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Lost Art Press: Chris Schwarz

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Updated: 44 min 21 sec ago

The Pace

Tue, 04/04/2017 - 12:59pm


Are we becoming adjusted to speed? I was talking a few days ago to a factory worker who thinks we are and that men are changing and will go on changing under its influence. “Everybody is working,” he said, referring to husbands and their wives, even children in holiday times. “The pressure is terrific.”

Conversely, so are the tensions. Perhaps these are at the root of the restlessness of some men, who seem to be always on the move, and in the growing number of others who, in their leisure, embark on creative, often very exacting work. With outlets like these, tensions tend to diminish, more so than if a man simply relaxes into com­plete idleness.

The important difference is that we make our own speed and with this comes the feeling of release. When we want to work quickly, there are the small power tools to take the edge off our impatience. When we want to taste to the full the luxury of unhurried, relaxed work, then we can settle down to a job with all the sober pleasure of an old­world craftsman, finding perhaps some stray particles of wisdom touch us unaware.

But however we work, the thing of prime importance is to live, really live in the job of the moment so long as it lasts. Once we begin to cast our eyes ahead to the next item on the schedule, away goes peace and back come the tensions. When this happens, reasonable speed looks only an irritant, hands fumble through sheer unmitigated im­patience. And that kind of impatience is the very devil in creative work. Unless we are careful, it mars the work, it certainly mars our temper and our enjoyment of the job. For the great thing about craft work when we do it on our own terms, is that it can be so thoroughly enjoyable. It has the power to take a man right out of himself, right into the thing he is doing, an excellent therapy against the stringencies of a busy world.

But the mind, being so much quicker than the hand, can easily betray us, so that a great part of the patience of true craftsmanship comes from keeping the mind reined in, never to be tempted to dream about the following job while we are doing this one, so risking making this one look like an interminable nuisance. “Little by little and bit by bit, that’s the way you does it,” as an old gardener once said to me reprovingly, and it is a good, steadying philosophy when we are getting a bit ahead of ourselves.



As a matter of fact, it is quite remarkable how many men today are learning to take the long view. They may have bought a partly derelict property at a bargain price or have determined to modernise their old-fashioned house, but whatever it is that starts them going the project is often one which has to be carried out over a long period of spare-time work. Some men even put themselves to school first for one or other of the essentials, such as bricklaying, engaging this with some other skill they already have. The result is often first-class. When a man puts his whole mind and will to a job, amateur or part amateur though he be, it is remarkable what excellence he can achieve. The trouble with most of us most of the time is that minds and wills are only half engaged. Put the whole of ourselves into a job and the good thing emerges. What is most noticeable is how readily these men shape down to the steady, progressive, long-term view, neither hurrying, nor unduly worrying, but taking each stage as it comes, dealing with it so thoroughly that care goes a long way towards meeting the demand for expertise. Because their number is now increasing all around, there is almost certain to be a friend or neighbour able to help and advise at difficult moments. And it is not at all unknown for a lecturer at a Technical College, becoming interested in the ambitious projects of his pupils, going out to give them a hand over the tricky bits.

It is a new wave of craftsmanship that has come upon us, born of changed social conditions. Before the war no ordinary householder, however skilled, would have dreamed of attempting single-handed the jobs which his modem counterpart undertakes. It is craft work from quite a different direction, bringing with it an ability and sense of independence which are the best kind of answer to the various pressures which make up the modern world.

It is the ordinary man standing squarely on his own feet, learning to “do” for himself once more and finding quite a bit of enjoyment and an amazing potential in the doing. The general collapse and withdrawal of handicrafts from industry is helping to bring about a revival in our very midst. Truly we are adjusting ourselves to changes of all kinds, not only pace. Pace, indeed, can kill. It can also be exhilarating.

— The Woodworker magazine, September 1964


Filed under: Charles H. Hayward at The Woodworker, Personal Favorites, Uncategorized
Categories: Hand Tools

Storefront Open This Saturday

Tue, 04/04/2017 - 8:23am


The Lost Art Press storefront will be open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, April 8, and we welcome you and your woodworking questions.

This weekend, I’ll probably build another staked stool (I have the parts prepped) and perhaps demonstrate the charring technique I showed in yesterday’s post. Also, we have the press mockup of “Roman Workbenches,” which you are welcome to look through. The book is at the bindery now.


We don’t, however, have any blemished books on hand to sell. The Lie-Nielsen event last month cleaned us out.

Need a list of where to eat and drink during your visit? Here you go.

Need directions to get here? Here’s a map.

— Christopher Schwarz

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

Staked High Stool & ‘The Anarchist’s Design Book’

Mon, 04/03/2017 - 1:32pm


After five prototypes, I’ve completed the first project for the expansion of “The Anarchist’s Design Book,” which should be out in 2018.

I now have to make a SketchUp drawing of the stool, which will take longer than building the stool from wood. After busting out a lot of staked chairs and stools this year, I’m able to build this stool in 3-1/2 hours, which includes finishing time.

The finish on the stool – a combination of “udukuri” and “shou sugi ban” techniques I’ve been experimenting with for more than two years – also allows me to add an appendix to the design book on these processes and the tools involved.

I’m quite happy with this design. It’s simple, comfortable, inexpensive and easy.

I have to take a break from the projects for the expansion of “The Anarchist’s Design Book” to build a commission and write an article for Popular Woodworking Magazine. When I complete those projects, I’ll return to making a staked armchair, a staked settee and two boarded projects for the book.

The boarded projects include a nailed-together version of the Monticello bookcases I built in 2011 and a boarded English settee. This has long been on my list of projects to build. If you aren’t familiar with the form, check out this entry from TheFurnitureRecord.com.

— Christopher Schwarz

Filed under: The Anarchist's Design Book, Uncategorized
Categories: Hand Tools

“The Notebook of Philadelphia Joiner John Widdifield”

Sun, 04/02/2017 - 1:02pm

Widdifield’s plan for a spice box and scrutoire. (Chipstone.org)

In the autumn of 2015 there was considerable interest in the auction of  the notebook of the early-18th century joiner, John Widdifield. A private collector prevailed in the auction and agreed to make the notebook available for publication and study by the Chipstone Foundation and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The initial article about Widdifield and his notebook was published in “American Furniture” and is available from Chipstone to read online here.

If you would like to take a closer look at each page of the notebook click on ‘Show all Figures only’ on the upper right hand of the page and a window will open.

Suzanne Ellison

Filed under: Historical Images
Categories: Hand Tools

Phase One Almost Broke Us

Sun, 04/02/2017 - 8:10am


Above is a photo I took of our storefront this morning as I got to work. Notice anything different? Me neither.

But we have a new roof on 837 Willard St., which took almost 10 months of wrangling and four roofing companies to complete. We removed four ersatz skylights, added a hatch to the roof (who doesn’t want a hatch?) and now we don’t have buckets located strategically throughout the third floor.

To celebrate, Lucy and I want to Pontiac barbecue last night and ate a cow.

This is the end of phase one of the work we are doing on the building. Phase one was about stabilizing the structure – concrete and French drains in basement, new gutters, repair the deck, replace the rotting fence, caulk and paint the exterior, install a sump pump, new windows on the first floor and a new roof. Oh, and gutting the first floor for my workshop.

All that took about 18 months, hundreds of hours of work and more money than most families spend on a college education. And as our personal bank balance veered toward zero this winter, we began to get stressed. Luckily, a couple commissions and articles came through and we are back in the black.

The plan now is to take the next 12 months to work on the cosmetic stuff that doesn’t cost much money or require professional help. I’m going to install a new back door to the shop ($400), install a floating floor in the utility area ($385) and start demolishing the interior walls in the Horse Garage for the machine room (cost: paying for beer for my friends).

Oh, and I’m going to enjoy not writing huge checks for a while (knock wood that there is no Godzilla attack this spring).

— Christopher Schwarz

Filed under: Lost Art Press Storefront
Categories: Hand Tools

Water From all Rivers

Sat, 04/01/2017 - 6:27am


“He was very open minded, like the ocean containing water from all rivers.”

— Pema Chujen on Chokyi Tenpa Tsering, the founder of the Parkhang printing lamasery monastery in Tibet. Read the fascinating New York Times article here.

Filed under: Personal Favorites, Uncategorized
Categories: Hand Tools

Batonga stools

Fri, 03/31/2017 - 4:03pm

Since this blog seems to be transitioning from all-workbenches-all-the-time to all-stools-all-the-time, I thought I’d pass along something I came across recently. The Batonga people, of present-day Zimbabwe and Zambia, have traditionally carved stools out of single log sections. The stools range from very simple:

to much more elaborate:

They sometimes incorporate a carrying handle, as the latter image shows.

Designs vary quite a bit, although there are some recurring themes. I do wonder about the long-term viability of a stool whose supports incorporate a sharp, cross-grain right angle:

Then again, the people who carve and use these probably don’t have BMI levels in quite the same range as our own.

If you do a search on “batonga stool” you’ll find quite a few for sale.

–Steve Schafer

Filed under: Uncategorized
Categories: Hand Tools

Sliding Doors

Thu, 03/30/2017 - 6:27pm

FIG. 1. HANGING WALL CUPBOARD WITH SLIDING DOORS. This cupboard exemplifies the points raised by the writer of this article. It would prove extremely useful in the small modern kitchenette. Width 3 ft. 6 ins., Height 2 ft. 5 ins., Depth 11 ins.

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

Although there are many occasions when sliding doors can be used with advantage it should be pointed out that they should not be fitted where hinged doors can be used satisfactorily; the chief reasons against their use are that they give only limited access to the interior, and entail increased cost, due to the extra depth required over-all.

Consider Fig. 1 for example. Sliding doors are shown, but imagine that hinged ones had been used. With these wide open, access to the interior would be carcase-wide. This is impossible with sliding doors; when the right-hand door is pushed in behind the left, access to the interior is provided for approximately half the carcase width only. To get at the left-hand side of the carcase it is necessary to push both doors right over to the other end. Take note as well of the cost of the extra inch or so required on the depth of the carcase all round, and also the additional work involved in fitting the running tracks.

What then determines the use of such doors? Call to mind those tiers of sliding door showcases so often fitted behind a shop counter; probably assistants have been passing busily to and fro attending to customers. Imagine the chaos that would ensue if such doors were flung open on hinges, thus effectively blocking all the available passage way behind the counter. Again, in a minor way, it is essential to fit sliding doors to cabinets in some modern kitchenettes, where the swing of a hinged door might foul some other member of the kitchen equipment. To sum up, sliding-door cabinets are at a disadvantage where immediate and complete access is required, but are ideal when utility and passage room have to be considered.

The cabinet in Fig. 1 is given to illustrate the methods of fitting sliding doors. It would, however, make up into a handy article for the kitchen, and could be carried out in birch and afterwards painted or enamelled. Alternatively, as a shop fitting, fumed oak would look well. All references to patent metal sliding tracks have been omitted; these are usually somewhat expensive and cannot always be obtained through retail dealers. With a little care, no difficulty should be experienced if made entirely in wood. The over-all sizes can be amended, of course, to suit individual requirements.


The sizes for setting-out are given in Fig. 2 and the construction in Fig. 3, whilst Fig. 4 gives four methods of arranging the sliding doors, any one of which will prove satisfactory in operation.

The methods are lettered A, B, C, and D.



Method A is the simplest. Note that only one groove is required in the top and bottom for the parting beads which separate the two doors. The back door is retained in place by means of fillets, 1/2 in. x 1/4 in., glued and pinned to the top and bottom and positioned parallel with the parting beads. The front door could be held in place by means of facing strips, cup-screwed on to the edges of the top and bottom. Note that these facing strips are flush with the ends when fitted and should be neatly shouldered between them.

Method B probably gives the best finish and is shown in Fig. 2. This gives the same thickness of ends, top, and bottom all round; in addition, no screws are required for fixing the front facing strips.

The top and bottom must be rebated down 1/4 in. for the doors and then grooved again for the parting beads. Finally the front edges of the top and bottom are grooved for the tongues of the facing strips. These again are neatly stepped between the ends.

Method C follows closely to that of B, but one important variation is that the bottom edge of each door is shod with a piece of strip brass, approximately 1/8 in. thick. These strips run full length and should be screwed up to the undersides; make sure that the screwheads are well countersunk. The running tracks are also provided with full-length strips of brass sunk flush and screwed into the bottom. Thus we have brass running on brass, which has proved very satisfactory in use. Needless to say, all sharp burrs on the metal should be removed with a file. Alternatively, a hard fibre could be substituted for brass.

Method D hardly needs comment. The top and bottom edges of the doors should be grooved to receive half-round beads, the latter being pinned to the carcase top and bottom. At the front in order to give a finish, quarter-round beads are pinned right around the carcase. The plan details given in Fig. 4 will also be found easy to follow. The door stiles which adjoin the ends could be beaded or rebated in to the latter. Alternatively, a tongued facing strip might be carried right up the ends, thus following on the idea given with method B. Or, again, a quarter-round bead could be pinned on. Note the fillet (L) which is screwed to the back door stile. This effectively closes the gap between the two doors and should be shaped around the parting beads at the top and bottom; it will not be required, however, if method D is adopted.

Meghan Bates



Filed under: Charles H. Hayward at The Woodworker
Categories: Hand Tools

The Purloined Letter

Thu, 03/30/2017 - 5:38pm


Today I crashed back – hard – to the United States with little sleep, folders full of photos and memories of the best pizza I’ve eaten. And as I twitched to sleep on the airplane this afternoon or morning or whatever, I wondered if I had enough information for a book.

I don’t. But I think I will soon.

If things go well this summer in Germany. If a package arrives in Kentucky. If a translation pans out. Then I’ll have an expanded book for you this fall on so-called Roman workbenches that will probably have to be called something else other than “Roman Workbenches.”

While these benches have their roots in Greco-Roman culture, the form is ubiquitous in the West and the East in both modern times and those of two millenia ago. These benches, and the techniques to use them, have been hiding in plain sight. Recorded. Written down. And mostly ignored.

I don’t have many more words for you this evening (or is it early morning?), so instead enjoy these images taken by Narayan Nayar during our trip to Pompeii.

— Christopher Schwarz

Filed under: Roman Workbenches, Uncategorized
Categories: Hand Tools

‘The Intelligent Hand’ by David Savage

Thu, 03/30/2017 - 1:53am


Editor’s note: For several months I’ve wanted to tell you about a book that furniture maker David Savage is writing for Lost Art Press called “The Intelligent Hand.” But each time I tried to frame the book in words, I stumbled. It’s not a how-to book, but then it is. It’s a book about why we do things, though that’s a laughably weak description of it. It’s about working wood at the very top limits of design and craftsmanship, though it will appeal mightily to beginners.

And so I decided to cop out and share with you a small section of the first chapter – the part that really grabbed me. OK, that’s a bit wrong as well. The first paragraph of this book might be the most arresting thing I’ve read in woodworking. So we’ll save that bit for later.

David is working hard on the book and a good deal of the text has been fleshed out. I don’t know when it will be complete. Like all Lost Art Press books, it will be done when we can’t improve it any more.

— Christopher Schwarz

Way back in the early 1980s I read books by James Krenov that inspired me to take up working with wood, making furniture. He inspired a generation to hug trees, love wood and make as beautifully as one could, but from the position of a skilled amateur. Jim never sought, I believe, to make a living from this. That was my madness. What Jim did do, however, was touch upon the reason that is at the core of this book. Why do we go that extra mile? Why do we break ourselves on that last 10 percent? This is the 10 percent that most people would not even recognise, or care about, even if it bit them on the leg. This is the bit that really hurts to get right, both physically and mentally.

But get it right, deliver the piece and she says: “Wow, David, I knew it would be good but not that good.” Get this right, over-deliver and soon you don’t need too many more new clients, for she will want this experience again and again. We have been making for the same clients now for most of my working life. They get it, they like it and they have the means to pay for it. Your job is to do it well enough to get the “Wow David,” have the satisfaction of doing it right, get the figures right and feed your children. Not easy I grant you, but for some of you it will become a life well lived.

This is the quality thing at the centre of our lives. This is the issue that brings people to Rowden from all over the world, each with some form of bleeding neck. Each knowing they can do more with their lives. They come with a damage that they feel can be fixed with a combination of physical work and intelligent solutions. Both are essential.

Work is unfashionably sweaty. We generally now sit at terminals in cool offices. We are bound by contracts of employment that would make an 18th century slave owner look benign. The only exercise we get is the twitching of our fingers and the occasional trip to the coffee machine. Our bodies, these wonderful pieces of equipment, are allowed to become indolent and obese. We feed up on corn starched, fast food and wait for retirement. Exercise, if we take it, has no meaning. We don’t exercise to do anything we run or jog, but we go nowhere. We work out in the gym and get the buzz, the satisfaction of the body’s response to exercise. But we don’t use the energy constructively to make stuff.

White collar work has become what we do, almost all of us. It pays the bills and keeps us fed, we get a holiday and our children are kind of OK. And that is fine for most of us. But there are some of you who know that something is missing. Something creative, some way to spend your day working, physically exercising your body and your mind. Thinking and revising what you are making, as the consequence of the quality of your thoughts. This is intelligent making; this is The Intelligent Hand.

This then is written for you. This is to help, encourage and support a decision to leave a world where thought and work are separated. This is for the brave souls who need to plough a contrarian furrow, where intelligence and making exist together, and you are in control of your life. Don’t be scared but don’t expect it to be dull or easy. But a life well lived never is dull or easy.

— David Savage

Filed under: The Intelligent Hand, Uncategorized
Categories: Hand Tools

Photo Gallery – Lie-Nielsen 35th Anniversary

Thu, 03/30/2017 - 12:18am

Lie-Nielsen Toolworks Summer Open House 2016

Last summer I attended the Lie-Nielsen Open House and intended to publish a photo gallery when I returned home. For various reasons beyond my control that project was shelved. I thought I would finish the project to help fill in for a slow week here on the blog. If you have never attended the open house at Lie-Nielsen I would highly recommend it. Consider making room in your schedule for the next event this July.

The gallery contains 1325 photos from the event and will use ~400MB of bandwidth per viewing. For that reason I would not recommend browsing from a cell phone unless you are connected to WiFi.

I have tested the gallery to work with all manner of desktop computers, tablets and smart phones. A direct link to the photos is available if you would prefer to just download the whole set and view them on your preferred device offline.

This is the first gallery I have posted in a long time. The software and hosting is new. The website is just an empty shell that may have unresolved bugs. If this test goes well I will be adding more galleries from other events when I get time.

—Jeff Burks


Filed under: Personal Favorites
Categories: Hand Tools

Printing Complete for ‘Roman Workbenches’

Wed, 03/29/2017 - 1:29am


Brian Stuparyk at Steam Whistle Letterpress reports that he (and his family) have completed printing the letterpress pages for “Roman Workbenches.” Soon (I hope this week) the sheets will be packed up and trucked to the bindery in Massachusetts.

As you can see from the image from above, the paper and letterpress printing have a texture that I think you’ll enjoy, especially if you grew up on offset printing like most Americans.

I don’t have a date for when the bound books will be ready. Once the sheets arrive there, the bindery will be able to give me a better idea. But it won’t be long.

We long been sold out of the entire run of “Roman Workbenches” in letterpress version, but we’re hoping that not too many sheets will get spoiled during binding and we’ll have some extras to sell. Stay tuned.

In other shameless product news, the deluxe version of “With All the Precision Possible: Roubo on Furniture” has been sent to press. We’re on track for a summer release.

— Christopher Schwarz

Filed under: Roman Workbenches, Uncategorized
Categories: Hand Tools

Free Download: A Closer Look at Roubo’s Workshop

Tue, 03/28/2017 - 3:10pm

Are you a little bit obsessed with the workshop in Roubo’s Plate 11? Do you need a new poster for your shop or new wallpaper for your computer screen or tablet? Do you really, really want to see the wood shavings in the foreground and all the stuff leaning against the back wall?

Here’s a higher resolution scan of the workshop for your viewing pleasure: Atelier Roubo

Suzanne Ellison

P.S. My test rabbit (thanks, KP) used the scan for wallpaper on his PC and was very happy.

Filed under: To Make as Perfectly as Possible, Roubo Translation
Categories: Hand Tools

Eyes Wide Open

Tue, 03/28/2017 - 8:31am


My job at Lost Art Press is basically this: wrangling content. I read it, edit it, listen to it, transcribe it, write it, find it, scan it, organize it, cut it, extrapolate it, link to it, contract it and share it. And through this wrangling, no matter the author or topic, universal themes emerge.

Often an 8-5 occupation, by nature of design, is one of repetition. And perhaps that’s part of the appeal of woodworking, both as an avocation and vocation—it requires constant learning, no matter the skill level. There’s always more to learn, new paths to take, ways to improve. There’s a scholarly aspect to it, and always the feeling of the possibility of a new discovery, with only the turn of the page or an afternoon at the bench.

And so I see the theme of lifelong learning emerge, over and over, from masters of the craft, in both written and vocal form.

In many ways it’s why Lost Art Press exists—as well as the many magazines, books, forums, guilds, classes, schools and DVDs that delve into the intricacies of woodworking.

There’s always more to know.

Here are some quotes, both formally written and in the form of snippets of conversation, that I’ve gathered during my more recent content wrangling from a few masters of the craft who still, to this day (or did, until they died) foster a love of learning.

“It’s interesting to speculate as to exactly when in one’s career one writes a book. I wrote ‘Welsh Stick Chairs’ three years ago, but I am still on the learning curve, and I’ve moved on. In theory, I suppose when one is 99, lying on the death bed, then you write about what you’ve learnt. No. I think the important thing to remember is that not all information in print is law, even if you don’t agree with what you read, it should stimulate thought.”  —John Brown, Good Woodworking, 1994

“I’ve mainly been doing sculptures and some new chair stuff. I’ve had a great time and want to continue the ball rolling. I also want to further my chairmaking so when I get home I don’t feel I’ve done nothing in terms of my main craft. So I’ve pursued a couple different [ideas], and I’ll see how these things develop and hopefully [they’ll] become a part of what I do.”  —Peter Galbert, on life as a resident artist, 2016

“I’ve often said, only sort of whimsically, if you had to distill down my job it would say, ‘Be productively curious.’ I was productively curious.”  —Don Williams, on his almost three decades as Senior Furniture Conservator at the Smithsonian Institute, 2017

“For me, it’s really just keeping engaged, keeping really interested into what’s going on because we can never completely know it. And I hate and love that at the same time. I love being in the position of not knowing but maybe going to find out. And so it’s basically about keeping my eyes open and not taking myself too seriously, because nobody else does. And that’s really it. Not taking things personally in terms of interpreting the world as being against me or for me or any of that. I’m just here observing slowly, with my eyes as wide open as possible.”  —Jim Tolpin, 2017

“Neither of us are trained designers, bur rather experienced builders with a healthy curiosity. We both began experimenting with the practices and suggestions laid out in the period design guides. We set aside tape measures and began using dividers. We opted to use geometry to trace layouts, even when precision tools were easier and more convenient. Our goals were to learn to see, and to discover if the tradition might reveal relevant information for today’s builder.” —George R. Walker, in his preface to “By Hand & Eye,” May 28, 2012

“There is a point where a craft becomes an art, and he can find enough to learn about woodwork as an art to last him for a lifetime.” —Charles H. Hayward, “Chips from the Chisel,” The Woodworker, 1936

— Kara Gebhart Uhl

Filed under: Uncategorized
Categories: Hand Tools

Hello Perdix, You Old Friend

Mon, 03/27/2017 - 10:37am


Today Narayan Nayar and I took the train to Pompeii to look at a fresco that features Perdix, a Roman workbench and some adult content suitable for Cinemax. (“Oh my, I don’t think I have enough money for this pizza.” Cue the brown chicken, brown cow soundtrack.)

As we got off the train, my heart was heavy with dread. Yesterday, our visit to Herculaneum blew my mind but was disappointing in one small way: The House of the Deer was closed that day to visitors. The House of Deer had once housed a woodworking fresco that has since been removed and has since deteriorated. So all I was going to get to see was the hole in the wall where the fresco had been.

But still.

So as I got off the train this morning, I fretted: What if the House of the Vettii is closed? After a not-quick lunch that involved togas (don’t ask), Narayan and I made a beeline to the House of the Vettii. And as I feared, its gate was locked. The structure is in the midst of a renovation and was covered in tarps and scaffolding.

I peered through the gate and saw someone moving down a hallway inside. He didn’t look like a worker. He looked like a tourist. Then I saw another tourist.


We quickly figured out that a side entrance was open and they were allowing tourists into a small section of the house. I rushed into that entryway and waved hello to Priapus. After years of studying the map of this house I knew exactly where to go. I scooted past a gaggle of kids on spring break and into the room with the fresco I’ve been eager to see for too long.

It’s a miracle this fresco has survived – not just the eruption of Vesuvius but also the looters and custodian that decided (on behalf of Charles III) which images to keep and which ones to destroy. (Why destroy a fresco? According to the Archaeological Museum of Naples, many were destroyed so they didn’t get into the hands of “foreigners or imitators.”) The royal collection preferred figurative scenes or ones with winged figures. For some reason, this one stayed in place and has managed to survive.


Narayan spent the next 40 minutes photographing the fresco in detail. The photos in this blog entry are mere snapshots I took with my Canon G15. His images will be spectacular.

OK, enough babbling. I need some pizza. Thank goodness they’re only about 4 Euro here.

— Christopher Schwarz

Filed under: Roman Workbenches, Uncategorized
Categories: Hand Tools

A Well-furnished Roman Sarcophagus

Sun, 03/26/2017 - 8:27pm

Although Roman furniture is well represented in frescoes, mosaics and sculptures few pieces of wooden furniture survive. The pieces we have for study survived in wet environments such as ship wrecks and wells or were carbonized and buried during the eruption of Vesusius in 79 A.D. Most of the carbonized pieces are from Herculaneum and were preserved and sealed in place by meters-deep pyroclastic material. Pompeii was not entombed as deeply as Herculaneum and contemporary records tell us that some residents (and looters) were able to go back and retrieve household valuables. From Pompeii we have a few plaster casts of the impressions left behind by wooden pieces.

Another source of Roman furniture came to light in 1930 in Simpelveld in the Netherlands when a man digging a foundation for a house uncovered a sarcophagus. The outside of the sarcophagus was not decorated, but the inside revealed a furnished villa for the deceased.

The Simpeveld Sarcophagus is in the collection of the Rijiksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden, is dated between 175-225 A.D., made of  sandstone and measures 205 cm (about 81 in) in length. It is presumed the sarcophagus was made to hold the (cremated) remains of a wealthy woman.

Our reclining resident.

The woman is resting on a three-sided paneled couch, or lectus. Each end is angled outwards to facilitate a cushion and aid in the comfort of the recliner. A lectus (with variations to the number of sides) might be used for sleeping or dining, or both. As you can see they had turned legs.

At the end of the lectus is a roofed structure that some researchers think may be a depiction of the deceased’s villa. It may be something else entirely. The last piece is some type of open cupboard.

On the other side of the sarcophagus there is a sturdy stand with three large containers, an ornate round table, another stand with crockery and jugs (one with its neck turned outwards), a cupboard with doors, an open space and a cupboard with five niches.

The round table is a mensa delphica with three legs ornamented with lion heads and claw feet. In the photo above, right, is a similar table from Herculaneum.

The cupboard has frame and panel doors. Here also we have a similar example from Herculaneum with hingles made of a series of wood cylinders, similar to a piano hingle. And a drawer!

At the end, closest to our resting resident, are a curved-back chair and a chest with a keyhole. The chair may be a cathedra, which was known as a woman’s chair. Based on other sculptural evidence a cathedra may have been made of wickerwork.

Every home had a chest for storage of valuables. They were often bound with iron straps and were locked. Above is a chest found in Herculaneum.

I did not find any full photos of the opposite (short) end of the sarcophagus. It looks as though there are two other open pieces.

Without all the missing contents we don’t know which of the pieces would have been the lararium, or household shrine. If I had to guess my choice would be the open cupboard with the the five niches to accomodate a lamp, incense, salt and dishes for offerings.

One thing to consider is each piece of furniture may not be to scale. For instance, if the cupboard with the frame and panel doors were of a larger scale it might be an armarium, for the storage of arms, and would typically be found near the entrance of a home. The armarium is the ancestor of the modern armoire.

The Simpelveld Sarcophagus is unique. Usually the decorative work on the outside of a sarcophagus is what interests us. There are often depictions of heroes from mythology, a bacchanal in progress, or scenes from the life of the deceased. For the Simpelveld Sarcophagus we have to look inside the thing and what do we find? A cosy Roman home packed with household goods and a reclining resident.

Suzanne Ellison

Filed under: Furniture Styles, Historical Images
Categories: Hand Tools

To Herculaneum

Sun, 03/26/2017 - 9:33am

Narayan shoots photos of a set of frescoes in Herculaneum.

No matter how much you read about a person, a piece of furniture or a place, the real thing is always different. Today, Narayan Nayar and I visited Herculaneum, the doomed coastal city in Italy that has changed the way I look at woodworking workbenches.

There are no workbenches at Herculaneum. But there was an image of one. Once. But it was cut from the walls of the House of the Deer, shipped to Naples where it deteriorated to the point where almost nothing of the bench is now visible. Still, the image (actually an image of the image) is incredibly important to me. It’s the first drawing of a holdfast that I know of. And it shows a low workbench being used for sawing – another critical clue.

So I had to visit Herculaneum and other sites involving the 79 AD eruption of Vesuvius. Not that I expected to discover “new” information about woodworking, workbenches or tools. But to give me some context for everything I’ve read for the last 20 years.

What was shocking? For me, it was the paint and the painting. I now need to do more reasearch on the surviving frescoes at Herculaneum, but I was struck dumb by the detail, clarity and color of what I saw today. Was it restored by modern hands?


Carbonized wood that was destroyed and yet preserved by the eruption of Vesuvius.

As Narayan and I walked around the ruined city it became clear that that modern people are both the saviors and sackers of the now-exposed stonework, plaster and frescoes. Narayan and I saw a little girl rummaging inside an ancient clay vase. Other frescoes were covered by Perspex and clouded by the sun and humidity.

I tried to tread lightly all day because Herculaneum is a non-renewable resource. But my tiptoeing is a drop in the bucket against modern air pollution, adventurous little girls and 2 million other visitors. Ultimately, everything turns to dust.

So the best I can do is to provide an account of what I saw that is unprejudiced by cultural or temporal bias so that future woodworkers will know why Herculaneum is a pile of rubble to be remembered.

— Christopher Schwarz

Filed under: Roman Workbenches, Uncategorized
Categories: Hand Tools

‘Making Things Work’ by Nancy R. Hiller

Fri, 03/24/2017 - 2:50pm

Making-Things-Work-dust-jacket-300As cautionary woodworking tales go, Nancy R. Hiller’s might just be the funniest – and the most sincere.

Standing in contrast to James Krenov’s “The Impractical Cabinetmaker” from 1979, Hiller’s new book, “Making Things Work: Tales from a Cabinetmaker’s Life,” is not about waiting for a particular plank of wood to tell you its true purpose. It is not an exhortation to fuss over each detail, no matter the personal cost. There is not a shop cat.

(Side note: I do love Krenov’s books, but they have not taught me squat about making a living.)

Instead, Hiller’s funny and occasionally ribald story is about a cabinetmaker who was trained to work at the highest level possible and how she has dealt with the personal anxiety that occurs when the desire and drive for excellence collides with paying the monthly bills.

The backdrop for “Making Things Work” is a cast of characters who could populate a Cohen brothers film – a Missouri furniture maker who masquerades as a Brit to impress his customers. A 30-something client and her older husband who seem hell-bent on cheating every trades worker in the Midwest. And Hiller’s British trainers, who through teasing, criticism and mockery finally let her know what “navy cake” really is.

At the center of it all is Hiller. She seeks to run an honest business, make beautiful things and be fairly paid. Doing all three things at once is an immense challenge, and she tells her odyssey in a series of vignettes that read like a modern-day Aesop’s fable. There is a lesson in each chapter about the craft, business or personal relationships. But it’s up to you to decode them. Her indirect approach is one of the great charms of the book.

If you are considering abandoning your cozy corporate job to make furniture, “Making Things Work” is required reading. It will illuminate you as to how difficult the profession can be. If you are undaunted after seeing the quality of Hiller’s furniture and reading about her struggle to make a living, perhaps you have a shot.

For amateur woodworkers, the book is a great read. Hiller is a fine and precise writer who knows exactly when to land a punch line (sometimes with a sledgehammer).

For those of you who appreciate the manufacturing quality of Lost Art Press books, “Making Things Work” will please you. Hiller used one of our printing vendors here in the United States. This is a book designed to last.

Most of all, kudos to Hiller for taking on this book like a piece of fine furniture. She managed most of it herself, from the writing to the production to the distribution.

“Making Things Work” is available from Hiller’s website here. Highly recommended.

— Christopher Schwarz

Filed under: Personal Favorites, Uncategorized
Categories: Hand Tools

Sawing Tenons

Thu, 03/23/2017 - 5:05pm

Fig. 95

This is an excerpt from “The Essential Woodworker” by Robert Wearing.


Fig. 119

The accurate sawing of tenons (Fig 119) is a vital skill. They should be sawn with confidence and should fit from the saw. To saw clear of the lines, for safety, is not recommended since whittling an overthick tenon to size is both more difficult and less accurate than sawing correctly in the first place. A 250mm (10in.) tenon or backsaw is the most commonly used for this purpose. Frame saws are used in Europe and by some workers in the USA, but they have never been popular in Britain since the manufacture of good-quality backsaws, and beginners usually find them rather clumsy.


Fig. 105

Before starting, check over the names of the parts on Fig 95 and shade in the waste. While there is little chance of throwing away the wrong piece, it is essential that the sawdust should be removed from the  waste and not from the tenon. That is, the ‘kerf’ (the sawcut) should be in the waste and just up to the line. Beginners using the thick pencil aid in Fig 105 should saw away one pencil line and leave the other intact. The technique is not difficult if the following guidelines are followed: do not saw down two gauge lines at a time; do not saw to a line which is out of sight. (A modification to the saw is described in Appendix B.)

Start sawing always at the farther corner not the nearer one. Beginners may find it useful to chisel a triangular nick there to start the saw accurately (Fig 120). With the rail held vertically in the vice, start to saw at that far corner, slowly lowering the handle until a slot is cut about 3mm (1/8in.) deep (Fig 121). Now tilt the workpiece (Fig 122) and, keeping the saw in the slot, saw from corner to corner. Then turn the work round, or stand on the other side, and saw again from corner to corner, leaving an uncut triangle in the centre (Fig 123). Now grip the work vertically and, running down the two existing sawcuts, remove this last triangle, sawing down to the knife line, but no farther. Keep the saw horizontal (Fig 124).

If there is a set-in or haunch, saw this next. Repeat these stages on all the other tenons (Fig 125). The haunch may be sawn right off now or later.

Sawing the shoulder is most important as this is the piece left exposed. Except on wide rails, which may be planed, the shoulder should go up from the saw. Cramp to the bench, deepen the knife cut and chisel a shallow groove (Fig 126). Lay a very sharp saw in the groove and draw it back a few times to make a kerf, then saw off the cheek. Take the greatest care not to saw into the tenon (Fig 127), which would then be severely weakened. Should the waste not fall off, the cheek has probably been sawn with an arc-like motion, leaving some waste in the centre (Fig 128). Do not saw the shoulder deeper. Prise off the waste with a chisel, then gently and carefully pare away the obstruction. Saw off the haunch if not sawn previously.

Saw off the set-in with a little to spare, and trim this back to the knife line with a chisel only just wider than the tenon size. This avoids damage to the corner of the shoulder. Finally saw the mitre (Fig 129). The tenons should be lettered or numbered to identify them with their mortices.

Meghan Bates

Filed under: The Essential Woodworker
Categories: Hand Tools

Chris vs. the Volcano

Wed, 03/22/2017 - 7:10pm


I leave for Naples, Italy, in the morning to research Roman workbenches, which is a shocking sentence to write.

When I wrote my first book on workbenches, I had never seen an ancient French workbook in person. I’d never used a leg vise. And I had about 238 other unanswered questions as I pieced together my first Roubo workbench.

Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to see a lot of workbenches all over the world, and I’ve learned an important lesson: There ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby. Getting your hands on a thing is worth 1,000 images or translated texts.

Before starting Lost Art Press, jetting off to Europe to look at old paintings, sculptures, woodworking and a volcano was a laughable idea. But thanks to the company John and I have built during the last 10 years, this trip was an easy call.

We couldn’t have done this without your support. I know that a lot of you buy all our books, regardless of whether you are deeply interested in the topic or not. That sort of customer loyalty is the reason we can take chances with projects that may or may not produce results.

I know that many of you are wondering why the heck we are dabbling in these benches that look like they are for slaughtering pigs (and yet you buy the books anyway). I can now assure you that this particular adventure is a rich and untapped vein of craft knowledge that has been right in front of our faces for a couple centuries.

I have a big pile of paper on my desk that is filled with stuff I have to translate, build and put to use on this topic. But first, I have a date with a volcano.

— Christopher Schwarz

P.S. I won’t be blogging much during the next week. Meghan, Kara and Suzanne have all offered to pitch in during my absence. So enjoy a profound absence of squirrel metaphors during the next eight days.

Filed under: Roman Workbenches, Uncategorized
Categories: Hand Tools