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Lost Art Press: Chris Schwarz
This week, Katy has been crazy busy down in the workshop making soft wax. In fact, she mixed and packaged 77 tins in three days – a new record. I asked her today what kicked her into high gear.
“I need money for food and stuff and….”
“Maybe a potter’s wheel.”
Last week, Katy’s art class took a tour of a commercial pottery. And when the potters asked if any of the students had used a wheel, Katy raised her hand (she’s taken a couple classes on using the wheel). By the end of the tour they had offered her a summer job, and Katy remembered her love of throwing pots.
So she made a bunch of wax. And now she has her eye on a wheel.
I’m not going to dissuade her. If you would like some wax, now is a good time to buy it and stock up (I’m buying a couple tins myself). It’s a really excellent soft paste with a gorgeous smell – perfect for the interior surfaces of woodwork or for restoring wooden surfaces that have become dried out by time or weather.
You can order it from her etsy store here.
— Christopher Schwarz, who might be surrendering part of his shop to a young potter.
Filed under: Uncategorized
It’s a good day when I find three new images of stick chairs. Researcher Suzanne Ellison sent me the September 2015 issue of Antique Collecting recently, and I devoured it this morning while juggling some technical publishing problems.
Inside the issue were three stick chairs – two likely Welsh and one labeled as Irish. All are notable for one reason or another. Let’s take a look.
The chair above was listed for sale by Suffolk House Antiques and has a burr ash seat that is 2-1/2” thick. There are several things I like about this chair. Its spindle layout and armbow are similar to the chairs I’ve been building recently, but the crest rail and back spindles are quite eye-catching. I like the way the crest rail is curved along its top edge – very graceful.
The three back spindles look delicate and fragile, though I doubt they are. I really like how the maker bent the two outside spindles outward. It’s a nice contrast with the density and verticality of the lower spindles and seat.
The second chair was featured in an article on auction results. Though it’s not specifically called out as Welsh, it looks it to me. This chair has a charming lightness to it, despite its 14 spindles. Also, take a look at the “hands” of the armbow. They end in a nice semi-circle. Finally, the ogee on the ends of the crest rail is a nice classical surprise on a folk chair. Who knows if this detail is original to this chair. But it works.
The third chair is listed as an Irish fruitwood chair from the 18th century. I’m charmed by the low seat and the overall boxiness of the thing. Also, if you look close at the seat you can see there is a hole that is plugged at the rear of the seat (it could be a knot but I think that’s unlikely). This chair might have started off as a 3- or 5-legged chair.
Finally, a fascinating pig bench from Suffolk House antiques that might be from the Middle Ages according to the magazine. This bench proves that sometimes warped wood can be your friend.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: John Brown Book, The Anarchist's Design Book, Uncategorized
The Ma’agan Mikhael, a 5th-century BCE Cypriot merchantman, was found off the coast of Israel in 1985. The wreck was an important find in learning more about ancient shipbuilding techniques and trade practices. After excavation and preservation the reconstructed hull was placed in the Hecht Museum in Haifa.
Three wooden boxes were found in the wreck: one in a heart shape with a pivoting lid and two violin-shaped boxes. There is plenty of evidence in the archeological records that these boxes were of a type used for cosmetic pastes and creams.
In 2004 Yigal Sitry published, “Unique Wooden Artifacts: A Study of Typology and Technology” part of a series of research articles in “The Ma’agan Mikhael Ship – The Recovery of a 2,400 Year Old Merchantman” by Yaacov Kahanov and Elisha Linder.
In his article Sitry provides a full description of the heart-shaped box and outlines, with illustrations, “the order of operations” in the making of the box (and easy for a modern woodworker to follow).
The box, before conservation that caused uneven shrinkage, measured 110 mm x 109 mm x 34.5 mm (about 4.3″ x 4.3″ x 1.4″) and was made of oak. One note: the heart-shaped box has been renamed the ivy leaf box as that shape was more consistent with shapes found in contemporary pottery and art.
The link to Yigal Sitry’s article is here.
For the “recently spurned:” Put Nirvana’s “Heart-shaped Box” on a loop, make the box, burn it, repeat.
— Suzanne Ellison
Filed under: Historical Images, Personal Favorites
In the years since I wrote about and hosted a video on building the knockdown workbench from the collection at Old Salem, N.C., folks have sent me hundreds of photos of the benches they have built. I absolutely love getting these. I am always interested to see the different vise set-ups, materials and alterations different people have done with the design.
I few days ago, Luther Shealy sent some photos of a Moravian work bench he has nearly completed. Shealy is in the U.S. Army stationed in South Korea. He had to leave his Roubo bench behind when he was deployed overseas.
Fortunately the Army base has a morale and welfare shop the servicemen can use, and he decided to build a bench for use while in Korea. He was able to source the pine parts of the bench on location, but the oak part proved to be problem. Undeterred, Shealy had friends back home mail him enough white oak for the short stretchers. He brought the oak vise chop over in his luggage; that must have been interesting trip thru TSA!
I very much admire Shealy’s determination to make this happen in a less-than-ideal situation.
— Will Myers
Filed under: Workbenches
We have new information on these three Lost Art Press projects for you this Monday:
The Woodworker, The Charles H. Hayward Years, Vol. IV, The Shop & Furniture
The final book in our series from “The Woodworker” is supposed to finish up at the bindery this week and be put on a truck to our warehouse on Friday. If we don’t run into any transportation snags, that means we’ll start shipping the book to you next week.
With All the Precision Possible: Roubo on Furniture
The standard version of this book is still in production at the printing plant and is on track to ship to our warehouse in mid to late March. In the meantime, designer Wesley Tanner is laying out the deluxe version of this book and it should be ready for the printer by the end of the month.
The deluxe version is going to be printed at the same plant that printed the deluxe version of “Roubo on Marquetry” and we are trucking the entire press run to New Mexico to be bound and have the slipcases made by hand. The deluxe edition of “Roubo on Furniture” will be the same width and height as the deluxe “Roubo on Marquetry,” but it will be much thicker. “Roubo on Marquetry” was 248 pages; deluxe “Roubo on Furniture” will be 472.
We have ordered 1,000 copies of deluxe “Roubo on Furniture” and the price will be $550 for U.S. customers. The book will be available for Canadian and international customers with an additional charge for postage. It will not be sold through our retailers.
Like the deluxe “Roubo on Marquetry,” all customers who order the book early can opt to have their name listed in the book as a “subscriber.” Also like the deluxe “Roubo on Marquetry,” this book is a significant financial risk for us. We know it will be a fantastic piece of work, so we’re happy to do it.
Because of all the handwork involved in this book because it is oversized, my guess is we will open ordering in about a month and the book will ship in June.
We have sold out of the 500 copies of the letterpress version of “Roman Workbenches.” What happens now? You can still buy the pdf of the book for $15. After we print and ship all the copies that have been ordered, we might have a handful of extras that we will sell online. We also hope to have some unbound copies for sale.
I know this all sounds vague, but it really depends on how many copies are destroyed during the binding process. Commercial binding can destroy up to 30 percent of your press run (I know that sounds crazy).
Several people have asked if we’re going to offer a standard offset-printed version of “Roman Workbenches” and the answer is: We hope to.
I have two research trips coming up this year. If they are fruitful and people seem interested in the topic, we’ll print an offset version that is expanded with lots of photography and the additional information from Italy and Germany.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Charles H. Hayward at The Woodworker, Roman Workbenches, Roubo Translation, Uncategorized
My daughter Maddy has almost run out of our second batch of Lost Art Press stickers. So if you want some of these three recent designs, don’t tarry.
You can order the stickers one of two ways. For customers in the United States, you can send a $5 bill and a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) to Maddy at:
Stick it to the Man
P.O. Box 3284
Columbus, OH 43210
Maddy will take your SASE and put three high-quality vinyl stickers – one of each design – in your envelope and mail it to you immediately. (If you send $10, she’ll send two sets; $15 will get you three sets). She also has been throwing in some bonus stickers….
For customers outside the United States (or those who don’t want to use an SASE), you can order stickers through Maddy’s etsy store. Stickers there are $6 for domestic customers. Because of the international postage, sets are $10 for international (sorry, but there are fees and this and that).
Maddy came home last weekend from Ohio State and we talked about how her sticker business was going. If you have ordered stickers from Maddy, you have made a huge difference in her life. This might sound corny, but now she can afford name-brand granola bars instead of the generic ones (this is a big deal). Also, she and her boyfriend could afford to attend a rodeo last month and saw a monkey ride a sheepdog that was herding sheep. She’s an animal science major (and animal lover) so this was really sweet (and kinda strange).
So thank you all. This little sticker business means I don’t have to sell my plasma so baby can go to the rodeo.
— Christopher Schwarz
P.S. Please note that the puppy shown in the photo above has not been drugged or harmed by the sticker. He was running around trying to eat some garbage and then fell asleep in Maddy’s lap.
Filed under: Stickers, Uncategorized
I was flattening some panels by hand the other day (too wide for my machines), and that got me thinking about plane blade camber. If you search online for discussions of blade camber, you’ll find that a great many electrons have been spilled on the topic. One common thread in these discussions is frequent confusion over the fact that a bevel-up blade requires more camber (i.e., the center of the blade needs to protrude further beyond its corners) than a bevel-down blade to have the same effect.
On the one hand, everyone seems comfortable with the notion that as the blade’s bedding angle decreases, the effective radius of curvature of its edge increases. This is easy to see. First, find yourself a thin disk (e.g., a CD or DVD) and hold it up at arm’s length:
When the disc is perpendicular to your line of sight, the apparent radius of its lower edge is equal to its actual radius (2-3/8″ in the case of a CD/DVD). But start tilting it from perpendicular, and the curve flattens; its apparent radius increases:
Tilt even more, and it keeps increasing:
From the point of view of the wood fiber that’s about to have its head chopped off by an oncoming blade, the greater the tilt from vertical, the greater the apparent radius of curvature, and consequently the less the depth of cut at the center of the blade. And since the blade in a bevel-up plane is tilted further from perpendicular, its apparent radius of curvature is larger than that of the bevel-down blade unless we make its actual radius of curvature smaller (i.e., increase its camber). Easy.
On the other hand, we’ve also all seen diagrams of bevel-down vs. bevel-up planes seated on their respective frogs:
The resulting cutting geometries in the two cases are identical. The blade’s cutting edge comprises two intersecting planes, one formed by the back surface, and the other by the bevel. The only difference between the two configurations is that these two planar surfaces switch roles.
This is where I think some people get confused. If the two setups are equivalent, why can’t we measure the blade camber in the same way with both? In truth, we sort of can, but there’s a difference between the bevel in a cambered blade vs. a straight blade. When the camber is small, that difference is also small (and negligible), but with a strongly cambered blade, such as one we might use in a fore or scrub plane, it’s not. With a cambered blade, the bevel is not planar. In fact, the bevel is a section of the surface of a cone:
That’s where the equivalence breaks down, as it’s no longer possible to directly superimpose the cutting geometry of a bevel-up blade onto that of a bevel-down blade. And so we go back to always measuring the camber with respect to the back of the blade.
Anyway, is any of this important? Only to the extent that you get a feel for how the different parameters interact, so that you’ll know how much to camber your blade to achieve a given depth of cut.
I’m avoiding the math here, because it’s been covered before (such as here and here), but I did put together a little online app that lets you plug in some numbers to see how this all works. Here’s a screenshot:
You can find the app here. To use it, enter your bed angle and blade width, and one of the other three values. The app will compute the other two corresponding values for you, dynamically updating the display as you modify the values. The bed angle is in degrees; the other values can be in whatever length units you choose, as long as you’re consistent (inches, millimetres, furlongs, it makes no difference).
Now, I know that someone is going to read this and then get out their micrometer and measure their blade camber to three decimal places, to which I say,
STOP!! PLEASE STEP AWAY FROM THE PLANE!!
The point of the app is intuition, not prescription. The precise value of camber that you end up with is largely irrelevant, as long as you’re in the ballpark.
Don’t worry, plane happy.
Filed under: Uncategorized
If you have been interested in the low Roman workbenches I’ve been writing about, here’s your chance to follow along while two woodworkers build them. You can even join in and build your own with home-center materials and firewood (more on that in a minute).
Joshua Klein and Mike Updegraff of Mortise & Tenon magazine are each going to build Roman workbenches and blog about the experience starting on Feb. 20. You can read more details about their plans here.
When starting with rough materials, these workbenches take me about 10 hours to build (that includes the time to document the process with photos and notes). But I have an electric lathe. I think that balances out the equation – I think anyone can build this bench in about 10 hours.
If you don’t have a slab on hand, here’s what I would do: Buy a 12’-long 2×12. Crosscut it in half. Glue the two halves face to face. That’s the benchtop. For the legs, go buy some firewood from the grocery store if you don’t have a big firewood pile already. Split the legs out of firewood billets.
The low Roman workbench is a lot of fun to build. But it’s even more fun to use at the end. You get to sit while you work – nice!
It’s also funny how the low bench has become the community center for my workshop. When I have visitors, they naturally gravitate to the low bench and sit there (I’m the only one who sits on my Roubo bench).
If you’d like more details on why the Roman bench is a marvel of early technology and workholding, check out the article I wrote on it for Issue 2 of Mortise & Tenon magazine.
I’ll definitely be following Joshua and Mike’s progress that week. But I won’t be building along. I’ve already got one….
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Roman Workbenches, Uncategorized
Yesterday Chris and I had a Q & A session about stick chairs, the Hall’s Croft chair, chair design and more. It was only towards the end of the evening portion of our chat, and after he had consumed two beers, that it was necessary to redact a line or two.
Suzanne: The last time we talked about chairs was in January 2015, your pre-condition was we had to be naked (although we were about 550 miles apart) and it was titled ‘Naked Necessity.’ What pre-condition do you have this time?
Chris: Let’s say hirsutus maximus.
Suzanne: Sorry, I’m rejecting your hairy pre-condition and going with a jolt of Tia Maria in my afternoon coffee. Let’s get started.
When you see a stick chair what do you find pleasing to your eye?
Chris: Well first it’s the angles. Peter Galbert, the bard of chairmakers, nailed it when he wrote this: “The angles of the legs, along with their design, help give the chair a ‘gesture.’ Whether the desired result is a visual lightness and sense of action or stability and weight, angles are important.”
I’m looking for a gesture that is somewhere in the neighborhood of “f-you world.” I like chairs that have an animalistic stance – like they would jump up and lick your face or tear you to shreds.
Most Windsor chairs have a stateliness that leaves me cold. In contrast, Welsh stick chairs are more like a crazy uncle.
Suzanne: For the woodworker in you what do you like about these chairs?
Chris: These chairs were not manufactured. And in many cases they were built by the same people who used them. So every chair is different and is connected to a person.
Plus, the makers didn’t follow the same rulebook as the Windsor makers of High Wycombe. They used angles that were more rakish and severe (and got away with it). They used construction methods that were simpler (and many of these chairs survived 200 or more years). And they used found materials. The armbow of many of these chairs is a curved branch they nicked from a coppice or from their own land.
You don’t have to be a professional chairmaker to make nice Welsh stick chairs. You just have to have some sticks, a plank for the seat and a few tools.
Suzanne: When you and Roy Underhill stumbled upon the Hall’s Croft chair what were your first impressions?
Chris: Roy and I had spent the entire day crawling around the floors of the dwellings of Stratford-on-Avon, photographing all the stuff that was fascinating (I filled a 32gb SD card). There was a short bed, for example. Why is it so short? Was it because people were shorter back then? Or was it because beliefs at the time were that you should not sleep flat – you should sleep upright – so evil spirits didn’t get in through your mouth.
When we saw the Halls Croft chair we both just stopped for a minute. Unlike a lot of the stuff we’d seen that day, this chair was out of the norm (by the way, I really doubt it was contemporary to the house; many of these chairs are much younger than dealers suspect or advertise).
The first thing we did was set up a perimeter. I poked my head into the dining room to make sure the docent was facing the cafe. Then Roy started putting objects on the chair that were an identifiable dimension – such as a touristy pamphlet – so we could scale the chair’s parts when we got back to the States. We took dozens of photos each whilst I kept a lookout for the very helpful employees of the house museum.
We did it without upsetting anyone and without anyone (me) having to say: I’ll create a diversion!
I think Roy liked the odd crest rail. I really liked the birdcage-like structure of the spindles.
Suzanne: You encourage woodworkers to explore many furniture forms to develop their knowledge of joinery and their own designs and suggest carrying a sketchbook, camera, etc. What else do you do to get a good record of a piece of furniture?
Chris: I always carry a camera with me. It’s a habit I picked up as a newspaper reporter and has served me well as a furniture designer. I also carry a credit card – not to pay anyone off but to put it in photos so I can scale the object in Photoshop. And I try to take photos that resemble construction drawings: a straight-on elevation, a profile and (if possible) a plan. Then I take a “beauty shot” to remind me of how all these pieces add up together, and I take photos of the important details.
I rarely make replicas. But knowing what a maker did – exactly – with a beautiful piece is solid gold information.
Suzanne: As for measuring the chair I’m surprised you didn’t use body parts as measuring devises. And no, not that body part (this isn’t ancient Rome after all). I mean the width of your palm, elbow to wrist, etc.
Chris: Using body parts works in a pinch. I usually have a 6” rule in my man-purse when I travel – that’s the easiest gnomon to deal with because you can pick out 1/16”s easily. I know all this sounds a bit wacko, but a good image inventory of pieces you’ve encountered is a huge help when designing. It’s like a sketchbook of other people’s work that you love.
Suzanne: Would you say your experience as a chairmaker plus the image library you have built provides you with a “muscle memory” of seat proportions, back splay, etc.?
Chris: That’s a good way to put it. Once you see thousands of designs you quickly see any design as a collection of angles, segments of circles, boxes and other assorted shapes. It’s a bit like seeing the code in “The Matrix” or the magic point where you think in a foreign language.
Suzanne: To use Peter Galbert’s term “gesture” of the chair the features that caught my eye, besides the crest rail, are the roundness of the arms and the gap in the back. The arms curve around to embrace the sitter plus the surface of the arms are rounded. The gap in the back adds a lightness overall. You posted a photo of a similar chair. In your study of these chairs have you seen this feature very often?
Chris: Sitting in the chair is very much like receiving a hug. There is an amazing compactness to it. It’s so close to you that it feels like an exoskeleton or a carapace.
While the compactness of the chair isn’t common, having the arms threaded by the back spindles is fairly common. As I have been told by our John Brown team, Welsh chairmakers didn’t do much steam bending, so this technique allows them to cut the arms from solid material (no bending) and yet create a pleasing horseshoe shape.
To be honest I was skeptical of this style of armbow until I sat in one. They are amazingly rigid thanks to the spindles below.
Suzanne: The original chair was made from elm. You chose sycamore. Why and what do you like and not like about sycamore for this chair?
Chris: Vernacular chairs were generally made from whatever materials were on hand. So that’s the philosophy I use when building chairs. Elm is difficult to get here – you have to find it and cut it yourself. And Dutch elm disease made finding elm a tricky business.
When you look at the materials available around the Midwest, sycamore is a logical choice. It’s a junk tree of no real commercial value. Its grain is interlocked (like that of elm), which makes it impossible to split. (That’s a good thing with seat material.) And it can be had if you ask around.
Like elm, sycamore is an enormous challenge to work. If your tools are not razor sharp, it will tear out horribly. Its density varies greatly depending on the color of the wood. But if you take the time to conquer it, the rewards are spectacular. The quartersawn figure is like a field of stars.
Suzanne: The Hall’s Croft chair has a unique crest rail which I have dubbed the Trinocular. You indicated the form might be an exercise in geometry. Explain, or do we need to bring in Jim Tolpin?
Chris: Well one of the themes underlying the geometry of woodworking tools is that if you set your dividers to the circumference of any circle, then that distance can be stepped off exactly six times around that circle’s circumference. Hollows and rounds are one example of how this plays out in our tools. If you want to know what radii a certain plane cuts, you measure the cutter’s width. That width equals its radius. That makes layout predictable.
So the crest rail is three half circles. That means the length of the crest rail is exactly six times the radius of each circle. The radius also equaled the width of the area below the half-circles. So the maker laid out the entire crest rail with one setting of his or her dividers. I don’t know if they were lazy, in a hurry or winking at the person who stumbled on it 200 years later.
Suzanne: I just had a flashback to 8th grade Geometry class.
You made several different crest rails and finally put aside the Trinocular. You also made other design changes to the chair. Describe what you did and why. Did your changes include resizing the chair for the modern body?
Chris: I don’t make replicas unless a customer requests it specifically. I made replicas for many years to get inside the heads of early makers, but I’m at the point now where I sit in a chair and know exactly what needs to be changed to make it suit me and the modern frame.
For my first version of the chair I kept the seat dimensions and leg angles true to the original. I wanted to see how the chair sat because I didn’t get to sit in the original (promise!). But when it came to the crest rail, I had to make changes. The trinoc crest rail was too quirky, low and flat. I made a couple trinoc crests and just couldn’t fall in love. So I increased the length of the four back spindles and carved a curved crest out of solid beech.
I also made some minor changes to the seat profile and arms, but nothing major.
For the third version of the chair, which I’m building now, I’ve changed a whole host of things. The seat is slightly wider and deeper but retains the same overall feeling of getting a chair hug. The rake and splay of the leg angles are all new. I wanted to give it a slightly more aggressive stance and make it more stable in back.
I saddled the set to add comfort (the original had a flat seat). And I’m working on a slightly different crest rail that will tuck under the sitter’s shoulder blades. Most people will see it as the same chair. But the third one is a different animal.
Suzanne: What did you learn from making this chair? Did making the Hall’s Croft chair help you with your design of the staked armchair that you didn’t get to include in the “The Anarchist’ Design Book”?
Chris: I really love the birdcage effect of this chair’s spindles and will use that a lot in my future work. This chair gave me some clues about how to deal with a staked armchair a la “The Anarchist’s Design Book,” but that chair is on hold right now. I pushed things a little too far with its design and ended up pinching the sitter’s side meat – not good. So I’m finishing up this other chair and am putzing around with the staked armchair. As of now, I’m detaching the arms from the back spindles and trying to see if the chair still feels durable.
Or it will go in the burn pile.
Suzanne: You are also planning a staked settle. Where are you in designing that piece? Have you made a settle before?
Chris: I have made a number of settles over the years. They’re kind of a weird form with their own sets of rules that aren’t exactly like chairs.
I’ve designed this staked settle a couple times, and I think I have it nailed. But I won’t know until I build it.
Suzanne: I am ever hopeful you will build one of those Welsh pub settles with the bacon compartment.
Chris: Anything with a bacon compartment is a good thing. One might call it the “meat pocket.”
Suzanne: What kind of finish did you use for the chair?
Chris: Organic linseed oil and beeswax.
Suzanne: I am slightly obsessed with the Trinocular crest rail. Do you see any other use for it? Door stop? Bookend? Trivet?
Chris: [Redacted – Heavily Redacted] OK, I’ve had two beers. Please excuse that.
I don’t know. They look like a pair of “wooden knuckles” to me. Maybe they could be used in a massage situation. The shape is utterly odd – like the face of a three-eyed frog. I like it, truth be told. But I can’t see it as a component in my furniture – yet.
Suzanne: Do you have any questions for me? I take that back. Chris, thank you! We will have to do this again in another two years.
Chris: Thanks for doing this little chat. It’s actually an interesting exercise to put some of this stuff into words that has been swimming around in my head.
Off to find beer No. 3.
Suzanne: While you enjoy your beer I’m going to update my woodworking dictionary with some meat-based terms: meat clamp, sitter’s side meat, meat bushing and meat pocket.
You can read our first chair Q & A, ‘Naked Necessity’ here.
You can read more about the Hall’s Croft chair here.
Chris did five posts on building a stick chair. Click on the titles listed below to go directly to the article.
The gallery has a collection chair of photos from the Instagram feed.
Filed under: The Anarchist's Design Book
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