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Lost Art Press: Chris Schwarz

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Updated: 5 min 18 sec ago

What is a ‘Loose Tenon?’

Thu, 01/04/2018 - 6:28pm

Loose tenon disassembled

Some readers seemed confused by my description of assembling a benchtop with the help of a “loose tenon.”

The expression doesn’t mean that the tenon rattles loose in the mortise. Rather it means that the tenon is not integral to either piece being joined. It is like a Domino or a biscuit. It enters mortises in both pieces.

I drew up two illustrations to show how this works. The drawing at the top illustrates the joint when it is apart. The loose tenon is shown floating between the two components of the benchtop.

Loose tenon ASSEMBLED

The second illustration is an “X-ray” view of the assembled joint with 1/2”-diameter pegs piercing the benchtop pieces and the loose tenon.

“Loose tenons” have many other names, including “slip tenons” or “floating tenons.” All these terms are accepted in woodworking journalism.

Hope this helps.

— Christopher Schwarz

Filed under: Workbenches
Categories: Hand Tools

Loose Tenons & Workbench Tops

Thu, 01/04/2018 - 11:36am


We think of loose tenons as a modern joint, but it is far from it. Early Greek and Roman boats were made with loose tenons that were pegged to keep the hulls together.

I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that Richard Maguire also used this same technology to glue up his benchtops (read all about that here). I’ll be honest, I’ve always relied on glue alone (when I didn’t have a monumental one-piece slab top).

But my view changed a couple years ago when we got a bad batch of epoxy and several benchtops delaminated. If I ever have to glue up a slab benchtop again, I’m adding loose tenons.

Interestingly, Maguire doesn’t drawbore the loose tenons in his tops. He states: “a draw bored peg here would have been much weaker than this straight through approach.” I do believe I will be experimenting with this joint – both drawbored and not – to see for myself.=

Maguire wasn’t the first to come up with the idea of loose tenons in a benchtop (though I heard it from him first). Recently I got to inspect an early 20th-century French workbench from La Forge Royale that used the technology.


This commercial workbench was surprisingly rough in manufacture. Joints were deliberately overcut throughout to make the bench easy to assemble. The “breadboard” ends were merely nailed or screwed on. No tongue. I could go on and on. It’s still a great workbench (and still standing after 100 years), so I’m not knocking it. But I was surprised.

Despite the rough construction, the builders took the extra time to add loose tenons in the benchtop’s joint. That fact says a lot to me as to how important a detail they thought it was.

So it’s worth a thought for your next workbench.

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

Filed under: Uncategorized, Workbenches
Categories: Hand Tools

The (Almost) Final Step with the Horse Garage

Thu, 01/04/2018 - 11:14am


I have never been so happy to hear from a roofer.

After 10 weeks of waiting for my number to come up, Brian the Roofer called to say his crew will begin the job Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning.

Barring rain or a visit from the Angel of Death, I’ll have a new roof by the end of the week and will then set up my machines. That should take a day at most. I don’t have a lot of machines, and they (with one exception) are easy to move.

The only thing left to do is install the mini-split to control the climate in the workshop. The wiring for it is ready – so it’s a one-day job. (And until the mini-split gets installed, I’ll simply freeze my butt off when I work.)

Ever since moving my workbench to the storefront almost two years ago, I’ve been slowed down by having two shops. Though I don’t do a lot of machine work, there were times that I had to drive home to use the drill press for a very particular hole and then had to drive right back to the storefront to continue working.

Though I don’t live far from the storefront (4.2 miles), the route always has a chance of jackknifed semis or cornholed motorists on the stretch that locals call “Death Hill.”

When I was planning out my new shop, I half-considered writing a series of articles about the process. Then I realized that I think most people make it a lot more difficult than necessary. And by putting a lot of effort into the shop, they actually make it more of a pain to use in the long-term.

If you’d like to read my brief thoughts on setting up shop, check out my entry at my other blog at Popular Woodworking Magazine. Here’s the link. (Side note: I’d like to offer a huge thank-you to all the people who read my blog there – the monthly pay I receive is an important part of our family budget. And according to the traffic numbers, 2017 was a good one for my blog there.)

Now back to dreaming of my membrane roof.

— Christopher Schwarz

Filed under: Lost Art Press Storefront, Uncategorized
Categories: Hand Tools

The Highlights and Lowlights of Writing About Trees and Wood

Wed, 01/03/2018 - 9:12am

Editor’s Note: Richard Jones’s book on timber technology is designed, and Chris, Richard and I are working on final edits. The book will be available early this year.

— Kara Gebhart Uhl

In almost every project one can find good elements and bad elements in the process.

I’ll get the lowlights of working on this book out of the way first. I found there were times I struggled to put words on the page. Many things can hamper creativity, for that’s what writing is, even with factual subjects. Trying to get information across in a readable form requires finding the right words allied to illustrations so, yes, creativity matters.

It’s frustrating to complete a piece of text and ‘red pen’ it – literally printing the page, marking all the bloopers, jotting corrections (in red) and then going back to the word processing. I can’t properly proofread on a computer monitor, so printing it is. ‘Red penning’ helps me find the repetitions, awkward phrasing, spelling mistakes and bits so badly composed I need to start again. It’s frustrating, time consuming and wastes paper because on average I print and proofread five times before I’m happy, and even then I miss errors.

Other things that frustrate the writing flow include too many work commitments in my full-time job, illness in the family, and just becoming fed up with the whole thing. Why am I doing this? I don’t even have any idea if it’ll get published, and it could all just sit in big stored digital files no-one except me will ever see.

Ah, but the highlights outweigh all the frustrations. The kindness and generosity of people throughout the UK and overseas: Kiln operators, timber (lumber) yard owners, entomologists, mycologists, engineers, wood scientists, meteorologists, woodworking forum participants and so on all came up trumps with suggestions, guidance, photographs, participated in discussions face-to-face, by email and phone, and were willing to peer review sections I’d written suggesting improvements and approval when I’d got it right.

Two things surprised me. First, apart from the essential wood knowledge I chose to cover, I found the secondary information the most fun to write: tree history, ancient deforestation, forests and climate, balanoculture, the special place of oaks in the role of human development and The Baltic Problem from the point of view of the UK. The second surprise was the discovery that the supply of wood from the world’s forests currently teeters on the balance of just about enough at our level of usage – it could go either way, probably depending on future human ingenuity, or, perhaps, our greed and stupidity.

— Richard Jones

Filed under: Timber Book by Richard Jones, Uncategorized
Categories: Hand Tools

Shaker Table Class with Will Myers at Our Storefront

Mon, 01/01/2018 - 4:32pm


Build an accurate reproduction of an icon of American furniture with Will Myers during an Oct. 6-7, 2018, class at our Covington, Ky., storefront.

Will has spent years researching Shaker design by measuring the actual pieces in the Shaker communities. His careful work has resulted in measured drawings for this table that result in a true reproduction. (Will was shocked to discover that none of the published plans available were exact reproductions.)

During this intense two-day class, you’ll build a reproduction of this beautiful table and learn:

  • History and details of the three original candle stands of this style that I have examined.
  • Why this table is not as simple as it first appears, and how many small details contribute to look of the table as a whole.
  • Layout and cutting of sliding dovetails on a cylinder, to join the legs to the spindle.
  • Shaping the legs, using spokeshaves and card scrapers.
  • Turning the spindle to final shape.
  • Shaping the top support with planes and spokeshaves.
  • Shaping and smoothing the edges and faces of the round top.
  • Why you need a metal “spider” (and how to make one) to reinforce the leg-to-spindle joinery.

Registration for the class is free. Registrants will be invoiced for the $300 class fee and additional materials fee (which will likely be around $100). Attendees at this class should have some woodworking experience. While no turning experience is required, it will be helpful.


These classes are are limited to six students led by Will (plus me as an assistant). That’s why we can tackle such ambitious projects.

Register for the class here. After you register, you will receive an invoice for the class plus a tool list. Any student looking for a place to stay or eat near our storefront can get full details here.

As I’ve mentioned before, these classes do not benefit me or Lost Art Press. All proceeds go to the instructor. If you’ve ever met Will (or seen any of his videos) then you know he is a skilled woodworker and excellent instructor. We are thrilled to have him teach here.

— Christopher Schwarz

Filed under: Uncategorized, Woodworking Classes
Categories: Hand Tools

Vintage kitchen splendor

Mon, 01/01/2018 - 11:10am

To start the new year off with a bang, feast your eyes on this gobsmackingly gorgeous kitchen.

Joe Oliver 1

I don’t even remember how Joe Oliver and I became acquainted, but I’m so glad we did. Joe operates Retro Stove & Gas Works based in Chicago and shares my love of old kitchens. Two days ago he sent some snapshots from a recent repair job in a kitchen that’s a treasure trove of original detail. I’m hoping Joe’s customers will allow me to include their kitchen in the book I’m writing for Lost Art Press. In the meantime, here are a few photos provided by the homeowner to whet your appetite.

Joe Oliver 3

Although the range hood, island and microwave are not original, the Sellers cabinets are. Check out that tiled arch over the window. My heart! I am mad for this kitchen. Joe points out that the yellow tiles are not ceramic, but a sheet material such as linoleum.

Joe Oliver 4

Joe identifies this as a pre-World War II Roper. Those control knobs have me swooning.

You can read more about this kitchen and Joe’s approach to repair work at his blog. My favorite quote:

Not all 7 1/2 hour service calls take the same amount of time to prepare for, thank God.  Most take between 30 to 60 minutes.  Occasionally, however, the needs of a vintage stove push your friendly service technicians to extremes.  So when you require help for that 3/4-century old stove which hasn’t required a dime for repairs all the years that you’ve owned it, please grant us some understanding when we charge a service fee to show up at your door.  We have probably earned it.


Filed under: Uncategorized
Categories: Hand Tools

New Year’s Eve

Sun, 12/31/2017 - 9:21am

“Fig. 1 An Archer In Action” from “Making a Long-Bow,” The Woodworker magazine, January 1953

“There is always something solemn about the passing of the Old Year. When we were young and the years were very, very long, each New Year’s Eve was an event, the more enthralling for its rarity, and the year ahead still so closely wrapped in the mists of time was full of enticing mystery, something to be explored, one more step forward in the exciting and rather bewildering process of growing up. Breathlessly we listened to the bells, feeling suddenly a little sad as they tolled out the last moments of the dying year, awed into silence in the hush that followed and all the world seemed to wait. Then the lovely, changing peals ushering in the New, and how they rang, those bells of our youth! Is it fancy or have they lost something of their clamorous zest, or is it we who have changed, we who no longer greet them with the old bright-eyed eagerness? Yet there are few men who will not feel a ghost of the old thrill still knocking at their hearts, that here is once more a new beginning, one more opportunity to be seized, as our ever shortening, speeding years are warning us, and turned to account.

“‘Life wastes itself whilst we are preparing to live,’ Emerson once wrote. To live we have to jerk ourselves into action and convert our pleasant pipe dreams into sober realities. The man who has a creative urge to make things, with the vague feeling that he could if once he got down to it, has determinedly to set his hand to a job. So has the man who can make and mend in a plain, competent fashion, but has a hankering for something more, some finer, more ambitious work. If we set ourselves to do the thing, then the power and ability will grow with the doing. If we only keep on vaguely wishing then life will slide away from us and we shall have lost something that might have given us infinite satisfaction. The plain fact which sometimes we are chary of facing is that no atom of good or satisfaction can come to us than by the work we put into this job of making ourselves. Here we are, men with creative instincts, hidden or only dimly realised potentialities, and until we put ourselves to the task of developing them they will remain for ever dormant. No one but ourselves knows what we can do and we ourselves do not know until we have tried. Often, indeed, we scare ourselves off by over timidity. The only way is to start. Tell ourselves we are no worse than the next man: what he can do we can do, and so we can. For steadily and surely those submerged instincts turn into practical ability as we learn by doing.

“It is extraordinary how opportunities come our way for learning once we have started. There seems to be some hidden law governing it, making us aware of new possibilities, new avenues of interest to be explored while we are pegging away at the job of turning ourselves into first-rate craftsmen. It may be only our new awareness, making us see and seize the opportunities, and yet it seems more than that. As if, like the man in the parable, when a man buried his talent he loses even the little he has but, using it, not only is it increased a hundredfold by his own enterprise but more is added unto him, sometimes much more.

“In my time I have made many good resolutions on New Year’s Eve and broken them all. Now, after the passage of the years, there is only one I would make, and that is more a prayer than a resolution. It is for the gift of perseverance. Whatever kind of job of creative living to which we have each put our hands, as good craftsmen, homemakers, as men of integrity and faith and good hopes let us persevere in it, putting our best into it, keeping our interest and enthusiasm alive by the study of good work whenever we can find it and setting our standards by that alone. There are so many things which conspire to turn us aside from the path we want to follow, fascinating things, distracting things, like television, the importunities of our friends, and our own moods and difficulties. We are each of us assailed from this side and that with ever possible temptation to take the easy way and to content ourselves with the minimum necessary effort. But there is not much satisfaction to be got in the long run out of living like that. ‘A man,’ says Emerson, ‘is relieved and gay when has put his heart into his work and done his best: but what he has said or done otherwise shall give him no peace. It is a deliverance which does not deliver.’ Haven’t we all experienced it? The nagging uneasiness which follows an imperfect or hastily finished job, the blemish which will always catch our own eye if others do not notice, on the other hand the glow of satisfaction when we know our work is good. Those are the moments which are worth living for – the moments which pave the way to solid achievement.”

– Charles Hayward, The Woodworker magazine, January, 1953

Filed under: Honest Labour, Uncategorized
Categories: Hand Tools

Another Early Chair (Without Antlers!)

Sun, 12/31/2017 - 6:46am


With the dugout chair complete and installed in the Lost Art Press Mechanical Library, I can move onto the next item on my long list of things I need to build before I die.

Next up is a Klismos chair, an elegant form of seating that emerged in Greece in the fifth century B.C.E. Its popularity as a form has waxed and waned as Classicism and Gothic have grappled through the centuries.

gilded DP144105

At times it has been interpreted as a study in form. It also has been carved, gilded and padded so as to be almost unrecognizable. The curve of its saber legs have been flattened to add stability. The backrest has been made smaller to make it easier to mass-produce. In fact, the only indignity it hasn’t suffered is to have been injection molded and sold at a Walmart.

My approach will be similar to that of Nicolai Abildgaard (1743-1809), the Danish painter, professor and sculptor who designed the chair shown at the top of this blog entry.

Researcher Suzanne Ellison and I went through a heavy “Klismos and Curule” phase together several years ago. That’s because my early drafts for “The Anarchist’s Design Book” had a large section that explored classical forms such as the Klismos and Curule and wove those forms into the long history of high and low styles. Then I realized I wanted to finish that book before my hair grew all the way down to my hinder. So I nixed that section (which could be a book in itself).

I’m returning to the Klismos because of one simple change in the world: I now have a reliable supply of cold-bend hardwood from Pure Timber. This stuff allows me to make extreme bends with a high level of accuracy and resulting strength.

But first I’ve got to get “Ingenious Mechanicks” to the printer (plus three other books that are almost complete). Oh, and some commission work so as to stave off ramen.

But it will happen in 2018.

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

Filed under: Ingenious Mechanicks, Uncategorized
Categories: Hand Tools

Mary May Now Offering Video Lessons and Resin Study Casts

Fri, 12/29/2017 - 5:48pm


Can there ever be too many ways of learning to carve acanthus leaves?

My new book, “Carving the Acanthus Leaf,” has full and complete step-by-step instructions on how to carve a variety of different historical acanthus leaves using hundreds of detailed photos and drawings. However, as we all have different styles of learning, sometimes written instruction is not enough to fully comprehend the carving process. So in addition to the book, I am now offering full HD video lessons and resin study casts that go with Chapters 4 through 16 of my book.

All videos

If you are familiar with my Online School of Traditional Woodcarving, the video lessons are similar in teaching structure style, showing real-time video with close-up details and tool identification throughout the lesson. Also, if you are a Premium Member of my school, you will receive a 15 percent loyalty discount to these video lessons.

The resin study casts are direct replicas made from the original wood-carved leaves from these chapters. Having something that you can view, hold in your hands, and study the details can greatly help in the learning process. (Or … you can use these as decorative details in your home.)

One way or another, you will learn to carve acanthus leaves!

– Mary May

Filed under: Carve the Acanthus with Mary May, Uncategorized
Categories: Hand Tools

Spiling Batten

Fri, 12/29/2017 - 5:14am


This is an excerpt from “From Truths to Tools” by George Walker and Jim Tolpin; Illustrated by Andrea Love. 

Just out of curiosity, let’s see what happens when we draw a circle, then switch the dividers’ legs around. Being sure to keep the same setting (i.e. the radius of the first circle), we set the point anywhere on the rim and swing the other leg around to construct a second circle.


We now have before us two circles of the same size, which yields the birth of “symmetria” (symmetry) – one of the most useful and foundational principles in geometry (not to mention keeping the universe itself intact).


The intersection of the symmetrical circles at each other’s focal points is the geometric truth underlying a powerful layout tool called a spiling batten. To see how this wool works, follow the steps in the drawing.

1.) Swing an arc (about one-third of a circle) from a focal point.

2.) Keeping the same radius. swing back a little arc from any place on the first arc.

3.) Swing back another arc from a second point on the first arc. The intersection of these two small arcs is the location of the original focal point.

Be aware that you need to be careful to maintain the same setting for all these arcs.

A common application of spiling in boatbuilding is in the fitting of a boat plank perfectly between two other previously installed planks. We begin by tacking in place a thin piece of wood (the spiling batten) in the opening between the planks. Next, from station points we’ve made on the upper and lower planks (usually at the centerline of frame locations) we swing an arc onto the batten.

To avoid errors due to a change in the divider setting, we will record the divider span somewhere on the the batten to provide a double-check.

When we are done making arcs from all the station points, we remove the batten and lay it on the stock to be cut to shape. Then we swing two arcs from each arc drawn on the batten.

The intersection of these arcs will be the location of the original station point. Finally, we’ll use a bendable length of wood to connect the transferred station points onto the stock. Cut to the line and we are rewarded with a ready-to-plane-to-perfect fit.

Meghan Bates


Filed under: From Truths to Tools
Categories: Hand Tools

Booked for the Year

Thu, 12/28/2017 - 9:30am


One of the biggest fears when you work for yourself is that the work will dry up. You will suddenly go from eating ricotta to ramen. And then you will call Mike Siemsen to get his recipe for “wiener water soup.”

As the last few days of 2017 drop off the calendar, I’m taking stock of the commission work I have booked for the coming year. I am pleasantly surprised at the amount of work I have in the works.

Most of the pieces are what you would expect: a couple Welsh chairs, a tool chest, a Shaker cabinet, some sawbenches, a Roorkee chair and a campaign secretary. But I also received a commission that is a gift for me as a designer.

A young customer asked me to build a chair that would further my work from “The Anarchist’s Design Book.” For the last 12 months I’ve struggled (and failed) to design a staked armchair that I’m happy with for the revised edition of “The Anarchist’s Design Book.” This commission will allow me to take a good three weeks of time to nail down a design that has remained slightly out of my grasp.

So it’s also a gift for anyone interested in staked furniture.

I know there will be lean years ahead. It’s the natural cycle of things. But I plan to fully enjoy every bit of 2018 and make the most of the salad days.

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

Filed under: Uncategorized
Categories: Hand Tools

Hey Schwarz, Are You Chinese?

Wed, 12/27/2017 - 1:05pm


When you grow in Arkansas with even a hint of a swarthy complexion, you’re going to get bullied and harassed.

When I entered fifth grade at Woods Elementary, my teacher asked me in front of the class if I was Chinese. When I replied, “I don’t think so,” Mr. Williams shrugged his shoulders.

“Dark hair, dark eyes, dark skin and good at math,” he said. “Seems like Chinese.”

The conversation at dinner that night was memorable.

When I made it to Chaffin Junior High School, I had my first brush with anti-Semitism. I’d get clipped in hallways with the wood “heeb” muttered under their breath. I had to honestly look up the word in the library.

There was only one Jewish family in our town, the Wilsons. I was bewildered by the abuse. We were Presbyterian.

At my second job, one of the senior editors kept pressing me on my ethnicity. One day, she declared: “Look, you’re Jewish. So I’m just going to treat you that way.”

So she began wishing me “Happy Hanukkah” and ascribing stereotypical (and racist) personality traits to my behavior. When I’d offer to split the check at lunch, she’d say: “Ha – cheap – just like a Jew.”

That also was the year I began growing a beard, which apparently made things worse. The editor of the magazine asked me to shave it off saying: “You look like an Arab terrorist.”

So to settle these sorts of questions (which also occasionally dog my daughters) I took the Ancestry DNA test earlier this year. All tests have their limits, but until they develop an instant pee test for Jewish, Arab or Chinese, this is what we’ve got.

Here are the results:

Great Britain: 43%
Europe West: 18%
Europe East: 17%
Ireland/Scotland/Wales: 6%
Iberian Peninsula: 7%
Scandinavia: 3%
Europe South: 2%
Caucasus: 1%
European Jewish: < 1%
Middle East: < 1%
Finland/Northwest Russia: < 1%

So you can pretty much insult me using almost any slur (except Chinese) and be correct. This also gives me carte blanche to use both English and Continental woodworking tools.

— Christopher Schwarz

Filed under: Personal Favorites, Uncategorized
Categories: Hand Tools

This Way Sinners

Wed, 12/27/2017 - 11:56am


Memory is a damn funny thing. It can be as impossible to hold onto as a handful of water. And yet you can drown in a cup of it.

Today I went to pick up a load of sugar pine for an upcoming tool chest I’m building for a customer and got whacked upside the head by a pointed 19-year-old memory.

Since the closing of Midwest Woodworking a few years ago, I’ve run dangerously low on my stock of sugar pine and didn’t have enough to do the job. Enter Kevin McQueeney, an Indianapolis woodworker who offered to help me purchase a load through his local supplier.

After some back-and-forth, it became obvious that the sugar pine was going to come from Shiels Lumber here in Cincinnati. It’s an old place in the neglected industrial lowlands of the city, about a half mile from the foundry that makes our holdfasts.

Hearing the name Shiels was like waking up from a deep dream. How had I forgotten about this place?

When I started at Popular Woodworking magazine, the first significant project I was permitted to build was an interpretation of Benjamin Seaton’s tool chest. My boss made me change a lot of details so it would be accepted by the magazine’s readership – the corners were assembled with finger joints instead of dovetails, and the interior till had to be simplified.

But despite these compromises, it was a major piece and the first cover project of my career.


The first hurdle with the project was finding white pine that was thick enough for the job. One of the associate editors took me to Shiels, a wholesale yard that is off-limits to retail customers. We loaded up a truck with the pine, and I remember looking up at a weird sign painted on a building that towers over the yard that reads: “This Way Sinners.”

I wondered about the sign 19 years ago. And I had the same sense of wonderment as I loaded my pine today and looked up at the same sign. Thanks to the Internet, I dug up a history of the sign behind the guy who had it painted in 1896. You can read it here. It involves a trip to the Holy Land, a misplaced photograph and hieroglyphics. And the story ends with: “Most salads require a little pinch of salt.”

And the pinch of salt in this story: After 19 years I’m back to building tool chests, buying pine at Shiels and wondering which way this sinner should go.

— Christopher Schwarz

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

Closing the Book

Tue, 12/26/2017 - 3:19pm


One of my peculiarities is that I try to complete the writing for a book before the close of the calendar year. I believe I’ve been doing this ever since writing “Campaign Furniture.” Maybe longer.

This year is no different. I’ve just completed (yay!) the first draft of “Ingenious Mechanicks: Early Workbenches & Workholding” and am tying up loose ends before I design the book. This week has been about making the construction drawings and reviewing the manuscript for accuracy and poop jokes.

I’m also excited that Suzanne “Saucy Indexer” Ellison is planning on contributing a chapter to this book that ties the workbenches we discovered with their geography and current events during their construction.

I’d also like to say something about this book that will have to be repeated at least 71 times.

This book is not an attempt to get you to burn down your European bench. It’s not trying to make you feel guilty about owning a tail vise. Or having a tool tray. Instead, the goal of this book (and all my books) is to try to expand the world of ideas when it comes to workholding and bench design.

My only true criticism of the ubiquitous European workbench is that it was a virtual monoculture for most of the 20th century. And the reason it became the dominant workbench design is because it is a good design. And it is suited to mass-manufacturing.

The benches and ideas in “Ingenious Mechanicks” seek only to show you what your long-dead ancestors used to build fine furniture for 1,500 years before the advent of the modern bench. These ideas can be adapted to the bench in your shop. They can help you transform a picnic table into a workbench while you are on vacation. Or they can help a poor college student build furniture without a single vise. But mostly, I hope this book will open your eyes to the devilishly clever ways you can make a stick of wood behave.

The research for this book took me all over Europe. And Suzanne spent untold hours in the digital archives of museums all over the world, including China and the countries in the long-neglected South American continent.

We are so close. And my writing cervix is fully dilated. (Um, but it might not be working properly based on that last sentence.) So grab my hand and start breathing in the following pattern (he-he-hoo, he-he-hoo). Nope, definitely not working.

— Christopher Schwarz

Filed under: Roman Workbenches, Uncategorized
Categories: Hand Tools

Sorry, I Won’t Make Cheap Crap

Tue, 12/26/2017 - 12:25pm


Some readers have gritched about our upcoming chore coat. I had to delete a couple of the profane comments (we don’t do profanity here), but the gist of the comments was that the coat is a fancy thing, and it will be expensive.

Here’s my reply: The coat will be exactly the same quality as the books we make and the furniture we build. It will be made in the United States from quality materials. It is designed to last – and is worth repairing if need be. And it is made for work.

Today I received a prototype of the jacket to evaluate the fabric, stitching and the fit. It still needs some tweaks here and there, but we are ready to place the order for the fabric.

We’re shooting for a retail price of $185, and after handling the article I think you’ll find that price a bargain – if you are a rational human being. By that I mean it’s difficult for me to understand people who build quality furniture, use good tools but are perfectly happy wearing things that were made in a sweatshop and won’t last a year. And when these clothes do wear out, they cannot be repaired.

(Conversely, I also cannot understand people who spend huge sums on clothes they wear a few times and then donate to a sketchy charity.)


I own one pair of boots, from Trask. They cost me $225 and were made in the USA but can easily be resoled for $50 – I just picked them up from the cobbler today and they are sporting new Vibram soles. Because the leather uppers are already broken in, these boots are now better than any new pair out there.

I own one rain jacket, a Barbour. I’ve had it since 1997 and have repaired it twice for wear and rips. During the repairs, the factory extended the arms a bit so that my sexy wrists are now obscured from view. Again, any new jacket would be a downgrade.

If you don’t like our chore coat, don’t buy it. We’re fortunate that we have choices in our market economy. But don’t call it expensive or fancy because that’s just ignorant and thoughtless.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Categories: Hand Tools

My kind of problem

Tue, 12/26/2017 - 8:36am

Boxing Day, 2017, 7:48 a.m.

Good morning, Nancy.

An issue has emerged concerning the counter top. As currently configured, the counter top will cover the dishwasher control panel. The dishwasher needs to move about 3 inches out from under the counter top. Please suggest a time when we can have a telephone conversation.

There’s nothing like getting up the day after Christmas to news of a work-related problem.

Being the kind of person whose first response to such communiqués is anxiety, I immediately go through a systematic reality check.

1. Look: Pull up the snapshot of the island where the dishwasher door is visible. Check: The door is protruding from the adjacent cabinets exactly as it should. (A bit of advice: Take progress shots, especially when working on jobsites. It’s especially helpful to be able to look at a picture on your phone when your jobsite is an hour’s drive away.)


2. Think: Who installed the dishwasher? The clients’ builder, who installs them all the time. Check: The installation is probably correct, though I won’t stop worrying until I know for sure.

3. Think some more: Is there really a problem? Don’t the overwhelming majority of dishwashers get installed under counters? Don’t you think a global leader in dishwasher design such as Bosch would have planned for this? That does make sense; you probably program the controls with the door open, then shut it. (Full disclosure: We don’t have a dishwasher. I prefer to use those 12 cubic feet of space in our small kitchen for storage.) Still, I won’t stop worrying until I know for sure.

4. Google “Bosch top of door controls dishwasher.” While installation manual is downloading, do a quick search of email records. Did I advise them to buy this dishwasher, in which case I should have known of any unusual installation requirements? No. The only relevant communication was in October, when my clients told me they were looking seriously at dishwashers. And there it is, on page 37: “Note: With hidden controls, the door must be opened before changing settings and closed after changing settings.”

5. Reply to client, adding that if I’ve misunderstood the nature of the problem, I will be glad to talk by phone. Press “send” and hope the problem is resolved.

6. Relief:

Yes, now we see how the dishwasher works, have reread the manual and are relieved to see that our concerns were unfounded. We both apologize for our confusion!! So sorry to start your day with unnecessary worries!!

7. Schedule appointment with mental health professional. Oh, wait. I don’t have one.

Happy holidays!

–Nancy Hiller, author of Making Things Work


Festive fruit bread (a hybrid of “French fruit braid,” “Easter tea ring” and “Stollen” from Cordon Bleu: Baking, Bread and Cakes (B.P.C. Publishing, 1972)

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Categories: Hand Tools

The Kindness of Christmas

Sun, 12/24/2017 - 7:30am

“Toy Makers,” photo taken between 1909 and 1919. Courtesy of: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-npcc-19400.

“The return of Christmas is a kind of beacon in the year. Whether it is the Christmas of childhood, full of excitement and a flow of good things, or the Christmas of older folk, woven with memories, or the Christmas of the captives of men far from home, for whom it is full of wistful longings, it is a season different from other seasons and a day different from other days which somehow, even under the most desperate conditions through the grim years of war and its aftermath, men have contrived in some way to celebrate. It stands for the good, peaceful things, for the kindly things, for sanity, in a world in which these are too often eclipsed and, in spite of the trappings of festivity which seem to smother it yet do not, it sends out its light under the dark skies of midwinter to give us new heart.

“… Christmas is the best of all times to relax in, with its break from the ordinary routine, free from the secret pressure of jobs waiting to be done which so often haunts other brief holidays. Time is so precious and those of us with eager and willing hands find more than enough to keep them busy and this question of relaxing can sometimes be quite difficult. How often we arrive home feeling tired at the end of a day’s work and disinclined to make a fresh start on a job of woodwork for ourselves yet with a kind of inner conflict because we do want to get it done. So after a wash and a meal we rather grudgingly make a start and in next to no time our tiredness vanishes and we become completely and happily absorbed in the work. By bedtime we are filled with a pleasant sense of achievement which will encourage us to repeat the process on other evenings. Nine times out of ten it works, but the tenth time may come when fatigue has gone deeper and on such an evening nothing goes right. Any little difficulty makes us impatient and irritable, something is lacking in quick co-ordination between mind and tool and the only remedy is to stop work before, in a rush of impatience, we do some real damage to the work. The fact is we remain so much of a mystery to ourselves that to decide even such a point as this is not always so simple as it seems. If we ceased to work when we did not feel like it we should accomplish less and less and probably end by losing even the desire to work: on the other hand there comes a time when to persist in spite of danger signals is asking for trouble.

“The only remedy is to learn to know the danger signals for what they are. The impatience that is founded on fatigue is something more than a mood. The latter will pass if we are firm with it and exercise the control that is a fundamental part of good craftsmanship: indeed the first-class craftsman will keep control from sheer ingrained habit however tired he is. But he also knows when to stop. One of the fascinations of craft work is that it compels us to this awareness of ourselves. We learn something of our limitations, of our tendencies, we learn to respect our own powers and feel a pride in developing them. It is by doing that the personality grows as well as the skill. It is a heartening thought for Christmas, when we can set our tools aside with easy minds to rejoice in the birthday of the child who, by choosing himself to become a craftsman in wood, blessed both the craft and the wood for all time.”

— Charles Hayward, The Woodworker magazine, 1955

Filed under: Honest Labour, Uncategorized
Categories: Hand Tools

Trees: What Should a Woodworker Know?

Sat, 12/23/2017 - 9:36am

Live oak, Houston, Texas

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a series of blog posts by Richard Jones, who has written a detailed book about timber technology, which is scheduled to be released in early 2018.

— Kara Gebhart Uhl

What’s the best way to approach writing a book for publication? Well, probably not the way I went about it.

So what did I write about? At the end of 2007, I’d perhaps created a manuscript of about 15,000 words and devised a list of key headings. Writing as a woodworker for other woodworkers, not as a wood scientist, I’d decided the following list of topics covered what I, as the model woodworker in this exercise, ought to have a pretty good grasp of, and this probably applied to all serious woodworkers, both professional and amateur:

• Tree Classification, Growth and Structure

• Roots, Leaves, Seeds, Flowers, Germination, Transpiration

• Felling, Conversion and Yield

• Water, Water Vapour and Wood

• Coping with Wood Movement

• Seasoning or Drying of Wood and Drying Faults

• From the Kiln to the User (Storing, Transporting and Selling Dried Wood)

• Fungi

• Insect Pests

• Wood Strength and Structures

• Ecological and Environmental Issues

There were additional topics I felt it important to cover to round out the knowledge of the thoughtful and inquisitive woodworker, such as tree history, tree distribution, a section on the oaks in particular, balanoculture, ancient deforestation, socio-political and historical issues concerning trees and their use, the Latin-binomial system of identification, tree oddities and migration, and so on. All might be considered ‘soft knowledge’, but awareness of these topics contributes to being a well-informed woodworker.

In 2007 I met a publisher of craft books I knew at a woodworking show in the north of England. We talked about my writing project and he indicated he was interested in offering me a contract to write the book. I turned him down gently saying I didn’t want to work to a publisher’s deadline because I’d be writing under pressure and too many mistakes would occur, or important subjects might have to be omitted to meet their deadline. So, there I was, writing at my own pace with no deadline to spur me on, and no-one on board to publish whatever I produced. I’d made a decision that contributed to enabling what I believe is a better book, but left me with the challenging task of finding someone to publish my, er, well, I guess, labour of love.

I’m very pleased Lost Art Press is taking my raw manuscript to the next stage. And maybe I’ll tell the tale of my convoluted path to finding a publisher in a later post.

– Richard Jones

Filed under: Timber Book by Richard Jones, Uncategorized
Categories: Hand Tools

Update: Lost Art Press Chore Coat

Fri, 12/22/2017 - 5:34am

One of Tom Bonamici’s sketches from the summer that shows the basic design of the jacket.

The Oregon garment factory has just produced our first chore coat prototype using the Japanese cotton that Tom Bonamici has selected. Tom wants to make a couple small adjustments to the way the collar will sit, but he is almost satisfied.

That prototype is on its way to Kentucky for us to inspect the workmanship and evaluate the cloth. Tom says the fabric is so good it feels like “unicorn butter.” That’s worrisome because we were after “centaur mayonnaise” for the hand feel.

Meanwhile, other details of the jacket are coming together. One of the important aspects of this garment (for me) is that it not be a piece of marketing. Like a traditional French coat, there will be only two details of the maker: The buttons will be debossed with “Lost Art Press” in tiny letters. You’ll have to look closely to see them. And the inside pocket will be embroidered with our skep logo.


The embroidery design for the inside pocket.

There is still a lot of work to be done, including getting the price nailed down and finalizing some of the sizing.

The way we are going to sell these is going to be a little different than your typical clothing store. We’re going to publish very specific sizing guidelines so you can determine which size is for you. We’ll open up the ordering for a month. Everyone who orders one will then get one.

This will do two things: Greatly reduce waste and therefore help us keep the price down because we won’t have to account for garments that don’t sell.

If everything goes smoothly, the jackets will ship in March.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Categories: Hand Tools

Quick Update: Four (no Five) Titles

Wed, 12/20/2017 - 6:33pm


We are actively working on four books this month. Here’s a quick update.

Richard Jones’s book on timber technology (we’re still fussing with the title) has been fully laid out. Kara Gebhart and I will give it a final edit this month and it should be to the printer in early January. That means it should be released in February or March 2018. (This assumes nothing goes haywire in the process.)

Jögge Sundqvist’s book “Slöjd in Wood” is almost ready for the designer. Megan Fitzpatrick has been sorting through both the translation and notes from Jögge and Peter Follansbee, who is assisting with the editing. This book has taken a lot longer than we hoped (and cost thousands of dollars more than we planned). But the result will be worth it. Look for it in early spring.

Christian Becksvoort has just turned in the materials for his new book with Lost Art Press. The book needs a title, but it’s going to be outstanding. It will feature plans for some of Becksvoort’s best projects from his career, plus advice on the craft and how to make a living at it. We are just beginning the editing process on the book, but it should go quickly. We hope for a summer release.

Finally, there is my book, “Ingenious Mechanicks: Early Workbenches & Workholding.” The writing will be complete by the end of 2017 – I have only about 1,000 more words to go. As always, as I get to the end of a book I have found at least 30 untrodden paths before me that I could go down. This book could easily consume another 20 years of my life – and still be incomplete.

Luckily, I have worked with authors who allow themselves to be sucked down the path of researching “one more detail” and then “Oooo, one more thing.” It can go on forever, and the work becomes blurred, ill-defined and all-consuming. You have to know when to cut bait or fish.

I’m ready to fish.

Look for “Ingenious Mechanicks” to be released by May at the latest.

— Christopher Schwarz

P.S. I forgot to mention Joshua Klein’s book on Jonathan Fisher. It’s in the good hands of designer Linda Watts and should be complete in the next couple months. Apologies for neglecting this important title – I have too many chainsaws in the air…. It’s late and it’s been a long day.

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Categories: Hand Tools