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Lost Art Press: Chris Schwarz
We are down to 30-something copies of the letterpress version of “Roman Workbenches.” This book is currently in production and will ship sometime in April 2017.
Brian Stuparyk at Steam Whistle Letterpress and I are trying to create a book that is as perfect as the technology will allow, but no more. Using a sheet-fed proofing press, there are limits to how precisely you can get 16 pages to line up on both sides of a 19” x 25” sheet.
Brian is a maestro with his Vandercook press, so I know that the pages will be in near-perfect registration. But we’ve been negotiating with the bindery, which is accustomed to laser-line precision. That’s not what we’re after with this job.
As with anything handmade, there are small (very small) imperfections that accumulate to produce an object that is not technically perfect, but is aesthetically so. So a page might be 1/32” out of register. Another page might have its image tilted a fraction of a degree. These things are not visible to the eye. They can only be measured with precision tools. But they can be sensed.
Will we succeed? I have every faith in Brian. We’ve worked on a couple of very tricky jobs together (and many non-tricky ones). “Roman Workbenches” is going to be something to see.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Roman Workbenches, Uncategorized
This is an excerpt from “With All the Precision Possible: Roubo on Furniture Making” by Donald C. Williams, Michele Pietryka-Pagán & Philippe Lafargue.
The elongation of wood should also be put among the number of assemblages, its application being very useful, given the impossibility of always having wood of the necessary length, or supposing that it is, the defect being that they sometimes are
not of a perfect quality along the entire length, but being corrected by this method.
There are two ways to elongate wood: the first, by notching half of each piece with tongue and grooves at the ends of each piece of wood, which you hold together by means of glue and pegs, Figs. 1 & 4.
The second way to elongate the wood is with Jupiter’s thunderbolts (apparently named thus because the shape of the cuts is a bit similar to that which you give to the gap which you wish to represent). [This is a notched and pegged scarf joint, most likely named because the configuration of the joint looks somewhat like a lightning bolt.]
There are two types of Jupiter’s thunderbolts, one which you make by notching half of each piece and by forming a second notch to receive the [inserted tapered] key. One must note to make this second notch off-set toward the end of the piece, so that the key forced against it finds no resistance in the opposite side of the other notch, and consequently it better draws the joints together [so that it acts like a draw pin], Figs. 2 & 5.
The second way is to trace in the middle of the piece two parallel lines a–b, c–d, which give you the thickness of the notch. After having determined the length of the notch, and having traced the position of the key in the middle, you cut out all the wood from the front of the wood (assuming you are looking at the front of the notch) up to the first parallel line. From the position of the key up to distance e, you make a second notch a–e, such that in each piece, what there is more of takes the place of what there is less of in the depth of the notch, and makes space for the key. For the ends of these notches, they make tongue and grooves, or only an angle, but the little tongues are better, Figs. 3,6 & 7.
This second way is very strong, and is much better than the first because the key bears all the thickness, instead of the other way, which has only half as much. What’s more, a key bearing only half [the thickness] is subject to rolling, and consequently to open the joint. Even if the joint does not open up, the key can be eaten up [word down] and forced, bearing on the opposite side of the groove, which loses its desired effect, see the figures above.
This assembly is very useful and very strong, and is in use not only by Joiners, but also by carpenters, as much for buildings as for ships.
When the entire length of the wood which you wish to elongate is taken up by mouldings, and you cannot or do not wish to make Jupiter’s thunderbolts, for fear that the key and the grooves will not meet up in the mouldings, you use an assembly called a flute, or a scarf joint, which is made in this way.
After having divided the width of your piece into two equal parts, as indicated by line f–f–g, you make the length that you wish to give to your grooves by h–i–l–m. From this line to the end of your piece, you draw diagonals r–o–p–i, and f–q–m–n, some from one side of the line and the others from the other, such that these notches are made in two pieces with much precision, are at the same time a solid and very tight assembly. You must take care that these grooves be made going from right to left, so that when you wish to elaborate with mouldings, they will not be subject to splitting, Fig. 8.
Although I said that you must separate the piece into two pieces to make these types of notches, this rule is not however general.When you have many pieces of mouldings in the piece, you put the joint in the loosening of one from the other, if it is found in the middle, or in the middle of the groove, as you can see in Fig. 9.
When you elongate pieces ornamented with mouldings using Jupiter’s thunderbolts, you should take care to make notches according to the depth of the moulding, if there is not a groove, so that the key is not uncovered, Fig. 10.
You can also lengthen curved pieces, both on their face and on their edge, using Jupiter’s thunderbolts, as indicated in Figs. 11 & 12. For as many pieces as are curved on the face, and for as little as they are curved, you should never make any tenons, because they will become too sliced up, and consequently less solid. You should fit them together by making at the end of the piece a forking of little depth and of the thickness of the tenon. In this forking you make three or four holes for placing pegs or dowels from the tenon that you fit together. These types of tenons are called tenons a peignes [toothed tenons, doweled tenons], Fig. 12.
There you have it, all the different assemblies that are used for the construction of joinery. I have detailed them the best that was possible for me; this matter, lifeless by itself, not being able to be rendered with as much clarity as I would have wished. You will have recourse to the plates where I have illustrated all the different assemblies, either joined or separated, so that you can see their effect better. I have also indicated all those that are hidden by punctuated lines. I hope that for as little as you may wish to pay attention, the demonstration that I have made will supplement that which one could find obscure in this discussion.
— Meghan Bates
Filed under: Roubo Translation, With All the Precision Possible
I spent yesterday in Hay-On-Wye for the first of many field trips for the John Brown book. Picturesque Hay, home to the renowned book festival and equally renowned (if somewhat more niche) spoon festival, is halfway between the village where Chris Williams’ (my co-author for the project) lives and Birmingham, so it makes for an ideal location to meet up and formulate a plan of attack for the book.
And we are very much at the planning stage currently. To do this book properly (which is the only way we want to do it) it’s going to be a huge endeavour, with a significant number of interviews with John’s friends, family and woodworkers, not to mention field trips to locations significant either to John or to Welsh stick chairs, and of course the chairmaking itself. With so many moving parts, having a clear roadmap from here to publication is the best way to stay focused on the key threads, and to make sure that nothing important falls by the wayside.
So over the past couple of months we have been engaged in a constant dialogue about what we want to achieve, and how best to go about it: Who to interview, what to make, where to visit and what to read. Yesterday was the culmination of that dialogue, not to mention an excellent opportunity to spend a day talking woodwork with someone who has spent more than 30 years working in the woodcrafts, and who personally worked with John for many years.
Slowly “The Life & Work of John Brown” is swimming into focus. What has become very clear over the time that Chris Williams and I have been discussing the book, and even more so yesterday, is that, for both of us, it is important that we honour and embody John’s ethos as a chairmaker. What that means is that the chairmaking section of the book must make building these fascinating chairs accessible to everyone, with an emphasis on the minimal use of specialist tools or hard-to-find timber. That is not only consistent with John’s “Anarchist Woodworker” philosophy, but will also hopefully contribute to the longevity of a relatively uncommon chair form.
This is all very well and good, but how will we achieve this? Well, one of the ideas currently being kicked around is starting the chairmaking section not at the workbench, but at the timber yard. Timber selection can be a truly daunting experience for the inexperienced woodworker — I still remember my first trip to the timber yard, and how the choice was almost crippling. Many woodwork books tend to assume that you already have material and are standing at your workbench ready to start work, but to our minds the timber yard is where every build starts, and to start anywhere else would be omitting a key step. By having Chris Williams guide the reader through timber selection for a stick chair, we hope to remove one of the greatest hurdles to chairmaking.
We are also considering building chairs with pieced and carved arm bows rather than steam-bent bows. While English and American Windsor chairmaking traditions use steam bending for arm bows, Chris Williams tells me that due to the social function of stick chairs there was little or no tradition of steam bending in Wales. The pieced arm bow is very striking, and relies on techniques and tools common to most woodworkers. So it’s accessible and historically accurate — perfect.
These snapshots are really exciting to us, and I hope that by sharing some of the processes behind the book we can encourage more dialogue about John and his chairs, and also share our enthusiasm for the project. This is just the start of the process, and plenty is likely to change as we continue to work. But as the framework for the book starts to fall into place I can see how it will hang together, and what an important contribution this could be. There’s a lot of hard work to do over the next couple of years, and I hope that you will all join us for the ride.
— Kieran Binnie
Filed under: John Brown Book, Uncategorized
It must be Poster Day at Lost Art Press.
After finishing an index for one of the LAP books I usually put together a small personal souvenir. A few of the pages from “Woodworking in Estonia” (the ones that gave me indexer fatigue) were folded into origami and are tucked into the pages of the book. To mark the end of my work on “With All The Precision Possible – Roubo on Furniture Making” I put all the workers and some of the tools into one image.
The montage can be printed up to a 16″ x 20″ poster (a bit smaller than A2). I have had the image test printed at two nationwide office supply chains and it makes a decent poster for the workshop. If you want some nice woodworker-themed gift wrap have it printed on newsprint.
Here is the pdf for the Roubo Montage: roubo-montage-04feb17
By the way the pdf has two pages….the second page is blank.
Filed under: To Make as Perfectly as Possible, Roubo Translation
While straightening up the stockroom at our storefront last week, I made a startling discovery under a pile of posters promoting “Calvin Cobb” Radio Woodworker!” It was a thick stack of letterpress tool chest posters for “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest.”
We have about 100 of them – pristine, signed by me and ready to go. They are $25 and can be ordered here in our store. The price includes domestic shipping, and the posters ship in a rigid cardboard tube.
This is the last of them and we are not reprinting this poster – the plates were destroyed months ago.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: The Anarchist's Tool Chest
Acclaimed craftsman and woodworking instructor Robert Wearing was formally trained at Loughborough College (now University) in Leicestershire, England. It was there, during the late 1940s, that a physical education teacher said a sentence that Wearing has embraced throughout his long and fulfilling career: “For teacher and pupil, a lesson should be an enjoyable, purposeful activity.”
For Wearing, his childhood lessons in the building of things came from his father, a sailor, and a model construction kit.
Both sides of Robert Wearing’s family came from the south of the United Kingdom’s Lake district. “After WWI my parents married there, but jobs for young officers were hard to find,” Wearing says. “So my father, like the rest of his family went to sea.”
Wearing’s father sailed in Atlantic liners, first to New York and then later to Rio de Janeiro, a six-week voyage. Between trips his father would spend two weeks restocking for the next voyage. The family moved into a house vacated by a family member in the port of Liverpool. This way, when Wearing’s father was on land, he could take the tram home each night to be with the family.
“He was not a craftsman,” Wearing says. “I would call him a useful handyman with tools bought in New York.” Wearing’s father enjoyed building models and mechanical devices with “Meccano,” a model construction system created in their hometown of Liverpool by Frank Hornby. Wearing’s father taught his son how to solder. And while at sea, Wearing’s father would compile lists of parts to convert. “I think I owe a great deal to Meccano, which taught me the basic principles of design,” Wearing says.
Also while at sea, Wearing says his father would design wireless sets, tracing the components on a board and then, once home, build up the circuits. “We had quite a number of sets before manufacturing set up,” Wearing says. “Early ones had headphones. I still remember the first horn-like speaker and its extension to various rooms, including my bedroom when I had a cold.”
Wearing attended a grammar school in Liverpool, learning a variety of subjects, including Latin, German and Spanish, but learned little about woodworking.
When not in school Wearing and his family spent holidays at Windermere in the Lakes. “We wandered the small fells nearby, developing the love of mountain walking,” he says. “When at home there was nothing exciting (to us) to do. I puttered in my little garden shed workshop and began my permanent interest in photography using a Vest Pocket Kodak and processing in the blacked-out bathroom, not popular in my family.”
Wearing served in WWII and after the war, the British government offered a Further Education and Training grant to ex-service personnel, whose training had been interrupted by the war. “Mine had not been but an exception made in the case of teaching,” Wearing wrote in an essay we published here. “There was an acute shortage, since many teachers had been killed and young men were conscripted before they could go to college.”
Wearing visited his old headmaster to inquire about an occupation. “He brought out a copy of every report written, and after perusing these said, ‘You seemed to excel at woodwork. Have you thought of teaching that? It is pleasant work: no preparation, no marking. How little did he know,’” Wearing says.
Wearing’s headmaster summoned a young man who had recently applied for a similar job. Wearing says the man’s advice was short and succinct: “Go to Loughborough. Don’t even think of anywhere else. They will make a craftsman out of you.”
“I like to think they did,” Wearing says, who studied at Loughborough from 1947 to 1950. “This was a pivotal point in my life.”
Wearing wrote in a previous essay that the application to Loughborough required making a teapot stand, “a rather elaborately jointed mitered frame, holding a 6” x 6” ceramic title. I made this in a little garden shed workshop with what tools I had and little knowledge and went for the interview. It was accepted and I was in.”
Before arriving Wearing says he also had to make a dovetailed tool box — three boxes were fitted under each bench.
In those days Loughborough was mostly students studying engineering, and the rest were education — half woodworking and half physical education.
Wearing studied ancient and medieval history, English literature, education, handicraft and technical drawing. His first project from a supplied drawing was a small book rack made from agba, an African hardwood.
“It was a climate of excellent design and high-quality craftsmanship in the company of highly dedicated and motivated fellow students,” Wearing says. “But then we were not normal schoolboy entrants. We were older, some were married and some had children. We had seen the world and not the nicest parts.”
In the workshop, education was informal, and students were left alone to work on their approved drawings. There was a tutor available for consultation. “Each workshop also had a very competent cabinetmaker, who maintained the equipment,” Wearing wrote in his essay. “He was a mine of information and was always most helpful. That was Mr. Finch, who was always referred to as such. Nowadays he would be a technician of varying quality.”
Wearing’s next project was a small mahogany side table with a drawer. Because of timber rationing in the years surrounding the war, finding wood was difficult. But still, students needed wood. In addition to designing and building their own work, they had been tasked with building furniture, designed by renowned craftsman Edward Barnsley, for the college’s proposed library. So the students went to auction sales. A large Cuban mahogany dining table with extending leaves and massive rails proved quite useful. The legs were cut up for turnings. And the table became a paneled bookcase with sliding glass doors. The bottom of railway wagons, destroyed by bombings and deeply embedded with coal and dust, became a source of oak.
“When I took some pieces to the college sawmill, I was rudely sent away to first plane off the top charred ¼”, by hand,” Wearing wrote in his essay. “The boss later relented and agreed to saw and thickness them as the last job before the saw and blades were sharpened. In fact, it proved to be quite nice material, out of which I made several nice pieces in the garage of my hall of residence including a small circular table, which I still have. Also, a small wall hanging bureau.”
All of Wearing’s tutors were former Loughborough students, except for Cecil Gough who was the former foreman of Gordon Russell of Broadway, Gloucestershire. A man by the last name of Ockenden was the head of the department. He trained at Shoreditch College, which Wearing says rivaled Loughborough in terms of excellence. Barnsley gave several lectures and advised students on their individual designs.
Wearing says all the physical education students studied craftsmanship at a lower level and the crafts students studied some physical education. “We were all ex-service men from WWII and so was our physical education tutor who knew full well that we all thought that we had already done enough physical education for a lifetime,” Wearing says. “His slogan, which I have endeavored to follow was, ‘For teacher and pupil, a lesson should be an enjoyable, purposeful activity.’” Another slogan from this teacher? Coach, Correct, Encourage, Praise. “This works for all subjects,” Wearing says. “Although we were craft students, we enjoyed his periods.”
Wearing writes in his essay that there were few machines in the workshops, although they did have a band saw and lathe. He often wished for a circular saw. Wearing’s final project was an oak sideboard, planed by hand from 1” to ¾”.
Years later Wearing visited his son, David, at school. As he entered the school’s workshop Wearing said, “There has been a Lobro (Loughborough) man here.” His son confirmed this. “Though the man had gone, the atmosphere remained. But for how long?” Wearing says. “I wonder.”
After graduation Wearing taught at an independent school. “There was no local authority telling me what to do and what was forbidden,” he says. “I would have resented this by a person who knew less than I did and was a nonperformer.”
Long before computers were common, Wearing set up a press using a 19th-century treadle machine and moveable type. “I had a lot to learn here,” he says. “We printed programs, fixture cards and internal school stationary with some invention.”
Wearing also began teaching individual students at woodturning. “A Chinese girl excelled at this and sent home to her father a pivoting dressing table mirror in English oak with sycamore inlay stringing,” he says. “It arrived intact at Kuda Lampung in Indonesia. He wrote to the headmaster for confirmation that this was made by his daughter, not her teacher. His letter was passed on to me. I was able to confirm and sent a color photograph of her at work on the mirror.”
While teaching Wearing says he made few pieces for clients, who, he says, generally wanted bespoke furniture for factory-made prices.
Wearing excelled as a teacher, and a writer. There’s an ease to which he describes the craft, in words both spoken and written. “Writing is not difficult if you know your stuff and have the opportunity to see your pupils or readers at work,” he says. “My education in English as a boy and as a student was good.”
As for the art of teaching? “The key is conversation,” Wearing says. “Did you ever have a conversation with, say, your math teacher? Children are not good at talking to strange adults, generally because they have nothing to say.” In the workshop, though, Wearing says talking is key. “This is an unnoticed service which the workshop supplies training in conversation skills.”
Wearing found his life purpose after WWII, when his old headmaster suggested teaching craftsmanship. And it’s a vocation he’s enjoyed for more than 50 years. “You must really know your stuff and have a job on the go,” Wearing says. “A head of department told me he never made anything and had no tools but used school tools. Can you imagine a violin teacher who never played for his pleasure and had no violin, but used a school instrument? Or a physical education teacher who had no football boots and could not swim?”
Wearing spent his career not only teaching but also writing about the craft, in magazine articles and books. After owning several cameras, he decided to build one specifically for the technical subjects he was writing about. “This produced 3-1/2” x 2-1/2” color transparencies of good quality,” he says. “Editors liked them so much that they increased my fee. Then disaster struck — digital. Everything had to be digital and I couldn’t make a digital camera.”
Wearing has written a number of books, all now considered classics. They include “Making Woodwork Aids & Devices”, “Hand Tools for Woodworkers: Principles & Techniques” and “The Resourceful Woodworker: Tools, Techniques and Tricks of the Trade”.
In 1988 Wearing published “The Essential Woodworker” with Batsford. For Christopher Schwarz, this book, which he bought on a whim for about $5 in the 1990s, was deeply influential in his study of the craft. “I read the entire book in one siting (it took only a couple hours), but in that short period of time, Wearing assembled all the random puzzle pieces I had collected for years about handwork,” Schwarz wrote in 2010. “He filled in all the missing details about dozens of basic processes, from laying out door joinery to truing up the legs on a table.”
Although it took several years, Schwarz and John Hoffman reprinted the out-of-print book in 2010, and consider it still one of the best books on hand-tool usage written in the post-Charles Hayward era today.
Wearing’s conversation with me was via mail, in handwritten form. He ends his letter with an anecdote:
“I was working one evening when two boys passed the workshop; (it was a boarding school). They saw the lights on and came in. They asked, ‘What are you doing?’ ‘I am going to glue up a drawer.’ ‘Can we watch?’ ‘No.’ Their faces fell. ‘But you can help.’ They found and adjusted the cramps, made and fitted the cramping blocks, tested the diagonals and tested for twist, applied the glue and cramped up. Then we left. Next day they came in and asked, ‘How did it go?’ ‘Have a look it’s under the dust sheet over there.’ They tried the drawer, pushed it in and out, tried it upside down, saying ‘That’s fabulous.’ I said ‘No, that is how it should be and you can do the same if you take care and follow my instructions.’”
For teacher and pupil, a lesson should be an enjoyable, purposeful activity.
Filed under: The Essential Woodworker, Uncategorized
The Lost Art Press storefront will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 11, with John, Raney and me dressed as our favorite Pokemon. Later, there will be a magic show.
We’ll also have books – our entire line – plus a bunch of blemished books for 50 percent off retail (cash only on blems). We also have some extra T-shirts (all unworn and maggot-free) that have been returned to us at big savings.
You can also come check out my new basement. During the last couple weeks the dirt-floored cellar has been dug out. Workers have installed a drainage system in case it ever floods (we’ve not seen any water in 18 months). Right now they are pouring a concrete floor so I will have something I’ve never had before: A place to store lumber.
Because of our tight quarters in our old house, I’ve always been a “just in time” lumber guy. The approach has its advantages, but there have been times I’ve declined to snatch up some incredible lumber. No more. The new basement will be humidity- and temperature-controlled and dedicated to wood.
I’m also in the throes of building some new chair designs. Some are working. Some aren’t. And you can help me chop up the failures and burn them.
As always, we offer you these open days as a place to come visit, hang out and ask any questions. We’re happy to point you to good food and drink and demonstrate anything from our books that is vexing.
During the last few open days, we’ve had people from as far away as Utah, Austin, Atlanta and elsewhere stop in with their spouses. Covington and Cincinnati are great cities with lots of stuff to do, an endless list of good food (especially if you like pork) and culture. And it’s a cheap trip.
The next open house (March 11) will correspond with a massive Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event at Braxton Brewing down the street from us. We’re planning stuff and hope to have some details in the next week or so.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Lost Art Press Storefront, Uncategorized
I imagine a lot of people had Matt Bickford figured out.
Born in the Binghamton, N.Y., area (specifically Endwell) Matt lived there through the 8th grade, along with his parents, and his older brother and older sister. When the IBM plant shut down there was a mass exodus from the area, which included Matt’s family (his father worked for IBM). They ended up in Hyde Park, N.Y., in the Poughkeepsie area.
Matt played sports. Mainly football and lacrosse. A little basketball. “Being tall was always a handicap because you ended up being the first picked and it led to a lot of disappointment,” he says, laughing.
Matt attended Yale University, played football (he was a lineman) and intended to study math or economics. But through friendships with older football players he learned that he could get the job he wanted without spending four years immersed in math. He liked history, reading and writing, so he declared history as a major. “Going off to Wall Street was the goal,” he says. “Medical school, law school or Wall Street was the general goal of everybody that I was acquainted with at school.”
And so, that’s what he did. Three months after graduation he landed a job at a prestigious finance firm in Philadelphia where he worked his way up to becoming a market maker. He worked as a proprietary trader in most circumstances, but as a block trader in others, where folks from hedge funds or mutual funds would call Matt and ask for a price on varying sizes or larger lots, ranging 50,000 to 100,000 shares of stock or larger. Using the company’s owners’ money, Matt and his colleagues directly participated in making the literal market. And he was good at it.
“The company that I worked for was actually a pretty awesome company,” Matt says. “The way that they taught risk tolerance, taking on and betting and playing the market, was through poker.” Keep in mind that this was before the poker craze of the mid-2000s.
The company didn’t seek out finance majors or economics majors. Rather they wanted employees with a clean slate of knowledge who were willing to adopt their strategy — people who played sports (like Matt), or were into games like poker, backgammon, Magic the Gathering and chess. They recruited from the World Series of Poker and gaming conferences. And in the beginning of Matt’s employment, he, and all his colleagues, were required to play poker — against each other and their bosses — for hours.
“Most things were taught at the poker table,” Matt says. “Whether it was risk tolerance or betting strategies or just learning how to gauge not only what you’re doing but what you think the other person is doing or what you think the other person thinks you’re doing. All that back and forth of thought and being able to follow your thought process to define your own thought process, all that was done through hours and hours and hours of seven-card stud.”
Matt married his wife, Molly, in June 2001. Molly grew up in a small town in Connecticut called Haddam Neck, and Matt likes to joke that 10 percent of its population is related to his wife. Because of this, Matt and Molly made the trek from Philadelphia to Haddam Mack often, visiting Molly’s family.
Let’s pause here. Near the end of our interview Matt was talking about his future and his interest in custom mouldings. Even in high-end construction, stock moulding is the norm. But for a nominal amount of money, Matt says, it’s easy to make custom moulding that fits a room. The angle of presentation for moulding can and should vary in a room with an 8-foot ceiling versus a room with a 10-foot ceiling versus a room with a 12-foot ceiling. It’s just that most people don’t realize it.
End pause. Matt and his family are making week-long visits to Haddam Neck several times a year. During one of these visits they see a longtime family friend — Don Boule. Don had a workshop and in it, he was building a sleigh bed.
“It was just one of those things that I had never considered, despite how many museums or houses I had been in,” Matt says. “It just never really occurred to me that you could make these things.”
Up until this point, Matt was stock moulding. He was a good student, who played sports in high school and college, attended Yale University and landed an impressive job at a Philadelphia finance firm. He and Molly were growing their family with kids. He was living the life he had dreamed of, the life everyone thought he would.
But the visit to Don’s shop changed Matt. On the way home to Philadelphia he bought a miter saw. He soon added a router, table saw, jointer, planer, band saw and dust collector. He started making things and then, during his family’s week-long visits to Connecticut, he would spend the week working in Don’s shop, knocking off corners and sanding.
Don favors Dunlap-style furniture. He had made several armed Chippendale chairs, and one of those chairs became Matt’s goal. “Every project that I made as a hobbyist was geared toward being able to make a chair like that with the joinery and the carving and everything else,” Matt says. “It’s funny, because I really like the style, but it’s more that I like making it, I guess, than actually having 24 or 36 ball-and-claw feet around my house. It’s just fascinating to be able to make something that has that level of detail and intricacy. I’m just still fascinated that you can make this stuff by hand.”
The further Matt got into his hobby, the more he found himself copying — copying grain direction, proportions, curves, carvings, everything. But he couldn’t always copy mouldings. Even though he owned 20-30 router bits, those bits weren’t able to produce everything. And so he’d have to make sacrifices.
Through Larry Williams (who is now a planemaker with Old Street Tools Inc.) Matt became aware of hollows and rounds as a means of being able to make any moulding. Matt bought a half set of antique hollows and rounds, which he tried to tune — but he could never get them working the way he expected them to work.
Then Larry, through Lie-Nielsen, came out with a DVD on making moulding planes. Lie-Nielsen also started producing and selling tapered moulding iron blanks and floats. Something clicked. “Just like I had never really considered making furniture by hand, up until that point I had never considered making moulding planes by hand,” Matt says.
Around this time Matt had major back surgery. “I wasn’t able to lift anything for months and months so I decided to make my own planes because it was a small enough piece that I was able to lift it and work with it,” Matt says. “I made a bunch for myself and the first ones that I made for myself worked better than any antique tool that I had tuned up to that stage.”
During this time Matt was a member of the Montgomery County Woodworkers’ Guild in Pennsylvania. Matt took his planes to a meeting and there he met Chuck Bender (now of 360 Woodworking), who asked Matt if he’d make him some. “I said, ‘Nope. I’m never doing that again. I have mine and I’m not going through that process again.’”
About two years later Matt ran into Chuck at a Woodworking in America Conference in Philadelphia. Again, Chuck asked Matt if he’d make him some planes. This time, things were different. The day before, Matt had quit his job.
“Some people last six months and some people last an entire career,” Matt says about the field of trading and finance. “I lasted 9-1/2 years before I decided that I had enough. I kind of concluded that nobody should feel the way you would sometimes feel at 9:35 in the morning. I enjoyed the arguments. I enjoyed the back and forth and the swings of emotion earlier on but towards the end the good days just weren’t as good as the bad days were bad. So I walked away from that.”
It was 2009 and Matt was going to take a one-month vacation. He and his family were going to do all the things in Philadelphia they never did while living there, before moving to Molly’s hometown, Haddam Neck, Conn.
But Matt never took that vacation. Instead he made planes for Chuck in exchange for carving lessons. “I was never really able to translate the acanthus leaves that I saw in the Philadelphia Museum of Art into my own work and he was running his acanthus workshop at the time so I went up and carved with him in the mornings and then I would go home and work on his planes at night,” Matt says. “Never really got the house ready for sale,” he adds, laughing.
Matt and his family moved to Connecticut, and all the while Matt was trying to figure out what to do with his life. He decided to contact the six people who had reached out to him over the years, asking him if he would make them planes. He contacted them all at once, hoping one would say yes. Five said yes. “I was immediately overextended and much to my parents’ chagrin I stopped looking for a job and started doing this.”
In a world where so many think stock moulding is the only option, Matt recognized the importance of the angle of presentation based on the height of the ceiling in a room. Matt was stock moulding in room with 12-foot ceilings. It wasn’t right.
Seven years later, Matt’s still making planes.
“It is awesome,” he says. “I’m amazed that it’s working out. As is Don, my parents, and everybody involved,” he adds, again, laughing.
Today Matt, Molly and their three boys, Sheldon (11), Thaddeus (9) and Roger (6) live in Haddam Neck, Conn., on an acre of land with six acres of fields behind it and woods behind that — a far cry from their home in Philadelphia with houses 15 feet from each other. And they know most everyone. “Everybody in town jokes that [the town] is a throwback to the 1950s,” he says. “It’s a great town in that the relationships are cross-generational.”
His wife homeschools their children, which allows the entire family to travel together when Matt teaches plane using and making across the United States. Matt keeps defined shop time — 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on weekdays plus a half day on Saturdays. Often, he’ll tack on another few hours after dinner.
The family’s lifestyle allows for frequent contact, despite Matt’s sometimes long hours. The morning of our interview Matt’s son Thaddeus was in Matt’s shop, making a little handheld crossbow. “I tried to encourage him to make something [with me] so he learns about grain direction and everything else because he had it all backwards and it will break this afternoon,” Matt says. “One of these days he’ll sit down and we’ll go through the process but he’s more interested in making it at this point than learning. He’ll eventually learn through failure.”
Matt averages two planes a day, although he doesn’t work from beginning to end on two each day. “It doesn’t get tiring,” he says. “I will say that when I started doing this I was concerned of when it would get tiring but I don’t foresee it. … Whether I’ll be doing this for 10 years or 20 years is to be determined, but I’m still fascinated with the tools, I still like making the tools. Every tool that I send out, every one is the best one that I’ve ever made. It’s still pretty neat. I’m fascinated with what the tools can do and I’m fascinated with what people can do with them.”
Matt also is one of the four members of the Haddam Neck Woodworkers’ Guild, which meets any time there’s a fire call or medical call during the middle of the day, because they all also are volunteer firefighters (and the only people in town during the day). They also meet every Tuesday night, and given that they’re all professional woodworkers they make it a rule that on Tuesday nights they can only work on projects for themselves. Matt is currently trying to inspire himself to build a highboy.
In addition to traveling in conjunction with teaching gigs, Matt and his family enjoy skiing. They visit Vermont a lot. Matt swims every morning. He coaches a Little League team, despite never having played baseball in his life. Matt’s oldest son, Sheldon, enjoys shooting so the two go shooting every Friday together. “He’s better than I am, so it’s getting less fun for me,” Matt says, laughing. He wants to make a grandfather clock someday.
Matt published his book, “Mouldings In Practice,” with Lost Art Press in 2012. “I became aware of hollows and rounds as a means to being able to do anything and once the tools are in your shop you soon realize that just because they can do anything doesn’t mean you’re able to do anything,” he says.
An article in Fine Woodworking in the 1980s by Graham Blackburn was one of the only how-to articles Matt remembers reading on the topic. And while Graham starts using a hollow on a square and using a round on a chamfer, Matt uses a round starting with a rabbet and then, being steered by the rabbet, uses the chamfer to guide the hollow. “The hollows and rounds are steered by the rabbets and the chamfers and you get a much more predictable, desirable result,” Matt says. “I’m not really sure how I came up with it. I’ve always just been somebody who learns in their basement and so I never really took any woodworking classes or was involved in reading about it on the internet. I was just somebody who went home and figured stuff out in my basement. My table saw safety probably leaves a little to be desired and the same with some other tools.”
Going back to how he came up with his hollows and rounds method, Matt says “I think I probably did Graham Blackburn’s method, the way he teaches it, and I probably did it backwards one time and maybe just dumbed my way into it.”
Matt began using his method regularly, and then began explaining his method to customers. Don McConnell (a partner planemaker with Larry at Old Street Tool Inc.) came out with a DVD using hollows and rounds in a similar fashion — which to Matt, verified his method.
“Everybody has different methods,” Matt says. But he hopes the way he describes his method simply allows a newcomer to hollows and rounds to produce desirable and repeatable results. “The more somebody uses the process and uses the tool the less I imagine they’ll follow the exact process that I describe in the book just because the more experience you have with the tool, the more adept you become at steering the tool and manipulating the profile the way you want.”
For now, Matt is content making planes and teaching. He has no plans to make furniture for a living, calling it a tough game. But he’s intrigued about the idea of someday working with architects on custom moulding. “Everything is a stock 45°,” he says. “I think for a nominal amount more somebody who is involved in that trade and has customers that are looking to invest [a lot of money] in something, to actually present them with different profiles and show them something truly custom for their house — that would be interesting.”
Which, in many ways, is exactly what Matt did, for himself.
“Live and let live,” he says. “I don’t know what makes you happy more than you know what makes me happy. To grant that permission and freedom to somebody is really what’s important to me.”
— Kara Gebhart Uhl
Filed under: Mouldings in Practice
You can now place a pre-publication order for the letterpress version of “Roman Workbenches” in our store via this link. The book will ship in late March or early April 2017.
There are only 500 copies available. The cost for U.S. customers is $87. This product is available for international shipping with an upcharge (the book and shipping is $115. Note that this international price applies to Canadian customers too because this book will ship from the U.S.). Everyone who places an order will receive an instant download of a pdf of the book. You also can purchase the pdf alone for $15.
The first workbenches we know of were built by the Greco-Romans, and these benches were decidedly different than modern benches. Many are low – about knee-high – have no stretchers between the legs and use a series of pegs or nails for workholding.
“Roman Workbenches” explores this early form using paintings, engravings, writings and a surviving example from a Roman fort in Saalburg. I built a low Roman bench for the book and spent much of 2016 decoding its workholding with some surprising findings.
In addition, I built a taller bench from the Holy Roman Empire that wedded a typical Roman workbench undercarriage with the first-known combination of a tail vise and face vise. The tail vise and face vise are unlike modern vises and offer some surprising advantages.
The book tells the sometimes twisting and personal tale about researching these benches, sorting out inaccurate information and learning to use the benches without instructions from long-dead Roman woodworkers or German writers.
The book is decidedly PG-13 as it deals with some sexual matter – thanks to the Romans – swordplay, male genitals, urination and carnal affections for a bull.
The 6” x 9” book is 64 pages, hardbound and covered in cotton cloth. Like all Lost Art Press books, it is produced entirely in the United States. “Roman Workbenches” is being printed letterpress by Steam Whistle Letterpress in Newport, Ky., and being bound by Acme Binding in Massachusetts.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Roman Workbenches, Uncategorized
When I was in college, my favorite place to study was the Deering Library. At the time it was a tricky place to access, filled with odd spaces – beware the moat! – and made me feel like I was at some Gothic institution.
Whenever my head became too full of academics, I’d retreat to the large open chamber in the center of the library. It had an 18th century press there. Full cases of type. No ropes protecting it.
At the time I was working as a production assistant at night dealing with cold type, so I was fascinated by the old press. I spent hours puzzling out how it worked, and no one ever stopped me. After four years, I knew the press pretty well and I took a souvenir when I graduated: My name’s initials in 36 point Caslon.
Letterpress has always fascinated me.
Tomorrow at noon Eastern time the letterpress version of “Roman Workbenches” goes on sale. It is a bit of a throwback to print a letterpress book in this era of offset and digital printing. But the letterpress process produces a physical artifact that no laser writer or offset press can provide.
That’s not to say it’s low technology. Modern letterpress printing is an odd marriage of digital and physical. Here’s a brief overview.
Like all Lost Art Press books, “Roman Workbenches” was laid out in InDesign, an Adobe program that is the industry standard. InDesign works a lot like the manual paste-up days of my years as a production assistant. Minus the smell of hot wax, InDesign has always felt like the digital embodiment of my layout training.
After laying out the book in InDesign, the next step is to make plates for the press. Normally we would send the file to a service bureau to make an aluminum plate for the offset press. But because this is a letterpress book, the process takes a different turn.
In this case the file will go to Boxcar, a service bureau that makes polymer plates for letterpress. What the heck does that sentence mean?
OK, think of it this way. Traditional letterpress consists of taking a bunch of pieces of metal or wood type and clamping them together to make a page of a book. You ink the high spots and press the paper onto the type.
Polymer plates mimic this process. Boxcar will make 64 separate plates for this book. The type and images will be raised above the background and receive ink. And then the inked areas will be pressed into the paper, producing the final image with incredible clarity and texture.
This is all grossly simplified. So if you are a press nerd we ask that you simply acknowledge that we’re explaining this to people who don’t have ink in their veins.
We used this same process to print the tool chest posters for “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” and were really pleased with the results. It’s not quite like the fantasy I had of printing a book using the press in the Deering Library. But it is as close as I think I’ll ever come.
See you tomorrow at noon.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Roman Workbenches
In case you haven’t looked out your windows for a while, it’s the middle of winter. (Californians and South Floridians are exempted from noticing.) Everything is gray, the trees have no leaves, and no one in their right mind would go out into the woods to identify trees this time of year, right?
So what are we waiting for? Let’s go! I live in Athens County in southeastern Ohio, in the Appalachian foothills, so we’ll begin by taking a look at some of the trees in my yard.
First, I have to admit that I lied about the trees having no leaves. A few kinds of trees do hang onto their leaves until very late in the winter, which makes them easy to pick out. I managed to get three species into one photo:
In late fall and winter, the leaves of red oak (Quercus rubra) are a rich brown. White oak (Q. alba) has leaves that are paler and grayer. American beech (Fagus grandifolia) has very pale, almost yellow leaves, and as you walk through the forest in winter, the sapling beech trees are obvious.
The overall shape of a tree can be useful in identification, but it can also be misleading. A tree growing in isolation (in the middle of a pasture, say) has a characteristic shape that varies quite a bit from one species to another. Forest trees, on the other hand, are much more similar in shape. For that reason, features of the bark and morphological details (e.g., branching pattern) are much more useful in the forest.
Red oaks are some of the most common trees in my yard, and they invariably have a bark pattern that is both unique and easy to spot:
The bark consists of a smooth(ish) medium gray (sometimes slightly brownish) ground interrupted by ragged vertical grooves that are considerably darker. On larger individuals, the bark near ground level may be much rougher than this, but you can always find this pattern if you look at the upper limbs.
The bark of white oaks is very different, a very pale gray (hence the name), flaking off in scales:
That particular tree has relatively small scales; here’s another (about the same diameter) whose scales are much larger:
Both red and white oaks are generalists, found in a variety of habitats. There are many other species of oak in Ohio, but most of them have specific habitat requirements. One of these specialists is the chestnut oak (Q. montana):
Chestnut oaks are found only near ridge tops, most often on the south-facing slope (which happens to be exactly where I live). The bark of the chestnut oak is dark and deeply furrowed. If you picture a cross section of the tree, the profile of the bark ridges would look something like the teeth of a gear.
Another very common tree in the yard is the red maple (Acer rubrum):
Red maples have a split personality; the bark of young trees is pale gray and very smooth (much like American beech, which I don’t have a photo of here). As the tree grows, the bark starts to split and darken, becoming much craggier. In a large tree, there is no trace of the smooth gray on the bark near the ground, but you can still find it if you look up. The bark of the silver maple (A. saccarhinum) is similar, but silver maples are restricted primarily to bottomland, where the soil contains more moisture. (Red maples, like the two oaks above, are generalists.)
Sugar maple (A. saccharum) has a medium gray bark that flakes off to expose an orangeish background:
The appearance of the bark is intermediate in all respects, so other than the orange background (which you sometimes see on white oaks, too) there really isn’t any one thing that tells you it’s a sugar maple. It’s kind of a process of elimination.
By the way, late January/early February is the time of year in this part of the country to tap sugar maples for making syrup and sugar. The best sap flow occurs when temperatures cycle above freezing during the day and back down below freezing at night. The prime tapping season is progressively later as you move north, as late as April in southern Canada.
There are two species of ash common in this area, white ash (Fraxinus americana), and green ash (F. pennsylvanica). (To confuse matters, green ash is also known as red ash.) White and green ash have very similar bark, fairly pale overall and consisting of narrow vertical ridges that often cross over each other, forming “X” patterns:
I believe that this example is a green ash, but I can’t be sure without getting a close look at the leaves, and unfortunately the lowest leaves on this tree are about 50 ft. above the ground.
As you may be aware, most of the North American ash species are seriously threatened by the introduced emerald ash borer. It is expected that over 99% of green ash trees will die over the next several years. White ash fares slightly better, but populations of both species (along with black ash, a more northerly species) are being devastated. A small number of individual trees appear to be resistant to the borer, so there is some hope that they will eventually be able to recover.
One of the most important forest trees in this area (Liriodendron tulipfera) goes by many names. The name preferred by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is “tuliptree,” but woodworkers know it as “yellow poplar,” “tulip poplar,” or even just “poplar” (which is especially misleading, as it is unrelated to true poplars):
The bark of tuliptree is much like that of ash, with narrow vertical ridges, but is overall quite a bit darker, sometimes appearing almost black. This particular individual has a lot of the same sort of “X” pattern that ashes do, but not all tuliptrees show this. Tuliptree is one species where the overall shape of the tree is useful in identification, even in the forest: tuliptrees are arrow-straight (usually the straightest, most vertical trees in the forest), and the branches are restricted to the very top of the tree.
Here’s another tuliptree, with a big problem:
During the summer of 2015, we had a spell of very hot, dry weather. Many of the tuliptrees in this area and neighboring West Virginia were weakened and eventually killed by the drought. Some of these dead trees are now exhibiting this odd pattern of flaking bark.
Not every tree loses its leaves in the winter, of course. American holly (Ilex opaca) is primarily a tree of the southeastern forests, but there are a few scattered small hollies in my yard, such as this one, which is about 8 ft. tall:
I haven’t been able to figure out whether these individuals are native, at the very northern limit of their range, or escaped from cultivation. There is no record for Athens County for the species in the USDA PLANTS database, but there are records from some of the surrounding counties.
Incidentally, a good place to see much larger (and definitely native) American holly is along the Baltimore-Washington Parkway in Maryland.
The leaves of American holly make it easy to identify:
The leaves are a dark, shiny green, about two inches long and with very sharp spines along the margins.
Another bit of green in the yard comes from a scattering of eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana):
Redcedars are normally more conically shaped than this, but this is what happens when your yard is overrun by deer. As the scientific name suggests, redcedar is not actually a cedar, but a kind of juniper. The wood that is sold as “aromatic cedar” comes from this species.
Interestingly, redcedars have two kinds of foliage. On the upper part of the tree, the foliage has a typical juniper-like appearance:
But seedlings and the lower portion of trees that have been ravaged by deer have a much different foliage:
This juvenile foliage is quite prickly, and is an apparent attempt by the tree to dissuade browsers. It seems to work for the seedlings, which don’t get munched too badly, but it obviously doesn’t for the larger trees.
In addition to the large trees that make up the forest canopy, there are smaller trees that form the understory. One of the more common understory trees in the yard is flowering dogwood (Cornus florida):
The trees are small, usually less than 6″ in diameter, and the bark is broken up into numerous small roundish plates. But the easiest way to identify a dogwood in winter is the flower buds, which are usually plentiful and have a characteristic turban-like shape:
That’s it for now. I hope this inspires you to take a walk in your own woods. (Did I mention that there’s going to be a test later?) If you do, a couple of cautions:
- Remember that poison ivy (poison oak in the west) is plentiful in the forest, especially around openings, and like the trees, sheds its leaves. Be careful what you touch.
- Before walking in the forest, check with your state wildlife agency to determine the deer season dates for your area, and be sure to wear appropriate orange clothing if there is any chance of being in the same forest at the same time as a hunter.
Filed under: Uncategorized
This is an excerpt from “The Woodworker: The Charles H. Hayward Years: Volume IV” published by Lost Art Press.
Most readers know that the vast majority of chairs are made by tenoning (and sometimes dowelling) the seat rails into the legs. Normally there is no difficulty, the mortises (or occasionally the tenons) being at a slight slope to allow for the splay of the rails. In certain period chairs, however, this is awkward in that the plan shape of the seat is curved. There are no angular front corners, the whole thing taking the form of a continuous sweep as in the Queen Anne chair shown in Fig. 1. Thus to enable the rail shoulders to be square the top rectangular portion of the leg has to be cut down considerably as at A, Fig. 2. This means a loss of strength in itself, but in addition there is a little wood left in which the mortises can be cut. In fact there is only the roughly triangular shape left, and the tenons are necessarily restricted in length. Furthermore the shape of the rails means that there is a great deal of cross grain.
Still, this system of construction was sometimes followed, and the craftsmen got over the difficulty by fixing stout inside brackets (see shaded part at A, Fig. 2). These had the effect of binding the two rails together. Since the brackets might be anything up to 2 in. thick the strength was sufficient for the job.
Alternative Construction. The awkward form of construction must have been realised, however, and this, no doubt, was the reason for the alternative method by which the front and side rails were halved together, the shape cut in them, and the leg either tenoned or dovetailed up into the frame so formed. The dotted lines show the squares of timber required to enable the shape to be worked, and it should be noted that the inner shape is plotted so that the thickness is considerably wider over the legs, so avoiding much loss of strength owing to short grain.
Fig. 2, C. shows the first stage in which the parts are halved together, and the rear shoulders marked round. In practice the craftsman probably cut and fitted the rear tenons first as it would be awkward to fit them after the frame was assembled. After cutting the tenons the halved joints would be glued up as at C and, the glue having set, the shape sawn out as at D, Fig. 2. Some chairmakers preferred to cut tenons at the top of the legs, and corresponding mortises had to be chopped in the frame. Others cut a dovetail shape as at D, Fig. 2, and formed a notch to receive it in the outer surface of the frame as shown by the dotted lines. In either case the dovetail or the tenon passed right across the halved joint and so served to bind it together.
It will be realised that all these Queen Anne chairs were cross-veneered around the rails, and this hid any unsightly joints. The top-moulding forming the rebate for the loose seat was either planted on the top edge, or was let into a rebate worked around the edge before veneering.
— Meghan Bates
Filed under: Charles H. Hayward at The Woodworker
The prints will be made individually by Briony Morrow-Cribbs, the artist who created the etchings and original set of prints used in the book. Prints measure 11” x 15-3/4” and are printed on a cotton rag paper called Hahnemuhle Copperplate – the same paper used for the prints reproduced in the book.
Individual prints are $110. If you order the entire set for $1,300 they’ll come in a handmade clamshell box constructed by Mike Fallon at Ohio Book. Ordering information is here.
We’ll be taking orders for the plates until early April. After we close the ordering, Briony will make the prints, Mike will make the boxes and we will ship your prints in protective packaging (recommended by the artist) when they are done.
Copperplate prints are rare today, but they were the primary way that woodworking and other technical information was transmitted in the 18th century. A.-J. Roubo made his own copperplate engravings for “l’Art du menuisier,” which is one of the reasons his book is such a classic.
Inspired by Roubo’s copperplate engravings, I convinced Briony to make the plates for “The Anarchist’s Design Book.” She makes etchings, not engravings, but it’s a similar intaglio process. Each plate began as a CAD sketch which I then redrew to make it more human. Then Briony made her own drawings based on mine and we went back and forth to balance the technical with the artistic aspects of each plate.
In the end, every line and stipple was etched into copper, the plates were hand inked and then embossed into the paper.
The result is unlike anything you’ll find printed today.
If you’d like to see the plates and box in person, I’ll have them at our storefront for the next two open days: Feb. 11 and March 11.
Last note: This is the only time we’ll be offering these plates for sale. We don’t seek to become an art dealer, but these prints are special and offer you a personal link to the great woodworking book traditions of the 18th century.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Uncategorized
“Roubo on Furniture” will forever be known as one of our children that had a difficult birth. The cover cloth we ordered for the book has been discontinued. As was our backup color.
And so we have switched gears and the cover cloth will be the greenish blue shown at right.
If you ordered the book for the color of the cover only, please send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll dispatch a psychiatrist to your home immediately.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: To Make as Perfectly as Possible, Roubo Translation, Uncategorized
John and I have decided to make significant changes to the manufacturing specifications of the letterpress version of “Roman Workbenches.” So much so that I’ve taken the unprecedented step of deleting my post from Jan. 29 to avoid confusion.
After much research, we’ve decided to offer “Roman Workbenches” fully bound with a two-part cloth cover, sewn binding, heavy endsheets and headbands. The binding will easily meet (and likely exceed) what we offer on typical Lost Art Press Books.
The price (including domestic shipping) will be $87 – still less than the $100 we promised. The book will go on sale at noon Eastern time on Sunday, Feb. 5. There will be 500 copies available.
Why make the change to the binding? Well, once I started pricing sewing and taping the binding, it was only a little bit more money to simply complete the binding. So John and I decided to go all the way (with the book binding).
If you are like me and really really want to bind your own book, we will have some unbound book blocks and will put those up for sale once the 500 are bound. I suspect the price for the unbound book blocks will be $77 (I know, it’s not a big savings; hence, our decision).
I am sorry (and a bit embarrassed) at this change. We try not to alter manufacturing specs like this in midstream. But I know it’s the correct thing to do.
See you Sunday (I hope, or we will flush away many thousands of American dollars).
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Roman Workbenches, Uncategorized
Gluing and wedging the legs into the seat is pretty easy if you don’t have stretchers between the legs. But there are still lots of opportunities to mess things up and get into a bind when you open the glue bottle.
Here’s how I prepare for the glue up so I don’t have many surprises.
First I knock the legs into the seat and pencil around all the tenons – both above the seat and below the seat. The mark around the tenon above the seat tells me about where I should crosscut the tenon before assembly. The mark around the tenon below the seat tells me at what point I should stop sawing a kerf for the wedges.
With the legs still in the seat, I also number each one and mark its position in the seat so the leg’s annular rings run parallel to the grain in the seat. I know that this runs contrary to some sound advice out there. Here’s my rationale:
If the legs are going to shrink, they are going to shrink more in the direction parallel to the rings than they will shrink perpendicular to the rings (that’s the way trees work). So I want to apply a wedge against the annular rings to resist this shrinkage. So the annular rings in my legs run front to back, the grain in the seat runs front to back and the wedge cuts across the legs’ annular rings.
Honest: I am not trying to talk anyone into doing it this way, and I am certain other tactics work. But this is what suits my head at this time.
Then I kerf the tenons with a tenon saw, stopping short of the pencil line representing the underside of the seat.
I gather all the materials I need for assembly and lay them out on the bench. This includes extra wedges, rags, a toothbrush for cleaning up the glue, a cup of hot water, several mallets and hammers and a 1/2″ chisel.
To assemble, I paint hide glue on the inside of one mortise. Then I paint glue on its tenon and drive the leg home. I strike the leg with a 2-1/2 lb. sledge until its stops moving into the seat when I strike it. Repeat for the other three legs.
I clean up any glue on the underside of the seat then flip it over.
Usually, driving the legs into the seat will close up the kerfs I just sawed in the tenons. Instead of trying to wedge the closed kerf and risk destroying some wedges, I open up each kerf with a 1/2″ chisel and a few mallet blows. This reduces wedge failure by about 345 percent.
I paint glue on a wedge and drive it in with my hand sledge. When the wedge stops moving, I stop hitting it.
Finally I clean up all the glue I can find with rags and a toothbrush. I put the chair on a bench and walk away, resisting the urge to fiddle with it too much and make it worse.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: The Anarchist's Design Book, Uncategorized
There’s almost certainly a sort of Reinheitsgebot for chairmakers. If you don’t use hand tools at every stage, you receive one evil eye.
Truth is, lots of chairmakers I know use power tools at some stage of the process. Many use a band saw. Others use an angle grinder to roughly shape their seats. Many use electric lathes. And a few – gasp – use sandpaper.
Me, I’m indifferent to this claptrap. I like to use the tools I like to use. I avoid the tools I dislike. Simple.
So this is how I saddle my seats.
I don’t have an adze. Why? I don’t know; it just never happened. Sure, I’ve tried a few adzes here and there at woodworking shows, but I’ve always started saddling my seats with a scorp (mine is from Barr Specialty Tools). It takes longer than if I had an adze, but I’m happy I don’t have to take care of an additional tool.
So after marking out the saddle I begin by traversing the seat with the scorp. Traversing in chairmaking is not like traversing with a jack plane. You don’t work with the cutter 90° to the grain.
Instead you pull the tool directly across the grain, but you angle its cutter in the direction the grain is flowing in the board. If this sounds odd to you, try it with a jack plane. Say you are traversing a board where the grain directions runs from right to left. The best plan is to push the tool directly across the grain of the board but angle it 30° to the left.
Try it and it will click.
I usually bottom my seats to be about 5/8” deep at the deepest point near the back of the seat. Then I saddle it about 3/8” near the front of the seat.
After I get it as clean as possible with a scorp, I switch to a travisher (mine is from Claire Minihan). Again, I work across the grain with the tool angled in the direction of the grain. I take lighter and lighter cuts as I work. When I can’t refine the surface any more, I switch to a card scraper.
I scrape out the tops of the dawks and try to remove any high spots my fingers can feel. I scrape and scrape until I can’t get it looking any better.
Then, finally, I wrap a piece of #180-grit sandpaper around a cork sanding block and try to refine the surface even more. After I scuff up the surface entirely with the sandpaper, I come back with a scraper and remove the sanding scratches.
The last 15 minutes of the process is me switching back and forth between a scraper and sandpaper, trying to get it as perfect as possible.
Eventually I give up – never satisfied with the final surface. But that’s typical.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: The Anarchist's Design Book, Uncategorized
As some of you will recall, I last reported from Ecuador back in August, when I showed you the workbench that I had completed. Since then…nothing. What happened? Well, as it turned out, a variety of events and situations conspired to the extent that I ended up with virtually no time to do any actual woodworking. I did get started on a project, but wasn’t able to finish before we had to leave.
You will at least be happy to know that the bench found a good home in the workshop of the architect friend who earlier pointed me in the direction of wood merchants in my neighborhood.
And I did learn a few things along the way:
Lesson 1 – Colorado (aka Lyptus®, Eucalyptus grandis x urophylla) is not a hand tool-friendly wood.
Lyptus is very hard, about the same as hard maple or the very hardest of white oaks. And it has interlocked grain, which tears out readily no matter which direction you try to plane it in (even cross grain!). I eventually figured out how to plane it: with my plane set to a 60° cutting angle and taking extremely thin shavings, I was able to achieve a surface that could later be sanded smooth. But removing 1/16″ of tearout a thousandth at a time is not my idea of fun.
The wood reminds me of sapele, which is similarly hard and also has interlocked grain, although it’s more brittle and doesn’t tear out quite as much. Like sapele, it’s very difficult to get a decent finish without a considerable amount of sanding.
Lesson 2 – At some point, a baggage handler will drop your tool case very, very hard.
The damage shown here occurred when the lever cap knob of my Veritas low-angle jack plane punched through the bottom of the tray from below. Given that when the trays are stacked together there is at most 1/2″ of play before the knob contacts the tray bottom, I don’t want to think about how far the case must have fallen in order for this amount of destruction to occur. Fortunately, it appears that all of the tools are okay.
Lesson 3 – An outdoor woodworking shop in Tumbaco may not be the best idea.
This one was completely unexpected, and it’s the fault of these guys:
The soil in Ecuador is virtually all volcanic ash, in some places hundreds of feet deep. Very fine, very abrasive volcanic ash. Add to that the fact that the climate in Tumbaco is dry, and afternoons are usually windy, and you begin to see the problem. I would finish up one day and come back the next to find everything covered by a clearly visible layer of ash. Ash that wreaked havoc on my tool edges.
The ash ends up indoors, too. We had a housekeeper that came to clean every week, and still the pile-up of dust near windows and doors was impressive.
I’ll have more to write about our adventures in Ecuador (plus a couple of weeks in Peru) soon, so stay tuned. But for now, I have some pent-up woodworking to attend to.
– Steve Schafer
Filed under: Uncategorized
On Wednesday we will begin to take orders for people who would like handmade copperplate prints from “The Anarchist’s Design Book” made by Briony Morrow-Cribbs. Because of the time and expense in offering these prints, however, we are going to offer these only one time.
We will offer all 12 prints for individual sale at $110 each. If you order the complete set for $1,300, they will come in a handmade custom box made at Ohio Book in Cincinnati.
Ordering will be open during February and March. Then, in April, we will close ordering and Briony will start making the prints and they will ship out to you in special protective packaging. Check out this short film on how Briony made the prints.
Each print will be made on cotton rag paper that measures 11” x 15-3/4” (approximately).
I’ve had a set of these prints in my shop now for a year and they are just stunning. Modern printing methods pale in comparison to the clarity, texture and imperfection of a copperplate print.
We hesitated in offering these prints because they are expensive in comparison to the Farrah Fawcett poster you still have from college. But, like a fine tool or piece of handmade furniture, these prints have an intangible quality that I like.
If you’d like to see them in person before you purchase one, please stop by our storefront on our open days on Feb. 11 and March 11. I’ll have the complete set on hand, including the handmade box from Ohio Book.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: The Anarchist's Design Book, Uncategorized
There are two reasons I bore and ream the mortises for a chair before saddling the seat. 1) Saddling the seat removes any spelching made by the drill bit. Or, put another way, I don’t spelch my newly saddled seat. And 2) If I mess up the boring or reaming then I haven’t wasted as much time if I’d saddled the seat.
Like many chairmakers, I use sightlines and resultant angles to bore and ream my mortises for the legs. And I’ve figured out how to do it without any trig. Or numbers. Or words. (OK, scratch the “or words.” The words and explanation are covered fully in “The Anarchist’s Design Book” </blowhard advertisement>.)
With this chair I use the same angles as the staked chair in the book. So use the drawing above to draw your sightlines and set your sliding bevel square (which Roubo calls the “false square,” which amuses me greatly, which wasn’t supposed to be amusing but is).
Bore the 5/8” hole for the mortises, using the sliding bevel as a guide for your bit. I put a backer board under the seat so I can bore straight through without thinking/stopping. When the shavings change color I rotate the brace twice more and pull out.
Reaming is similar. But instead of using the bit as a guide for the bevel square, I use the shell of my chuck. This is why I love the chuck of my Yankee brace. It is a straight cylinder. Some chucks are fancy shaped like a baluster. They’re pretty, but they are no help when reaming.
Ever four turns or so, I pull out and check my angle using a dowel with a tapered tenon on the end. I can’t check my work (easily) using the actual legs because they are all kinds of tapered.
Then I drive all four legs into their mortises, stand back and make sure the whole thing doesn’t look like a bandy-legged goat.
And only then do I start to saddle the seat.
Filed under: The Anarchist's Design Book, Uncategorized