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Lost Art Press: Chris Schwarz
A few months ago I purchased an old hardware cabinet at an antique store a few miles north of Wilmington, NC. It is not really a very large cabinet considering it contains 55 drawers – 37″ tall x 31-1/2″ wide x 8″ deep.
The story that the antique shop owner told was that it had once been in a hardware store in Warsaw, NC. The cabinet was behind the cash register for easy access by the store owner for some of the smaller items the store carried. I have been to the town of Warsaw a couple of times since and tried to trace the cabinet’s trail but have hit dead ends on every lead. So, its origin is a mystery.
The construction of the cabinet is pretty simple, other than the shear quantity of joints involved. The case and drawers are all held together with nails, not a dovetail to be found (sorry Mr. Firley).
There are several interesting things about it though, joinery aside. Most of the cabinet and the drawers came from recycled crating and cigar boxes. There is something interesting to see every time you pull out a drawer: old labels of all kinds, tax stamps and writing.
Of course, there are also the hand-painted labels on each drawer front. This to me is the coolest part of the cabinet. Whoever painted them obviously was skilled, but there are subtle differences in style of the numbers and letters between drawers and sometimes on the same drawer.
As far as when it was made, my guess is around 1900 from the cigar box labels and tax stamps that I have been able to date.
I just recently finished up a three-part article at WK Fine Tools building a copy of this cabinet (yes, I am still mostly sane after 113 dados). It is available here.
— Will Myers
Filed under: Uncategorized
Katy has been busy – this weekend she made more than 100 jars of soft wax, which are up for sale in her etsy store. They are $12 each for a 4 oz. tin.
I’m not only the father of the Soft Wax High Priestess, I’m also a customer. I use the stuff on many of my pieces. While the wax is intended to be applied to the insides of casework (it’s fantastic for drawers) it also works really well on turnings, stools and chairs, projects such as the three-legged stools I’ve been building this spring.
I also use it on the wooden vise screws on my workbenches, tool handles and on iron and steel tools (we use her soft wax on our Crucible Improved Pattern Dividers).
Katy’s business has taken over half of my workbench at home – and I couldn’t be happier. She makes it completely on her own and sources all her supplies (and buys it on her own credit card). It really is her business, and it’s hard to believe she’s only 16.
She’s even been approached by a few companies who want her to wholesale it (she can’t because there’s not enough margin).
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Uncategorized
While a compass and straightedge can design simple pieces of furniture, you also need curves that have a varying radius to draw smooth shapes that connect three or four points – the accelerating curves that give motion and life to furniture.
The tools for these important curves are commonly called French curves or Burmester curves. And they are the starting (and ending) point for any designer who wants to escape rigid rectilinear shapes and simple circles.
While you can buy inexpensive plastic curves at an art supply store, the plastic tools have disadvantages compared to traditional wooden curves.
Most plastic curves have a small rabbets along their edges. While we understand the function of the rabbet, we think it interferes with making a true and smooth line because you can tilt your pencil or pen. Traditional wooden curves have no rabbet, allowing greater accuracy.
Second, plastic curves are difficult to mark notations on, such as where you want a curve to start and stop. You can mark them with a permanent marker, but this is slow, inaccurate (in our experience) and messy. Plus, smooth plastic curves slide too easily on the paper while making your mark, again, spoiling your accuracy.
Traditional wooden curves, which are difficult to come by on the used market, are a joy to use. Warm in the hand, they are precise, they stick to the paper while you are drafting and it’s easy to write (and erase) notations on their surfaces.
The problem with traditional wooden curves is they were not truly dimensionally stable as they were typically made from solid hardwood. They were also fragile.
The Crucible Design Curves
When we set out to design our curves we wanted them to be strong and stable (like plastic curves) but warm, accurate and easy to use (like wooden curves). The solution was a special five-ply bamboo material specially designed for laser-cutting.
We designed our curves using an English set made in 1943 as our foundation and inspiration. The curves are cut and engraved in Covington, Ky., then sanded to #220-grit in our shop in Fort Mitchell, Ky.
Bamboo is the perfect material for this tool. It is more dimensionally stable than any hardwood or softwood that we know of, it doesn’t absorb moisture as readily as wood and the five plies of veneer ensure it will stay the same shape year round.
Like plastic curves, these will bend readily across curved shapes without breaking.
Our first set of curves consists of three of our favorite shapes. The large curve is about 12″ long. The smaller two are about 6″ long. A full set of curves encompassed many individual tools. And while we hope to bring out more curves in the future, we think these three are an excellent starting point.
We are introducing these curves at Handworks 2017 where we will sell a set of three for the introductory price of $37. After Handworks they will be available in our online store. We might have to increase the price slightly for shipping and packaging costs charged by our warehouse.
Please stop by our booth at Handworks and give them a try. We’ll have a huge pile of them to sell in protective boxes suitable for travel.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Crucible Tool, Uncategorized
With school out, our sticker heiress (Maddy) is hunkering down for a long summer of lab work and unpaid research assisting a PhD candidate in Columbus. The good news: the lab work and research helps her as an animal science major. The bad news: The two jobs pay less than working the counter at a pizza restaurant (one of her many other jobs at college).
Thanks to sticker sales, Maddy has saved enough money to scrape by without having to sell any organ meat attached to her skeleton.
She’s home this weekend so we can feed her, replenish her toilet paper supply and help with her laundry. Oh, and so she can abuse/love our cats. Shown is Wally, who is up for anything. Want to see him in a tuxedo? We can probably arrange that.
Maddy reports that she is down to the last 150 copies of the current set of stickers. So if you want an engraving of A.J. Roubo to adorn your band saw, laptop or cat, don’t tarry.
You can order a set of three stickers from her etsy store here. Yes, she accepts international orders.
Or, for customers in the United States, you can send a $5 bill and a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) to Maddy at:
Stick it to the Man
P.O. Box 3284
Columbus, OH 43210
She’ll put the three current sticker designs in your envelope and mail them back to you. These are nice, 100-percent vinyl weatherproof and cat-proof stickers.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Uncategorized
One of the primary reasons I decided to expand the book “Roman Workbenches” into a larger text was an unexpected gift from Jennie Alexander that was courtesy of John and Eleanor Kebabian.
The story starts some months ago when Jennie sent me photocopies of some old drawings and asked if I saw anything of interest. After about two seconds I wrote her back with an emphatic “yes.” The photocopies had sent my head reeling.
A few weeks later Jennie sent me a box. I was in Italy at the time, and the delivery person was not too bright. So he left it on top of the air conditioning unit, where it was rained on for several days until I returned.
I found the box in tatters and took it inside the shop, expecting the worst. The box fell apart on the bench and inside was a no-worse-for-the-wear copy of “L’Art du Tourneur Mécanicien” by M. Hulot. It’s a 1775 book about turning and many other aspects of woodworking.
Written about the same time as A.J. Roubo’s “l’Art du menuisier,” it’s in a similar format: giant pages of text followed by gorgeous plates. After browsing through the plates, many looked similar to Roubo’s, but others didn’t. I’ve spent several hours studying the plates and am convinced this book deserves my undivided attention.
Of particular interest are plates 13 and 31, which depict a low staked workbench that is outfitted with a variety of appliances for chairmaking.
So I started isolating all the text that relates to these two plates so I could translate it. (And here I thought my meager French skills would get a rest.) Unlike Roubo, Hulot discusses these two plates in more than a dozen places in the text. This is not going to be easy. But you have to start somewhere.
During one long evening, I translated the section that introduces the bench, which Hulot calls appropriately “a saddle.” Take a look:
IV Description of the Saddle for Planing & Boring & Assembling the Work
FIG. 4, Plate 13, shows a bench type which is called a Saddle for planing/flattening and assembly; That is a piece of oak wood 5 feet long, about 12 to 14 inches wide, and very thick, carried on four feet, R, Y, X, Z, which enter into as many Round holes which have been pierced in the whole of the Saddle AB. The workman has the face, turned towards the head, B, which is a large piece of soft wood, such as alder, and the tail of which forms a flat tenon which passes into a mortise through the saddle; The top [of the head] forms a kind of step, the steps of which are cut into different fences, some at right angles and shallow, to receive the ends of the flat workpieces for planing its sides/edges; The flat stage receives the pieces that are to be planed flat. Other stepped [heads] are horizontally and vertically notched with the shape of a teaspoon to receive the tip of a stick. There are small cuts [or kerfs] that are perpendicular to the round hole [in the head], as seen in the figure. Independent of the tenon which fixes the head H, it rests against the support K, which is also called the crossbar or buttress of the head, and which is a stop at the end and is across the saddle. [It is secured] by two strong wooden dowel pins, [made of a wood] such as ash or dogwood, which pass perpendicularly through the saddle.
When the wood that is to be worked is large and long, we do not rely on the saddle, but we stand it upright. Place the end of the wood in the recess HK formed by the crossbar and the side of the head of the saddle.
I see many long nights of (exciting) translating ahead. I’m fairly certain this bench is another important piece of the puzzle in understanding the low workbench and all the ways it can be used.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Roman Workbenches
Thanks to the good work on the press and the bindery, we are going to have about 150 copies of the letterpress version of “Roman Workbenches” to sell in our online store at the end of May 2017.
Yesterday, Megan Fitzpatrick and I repaired all these excess copies, pasting in the two missing lines that were snipped off during the plate-making process. All these copies now need to return to our warehouse in Indianapolis and we need to take care of a few customers who received severely damaged copies.
Then, after we take care of all those details, we will put up the remaining stock for sale in our store at noon Eastern time on Friday, May 26, 2017. The price will be the same as it was for the first batch of books and it will be available for international customers.
We will not have any of these books at Handworks later this month, I’m afraid.
After these books sell out, they are gone. We will not do another run of letterpress copies of this book. So you have 20 days to sell your plasma, etc. I am, however, working on a greatly expanded book on this topic that we will print on our usual offset presses and will include photos and additional research I’ve conducted this year.
— Christopher Schwarz
P.S. Several customers have asked if we will print any books in the future using letterpress. The answer is: I hope so. It has to be the right sort of book, and we’ll have to marshal all the people involved in this project and hope they’ve forgotten what a pain in the crotch mahogany it was.
Filed under: Roman Workbenches
This is an excerpt from “With All the Precision Possible” by André-Jacob Roubo, translation by Donald C. Williams, Michele Pietryka-Pagán & Philippe Lafargue.
One of the biggest obstacles, downsides and joys to a French bench is the massive slabs used to construct it. Finding wood that is big enough to use without laminating thinner pieces together can be difficult. Laminating thin pieces together to make the thick pieces required for the top and legs is a lot of work without the help of machines.
If you do find stock that is 6″ thick and 22″ wide for your benchtop, it almost certainly will be wet in the middle and prone to distortion. The first French bench that I built used a 4-1/2″-thick cherry slab that had been seasoning in a lot for about five years. The first couple years with that bench were rough. The top shrank at least 1/16″, leaving the through-tenons and sliding dovetails proud of the benchtop.
After planing those flush, the top didn’t shrink much more, but it sagged a bit in the middle during the third year. And now the benchtop is quite stable – yearly humidity fluctuations have little effect on it. The tops of the legs and the benchtop are always in the same plane and the overall shape of the top is consistent.
The French oak that I used in 2013 was likely even wetter than the cherry. For starters, the oak was thicker. And thick material takes a lot longer to dry than thin material. When we first cut into the oak, we used a moisture meter on the wood and found its moisture content in a few places was off the charts. Most places on the bench were about 30 percent moisture content, which is quite wet by furniture standards.
Two months after completing the bench, the top was so wet that it would rust the surface of a holdfast left in a hole overnight.
Like the slab cherry workbench I’d built years before, the oak benchtop shrank around the tenons by more than 1/16″ during the first six months. And the middle of the benchtop began to sag. I flattened the oak top twice during the first nine months in order to be able to plane thin stock on my benchtop.
This begs the question: How flat does a bench need to be? The answer is: It depends on your work. If you plane woods that are less than 3/4″ thick, benchtop flatness is important. I shoot for getting the front 12″ of the benchtop so flat that I cannot get a .006″ feeler gauge under a straightedge anywhere in that area.
If you work with thick stuff or do mostly carpentry, you can be more cavalier.
So if thick slab workbenches are so difficult to find and fussy at first, why bother?
After they settle down, slab workbenches move very little. The same forces that make the top dry slowly also retard its ability to take on much moisture during the seasons (thanks to Steve Schafer for explaining this via Fick’s Second Law, a diffusion equation). After about five years in your shop, your benchtop should be well acclimated and monolithic.
— Meghan Bates
Filed under: With All the Precision Possible
“Some generations have suffered more than the others, and it may be that we erred in thinking we had put all that behind us. But we shall face the future with braver hearts and a better hope if we take each day as it comes to us, cherishing the thread of gold which is always there among the homespun, keeping the sharp new vision which can look on life with loving eyes and find in it manifold good.”
— Charles Hayward, The Woodworker magazine, 1938
Filed under: Honest Labour, Uncategorized
If you aren’t satisfied printing out an erratum for page 28 of “Roman Workbenches,” here’s a second repair.
I am printing out the two missing lines from page 28 on some leftover Mohawk paper from the press run. I will be happy to snip them out and mail them to you so you can paste the lines in.
To get your literal snippet, send a Self-addressed Stamped Envelope (SASE) to me at:
Lost Art Press
26 Greenbriar Ave.
Fort Mitchell, KY 41017
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Corrections, Roman Workbenches, Uncategorized
Due to a manufacturing error, two lines of text on page 28 of “Roman Workbenches” did not make it onto the printed page. I have spent the morning trying to figure out how this happened, but my suspicion is it occurred as the plates were made.
Obviously, we cannot print and rebind all of these books (as much as we would like to). And so we are going to correct it here electronically and apologize for the mistake.
The two lines that are missing from the bottom of the page should say:
“most of the stock with a chisel. Then remove the waste with a router
plane like you are traversing the work (lock the board against the”
You can download a corrected page in pdf format. Feel free to cut out the two lines and paste them in your book (that’s what I’m going to do).
As this error occurred on press, the pdf version of the book (which you can download for free with your printed version) does not have this error.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Corrections, Roman Workbenches, Uncategorized
A couple weeks ago, Mike Updegraff and I had a Mortise & Tenon booth at the Fine Woodworking Live event. During that weekend, attendees asked how long my Jonathan Fisher book project had been under way. Someone said they hadn’t heard much about it and so, when I recently started talking about it, it seemed out of the blue. I used to write about it on my old blog, The Workbench Diary, but because I’ve been buried in work the past couple years, I didn’t have time to blog much about the research.
So here’s a quick history of this project: I began the research in 2013 with a trip to a local house museum (Fisher’s house). The president of the board gave me a tour that highlighted the furniture as it was my main interest. He told me Fisher’s most recent biographer commented that it astonished him no furniture scholar had taken notice of the collection. That confirmed my sense that this was an important and rare story.
Over that winter, I photocopied the transcription of Fisher’s 40 years of journal entries and read every book that gave Fisher a passing mention. I studied the furniture thoroughly but hadn’t been able to see the rest of the tools at the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland, Maine. I had no idea what was there or even if there was anything significant. After months of research in the house, the board president made some passing comment about how one of Fisher’s descendants was a tool maker in Maine. My ears perked up. “A tool maker? Where in Maine?” “Oh I don’t know. Warren, I think. He’s got a lot of people working for him now, and I understand he’s doing pretty well. Nielsen or something… Lie-Nielsen, I think.”
Go figure. Thomas Lie-Nielsen is a descendant of Jonathan Fisher.
That first email to Tom was surreal. Tom replied he hadn’t been to the house in years and didn’t know much about Fisher’s furniture or tool making. He was intrigued by the findings, though. At the same time, the Lie-Nielsen Open House was coming up and Chris Schwarz and I had discussed visiting the Hulls Cove Tool Barn together. With these plans converging at the same time, we booked a visit to the Farnsworth to see the tools for the first time. I met Tom and his daughter, Kirsten, Chris, Deneb Puchalski, and Julia Kalthoff (from Wetterlings Axes) that morning.
We met for the first time in the waiting area, and as we walked down the hallway to the room where the tools were set out, I had a knot in my stomach. Was I wasting everyone’s time? What if there was only a broken saw or farming tools? I had no idea what to expect.
We walked into the room to see two large conference tables covered in woodworking tools – most of them stamped with Fisher’s name. I was stunned. We walked around the table trying to soak it all in. Most of the museum tags said “Wooden Object” with an accession number. Until the woodworking nerds showed up, no one there knew exactly what they were looking at. We spent about an hour making observations and speculating about anomalies but the whole thing was a surreal blur to me.
The next day, the same crew drove to Blue Hill to meet me at the Fisher house. I gave them the tour and showed them the furniture. After the tour, most of them had to get back to Warren to get ready for the Open House, but Chris and I spent that afternoon together. On our way to the Tool Barn we talked about many things but especially this research. I told him I was hoping to put this into a book someday and asked some advice about the publishing industry. He began to explain the industry but then just came out with, “John and I would like to publish it.” What do you say to something like that? I probably fumbled and said something stupid but I knew at that moment that the project was real. Over the next few days, Chris blogged a few times about his visit and we signed a contract. “How long do you need?” he asked. I told him I needed three full winters.
Thus began the serious research. Because I had wanted to do some research trips, I received two grants to make them happen. The Early American Industries Association and the Society of American Period Furniture Makers each generously awarded me funds for those trips. I went to the Winterthur Museum and spent a week with Charles Hummel (author of “With Hammer in Hand”), a couple days at Old Sturbridge Village, and had several trips back to the Farnsworth to examine the tools. I also had some research done at the Dedham Historical Society.
Then, as I worked on the manuscript during the next couple years, the blogging fell quiet about the topic. There was enough to blog about with M&T, but I was still working on the Fisher book in the background. It wasn’t until this past winter that I was able to block out several months to finish the manuscript. As you may have noticed, during this winter, the research began to resurface.
I am now in the last few hours of working out the changes in my manuscript. I feel relief coming on. This will end up being a four-year project for me. Don Williams told me in the beginning that it would take me somewhere around five years to complete. At the time, I couldn’t fathom it could take that long. But time flies.
— Joshua Klein, Mortise & Tenon Magazine
Filed under: Hands Employed Aright, Uncategorized
During my final year of teaching, I had three distressing encounters with teenagers in my classes and lectures. At the end of the event, the teens came up and said: “I want to be you when I grow up.” And then they asked a terrifying question: “How do I get to where you are?”
I hate to give advice. But I also hate to be a jerk. And so I gave some after-school-special answer about working hard and never listening to adults.
The honest answer is: Become a hedge fund manager for five years, make more money than I will in a lifetime and “retire” to building furniture for clients and writing about woodworking.
As we don’t need more hedge fund managers, here is a list of things I have done right in my career (the list of things I’ve done wrong would fill a book and require multiple therapy sessions).
- Keep your day job. Don’t quit your real job until you have paid off all your debts (I paid off my mortgage when I was 39) and have purchased all the equipment you need to get started. Build your business while you are working for the man. Yes, this requires multi-vitamins or amphetamines. I chose vitamins.
- Reject all overhead. Don’t hire employees, buy/rent/lease a building or add any overhead until these things seem like pocket change. Even though I can afford an employee (or five), it’s better to keep a business small and flexible. Plus, you didn’t really quit your job to become a middle manager at your own business, did you?
- Embrace the Internet. If you aren’t happy to share your struggle on Instagram, Twitter, SnapChat, blogs, forums and usenet (they’re FREE), I think you are fighting without using your fists. These tools allow you to compete with huge businesses. All it takes is being clever and determined.
- Make friends. You cannot do this alone. Take other makers out to lunch and figure out how their businesses work. Because I have a network of woodworkers here in Northern Kentucky, I could live off referrals if I needed to (not that I really want to make 600 shutters for the county courthouse). Friends will keep you fed. And you should return that favor for other makers.
- Don’t do one thing. Make sure you have multiple income sources. I make money from writing, building furniture and publishing other people’s books. All of those hands wash each other. When one goes to pot, the other one can make up the difference.
- Live someplace cheap. This is huge. The Cincinnati area is dirt cheap but densely populated. That’s perfect for what I do. I have the infrastructure I need (gigabit Internet, lumberyards, transportation, other makers) and access to the rest of the world, thanks to the Internet.
- Do it all yourself. Learn photography, website design, copywriting, CAD, QuickBooks and whatever else it takes to make your business work. Yes, you might hire others to do some of this stuff (someday), but you should be good enough at all these things that you can tell when you are getting cheated or are working with a slug.
- Keep your day job. If all the above points sound exhausting, then maybe your day job isn’t so bad.
One more point: I’d do exactly what I am doing even if there were no money in it. I’d do it if no one read it. I’d do it if no one bought it. Seriously, I can’t not do it. I am obsessed and crazy (ask Lucy). And that, more than anything, is why we didn’t eat ramen tonight.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Personal Favorites, Uncategorized
The first magazine article George Walker ever published appeared in Astronomy Magazine. At the time, he was working a lot of hours as the midnight shift supervisor at The Timken Company, a Canton, Ohio, factory that engineers and manufactures bearings and mechanical power transmission components.
“There was a hole in the middle of this building where they had a transformer that was open to the sky,” George says. “And I’d go out there at two in the morning, and I’d look up through these wires and cables and superstructure and watch Orion pass across the night sky. And I wrote this article about observing the stars amongst the smokestacks.”
No matter how ordinary the circumstances, George is regularly struck by the majesty and wonder of life, the way millions of colorful warblers gather at “a little spit of cottonwoods right on the edge of the lake” (Magee Marsh), as they have for millions of years, to rest and eat before their migration across Lake Erie. Or the way a medieval drawing found in an old monastery can inform his work through the understanding of geometry, even though he can’t read the text, as it’s written in Renaissance Italian or Spanish. Or the way he can now build a beautiful piece of furniture, without plans or a tape measure, using instead a stick, a piece of string and dividers.
George was born in western Iowa, his father, a farmer. His father left farming in the early 1960s and the family moved to northeast Ohio. George grew up in a small suburban neighborhood and spent much of his childhood outdoors, running around the woods, fishing, “being a little bit of a Tom Sawyer.” He had a good friend who lived on a property with a lake, a couple miles away, and the two often could be found in a boat trying to catch turtles. George enjoyed exploring and making things, which ranged from tree houses to electric motors. He enjoyed camping and scouting, and his interest in the outdoors led to lifelong loves of botany, astronomy and birding.
An avid reader ,George did pretty well in school, although he hated English. “My English teachers would flop over dead if they knew that I’ve become a writer,” he says. (His writing includes many magazine articles and two books co-authored with Jim Tolpin: “By Hand & Eye” and “By Hound & Eye,” both from Lost Art Press.)
“I had a high school English teacher who gave me a D just because she didn’t want to see me again,” George says. “She said, ‘I’d give you an F, but then I’d be stuck with you next year. I’ll give you a D so I don’t have to look at you.’ I should track her down and send her a book. It would blow her mind.”
English grades aside, George enjoyed historical fiction, “and like any kid I liked the kind of adventurous whatever, the swashbuckling stuff there was to read as I kid,” anything that had a little bit of truth to it mixed with adventure.
In 1975 George graduated from high school and decided that he couldn’t bear to live in Ohio another minute. So he headed out west to work as a cowboy on a 17,000-acre ranch near Phillipsburg, Montana. “Most of my time was spent on a tractor or driving around in a beat-up 1963 red Studebaker Lark station wagon,” he says. “I did learn how to ride and rope well enough to not embarrass myself.”
Although George had worked on farms while growing up, and he had an understanding of farm life, he was fairly unfamiliar with horses. And on his second day at the ranch he was put on a horse – all day. “That was pretty interesting,” he says. “But it was a quick learning curve.”
George had a brother who, after spending some time in Vietnam, decided he wanted to be a cowboy. “He kind of lived out that dream for a few years and he took me along with it for a little while,” George says. Two of George’s brothers live in Montana now, although neither are cowboys, rather “happy Montanans.” George enjoys visiting them and hiking in Glacier National Park. “I enjoy that country but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the cowboy’s lifestyle,” he says. “It was for the rugged individual, looking at it now. It was fun for a time.”
While working in Montana as a cowboy George met a gun builder who made expensive rifles, and George decided that he wanted to learn the trade from him. The gun builder knew George was from Ohio and had had some vocational training in the machine trades. “But he said, ‘Kid, if you want to learn how to do this, go back to Ohio, get an apprenticeship, learn how to be a machinist and then come back and I’ll teach you something.’”
So, George did. But he never returned to the gun builder in Montana.
Instead he entered a traditional apprenticeship in Canton, Ohio. It was the mid-1970s and the experience, he says, affected his whole approach to craft.
“This was an old-school apprenticeship made up of a shop full of ethnic journeymen machinists, old-timers,” George says. “They were Jews, Greeks, Italians, Poles and Hungarians, a lot of them second-generation immigrants. This was before CNC, this was before OSHA. Everybody smoked a pipe or a cigar or a cigarette. They had a pecking order. If you were an apprentice, they would abuse you mercilessly.”
And then, after a while, after George had taken enough abuse, one of them called George over to his bench and handed him a cracker. On it was a little slice of onion, some sardines and Limburger cheese – it was clear he had to eat it. “And then,” he says, “they would take you under their wing and start showing you things. And these guys were really fantastic craftsmen, and could really do unbelievable work.”
George soon became aware of when he was being tested. “They’d watch you struggle, and they would give you a little tip, something as simple as, ‘Use a brass hammer on this, not a steel hammer, a brass hammer would work better for what you’re trying to do there.’ And if you listened to them, they’d offer you more tips, and if you’d ignore them, they would let you drown in your own suffering. You wouldn’t get any information from them.”
As a result, George says he grew great respect for experienced artisans who learned hard lessons. “Later on, while I was exploring old design literature, I would look for these little tips and instructions in old books, and whenever I would see them I would take them seriously,” he says.
George didn’t just read what they were saying, rather if given a piece of advice, he’d take it. “That’s what really started me on this learning curve of understanding design,” he says. “And that made all the difference.”
As an apprentice, George worked with “hundreds of different journeymen of all shapes and sizes and characters and quirks.” For the first four years, “basically they had you do all the dirty work and in the process, you learned. And then in the last two years of the apprenticeship they took you in the office and said, ‘OK, you learned the basics, now you have to learn to work fast.’” That mentality also has affected George’s approach to craft.
After six years George became a Class A Journeyman. He worked with 200 to 300 fellow machinists at The Timken Co., doing everything from repairing machinery to making tooling to scale. He worked on parts as small as a sunflower seed to gears 9′ in diameter.
George worked as a machinist for 10 years before transitioning to management. His years as a machinist heavily influenced his preference for hand tools. “As a machinist I’m running a lathe all day, it’s noisy and hot, chips are flying and there’s smoke,” he says. “When I got into woodworking I decided right away I wasn’t going to get a bunch of woodworking machines, because I did that all day. So I started woodworking with hand tools. This was back in the 70s, when that wasn’t that popular to do. Everybody who was in woodworking would go to Sears and get a router table and a table saw, and I started with hand tools mostly because I just didn’t want to spend all day bent over a machine, and then in my evenings be bent over [another] noisy and dusty machine.”
George initially began woodworking out of necessity. He and his wife, Barb, didn’t have much money, and they needed furniture. Barb’s father did some woodworking, and he had a neighbor, a WWI veteran, who was a great hand-tool woodworker. “I visited him and he loaded up a box of hand planes, saws and chisels, gave me a little bit of instruction and said, ‘You can do this.’”
George spent 33 years at The Timken Co. Like many professions he had a love/hate relationship with progressing to the role of manager. “It was a lot more fun being a machinist than being the boss,” he says.
But once in management, George’s woodworking took off. “It was a stress relieving thing and it was a creative outlet,” he says. “So I started really woodworking in earnest then, and also started writing somewhere around that time.”
With no formal training in writing George simply wrote about topics that interested him, including astronomy, backpacking and later, at Barb’s suggestion, woodworking (which landed him in Fine Woodworking and Popular Woodworking Magazine, among others). “I’d write articles and submit them to magazines,” he says. “I had a lot of rejections, but eventually I figured out how you can actually write for a magazine and get things accepted. It was a learning process. But if I was passionate about something, I just loved to write about it.”
After writing about half a dozen articles for several different woodworking magazines, the editor of Society of American Period Furniture Makers (SAPFM) asked George to write an article for its yearly journal. George asked what he should write about and the editor said, “Whatever you want to write about.”
At the time George had begun researching design. “I was real curious: How did these artisans back in the 18th century design stuff?” Not knowing the answer, he decided to research this question some more, and write about that, simply because he thought it would be a fun topic. “That research led to everything else that followed and it was like a really deep pool that I fell into that I’ve never felt the bottom of yet,” he says.
George wrote his article and then spoke to several groups about the topic. “Everywhere I spoke, people were like, ‘Wow, this is fantastic information.’ Nobody had ever heard this before, it hadn’t been presented like this.” He approached Lie-Nielsen Toolworks with a proposal to do a video series on the topic (they said yes) and around the same time Christopher Schwarz, then editor of Popular Woodworking Magazine, asked him to start writing a column (Design Matters).
And then, George met Jim Tolpin at a Woodworking in America conference in Chicago. “I was doing this keynote speech in an auditorium,” George says. “He was sitting down front and I didn’t know him from Adam. They had this question-and-answer session at the end and he raised his hand and asked me three different questions. I didn’t know the answer to any of them and I thought: Those are fantastic questions.”
Afterwards, George introduced himself and the next day he attended Jim’s session and realized immediately they were researching the same thing, but completely unaware of each other. “He was researching how the human body relates to proportions and design, and I was researching classical architecture, which uses the human body as a standard proportion,” George says. “I was looking at it more from an architectural standpoint than he was but still, we knew right away we were doing the same thing so that’s what started a pretty wonderful writing partnership.”
The economy had crashed some years earlier and George had left The Timken Co. in 2008. But he still needed a way to keep his family afloat. So he was serving as his own boss, working as a full-time consultant (something he still does to this day). His evenings, though, were (and are) dedicated to researching and writing.
When Jim and George first talked about writing a book together, Jim told George that the worst way to ruin a friendship is to write a book together. But oddly enough, George says, the partnership has only deepened their friendship.
“Our conversations can go all over the place because this exploration we’ve been doing has taken us into architecture, philosophy, history, theology – I mean, it’s something that’s embedded in Western civilization, and design and architecture was an expression of that, so there’s so much to explore and understand.”
Everything Jim and George are doing, George says, goes back to Euclid and his understanding of simple geometry.
So how has their relationship stayed intact after two books with a third, “From Truths to Tools,” forthcoming? “I don’t think either of us has much of an ego or an agenda,” George says. “We’re both interested in what is the truest thing we can learn. And both of us are able to correct the other one, and say, ‘You know what? I think you need to dig deeper on that, I think this could be better.’ And we actually can do that without feeling threatened. I know if he tells me something can be better he’s just trying to help me do better work and likewise, I can comment on something he does and he realizes that I’m just trying to help him do better work, and that’s a really, really rare thing. It’s really hard to find someone who you can be critical with, and positive with, and it still works.”
George spends three to four hours a night writing and researching, in addition to his full-time consultant work. And much of it boils down to simple Latin words that are part of our modern language, words no one ever thinks about.
“If you take a string and you attach a lead weigh to it, it becomes a smart string, a 2.0 string because it does something,” he says. “And actually, the word we use for ‘plumb,’ to make something plumb, straight up and down, well that comes from the Latin word ‘plumb bob,’ which is metal lead. So if you take a piece of lead and tie it to a string it becomes a plumb bob and with that you can find a vertical surface. So all the words that are involved in our craft and all the tools have all this ancient knowledge, ancient language tied to them. And that’s some of the work we’re doing right now. It’s pretty fun to cover.”
For George, research involves two things: reading and trying things out. While he can’t actually read many of the old Renaissance texts, which are written in different languages, he can study the old drawings and engravings, pulling out and considering the geometry behind them.
“But the other big piece of it is actually trying it out,” he says. “I’m not interested in just book knowledge. If they’re showing how to do a layout, how to figure out how to do something with what Jim and I call ‘artisan geometry,’ it’s not something [that involves] a bunch of formulas. It’s about practical knowledge, about how to lay out a foundation for a barn, or how to do any kind of layout in space. We’re taking these ideas from these old books and trying them. We put away our tape measures and our rulers and started using a stick and a string and a pair of dividers to figure stuff out. And that’s where you really learn. That’s a lot of the research: Actually trying it out at the workbench, finding out what works and what doesn’t work.”
There was a time, George says, when he thought building something without plans would have been really scary. These days, he builds things not only without plans, but also without a ruler, or a tape measure.
While George’s days are full, he values time with family. George and Barb married in the late 1970s and had one son. They now have a 6-year-old grandson who enjoys spending time in George’s shop, banging hammers and mallets, making messes and having fun. George’s son is just now getting interested in woodworking. Last year George helped him build a Nicholson bench and the two plan to attend Handworks together in May.
Barb enjoys plein air painting (you can see her work here). Together they’ll set up their workspaces outside, Barb standing and painting, George sitting next to her with his laptop. They’ll paint, research and write, go out for lunch and then go home.
Home is a two-story traditional suburban house filled with furniture George has built. George has an appreciation for stripped-down Early American furniture, typically walnut or cherry, without much ornamentation. While drawn to contemporary work he carries strong, traditional tendencies. For George, the hallmarks of good work are strength, functionality and beauty. He has a basement workshop filled with hand tools and a table saw primarily used as a place to eat lunch.
George and Barb enjoy hiking and birding. “If you’re a birder you understand the season by which birds are here now,” he says. “It starts in February with the swans coming in and the waterfowl and the sandhill cranes, and then you move into the redwing blackbirds and the white-crowned sparrows, and then, coming up on Mother’s Day, the neotropicals move in, those are warblers, little colorful birds that eat insects and they come in by the millions.”
He talks about Magee Marsh, just a couple hours away from Canton, Ohio, where thousands of birders congregate from all over the world to see the warbler spectacle. “The birds fly up the Mississippi Valley and they stop [at Magee Marsh] and they rest and they eat and they gain weight so they can fly across the lake,” he says. “Sometimes you hit it right and the trees look like Christmas trees, covered with colorful birds, red, blue, green and orange – it’s quite the spectacle.”
George’s ability to see beauty in stars, warblers and proportion, to even the most seemingly ordinary bits of life, allows him to “live out every moment.”
“I’m very thankful for the life I have,” he says. “I have a spiritual dimension to my life. I am a Christian so for that reason I’m thankful for every day, every part of living. And for that reason I believe God is part of every moment in my life, every breath. All the work that I do, waking, sleeping, everything is filled with his majesty. And life is about living out that wonder, being thankful for every moment that is. As humans we’re lousy at living out every moment. A lot of moments in life seem like drudgery. At my best I’m absorbing that wonder of creation and what it’s all about.”
George says through his journey with Jim, the two have tied together how the Greeks saw that wonder. They talk about quantum physics and how the universe got its start and everything, George says, is tied together. “Everything is an exploration of being alive.”
“If there are physical laws governing the universe, like gravity, and there’s a law governing the spiritual universe, I guess I’d call that the law of giving,” he says. “And if you live a life of giving, your life expands and grows. And if you live a life of trying to hold onto things, your life shrinks and becomes small and has less meaning. If life is about giving, it grows. And it’s more fun.”
It’s something George strives for, daily.
“I think there is so much more I’d like to learn,” he says. Both about design and giving, dimensions he hasn’t yet explored. “When I give, my life gets bigger.”
— Kara Gebhart Uhl
Filed under: By Hand & Eye, By Hound and Eye, Uncategorized
We will release our first-ever poster of the H.O. Studley Tool Cabinet when Handworks opens on May 19, 2017. Then, after Handworks, we will sell the poster in the Lost Art Press online store to everyone else.
The poster features an image of the cabinet taken by Narayan Nayar, the photographer for the book “Virtuoso: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of H.O. Studley.” The 13” x 19” poster will be printed on 80 lb. recycled stock with a matte coating. At Handworks, the poster will be a special price: $20.
If you are interested in buying one at Handworks, please read the next paragraph with care to avoid disappointment.
We will have 1,000 copies of the poster, which should be enough for everyone who wants one. We will not be able to bring protective tubes to Handworks; we simply don’t have the space in our vehicles. But we will have a table in our booth that’s equipped with newsprint and rubber bands so you can roll your poster in paper to then put it in your vehicle. Alternately, you can bring your own tube to transport your poster.
Hence, the special price. When we sell the poster in the Lost Art Press store we will have to charge for the mailing tube, shipping and a third party to carefully pack the item (did I mention how much I dislike selling posters?). My guess is the poster will be $27 when we sell it online.
I also don’t know if our retailers will be carrying this poster. We’ll have more information for international customers after Handworks. For now, all we can say is: We’re not sure who will carry it or if it will be available overseas.
Despite all the caveats above, I think you’ll find this poster to be worth the trouble and the wait. The resolution is fantastic. Heck, I’m buying one to hang in our storefront.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Virtuoso: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of Henry O. Studley
Recently on Facebook I was mocked for this gateleg table with the quip: “But in the picture, do not you see a Ikea style table?”
This table design pre-dates IKEA by about 150 years. Gateleg tables with clean lines and simple but robust construction begin to show up in the furniture record in the 18th century (the form might actually be earlier, but that’s as far back as I’ve found).
It’s a useful furniture form for the 18th-century home where a room would need to be converted for several tasks during the day – working, cooking, eating, relaxing. When folded up, this table is only 21” x 38” – it’s but a sofa table, really. Unfolded, it offers a tabletop that is 38” by almost 75” long.
It’s also useful for the modern home – it’s easy to move for an apartment dweller or student. With one leaf up it’s a great breakfast table for a married couple. With both leafs up, there’s room for friends and family.
This version is built using poplar for the base. All the joints are drawbored mortise-and-tenon joints. The base is painted with General Finishes Milk Paint’s buttermilk color (note, this is a water-based acrylic, not a casein paint).
The top is made from 30-year-old air-dried walnut that has been finished with three coats of garnet shellac (Tiger Flakes from Tools for Working Wood) and two coats of organic beeswax.
The plans for the table will appear in a future issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine so you can make your own. Of you can buy this one if you like. When I write an article on a piece, I cut my hourly rate – this allows me to sell the furniture a bit faster and gives you a deal. The table is $750 plus shipping (free pick-up at our shop, of course). If you are interested, send us a message at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Or you can buy one at IKEA. While I’m certain my table will last at least a couple hundred years, there are no guarantees like that on the IKEA version.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Gallery of Work, Uncategorized
Warning: This blog entry contains medical information that might make you uncomfortable. If you are squeamish, here’s the executive summary: Yes, I’ll be at Handworks.
Perhaps because I have a lot of German blood, my body is like juicy, meaty clockwork. In the early 1990s, I used to attend and write about a political event in Western Kentucky called “Fancy Farm.” The problem: Every year I attended, I came down with an embarrassing and debilitating infection in my nether regions (the area of the body we call “The Good China”).
My doctor was puzzled but gave me this sound advice: “Don’t go to Fancy Farm anymore.” Since then I’ve had many other clockwork medical conditions, such as the “Thanksgiving crash” after turkey day.
Fast forward to 2015. During the last Handworks, I missed the entire second day of the event. The word among the snarks was that I was too hung over, due to to a beer bender.
I wish it had been a hangover. Hangovers last about a day.
Instead, I ended up in the emergency room in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, dehydrated with a high fever and unable to eat or drink. Oh, and I should mention that I had the runs. Using the term “runs” here is an understatement. Like saying Catherine the Great “kind of liked horsies.”
I was diagnosed with c. difficile and sent home to recover (thank you Megan Fitzpatrick for driving me home on what we now call “The Trail of Smears”). It took me eight months of treatment and tests to get clear of the bacteria. And another three months after that to feel like a normal person.
So I am not looking forward to Handworks next month like I should be. It really is the greatest woodworking event I’ve ever attended or been involved with. If you aren’t going, I hope you have a good excuse (such as c. difficile).
I’ll be there – and I hope I’ll be there for both days. Though I’ll be bracing for the worst.
During the 2015 Handworks it was so crowded that John and I were unable to go to the bathroom. Every time we took a step away from the booth we got mobbed. This year if you see one of us headed for the men’s room, you might just want to steer clear.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Uncategorized
As many of you know, I’ve had great success building workbenches using thick slabs that are wet (extremely wet) with less than a year of air-drying. Read more about that here.
Now Re-Co Bkyln is also offering slab bench kits using lumber that has been reclaimed from the New York City environs. The kits include all the stock you need to make a bench, including a single 6”-thick slab top plus stock for legs, stretchers and a vise chop.
The kit is $999 plus trucking fees ($200 to $400 depending on where you live).
Full details on the Re-Co bench kits are here.
The people at Re-Co are great. John and have met many of them personally. And they do good work – salvaging urban trees for furniture and now workbenches. Check it out.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Uncategorized, Workbenches
This is an excerpt from “The Joiner and Cabinet Maker” by Anon, Christopher Schwarz and Joel Moskowitz.
The two-foot rule was the standard measuring device for woodworking for hundreds of years. The steel tape was likely invented in the 19th century. Its invention is sometimes credited to Alvin J. Fellows of New Haven, Conn., who patented his device in 1868, though the patent states that several kinds of tape measures were already on the market.
Tape measures didn’t become ubiquitous, however, until the 1930s or so. The tool production of Stanley Works points this out nicely. The company had made folding rules almost since the company’s inception in 1843. The company’s production of tape measures appears to have cranked up in the late 1920s, according to John Walter’s book “Stanley Tools” (Tool Merchant).
The disadvantage of steel tapes is also their prime advantage: They are flexible. So they sag and can be wildly inaccurate thanks to the sliding tab at the end, which is easily bent out of calibration.
What’s worse, steel tapes don’t lay flat on your work. They curl across their width enough to function a bit like a gutter. So you’re always pressing the tape flat to the work to make an accurate mark.
Folding two-foot rules are ideal for most cabinet-scale work. They are stiff. They lay flat. They fold up to take up little space. When you place them on edge on your work you can make an accurate mark.
They do have disadvantages. You have to switch to a different tool after you get to lengths that exceed 24″, which is a common occurrence in woodworking. Or you have to switch techniques. When I lay out joinery on a 30″-long leg with a 24″-long rule I’ll tick off most of the dimensions by aligning the rule to the top of the leg. Then – if I have to – I’ll shift the rule to the bottom of the leg and align off that. This technique allows me to work with stock 48″ long – which covers about 95 percent of the work.
Other disadvantages: The good folding rules are vintage and typically need some restoration. When I fixed up my grandfather’s folding rule, two of the rule’s three joints were loose – they flopped around like when my youngest sister broke her arm. To fix this, I put the rule on my shop’s concrete floor and tapped the pins in the ruler’s hinges using a nail set and a hammer. About six taps peened the steel pins a bit, spreading them out to tighten up the hinge.
Another problem with vintage folding rules is that the scales have become grimy or dark after years of use. You can clean the rules with a lanolin-based cleaner such as Boraxo. This helps. Or you can go whole hog and lighten the boxwood using oxalic acid (a mild acidic solution sold as “wood bleach” at every hardware store).
Vintage folding rules are so common that there is no reason to purchase a bad one. Look for a folding rule where the wooden scales are entirely bound in brass. These, I have found, are less likely to have warped. A common version of this vintage rule is the Stanley No. 62, which shows up on eBay just about every day and typically sells for $20 or less.
The folding rule was Thomas’s first tool purchase as soon as Mr. Jackson started paying him. I think that says a lot about how important these tools were to hand work.
— Meghan Bates
Filed under: The Joiner & Cabinet Maker, Uncategorized
Don Williams will be selling first edition plates from “l’Art du Menuisier” at his booth at Handworks next month. Don purchased these unbound original plates recently and has decided to sell them to the public.
Real-deal copperplates are stunning things of beauty, suitable for framing. And originals from Roubo are quite rare.
Don has been posting the plates he’s selling on his blog. Here are some links so you can read more:
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Uncategorized
Last Wednesday Chris Williams and I took a trip to Whitney Sawmills in search of air dried ash, oak, and elm, for a Welsh Stick Chair building session we’ll be undertaking for the John Brown book. Although this trip was ostensibly for the purpose of buying timber to build our Welsh Stick Chairs, really it was a research trip to find examples of what timber to select, and what not to select – a means to demonstrate and explore Chris’ experience and knowledge gained from building chairs for many years with John Brown.
I always enjoy trips to the timber yard, and Witney was a timber yard I’ve not been to before. So notwithstanding a flat tyre incurred on the drive through rural Herefordshire, it was a thoroughly enjoyable day out. What made it most valuable was watching Chris at work and to start to understand what he was looking…
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Filed under: Uncategorized