several times. This is shown more particularly in Figs. 28 and 24. They also show that if he whets a plane too stunt or lets it get too round, the false bevel given by the oil stone will strike the work before the edge of the tool touches it, and the poor planer man will make more “cuss words ” than shavings.
There is one thing that should not be done when whetting the plane iron, and that is rubbing the face of the iron over the stone as shown in Fig. 27. This is often done by mechanics and some good ones at that, but if a good mechanic will do it, he is sure to lay the iron perfectly flat upon the stone, not raising the back end a particle. By doing this he brightens up the edge close to the end and greatly assists in sharpening the tool. A plane iron, however, can be sharpened without it, but it is a great test of proficiency in setting an edge on a plane iron to be able to whet up a cap plane iron in the manner shown in Fig. 28, and to stop whetting when an edge has been brought up sharp, so that it will not be necessary to remove the cap and rub the feather edge off the plane iron.
This trick is done by a number of first-class mechanics of the writer’s acquaintance, but there are not more than three in a hundred carpenters who can do it. It requires an accurate eye and a steady hand, and the man who can successfully perform the operation is a first-class mechanic.
Carpentry and Building – August 1891
- Jeff Burks
Filed under: Handplanes, Historical Images
By A.S. Atkinson
A combination mushroom cellar and workshop is a most useful adjunct to the farm or rural home where it is necessary and desirable to economize in space and material. The growing of mushrooms is quite common today on thousands of small county places, and those very fond of these edibles resort to all sorts of methods to raise sufficient for the home table. The cellar of the ordinary house is not a good place for mushroom culture, and very few barns are provided with a good cellar suitable for the work.
A country resident who wished to raise his own mushrooms decided that he would build a cellar for this purpose back of his house, but as there would necessarily be a great amount of waste space in such a structure he built the combination house here shown. He wanted a mushroom cellar at least 14 x14 ft., but in the plans submitted the cellar was made 18 x 20. An excavation was dug 6 ft. below the soil line, and the bottom cemented in 2 in. of good concrete. An opening was left in the middle to serve as a drain. The walls of the cellar were made a foot thick and composed of field stones laid in cement. These stones were of all sizes and shapes, and no attempt was made to secure a particularly even surface except on the inside. Some of the stones projected several inches beyond the line into the soil, as it was easier to do this than to break them off even. The work of building the walls below the soil line was, therefore, so simple that anyone could do it.
A foot above the soil line 2×6 beams were carried across to furnish a foundation for the floor above. Space was left in the walls for two shallow windows on opposite sides of the cellar. The tops of these windows projected above the soil line, but the lower half was below it. The dirt was scooped out to a level of the stone sills so as to admit light. This made it simple to exclude the light and cold from the cellar if necessary by piling straw or litter into the holes. When open the windows admitted sufficient light to make the cellar suitable for mushroom culture.
Above the cellar a ventilation pipe was carried to the upper part of the building. A trap door at the other end when left open produced a circulation in the cellar. It was possible in this way to secure just the atmosphere desired, and also any degree of moisture necessary. The heating of a mushroom cellar is chiefly by the manure piled in the bed, but an oil stove was used for increasing this if needed. Any fumes from the oil stove escaped up the ventilation tube, and any excess of moisture dripped away through the drain in the middle of the floor.
The workshop above the cellar was enclosed by ordinary joists and sidings, with a shingle roof to produce an artistic effect. The upper part of the building had sufficient room to keep the tools and implement of carpentering and gardening, and also gave space for the owner to work at little odd jobs. Two windows were placed in this workshop, so that ample light was obtained. A door at one end led directly into the workshop, and a trap door with a pair of steps admitted one to the mushroom cellar.
The whole structure cost less that $75, including the labor and lumber. From this mushroom cellar the owner raised all the mushrooms his family used in one year, and besides he sold nearly $25 worth at good market rates. He estimates that he could pay for the building in one season if he sold all of his mushrooms, and after that could secure big interest on his investment. But the design is intended for a private home and is not a commercial affair, although one on a large scale could be built for this purpose.
Carpentry and Building – Oct. 1909
- Jeff Burks
Filed under: Historical Images
New-York, February 12th, 1842.
Sir – I have the honor of being in the receipt of your circular requesting information in relation to the effect which the introduction of the manufacturing of planes, in the prisons at Auburn and Sing-Sing, has had upon our business. In reply to which, it may not be deemed improper to state something of the rise and progress of this branch of business in this country.
At the close of the last war, the manufacture of planes was carried on to a very trifling extent in this country, we being chiefly supplied by those of foreign importation; about which time my father (our predecessor,) established this branch of business in the city of Albany; but the strong prejudice in favor of imported planes rendered it necessary to make very considerable sacrifices, to sustain the establishment of the business during its infancy; and for several years it was carried on with scarcely sufficient profit to cover expenses, and afford a livelihood. But, by patient perseverance, he was at last enabled to compete with planes from abroad, both in price and quality; and having gained an enviable reputation for his American planes, for a few years he was enabled to do a very good business, and gave employment to 20 or 30 hands, at good wages; and he looked forward to a reward for the toil and anxiety he had undergone, in aiding to establish a home manufacture for this important article of merchandise.
This business, however, having become known, and from its being in but few hands, considered as somewhat better than the ordinary occupation by which mechanics and manufacturers obtained a livelihood; I presume it excited the attention of that class of grasping, avaricious men, who are even now constantly on the watch to find victims to the system of State prison labor, or to procure a knowledge of some business upon which the cheap labor of prison convicts, can be most profitably employed; utterly regardless of the ruinous consequences which may result to those who may have their all invested in the same branch of business; who have depended upon it for a support to themselves and families, as well as those in their employment; and, perhaps from the very fact of the ease with which it was supposed that the few engaged in manufacturing planes, could be prostrated by this unfair but powerful competition, it was largely introduced in the State Prison at Auburn, as I have been informed, under the superintendence of a foreigner.
During the infancy of this establishment, while the convict journeymen were but raw hands, and of course the work of but a very inferior quality, we did not at once feel any very serious inconvenience from this competition although they soon began to supply orders for the coarse and leading articles in our line; but, after a few years, when the “felons” had acquired a knowledge of the trade, and the prison factory became better established, we found the heaviest and most profitable portion of our business leaving us, on account of the ability of our customers to furnish themselves at a less rate than we could possibly afford, we were therefore under the necessity of lessening the cost of our planes, by a heavy reduction of wages; this being followed by a corresponding reduction of the prison planes, we were compelled still further to reduce the wages of our journeymen to such rates as to afford the most of them barely a comfortable subsistence, and to commence the introduction of machinery in our factory as far as practicable; these advantages, and the acknowledged superiority of our goods, enabled us for a time, while all kinds of business were good, to progress in our operations, and to make a living, giving employment to 40 hands, including 16 apprentices.
However, our ruin appears to have been determined upon, and machinery was introduced into the prison, to assist and facilitate labor at from 30 to 37 ½ cents per day, and a branch of the prison plane-factory was established at Sing-Sing, to give them at all seasons a better command of this market. This made a corresponding move necessary on our part; the high price of living, in New-York rendered it impossible for us to continue our entire establishment in this city, oppressed by such a competition; and we were driven to the necessity to removing a portion of our hands to the country, where we should be enabled to take advantage of water power, and the cheaper subsistence of a country life, by which means we hoped to be able to produce the leading articles in our trade, at such a rate as would enable us to compete with the products of the State prisons; but, being convinced that no reduction which we can make would not meet with a corresponding reduction on the part of the prison contractors, we have discharged the principal portion of our hands, the most of whom have been driven from their legitimate pursuits, to some other for a living; some having enlisted, some driving carts, others attempting to earn their bread in occupations foreign to their own, are considered as unwelcome intruders in the branches they have adopted. Our entire concern both in and out of the city, being now reduced to 11 journeymen, and one apprentice; we have from year to year been dragging our business along, looking forward with the greatest anxiety to the Legislature, for relief from this unjust and ruinous competition.
We feel that there is a peculiar hardship in our case, inasmuch as if any thing is due to the untiring perseverance and great sacrifices, with which our business has been established in this country, and the growth of our soil converted into valuable merchandise, giving labor to the mechanics of our own country, and rendering us independent for a supply of articles so necessary in an increasing country like ours; that we, as among the foremost pioneers in the establishment of this business, should be protected from certain destruction by the reckless course pursued by the contractors for felon labor. We ask Legislative interference not only for ourselves as manufacturers, but for those whose trades, for which they have sacrificed the term of an apprenticeship, have been rendered worthless by the employment of the prisoners in the performance of that labor to which they have a right to look upon as affording the means of a subsistence.
We are of an opinion that the last contract for plane-makers in the prison, was made in direct violation of the law (passed, I think, in 1834,) and, that a strict construction of that law, would at once put a stop to our business, in both prisons; also that the agents receiving $10,000 worth of planes for the State, to pay the debts of the contractors at Auburn, was an exceedingly liberal construction of his powers, and we know that the thrusting them at once upon the market, has been disastrous to us.
As chairman of the committee upon State prisons, we would most earnestly commend our business to your especial attention; and for any further information you may desire, I would refer you to my brother, (your colleague,) who is abundantly capable of stating the effect upon our business for many years past, of this detestable competition. I feel well assured that you are desirous of advancing the interests of the mechanics and laboring men, and as far as lies in your power, to protect the honest man from the effects of this unrighteous system of converting our State prisons into manufacturing establishments, and bringing his labor to a level with that of the very refuse of society. I therefore, flatter myself that the subject may be brought at this session before the Legislature of our State, in such manner as to be productive to us, who have severely suffered for many years, of the most beneficial results.
I have the honor to be,
Yours very respectfully,
Documents of the Assembly of the State of New York – 1842
- Jeff Burks
Filed under: Handplanes, Historical Images
“By Hand & Eye” will ship from our printer on Wednesday, May 21. So if you would like to order the book with free domestic shipping, you should place your order before midnight Wednesday. After Wednesday, domestic shipping will be $7.
“By Hand & Eye” by George R. Walker and Jim Tolpin is $34 and can be ordered here.
We never discount our books, nor do our retailers. So this is the only special offer we will make on this title.
The book will be carried by Lee Valley Tools, Lie-Nielsen Toolworks and Tools for Working Wood. If other retailers agree to carry to title, we will announce it here.
As I mentioned earlier, we will offer 26 copies of “By Hand & Eye” bound in leather for $185 each. We will have details on those copies in June. We also will offer the book in ePub and Kindle format.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Books in the Works, By Hand & Eye
I’m sure you’ve heard this: What separates a good woodworker from a great one is his or her ability to hide mistakes.
Which is complete and utter crap in my opinion.
The really fantastic woodworkers I have worked with don’t make many mistakes at all. What they do encounter – like all of us – are times when the material fails. A weak spot in the grain breaks off or a tool encounters something unexpected in the wood.
These problems do require repair, and that is a good skill to have.
While there have been books and articles written about repairing woodwork, I’ve found them lacking. Usually the “mistake” was created by the person writing the article. So it usually requires a simple and straightforward fix.
And that is rare in the world of woodworking.
So here is a real-world repair I had to make last night on the campaign chest I’m building. After about 160 dovetails in the case and drawers, I was assembling the final joint when a corner of one of the tails disintegrated.
The joint was perfect enough. The wood was unexpectedly weak because of a resin pocket in the pine.
The bad news was that the part that crumbled went missing into the shavings. The good news is that I wouldn’t have wanted to use it anyway.
Step. 1. Stabilize the existing wood. I cut away anything that seemed loose or could be crumbled away with my thumb.
Step 2. Make a surface for joinery. Using a chisel, I cut the wounded wood until it was a regular rabbet. I measured the width of the rabbet at both its wide and narrow ends.
Step 3. Make a patch. Using the drawer’s pin board as a template, I drew in the shape of the patch I needed on a piece of scrap pine. Then I sawed out the patch and smoothed the part with a block plane.
Step 4. I glued up the drawer without the patch. Then I glued the patched in place, driving it in with a mallet. Finally I sawed and planed the patch flush. Right before I finish the piece I’ll draw in some grain lines to imitate the pitch – probably with a sharp permanent marker (orange ink).
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Techniques
1. Ty Black, my shop assistant, is moving to Jacksonville, Fla., with his wife and kids. They’ll be setting up shop down there is due time, and I hope that Ty will still be able to contribute to what we do here in the Midwest.
Ty’s been working in my shop three days a week since August and has made himself quite valuable. He volunteered to work here unpaid and could come and go as he pleased. As I never – ever – want to manage any employees, that’s the only arrangement I could bear.
However, I did hire him as a freelancer to work on several Lost Art Press projects. The biggest one – the one I cannot talk about – took him months of scanning and coding. When we announce that project (soon!), you will fully appreciate his skills and his time served here.
2. John Hoffman, my business partner at Lost Art Press, is leaving his day job with the government at the end of May to work full time for Lost Art Press.
I could not be more excited about this.
Though I am frequently the face and the name that goes with Lost Art Press, John is an equal partner in this business. Without his behind-the-scenes work on the business, Lost Art Press would still be puny. As it stands, we are growing fast enough to support our families and continue to publish four titles (or more) a year.
While I am sad to see Ty move (who will eat at Eli’s with me?), I cannot overstate how important it is that John is going to be working on Lost Art Press all day, every day.
So stay tuned.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Personal Favorites
Many of the best mechanics prefer the Wood Bench Planes to the Iron and combination iron and wood planes, but have been compelled to use the latter, owing to the poor quality of the wood bench planes commonly sold.
The fact is that the majority of Wood Plane makers for several years past have been trying so hard to find out how cheaply they could make planes, that they have forgotten all about what a good plane means, and the result is that 90 per cent of the wood planes sold in the stores are almost good for nothing, and the other 10 per cent are but little better. The wood is unseasoned and spongy, and the irons so poor that they hardly hold an edge from the oilstone to the work.
It is a positive fact that a first-class double Plane Iron cannot be made and sold at the price that many of the so-called first quality planes are sold at complete.
We have before us a catalogue just issued by a firm who deal quite extensively in mechanics’ tools. In this catalogue the net selling price of a so-called first-class Smooth Plane with 2 ¼ inch double iron, is $0.56. We quote from the description of these planes, “The irons are guaranteed to be the best in the world.” Turning over a page or two we come to Plane Irons priced separately, and find that 2 ¼ inch double plane irons are sold at $0.58. Quoting again from the description of the Plane Irons, “These Plane Irons are guaranteed to be the best made.” It seems a little funny that the “Best irons in the world” should sell at $0.56 with the balance of the plane thrown in, while the “best made” plane iron only, is held at a price of about 4 per cent higher.
The brand of Plane Irons referred to is of excellent quality; in past years we have sold quantities of them, but, in our judgment, they are very far from being the “Best made,” and will not compare favorably with the Plane Irons made by any of the better class of English makers—say Moulson Bros., I. Sorby, Spear & Jackson, or Ward & Payne, French plane irons made by Peugeot Freres, or American plane irons made by Buck Bros.
Our Bench Planes
As we could find no Bench Planes in the market that are suitable for our class of trade, we are compelled to have these planes made to our special order. All of our planes are made of well-seasoned Eastern Beech, are oiled, polished and shellaced; they have steel starts, and the jack, fore and jointer planes have bolted handles. The plane irons used are the Ward & Payne (Sheffield) brand, and if these irons are not the “Best in the world,”they are certainly equal to any, and are the best we have ever been able to find. Every plane is stamped with our name, and we do not believe that the equal of these planes can be found elsewhere.
Chas. A. Strelinger & Co. – Detroit, Michigan 1897
- Jeff Burks
Filed under: Handplanes, Historical Images
One of the “Rosetta Stones” of 18th-century tool forms is a book with the long-winded title “Explanation or Key, to the various manufactories of Sheffield: with engravings of each article designed for the utility of merchants, wholesale ironmongers and travellers.” Most people just call it “Smith’s Key” because the editor/engraver was Joseph Smith.
What is it? It’s collection of beautiful plates of all sorts of tools for woodworking, some other trades and a big section of cutlery, always a popular item in Sheffield, England.
The Early American Industries Association published a reprint of it in 1975 with a nice essay by John S. Kebabian and an important price list. According to the Kebabian essay, it is likely this “key” was used by salesmen who represented different manufacturers and needed to show the lines of several makers.
There are earlier tool catalogs than this circa 1816 example, but this one is particularly important because it might have been used extensively.
For us, the catalog is important because it shows tools in their new states, without any user modifications from sharpening, mishandling or simple use. Most significant is the page on saws, which shows backsaws with blades that get narrower at the toe. I wrote about this years ago, and saw wright Matt Cianci of the thesawblog.com has been crowing about it, too. (Yay Matt!)
If you’ve ever looked for a copy of “Smith’s Key,” you probably decided to instead spend the money on a mortgage payment or a trip to Europe. And that’s why I’m pleased to present this link, courtesy of Jeff Burks, that allows you to download “Smith’s Key” from Gallica.bnf.fr.
Click here to get started. The link to download the entire book is at the top right part of the screen. It’s a fantastic scan. And though it doesn’t include the essay or price list from the 1975 EAIA edition, it does offer some of the plates in color.
Check it out. Download it now.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Downloads, Historical Images
Though I have been actively building campaign furniture for 17 months for a forthcoming book, I felt like I was treading water – until yesterday.
I got my hands on a copy of the 1907 “Annual Price List” of The Army and Navy Co-operative Society. This incredible 1,284-page book is an illustrated compendium of all the objects sold by the co-operative to its members. In the catalog is a nice section on campaign furniture, plus some other sections that are relevant to my research.
The book cost more than my first pick-up truck, but it was well worth the price and the wait for it to arrive from England.
This book shows the breadth of portable furniture available to officers, colonists, students and urbanites at the turn of the last century. It is so staggering, it makes you want to pick up the telephone and ring them at Westminster No. 69 to order some hard goods.
One of the first surprises in the book was a form of “Improved Roorkhee” chair called the Bartlett Chair. It has all the hallmarks of the standard Roorkhee – plus extendable rests for your feet, like the classic planter’s chair.
Also of note (to me) are the odd-shaped turnings shown on the standard Roorkhee. The top and bottom of each leg look more like a sphere that any Roorkhee chair I’ve seen. The drawings of the turnings of the improved Roorkhee looks more like the ones I’ve seen in the wild.
But, as Joseph Moxon knows, you can’t always trust an illustrator to draw wooden objects perfectly.
Lastly of note: These chairs were available in ash. I’ll have to make some in ash before all our country’s ash is lost to the Emerald Ash Borer.
Enough yackity yack. I’ve got to get back to scanning this book (each page takes 20 minutes) and editing chapter 14 of A.J. Roubo.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Books in the Works, Campaign Furniture