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Lost Art Press: Chris Schwarz

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Updated: 31 min 44 sec ago

Chester Cornett at the Kentucky Folk Art Center

Fri, 02/02/2018 - 4:51pm


For many years, I have been an undying fan of the work of Chester Cornett (1913-1981), a traditional Eastern Kentucky chairmaker who crossed over to become an artist who lived out his last years in Cincinnati, just a few miles from where I am right now.

Cornett’s story is long, tragic and documented in the book “Craftsman of the Cumberlands” (University Press of Kentucky) by Michael Owen Jones. My personal copy of the book is dog-eared and always within grasp.


For years I’ve known that the Kentucky Folk Art Center in Morehead, Ky., had some of Cornett’s work, which it acquired for an exhibition and its permanent collection. But despite my long love of folk art and woodworking, I’d never made it down to the Folk Art Center until Wednesday.

It was a bittersweet journey.

Kentucky’s state budget is in turmoil. And though I try to steer clear of politics, I am deeply saddened and angered at our governor’s proposed budget cuts, which would shutter both the Kentucky Folk Art Center and the University Press of Kentucky, which published the book on Cornett. (And has a 75-year history of publishing fantastic books about the Commonwealth.)

If you dislike funding for cultural institutions, don’t bother leaving a comment. I don’t want to hear it. We’re talking about pennies.

Anyway, we arrived at the Kentucky Folk Art Center on Wednesday and spent a couple hours with the director, Matt Collingsworth. We arrived unannounced and unheralded. But Collingsworth enthusiastically gave us full access to all the pieces and all the paperwork the museum owns on Cornett – including the only known drawings and descriptions Cornett made of his pieces.

Side note: Some of you know that I have been collecting folk art/outsider art for as long as I have been a woodworker. My home is full of it. The Kentucky Folk Art Center is – hands down – the best folk art museum I’ve ever visited. (Yes, I spent a day at the American Folk Art Museum in New York. I went to the Garden of Earthly Delights in Georgia while Howard Finster was still alive. I’ve been to every folk art museum in every town I’ve ever visited.)

In fact, when I arrived home on Wednesday night I spent the next hour showing my family all the photos from my trip, and I cannot wait to take them there as soon as possible.

OK, back to the woodworking.



The Kentucky Folk Art Center has three of Cornett’s pieces on display: an early side chair that resembles a heavier version of Jennie Alexander’s chair from “Make a Chair from a Tree” (Taunton). There’s a standard rocking chair that looked to be a “sample” chair because the slats were scrawled with Cornett’s sales pitch on the slats.


And there was one of Cornett’s “chair-and-a-half” rockers in walnut, ash and hickory bark. This chair, which Cornett also called his “fat man’s rocker,” was stunning. Octagonal seat. Four rockers. An astounding amount of drawknife work. Pictures do not do the piece justice.

Brendan Gaffney and I were stunned by it. Brendan took lots of measurements and vowed to produce a version of it. I tried to capture its essence in photos (and failed).

We also got to see one of Cornett’s tables, which is eight-sided and has octagonal legs with a most unusual taper. And the table broke down into two pieces.

As I made the drive back home up the AA highway, my head spun with the joy of seeing Cornett’s pieces (and getting to sit in one of his rockers) and the foreboding feeling that I wasn’t going to be able to make many more of these visits in the future.

If you have a free weekend, please make the trip to the Kentucky Folk Art Center, which is deep in the hills of Eastern Kentucky, before the axe falls. And know that we’ll do our best to keep writing about Chester Cornett and his unusual and incredibly well-made chairs.

— Christopher Schwarz

Categories: Hand Tools

Bedlam in the Workshop

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 10:25pm

“Sacra Famiglia” by Andrea Polinori (1623), Chiesa di San Giuseppe, Todi, Umbria, Italy.

This is one image you won’t see in Chris’ new book “Ingenious Mechanicks: Early Workbenches & Workholding.”

Suzanne Ellison

Categories: Hand Tools

Interview with Core77, Part 2

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 3:40pm


The second half of my interview with Core77 was posted today (here’s the link), and I am deeply jealous of the lede that Rain Noe wrote at the top of the piece. It’s a nice piece of work, and it’s a connection – between Frankfort, Ky., and Frankfurt, Germany – that I wish I had made.

In the second installment, we discuss Crucible Tool, American anarchism and how to design outside the world of trends.

I am sincerely grateful to Rain and Core77 for showing an interest in my work, which at times feels like the drunken uncle to real and honest industrial design.

And while you are at Core77, check out Joel Moskowitz’s new piece on saws. And this crazy piece on a foldable wheel.

— Christopher Schwarz

Categories: Hand Tools

Extrude This

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 10:43am


This is an excerpt from “The Anarchist’s Design Book” by Christopher Schwarz. 

There is a three-step process for how people – woodworkers or not – approach a typical table.

1. They run their hands over the top to feel how smooth the finish is.

2. They run their fingers on the underside of the tabletop, right at the front, to see if it is also smooth.

3. If there is a drawer, they pull it out to see if it opens smoothly, and to look for dovetails – the mark of quality mid-priced factory furniture.

What annoys me about this ritual – and I’ve witnessed it 100 times – is not the people who look for dovetails. Heck, I want dovetails, too. Instead, what bugs the bejebus out of me is how people are looking for plastic textures and plastic drawer motion in a piece of handmade wooden furniture.

We have been ruined by plastic and its inhumane smoothness. I’ve watched people on a train rub their smartphones like they were rosary beads or worry stones. I’ve seen people pull drawers out of a dresser and feel the underside.

The message is that “smooth” equals “quality.”

That is so wrong.

I refuse to equate quality with smoothness in a universal manner. The “show surfaces” of a piece should be smooth, though they don’t have to feel like a piece of melamine or Corian. Subtle ripples left by a smoothing plane are far more interesting than robotic flatness.

Secondary surfaces that can be touched – think the underside of a tabletop, the insides of drawers or the underside of shelves – can have a different and entirely wonderful texture.

When I dress these surfaces, I flatten them by traversing them with my jack plane, which has a significantly curved iron (an 8″ to 10″ radius, if you must know). This iron leaves scallops – what were called “dawks” in the 17th century – that are as interesting as a honeycomb and as delightful to touch as handmade paper.

That is what old furniture – real handmade furniture – feels like. I refuse to call it “sloppy” or “indifferent.” It’s correct and it adds to the experience of the curious observer.

But what about the surfaces that will almost never be touched? Historically, these surfaces were left with an even rougher texture than dawks left by a builder’s handplane. I’ve seen cabinet backs that had ugly reciprocating-saw marks left from the mill – even bark. To be honest, parts with saw marks and bark look to me more like firewood than furniture.


Typical insides. This is what high-style furniture looks like on the inside. Unfinished. Tear-out. Knots. This is a late 18th-century North Carolina piece.

What should we do with these surfaces?

Here’s my approach: When these parts come out of a modern machine, they are covered in marks left from the jointer and the thickness planer. The boards are usually free of tear-out, bark and the nastiness you’ll see on the backs of historical pieces.

Should I rough these up with an adze and hatchet to imitate the look of the old pieces? Or perhaps just leave the machine marks?

Personally, I find machine marks ugly in all cases. I don’t ever want to see them. So I remove them with my jack plane or a coarsely set jointer plane. The result is that all the surfaces are touched with a plane of some sort – jack, jointer or smooth.

Those, I have decided, are the three textures I want to leave behind.

And none feel like my iPhone.

Meghan Bates

Categories: Hand Tools

An Interview with Core77

Wed, 01/31/2018 - 3:49am


Core77, a website for industrial designers, just published the first part of an interview with me on my research methods for my designs plus about 100 other little topics.

If you’re wondering what the next book in the “Anarchist” series is, that’s in the interview. My favorite museum? Yup. What breed of goat I prefer….

The interview was conducted by Senior Editor N. Rain Noe, and in the second half of the interview we’ll dive into the questions of anarchism, consumerism and the designer.

Core77 is a great place for woodworkers to wander about because it’s about the built world and filled with little tidbits such as this piece on vault lights. Definitely a better place to spend your lunch hour than that blog on sausage-making you’ve been reading.

— Christopher Schwarz

Categories: Hand Tools

A Book of Probable Benches

Mon, 01/29/2018 - 6:11pm

corsica IMG_9465

My next book, “Ingenious Mechanicks: Early Workbenches & Workholding,” is about one-third designed. As with all my books, it is wrestling with me like an alligator in a vat of Crisco.

Suzanne “The Saucy Indexer” Ellison has turned up a number of new images of old workbenches recently that have reinforced and nuanced some of my findings and conclusions about early workbenches.

The image at the top of this blog entry is not one of them.

Suzanne plowed through about 8,000 images (a conservative estimate) for this book. And some of the images were dead ends, red herrings or MacGuffins.

In the image above (sorry about the low quality), we have a bench that is off the charts in the odd-o-meter. It is from Corsica, sometime between 1742-1772, and was painted by Giacomo Grandi, who was born in Milan but lived on Corsica.

Here’s what is strange:

  • It is a low workbench with the screw-driven vise perhaps in the end of the bench. Or the benchtop is square. Either way, that’s unusual.
  • The screw vise has only one screw and one vise nut.
  • The vise’s chop is weird. It is longer than the bench is wide.
  • The chop is being used in a manner that simply doesn’t work (I tried it on one of our lows benches). This arrangement offers little holding power.

So instead of saying: “Hey look we found a bench that makes you rethink end vises,” we are instead saying: “Hey I think this bench is the result of the painter trying to create a workbench to assist his composition.”

tilting IMG_9452

As I am typing this, Suzanne and I are trying to figure out if we’ve found a tilted workbench from Corsica that is similar to Japanese planing beam. Or if it’s a victim of forced perspective. Or something else.

At times such as this, I can see how a book could fail to be published. There is no end to the research, the new findings or the greasy alligators.

— Christopher Schwarz

Categories: Hand Tools

Take Some Ugly Pictures, Too

Mon, 01/29/2018 - 3:53am

Late in 2015, Joshua Farnsworth and I traveled to Hancock Shaker Village to film the openings of a couple videos. While there, I measured and photographed the two projects in detail with the intention of reproducing them as accurately as possible.

While I was holed up in the brick dwelling that day measuring and taking pictures of the projects, Josh wandered around the village taking pictures and video.

When we got back to the hotel that night we looked over the pictures we had taken. Josh’s stuff was great. He has a good eye, and Hancock is a beautiful place. My pictures, on the other hand, looked pretty lame in comparison. The photos were of the insides and undersides of the two projects. Mostly, tool marks of all kinds, intersections of joints, writing, mistakes (yes, the Shakers screwed up, too) nails, screws and layout lines. Most people would not even know what the pictures were of. I was trying to photograph how the pieces were made.

IMG_0849 (2)

An early 19th century Shaker chest of drawers at Hancock made of butternut and white pine that I documented in 2017.

As time goes on, I find these ugly photos provide more and more information on a project than I realized. Whenever I look back over these pictures I always see things I did not notice when measuring the actual artifact.

Today as I was reviewing the ugly pictures I had taken on my last trip to Hancock of a chest of drawers that I am preparing to build, a little tidbit of information showed up.


This is a photo of one of the drawer joints from the chest above.


Same joint as above zoomed in a bit. Look at the the two photos of the drawer joint, what do you see? Hint: Has to do with the order which the joint was cut.

I said all that to say this: Ff documenting a piece of furniture, take the time to measure accurately and take good overall photos of the piece. Most of all, take lots of high-resolution photos of the insides and undersides of the piece. When it comes time to build, you will find yourself referencing the ugly photos more than anything else.

— Will Myers


Categories: Hand Tools

Podcast: The Afterlife of Trees

Sun, 01/28/2018 - 6:51am


Popular Woodworking Magazine has just a launch a new podcast that….

Wait, wait. Where are you going? Give me a few moments to explain. Look, we know the woodworking world has enough podcasts. So when Scott Francis decided to create “The Afterlife of Trees,” a lot of the discussion was about what the podcast wouldn’t be about.

It’s not shop talk. It’s not answering the questions of listeners. It’s not about the projects we’re working on or discussion of our favorite tools. All those are great topics for podcasts that already exist. But the world doesn’t need another one of those.

AoT_logoSo what is “The Afterlife of Trees” about? It’s about stories.

Of you like shows such as “Radio Lab,” “This American Life,” “Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History” or “Stuff You Missed in History Class,” you might like this podcast. We want to tell the stories behind the craft. And if they’re a little odd, then all the better.

In the first episode we tell the story of Eugene Sexton and our efforts to publish an article about his miracle process called ESP-90. This process allowed Sexton to (among other things) dry wood quickly without it checking. In other words: It didn’t matter of the pith of a tree was in the board – it wouldn’t crack.

Many people have dismissed Sexton. But perhaps there is something to ESP-90. We have some wood treated with the process that are puzzling and seem to defy the rules of wood movement. Oh, and we discuss the “green bean of immortality.”

You can download the podcast for free via iTunes.

I’m not sure when the next episode will be. But we’ll let you know here when it’s up.

— Christopher Schwarz

Categories: Hand Tools

Close Encounter With Albrecht Dürer

Thu, 01/25/2018 - 3:59am


Step into Roy Underhill’s bathroom at The Woodwright’s School, and you’ll encounter a poster of Albrecht Dürer’s “Melencolia I,” a puzzling image filled with mysterious symbols and woodworking tools.

Whenever a student goes missing in the bathroom during the classes at Roy’s, it is for one of two reasons: the pork chop sandwich from lunch is troubling their innards, or they are studying “Melencolia I” and have lost track of time in the loo.


If you like Dürer’s work and live in the Midwest, I suggest you close your laptop, get in your car and drive to Cincinnati before Feb. 11, 2018, to visit the Cincinnati Art Museum’s exhibit ”Albrecht Dürer: The Age of Reformation and Renaissance.” Admission is free. Parking is free.

The exhibit tracks the progression of Dürer’s work using dozens of original prints he created using engraving, etching and drypoint. And the museum supplies magnifying glasses so you can view every stroke and get within about 1” of the original works.

This was the first time I ever got to see an actual print of “Melencolia I.” Like always, seeing the original is much different than seeing it on screen. The texture of the paper, the resolution of each line, even the physical edges of the image stir up a wilder set of feelings than pixels.

It was great to see the square and straightedge, both of which I’ve built many times for myself and customers. (Free plans for the square are here.)


I also spent some time hunting down other woodworking and tool images in the prints. One of the prints, “Sojourn of the Holy Family in Egypt” (1501-1502), depicts a sawbench much like the one recovered from the Mary Rose shipwreck. And it features a birdsmouth or ripping notch. That might be the earliest depiction of the birdsmouth I am aware of.


On the more gruesome side of things, there’s “Martyrdom of the 10,000” (1496-1497) in which someone is boring out the eye of a bishop with an auger. This image sent me scurrying to my archive of images. Somewhere in there is an image that Jeff Burks dug up that shows the eyeworker alone, separate from the chaotic scene.

My favorite part of the exhibit was an excerpt from the colaphon of the book “Life of the Virgin.” I wish we could print this inside all our books, instead of the dry copyright notice.

Woe to thee, fraudster and thief
of someone else’s labors and
invention, let thou not even think
of laying thy impertinent hands
on this work. For let me tell thee
that Maximilian, the most glorious
emperor of the Holy Roman Empire,
granted us the privilege that no one
might print copies of these pictures,
and that no such prints might be sold
within the imperial domains. But
should thou still transgress, whether
out of disregard or criminal avarice,
be assured that after confiscation
of thy property the severest penalties
shall follow.

— Christopher Schwarz, editor, Lost Art Press
Personal site: christophermschwarz.com


Categories: Hand Tools

Lay Out a Bank of Drawers Using Progressive Extension

Thu, 01/25/2018 - 3:36am

This is what we are going to arrive at.

This is an excerpt from “By Hound and Eye” by Geo. R. Walker and Jim Tolpin; illustrated by Andrea Love.


The height of the face changes in a progression equal to the size of the blades, which are called “shadows” when included in the face height.


Start by stepping out the two intervening blades plus three shadow blades.


Divide the remaining space into three parts – the primary drawer height.


Lay out the first face plus one intervening blade.


Lay out the second face increased in height by a blade. The space left over is the third face.

Meghan Bates


Categories: Hand Tools

Bench Trials for ‘Ingenious Mechanicks’

Tue, 01/23/2018 - 4:24am

Will Myers takes a turn with M. Hulot’s “belly” – an incredibly simple and effective way to shave components.

Every book I write has a guiding principle. Something I mutter during the research, building, writing and editing. (For example, “Disobey me” from “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest.”)

For “Ingenious Mechanicks: Early Workbenches & Workholding,” my mantra wasn’t as catchy. But I love it all the same.

“The principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”
—    Prof. Richard Feynman (1918-1988), winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965

When you write a book, it’s like constructing a little world. And what you include, leave out or emphasize can change its message, even if you are want to do something as straightforward as building old benches and figuring out how they work.

So for my last couple books, I subjected myself to peer review. For “Ingenious Mechanicks,” I invited a bunch of woodworkers of all stripes – modern, traditional, all hand-tool, powered-to-the-max, beginners, experts – and showed them what I found. Then I gave them free reign to use the benches. I watched and wrote down what they said.

(Even better, photographer Narayan Nayar took dozens of gorgeous photos to illustrate the book. The photo at the top of this entry is one of his unprocessed jpegs.)

The participants had a lot to say, and the review process eased my mind. These benches and early workholding devices work brilliantly (with a few exceptions). And, most importantly, their comments didn’t send me back down a rabbit hole for more research.

The book is nearly done. The text of “Ingenious Mechanicks” is now being edited by Megan Fitzpatrick. I have to draw a few maps to illustrate Suzanne Ellison’s chapter. Then I can begin designing the book’s pages.

Whew. Buttocks unclenched.

— Christopher Schwarz, editor, Lost Art Press
Personal site: christophermschwarz.com

Categories: Hand Tools

Trestle Table Classes for 2018

Mon, 01/22/2018 - 11:00am


I will be teaching two new classes this year building a trestle table at Little Miami Handworks in Bellbrooke Ohio

The table we will be building is one that I came up with using design elements from several  vintage tables. One cool thing about this design is that the table breaks down for storage or transport (more about that here).


We will build the tables from locally sourced white pine and oak. The length and width of the table will be somewhat variable at around 6′ in length and 32″ to 34″ in width. It is a five-day class, the cost is $750 plus a $200 material fee. The sign-up page for the class can be found here.

— Will Myers

Categories: Hand Tools

The Last of the Fancy Lads

Mon, 01/22/2018 - 3:57am


My daughter Maddy reports that she has fewer than 100 sets of stickers remaining, including the much maligned very popular “Fancy Lad Academy” sticker.

Once these stickers are gone, they are gone. We haven’t repeated any designs.

These are quality, 100-percent vinyl stickers from Stickermule.com harvested from completely organic vines. There are two ways to order a set: You can visit Maddy’s etsy store here. They are $6 delivered ($10 for international orders).

For customers in the United States, you can send a $5 bill and a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) to:

Stick it to the Man
P.O. Box 3284
Columbus, OH 43210

Obligatory disclaimer: This is not a money-making venture for me or Lost Art Press.

— Christopher Schwarz

P.S. For those of you who send Maddy stickers or photos in your SASEs, she loves them and even bought several large canvases to display them in her apartment.

Categories: Hand Tools

Small table, large demands

Sat, 01/20/2018 - 4:50pm

Whether you’re a teacher, a doctor or a cabinetmaker, it’s sobering to subject yourself occasionally to the kind of conditions your students, patients or clients experience while in your care. The past few weeks have reminded me how disturbing a kitchen remodel can be…which seems appropriate, given that I’m working on a book about kitchens for Lost Art Press.

Mark: Where the *#@$ are the knives?

Mark: Where did you put the salt and pepper? Salt and pepper! How is it possible to forget the location of such basic things?



Time to do some dishes? Nah. There’s still plenty of room in that tub.

At such moments I feel a special kind of empathy for my kitchen clients: the ones who wash dishes in the bathroom sink not for weeks, but months, because they just had to have that handmade faucet from England (the one that arrived damaged and had to be replaced — apparently with plating made from nickel newly mined and shipped on a slow boat from Botswana). The ones who have to endure complaints from their smart-Alec kids (“Why are you tormenting us?” — overheard in a kitchen where Daniel O’Grady and I were working in 2005). The ones who plan their remodel in two phases stretching over a calendar year so their income can catch up with the costs, and patiently live out of boxes. And especially the ones who camp out in their basement while doing their own remodel and building their own cabinets.

Granted, our chaos is more pervasive than it should have been. We’d had this kitchen work on the horizon but hadn’t planned to let rip when we did. Mark had an unexpected opening in his schedule one morning when a client wrote to say she was seriously ill and suggested that he and his crew might prefer to avoid exposure to contagion. I leapt at the chance to get our kitchen started and (like a champ) dispersed the contents of the cabinets to the far corners of the house before work that morning.

How did we get here?

When planning the hayrake table I built last year*, I decided to modify the original dimensions of the 1908 drawing by Ernest Gimson so that Mark and I could use it in our home. Our house has no dining room; we cook, clean up, and entertain guests in the kitchen.


Getting there. This pic documents the stretcher and legs assembled dry so that I could measure for the apron.

It seemed like a good idea. We missed the farmhouse table in our previous kitchen, which had also served as our dining room. Even though the old enamel-topped worktable I’ve been moving around for more than 25 years worked fine for meal prep and eating, we thought it would be lovely to have a homemade table where guests would feel like guests instead of warm bodies who might be pressed into service chopping or kneading.

But as soon as we carried the table into the kitchen I realized I’d opened a can of worms. The delightful retro-style vinyl composition tile I’d put down when I first moved in (because it was affordable and I could do all the labor myself in my spare time) was an affront to the Cotswold School-style table, never mind the pair of two heart chairs based on a turn-of-the-century design by C.F.A. Voysey. That floor would have to go. The table called for flagstones softened by centuries of wear; the least we could give it was floor of wood.


Yes, I know. It’s out of sync. The hayrake table and chairs (made for the book on English Arts & Crafts furniture) along with the pair of bona fide 19th-century English antiques call for something more austere than the surroundings visible here. My apologies to the furniture.

As tends to happen when you tinker with one feature of a room, we decided that if we were going to the trouble of replacing the floor (which would entail removing *everything* from the kitchen), I should strip the cabinets I’d made in my spare time, years ago, when I was using my home to experiment with unusual materials and finishes. (Translation: The finish looked like crap.)

“Well, if we’re taking out the cabinets so you can strip them, I’d like to talk about a better sink,” Mark said. The sink was a salvaged double-drain model (though, being from the ’50s, it was made of pressed metal instead of cast iron as its forebears would have been a half-century before) — perfectly serviceable, and really, quite charming, but with basins that were annoyingly shallow and too-thin enamel that had worn through in some areas, allowing the steel to rust.

And if we were going to get a better sink… Well, there went my cheerful retro linoleum counters.

A simple table brought into our home proved the tip of a shipwrecking iceberg. At lunchtime on Thursday we reached a point sufficiently up the other side of the bell curve that I thought it was time for a punch list. Wishful thinking. It looks as though there will still be a few weeks of “Where’s that *%^& pan” and “What did you do with the oregano/pasta pot/tin foil/fruit cutting board?”


Still to do (and no doubt I’m missing a few things, but “strip rest of doors” and “new drawer faces” are too central for a punch list. (And no, I don’t really spell light “lite,” other than when writing in haste.)


No guest room is complete without an espresso pot, book about brewing by @ladybrewbalt and copy of Hammer Head.


Sure, I get that these are trifling inconveniences compared to going weeks without running water or months without electricity, never mind facing war, disease or starvation. But I’d forgotten just how deeply my basic ability to function — mentally as well as physically — is grounded in the orderliness of the kitchen. It really is the nexus of our home.


Doesn’t everyone have a mixer in his or her office?


A demonstration of the ingenious device known as a Shoulder Dolly: Why use a dolly with wheels when you can bear the weight of a big-a$$ fridge on your spine? (Seriously, though, it is a clever and useful bit of strapping.)

–Nancy Hiller, author of Making Things Work

*for a book about English Arts & Crafts furniture scheduled for publication by Popular Woodworking this June

Categories: Hand Tools

The ‘Electric Horse Garage’ Lives

Fri, 01/19/2018 - 5:04am


The new roof on the Electric Horse Garage is complete. The electricity is in and flowing. The last bit of the puzzle (the ductless HVAC) will be installed on Monday.

That means we move the big machines next week, and I can begin the next chapter of my life.

Some details: Ignore the weird red trim on the front of the shop. That isn’t how it was supposed to look, and I’ll fix that next week. I also have to install some floor sweeps for the doors and hang the interior lights (LEDs). Oh, I have to assemble the 18” band saw. Build a mobile base for the mortiser. Finish the restoration of the old Powermatic drill press.

And touch up the paint inside. Repair the weird hole in the floor (can you see Zuul down there?). Trim and fill the weird pipes in the middle of the floor. Get some heavy anti-fatigue mats for the floor.


Shops are never done.

— Christopher Schwarz

Categories: Hand Tools

The Living Wood

Thu, 01/18/2018 - 6:57pm
The Poringland Oak c.1818-20 by John Crome 1768-1821

John Crome, “The Poringland Oak,” 1818-1820, Photo © Tate, CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported).

“Poets and painters have found in trees material for their art. If Gainsborough had been less successful as a portrait painter he would have given us some wonderful trees. As it is, in his few landscapes he has shown trees which are full of a kind of romantic vitality, springing full of life from the soil. Constable filled his great canvases with them, showing them in all their morning freshness as the kindliest feature of the English landscape. John Crome of Norwich painted trees with all the care which Gainsborough gave to portraits of fashionable ladies. In fact, his picture of the Poringland oak is a portrait. It shows all the physical details, the strength, stability and balance of the tree, and he has shown also its spiritual quality, something upstanding, fearless and ancient, which makes the bathers at the edge of the pool seem like mayflies of a day. It is just thise sense of reality, this glance at the transcience of human life, which the Frenchman, Corot, manages to evade. He found dreams among trees, but he casts a veil between himself and them as if he feared their strength, painting an ethereal beauty which had its roots in dream soil and not in the good earth.”

— Charles Hayward, The Woodworker magazine, 1936

Categories: Hand Tools

Dovetailed Housings

Thu, 01/18/2018 - 3:34am

FIG. 1. SIMPLE THROUGH DOVETAILED HOUSINGS Both are strong, but the joints show at the edge. The depth of the groove should be rather less than half the thickness of the wood.

This is an excerpt from “The Woodworker: The Charles H. Hayward Years: Volume III” published by Lost Art Press.

This type of dovetail sometimes creates a difficulty because of the length of the joint. It is, of course, essential that it grips throughout its length, and the usual fault is to make it tight in some parts and slack in others. The practical process is dealt with here.

In its simplest form this joint consists of a plain groove with either one or both sides at the usual dovetail angle cut right across the wood, and a joining piece cut dovetail fashion to fit, as in Fig. 1. It is a thoroughly strong joint and is satisfactory for many jobs, but suffers from two disadvantages. One is that the dovetail necessarily shows at the front edge; the other is that, since the one piece has to slide right in from the edge, it is awkward to make a joint that is tight enough to be strong, yet free enough to slide across. The wider the joint the more awkward it is.



Tapered Dovetail.
To overcome these drawbacks the stopped and tapered dovetailed housing shown in Fig. 2 was introduced. It is extremely handy for carcase work, and forms a strong fixing for shelves and similar parts. Its special use is in tall structures in which the ends might be inclined to bow outwards. The dovetail effectually prevents this, yet it is entirely concealed by the stop. Note that the top cut (which is cut in square) is at 90 deg., whilst the taper is formed beneath. The dovetail is formed on this sloping cut. It will be realised that it is really a bare-faced dovetail and that the bare face is at the top. In this way the shelf is bound to be square.

When marking out the joint, square across the sides the over-all thickness of the shelf, cutting in the top line with the chisel and the lower one in pencil. Then mark in the tapering line with the chisel. The depth of the stop can be marked with the gauge (keep the gauge set so that the shelf can be marked with the same setting.)



Cutting the Groove.
The sides of the groove have to be sawn in, and many workers find a difficulty in using the saw because this cannot be taken right through. There is no difficulty, however, if a recess is cut up against the stop as shown inset in Fig. 3. Chop it with the chisel to the same depth as the groove and work the saw with short strokes, allowing the end to run out in the recess. One side of the latter must be at the dovetail angle, of course.

To form a strong joint it is clear that the saw cut on the dovetail side must be at the true angle and that it must agree with that of the shelf. Fig. 4 shows how this can be assured. A piece of wood is cut off at one end at the required angle, 78 deg., and is held down on the wood with a cramp or screw and the saw held against the end as shown. Before fixing it, however, it is generally advisable to make a few strokes with the saw upright. This saves any tendency for it to slip owing to the angle. In any case the usual practice of chiselling out a small sloping groove is advisable (see inset in Fig. 4).



The preliminary removal of the waste is done with the chisel, this being followed by the router. If this is held askew it will generally be found that the cutter will reach right under the dovetail slope—unless it has an extra high pitch, in which case the chisel will have to be used to reach beneath.



The Dovetail.
In the case of the dovetail on the shelf the simplest plan is to gauge in the depth and cut a square rebate with the saw and rebate plane. Form the taper (also with the plane) and then cut in the dovetail angle with the chisel. It will be realised that the preliminary saw cut is deep enough to reach to the dovetail depth. If the work is done with the wood cramped down on the bench, a spare piece of wood with the end at the correct angle can be used as a guide, as in Fig. 5. Adjusting the wood away from or towards the work will enable the chisel to take up the true angle. In any case, it is intended purely as a guide. The advantage of the joint will become obvious when it is fitted, because it is loose until driven right home when it at once becomes a tight fit throughout its length. It should make a close fit, but over-tightness should be avoided as this tends to force the ends out of truth.

Meghan Bates

Categories: Hand Tools

A Lesson in Sharpening

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 7:46am


Editor’s Note: Richard Jones, the author of an upcoming book on timber technology, takes us back to the 1970s when he learned a valuable lesson in sharpening while in training.

A perennial subject in woodworking magazines and forums is that of sharpening techniques. No other furniture-making topic seems to generate so much tedious verbose nit-picking and circular bickering in woodworking forums, along with the publication of innumerable “sure-fire” and “infallible” methods in blogs, YouTube videos and magazine articles. For somer reason, most of these espoused methods for achieving a sharp edge on a tool seem to take an inordinate amount of time and require a large array of bits and bobs to do the job. I sometimes wonder if the process of sharpening is the main objective of the exercise for the people who describe them rather than the means to working wood effectively.

Naturally, the subject is of interest because blunt tools aren’t much use. Preamble to many of these articles often causes a wry smile for they bring back memories of my initiation into the “dark” art. Many authors make points about those who struggle at it and possess a workshop full of dull tools. Conversely, it is sometimes said that those who can do the job tend to be fanatical about grits, slurries and bevel angles.

My experience is that there are really only two types of people when it comes to sharpening:

• Those who can’t.

• Those who can.

In the first group, those who can’t, you’ll sometimes see every sharpening system known to man arrayed around their workshop gathering dust. They have fancy grinders, oilstones, water stones, ceramic stones, diamond stones, guides, pieces of sandpaper, jigs, etc. And yet, just about every edge tool they own is chipped, dull and mostly useless.

In the second group, those who can, I haven’t observed much fanaticism about slurries, grits and bevel angles. In all the workshops I’ve worked in the only concern is to get the job done. It’s a case of, “Plane’s blunt – better sharpen it.” Dig out the stone, sharpen the blade, shove it back in the plane and use it. The equipment is minimal: a grinder, a stone of some sort and lubricant, a few slips for gouges and the like, and, perhaps, a piece of oiled leather charged with a bit of fine-powered abrasive for final stropping.

Going back to the 1970s, when I trained, learning how to sharpen tools was undertaken within the first few days. I don’t now recall precisely the order of my instruction, but it went something like this: I was handed a plane by the cabinetmaker I was assigned to and told, “Get that piece o’ wood square.” I’d done a bit of woodworking at school so I had a vague idea of what to do. I fooled around with that lump of wood for 20 or so minutes and got it something like square – all this under the watchful eye of the crusty old guy and his ever-present roll-up hanging out of the corner of his mouth.

“OK, I’ve done that,” I said. “Now what do you want me to do?”

I was told to hang about for a minute whilst he picked up his square and straightedge and proceeded to scrutinise my handiwork. This was followed by a non-committal grunt and some desultory foot sweeping of the plentiful shavings on the floor – the wood was probably only about 90 percent or so of its original volume.

“Now sonny, let’s do the next job,” he announced. “Pull that jack plane ye’ve bin usin’ apairt and let’s have a look at the iron.”

I did.

“Hold the iron up so’s ye can see the cuttin’ edge,” he instructed. (He was a Scot.) Again, I did as I was told.

“Now, can ye see it? Can ye see the line-o’-light at the shairp end there?” He wheezed as he tapped a line of ash onto the floor and stood on it. He was referring to the shiny reflection visible when cutting edges are dull.

“Aye,” I said, after a little eye squinting and other pretence of intelligence.

“How shairp does it look to you boy?” he enquired.

I thought about this for a moment or two, seeking the right response to my tormentor – for I hadn’t really got a clue what he was talking about. I finally replied rather hopefully and a bit brightly: “Pretty shairp, I’d say.”

He laughed out loud, and hacked a bit. “Dinnae be the daft bloody laddie wi’ me son. If ye can see it, it’s blunt. I could ride that bloody iron yer holdin’ bare-arsed to London and back and no cut ma’sel’. Get o’er here an’ I’ll show ye something.”

You can probably guess. Out came the oilstone from his toolbox and quick as a flash the iron was whisking up and down the stone, flipped over, the wire edge removed, and finally it was stropped backwards and forwards on the calloused palm of his hand. You could shave with it. I know, because he demonstrated how sharp it was by slicing a few hairs off his forearm. On went the cap iron and the assembly was dropped back in the plane. This was followed by a bit of squinting along the sole from the front whilst the lever and knob were fiddled with and that was it. He took a few shavings off a piece of wood and it went back in his toolbox. It took, oh, a few minutes.

“Now son, that’s a shairp plane. It’s nae bloody use to me blunt. Ye may as well sling a soddin’ blunt yin in the bucket fer all the use it is to me,” he explained with great refinement. “I’ve plenty mair o’ them in that box, an’ they’re all blunt. Ah’ve bin savin’ ’em for ye. There’s a bunch a chisels, too. Let’s get ye started.”

For what felt like forever I sharpened his tools for the one and only time I was allowed to under his rheumy-eyed and critical stare, and things gradually got better. After a while he stopped telling me what a “completely daft stupit wee bastud” I was, and a bit later he started offering grudging approval. I had to sharpen some tools more than once because he kept on using and dulling them. When I’d done the lot we stopped and surveyed the day’s work.

“Aye, nae too bad fer a daft laddie’s fust effort,” he commented darkly, sucking hard on his smoke. “I think ye’ve goat whit it takes. Time’ll tell, sonnie. Remember, ye’ll never be a bloody cabinetmaker if ye cannae even shairpen yer frickin’ tools. Lesson over. Dinnae ferget it.”

I haven’t.

— Richard Jones

Categories: Hand Tools

Chinese/Roman Workbench/Router Table – and a Palm!

Fri, 01/12/2018 - 3:50am


Brendan Gaffney sent me this incredible video – likely from Vietnam – where woodworkers are building stair components using a low workbench as a router table.

The low bench is exactly what you’d see in an ancient Roman or Chinese workshop. Most intriguing to me is the V-shaped bench stop at the end of the bench. It is exactly like the Chinese “palm,” a workholding device that Suzanne Ellison dug up and helped me research for the upcoming book “Ingenious Mechanicks: Early Workbenches & Workholding.”

Seeing it in use as a router table is amazing.

The entire video is interesting. The music, however, will make you batty.

Please do not leave a comment on the lack of “workshop safety” in this video. I will delete them. In showing you this video I refuse to open the door for criticism of their work, tradition or culture. You might think that you’re a more evolved being, but that’s really just your Superman Underoos talking.

— Christopher Schwarz

Filed under: Ingenious Mechanicks, Uncategorized
Categories: Hand Tools

Moxon’s Jointer Plane

Fri, 01/12/2018 - 3:30am

Moxon’s jointer plane. Ever wonder why the handles look so odd on the plane? I don’t think they’re particularly British. These illustrations were borrowed from the French.

This is an excerpt from “The Art of Joinery” by Joseph Moxon; commentary by Christopher Schwarz. 

The jointer is made somewhat longer than the fore plane and has its sole perfectly straight from end to end. Its office is to follow the fore plane and to shoot an edge perfectly straight, and not only an edge, but also a board of any thickness; especially when a joint is to be shet [shot]. Therefore the hand must be carried along the whole length with an equal bearing weight, and [al]so exactly even and upright to the edges of the board, [so] that neither side of the plane inclines either inward or outwards, but that the whole breadth be exactly square on both its sides. Supposing its sides straight, [then] so will two edges of two boards, when thus shot, lie so exactly flat and square upon one another that light will not be discerned between them. It is counted a piece of good workmanship in a joiner to have the craft of bearing his hand so curiously [in this way], even the whole length of a long board. And yet it is but a sleight [task] to those [where] practice hath accustomed the hand to [it]. The jointer is also used to try tabletops with {large or small}, or other such broad work. And then joiners work as well upon the traverse with it, as with the grain of the wood, and also angularly or corner-wise, that they may be more assured of the flatness of their work.

Its iron must be set very fine, so fine, that when you wink with [close] one eye, and [look at the iron with your open] eye, there appears a little above a hairs breadth of the edge above the surfaces of the sole of the plane, and the length of the edge must lie perfectly straight with the flat breadth of the sole of the plane. [With] the iron being then well wedged up and you working with the plane thus set, [you] have the greater assurance that the iron cannot run too deep into the stuff; and consequently you have the less danger that the joint is wrought out of straight.


Proper edge jointing. Whether you use a straight or curved iron, this is the proper way to joint an edge. The fingers of your off-hand serve as the fence against the work.

In Moxon, the primary job of the jointer plane seems to be working edges to make them straight and true. Not only to make them pretty but to glue them up into panels.

Now here is one area where Moxon vexes me. Moxon calls for the jointer plane to have an iron that is sharpened perfectly straight across, like a chisel. And the way you correct an edge is through skill – Moxon says it looks hard to the layman but is easy for joiners.

As one who has practiced freehand edge-planing with a jointer plane that has a straight-sharpened iron, I object. I think it’s easier to correct an edge with an iron with a slight curve. You can remove material from localized spots by positioning the iron to take more meat off one area.

This jointing technique with a curved iron appears in British workshop practice throughout the 20th century. It is today a fight as fierce as tails-first or pins-first in dovetailing. So give both jointing techniques a try and take your side. And just be glad Moxon doesn’t write a word about dovetailing.

One note here on long-grain shooting boards. Moxon doesn’t mention them, though they are frequently mentioned and employed starting in the 18th century. When you use a jointer plane with a shooting board to true an edge of a board, the iron of the jointer plane can be either curved or straight.

Both approaches work.

Several of my contemporary hand-tool woodworkers have suggested that perhaps Moxon simply could not see that the jointer plane’s iron is slightly curved. And indeed, the curve used on the edge of a jointer plane’s iron looks straight if you don’t show it to a second piece of straight material. However, I prefer to simply take Moxon at his word here. The joiners he observed use jointers with straight irons.


Criss-cross. Working corner to corner is a powerful technique for flattening a board. You can work both ways, though you’ll get more tear-out one way than the other.

Other jointer techniques in Moxon are quite helpful. He says you can traverse with a jointer and that you can work diagonally (corner to corner) across the grain with wide stock. Both of these techniques help flatten your boards because the jointer’s sole is removing high spots at the corners, which is commonly known as “twist” or “wind.” Note that Moxon says joiners use this for tabletops or other boards that are quite broad.

Other period accounts discuss other long planes. Richard Neve’s “The City and Country Purchaser” (1703) calls out two long planes: “The Long Plane,” which is about 24″ long, for faces of boards; and the jointer plane, which is about 30″ long, for edge joints.

Moxon’s instructions for setting a jointer plane can be interpreted as follows: Turn the plane over and sight down the sole. Close one eye. Peer down the sole and adjust the iron until you see it as a fine black line (about the thickness of a hair) that is even all across the width of the sole. That’s a good description of what it looks like. To my (one) eye, a hair’s breadth usually gets me a shaving that’s about .004″ to .006″ thick.

Meghan Bates

Filed under: The Art of Joinery
Categories: Hand Tools