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Lost Art Press: Chris Schwarz
When translating Andre Roubo’s “l’Art du menuisier,” we debated converting all of his dimensions to U.S. Customary Units or metric. After some discussion, we decided to leave them as-is for the same reason that we tried to maintain Roubo’s writing voice. This is a work of the 18th century, and so we sought to keep it there.
Translating French inches from that period isn’t difficult. Roubo uses the units of “thumbs” and “lines.” A thumb is just slightly more than our modern inch — 1.066″. The thumb is further divided into 12 “lines.” Each line is equivalent to .088″ today. The French foot is 12.792″.
If you wish to complete your “period rush” when reading “With all the Precision Possible: Roubo on Furniture,” you might like to have a ruler at hand that is marked in French inches and lines.
Brendan Bernhardt Gaffney of burnHeart has put his “Pied du Roi” rulers on sale today, and they are gorgeous and useful when reading Roubo.
If you have ever wanted one, don’t wait. Brendan says it will be awhile before he makes more.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Roubo Translation, To Make as Perfectly as Possible, To Make as Perfectly as Possible, Roubo Translation
My daughter Katy made another monster batch of soft wax for the Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool event last weekend and had 45 tins left over to sell in her etsy store. Check it out here.
Remember: It’s for furniture. We had some people visit the store last Saturday who seemed intent on using it on their lips, beards and what-not. It will sting, and not in a good way.
Also, don’t use it on your dog, though it would be great to have a dog that smelled like soft wax. Gerbils are right out. Parrots? Verboten. Argh. Just furniture.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Uncategorized
In early March 2017, Jim Tolpin woke up in the middle of the night with a revelation: He finally understood where trigonometry comes from. “I was actually just working on that when you called,” he says. “And I actually think I just figured it out.”
He approached it the way an artisan would, hands-on, intuitive. “It hurts my head to keep doing this,” he says. “Why am I doing this? Why am I waking up in the middle of the night thinking about math? I literally got up early and just started taking notes, looking up Latin and root words.”
Jim is, above all else, a teacher. But he’s the best kind of teacher. The kind who never believes he knows it all, the kind who never stops learning. In some ways, he can’t help it. It’s in his blood.
Jim grew up on the East coast, specifically Springfield, Mass., with his parents and his sister. His family is East European and came over several generations before. Most of them were in the sciences, but his highly educated grandfather was a craftsperson, who found work in America as a grocer and cabinetmaker.
As a young boy Jim spent the weekends with his grandfather, tagging along to lumberyards, helping him pick out material and working on small projects with him at home. “He definitely was a very early inspiration to the pleasures of making something with your hands and seeing it come to life,” Jim says. “I attribute that to him.”
Jim’s parents were not craftspeople. “My dad was basically a bean counter and a court reporter, and my mom was an at-home mom,” he says. “I related quite a bit more to my grandparents than I did to my own parents.”
Most everyone else in Jim’s family? Teachers.
In high school Jim fell in love with studying the sciences. “I had some super-nerd friends and we got together and built ham radios and went up to the mountains with our radios and set up antennas and did all that kind of fun stuff,” he says.
Jim attended University of Massachusetts Amherst, first majoring in physics and then switching to geology with a minor in journalism. He enjoyed field work, especially mapping, and working with his hands.
“At this point I really enjoyed learning about science and understanding the basic concepts of it, and I wanted to do what Carl Sagan ended up doing, which was bringing science to the public and being able to explain it to the public,” he says. One of Jim’s favorite professors taught both geology and journalism. Jim’s future career, science writing, seemed obvious. He was accepted into Stanford to pursue a doctorate. in just that. But then came the Vietnam War. Jim got a deferment and entered the Teachers Corps in Wooster, Mass., for one year.
After the Teachers Corps, Jim got a job teaching geology at the University of New Hampshire in 1970. There he met some students who had studied under Tage Frid at the Rhode Island School of Design. They were taking on various cabinetmaking and installation jobs, and Jim devoted himself to them, helping them and learning from them. “Within just a year or so I think I learned more about woodworking than I did about geology in four years of college,” he says. “Because of that total immersion, that total engagement.” At this point, “science writer” began to fade. “I had an inherent compulsion to want to work with my hands,” he said.
Enter Bud McIntosh, an old-school boat builder. Bud turned out to be a huge influence on Jim, convincing him that he wouldn’t be throwing away his education by going into woodworking. “He also had a degree in classic literature, actually, but he devoted his whole life to boat building, and found it a challenge from start to finish.”
Something clicked. Jim realized there could be challenge, joy and the chance to always learn new things in the field of woodworking. “My mind and my hands would be fully engaged,” he says.
Jim continued cabinetmaking and then got a job with another boat builder in Rockport, Maine, fitting out interiors of workboat-type yachts. It was a crash course in complicated woodworking (think slopes and curves) that improved his work.
In 1978 Jim moved out to the West coast, Washington state, specifically, with his young family for opportunities in boatbuilding. He heard the pay was better — and it was. He found work right away doing interior finishes on boats, but soon transitioned to cabinetmaking for a couple reasons: he could make even more money and he realized he was a more efficient cabinetmaker than he was a boatbuilder.
Jim learned how to make a (good) living out of a small cabinetmaking shop. He experimented with setups, and figured out the best way to design his workflow. And from that came his first book: “Jim Tolpin’s Guide to Becoming a Professional Cabinetmaker.”
So he wasn’t his own version of Carl Sagan. And he wasn’t teaching anyone about science. But he was teaching woodworking. And so, his college dream began to come true in another way. (Spoiler alert: He’s now written more than a dozen books and has sold more than three-quarters of a million copies.)
During these years Jim says he thoroughly enjoyed cabinetmaking, and not just the making. He enjoyed figuring out, and writing about, how to run a successful cabinet shop. “Really the goal, in cabinetry, is to design a system where you can hire some kid off the street and in one or two days you can teach him the entire process,” he says. “When I realized that I was that kid off the street, it wasn’t challenging anymore.”
So he explored new avenues of woodworking. This included green woodworking, and building pitchforks and chairs with his friend, Dave Sawyer. “And then I got into this whole notion of building small boats,” he says. “I did a couple small boats and then I got into gypsy wagons.”
Yes. Gypsy wagons.
“That was a real challenge,” Jim says. “I didn’t have plans for building gypsy wagons. I did have some museum drawings but they didn’t show joinery. And I needed to do joinery for something that could travel on the highway. So I kind of did a lot of seat-of-the-pants engineering to build these things.” He built six.
It was during these years that Jim became a prolific writer. “I’m writing stuff down as I’m learning it,” he says. “So after I learned something and felt like I really had a handle on it I’d write a book about it. There’s a whole series of books that happened one after another and I slowly migrated from making a living woodworking to making a living writing about woodworking. I was really getting into a balance of journalism and doing the craft itself.”
And Jim loved that balance. He was living out Bud’s wisdom, engaging both his hands and his mind while also doing what he loved — woodworking along with constant learning.
“Most afternoons and evenings I’d be in the shop making stuff, testing things out, testing out some theories about the process,” he says. His mornings, when he says he was “freshest and not antsy,” were devoted to writing. “I was constantly discovering a different way of looking at all these processes and trying to really understand what’s really happening when we use a tool on wood in a certain way. What’s really going on from a physics point of view? And I’d do some analysis about that and experiment with that. I’m not a fast learner, by any means. I had to really experience it. I find that I have to work from my hands to understand something.”
With his books, Jim became a household name among woodworkers. With this fame came the reputation that he was, as he says, an absolutely fantastic woodworker. “I’m an OK woodworker,” Jim says. “I do pretty good woodworking.” But, he says, he’d never consider himself a fine woodworker, one who builds studio furniture. “I just basically became a good woodworker that does good stuff.” (I tell him he’s being humble.)
He admits to being a good teacher — it’s his passion. But he finds it interesting that people confuse the prolific writing he does with this idea that he’s an exceptional woodworker. “I’m much more interested in the process, in teaching the process than I am the product.”
He has no attachment to the things he makes, which likely stems from 25 years of cabinetmaking and spending a month on a project only to sell it to a client and never see it again. His joy, he says, came from the process of making them.
With a number of books under his belt Jim was approached by Tim Lawson at a neighborhood party. Tim thought Port Townsend was the perfect location for a woodworking school. “It’s a very rich learning environment here and there are so many masters of different trades here,” Jim says. “He just approached me and asked me if I’d think about it and I thought about it for about 30 seconds and said, ‘Yeah. Let’s see what we can do.’”
But Jim had one condition. “If I did teach I would only teach the hand tools because I was done with routers and tables saws,” he says. “Well, not exactly table saws but I was absolutely done with routers and power sanders. I gave them all away. I’d be happy to never see one for the rest of my life.”
For Jim this was a circling back to his time as a boat builder, which required lots of hand fitting with planes and chisels. This also meant a return to another love: learning. “I returned myself to studying and practicing and really developing my hand tool skills,” he says. And he now firmly believes that machines aren’t able to teach the same things as hand tools — an intimate connection with the wood is essential. “And for selfish reasons I just didn’t want to be around students and power tools,” he says. “They scare me, the tools scare me to death.”
Jim and Tim teamed up with John Marckworth, and the three founded the Port Townsend School of Woodworking. It officially opened its doors March 8, 2008. Today the school is considered to be one of the finest in the country.
In many ways, Jim has lived several lifetimes but his story, of course, doesn’t end here. About five years ago he attended a lecture about proportional systems and the influence of Grecian architecture in furniture at a Woodworking in America conference given by George Walker, a man he’d never met. And George attended Jim’s lecture on how our bodies inform the form and function of furniture, having never met. At the end of each lecture, Jim and George were asking each other questions the other had never considered. “And basically, we’ve been talking ever since,” Jim says. “He can’t shut up about it. Neither can I. We find there’s always something to learn about the ancient systems that have been in place for thousands of years about designing furniture and building.”
It was after those lectures, at a bar in Chicago, when Jim said to George, “You’ve got to write a book about this stuff.” George said, “I don’t know how to write a book.” But Jim, of course, did. “We just ended up in full collaboration mode,” Jim says.
The result: “By Hand & Eye” and “By Hound & Eye,” with “Tricks and Truths: Geometry of Antiquity For Artisans of Today” forthcoming.
The duo has formed their own company, By Hand & Eye, LLC, and occasionally meet up to give talks. Recently they both traveled to Los Angeles to give a 90-minute talk to Google’s design team. (And if you haven’t watched the “By Hand & Eye” animation made by Andrea Love, who also was the illustrator of “By Hound & Eye,” you must. You can see it here.)
These days a typical week in Jim’s life includes continuing program development for the Port Townsend School of Woodworking, working on projects for Lost Art Press, woodworking (the day we spoke he said he was headed over to a friend’s house that afternoon to help plank an 18-foot-long rowboat) as well as what he calls “reality maintenance chores.” He also goes to the school two to three times a week, visiting classes.
Since moving to Port Townsend Jim has remarried. His wife, recently retired, worked as a physician for more than 30 years. He has two grown children from his first marriage and now also has a grown son and a 15-year-old who lives at home.
Home is in uptown Port Townsend, an old Victorian town and one of the only Victorian seaports left in the United States. His house is one of the oldest in town. The design of his shop, which was completed a couple years ago, was informed by the existing house. Jim designed the shop and one of the school’s main instructors, a third-generation carpenter named Abel Isaac Dances, took the lead on it. Several graduates from the school’s foundation course spent a summer working as paid apprentices, and together they built 90 percent of the shop using only hand tools.
The town of Port Townsend is small and fairly quiet, except in the touristy summer months. And, it’s walkable. Jim and his wife can walk to the movie theater or down to the water in about 7 minutes. They visit farmers’ market and grow their own herbs and berries — lots of raspberries. “I feel like I’m living this charmed existence,” he says.
Jim says he can’t imagine ever leaving Port Townsend. It’s home. In the years ahead he expects growth in the woodworking school, with expanded programming. “And I always think that the book I’m working on now is the last book I’m ever going to write, and that was six books ago,” he says, laughing. “If I know I have something worthwhile to say I will probably keep writing.”
And ever the life-long learner, Jim plans to continue the role of student. “There are college courses I want to take online,” he says. “I may go back to college for all I know.” He tells the story of his uncle who, at 100 years old, went back to college to major in American history. “I talked to him when he went back to college, and he said, ‘I’m really cheating, actually.’ And I asked him, ‘Why are you cheating?’ And he said, ‘Well, I’m majoring in American history and I lived through half of that.’ He was a very funny guy. He was an inspiration to me. He had this love of learning his whole life.”
Jim’s love of learning shows up every day in his shop. “This is what happens to me: I’ll be doing something and I’ll just question, Why am I doing that? I was one of those really annoying students that always asked that question. I even asked why one and one equals two, because that made no sense to me. It turns out it’s a good question, by the way, in mathematics.”
Jim says he loves going back and revisiting things he had been taught, but this time with deeper meaning and explanation. “I want to know the intuitive reason why all these things work,” he says. “I mean, how long did it take me to realize why a plane is called a plane? It’s because it makes a plane. I should have known that. I should have known that 35 years ago. As soon as you say that to someone they whack their foreheads. It’s fun. It’s just really fun and that’s why I keep doing it.”
This constant questioning, thinking, experimenting and processing requires intense focus, which is why Jim enjoys working alone. His shop music is lyric-less: classical, Gaelic or electronica.
This intense focus also requires breaks. For fun, Jim enjoys making gliders. “I make wood that flies, basically,” he says. Made out of balsa, most without motors, Jim says they’re simply hand-launched things that play with the wind. It’s a passion that stems from his childhood, when he would make stick-and-tissue model airplanes.
He’s also keen on keeping himself physically fit, which means walking every day with his wife and rowing solo or with one person most every day in the warmer months. He goes to the gym almost every other day for basic conditioning, in order to continue rowing and working with hand tools as he is now. “When I do that stuff I’m not thinking about all the other stuff,” he says. “I’m just enjoying being outside, getting into nature and getting into the physical exertion of my body.”
The paths in Jim’s life have led him to unexpected places, and yet, the destination has always been the same: figuring out a process with his hands, and knowing and understanding it so deeply he can explain it, simply, to others. “I love being in the position of not knowing but maybe going to find out,” he says. He hopes to keep his eyes as wide open as possible, while not taking things personally and observing slowly. He encourages others, particularly longtime woodworkers, to do the same.
“Pass on what you know while you still can,” he says. “There are a lot of people out there who want to know this stuff. If you have an inclination to teach, do it. You’re not more than you think you know, so pass it on.”
— Kara Gebhart Uhl
Filed under: By Hand & Eye, By Hound and Eye, Uncategorized
Last night I got home from work and my wife said, “You smell like mothballs.” I am pretty sure I looked a bit disheveled too. I had a blank stare on my face and had the hair-falling-out-of-the-ponytail halo going on. “I just had a mind-blowing experience,” I replied.
I had just gotten back from the Fisher house and was digging deeper into a couple of chests of drawers that had never seemed relevant to the Fisher story. I never gave them too much notice because they looked nothing like the rest of his work – too fancy. Because he built furniture for a rural community, most all of Fisher’s work was on the less expensive side of things. He made ladderback chairs, candlestands, six-board chests, etc. ranging between $1 and $3 apiece. He never really got the opportunity to exercise his (uber meticulous) skill on furniture that was a bit more upscale. That is, until Mr. Johnson commissioned two chests of drawers in 1812. As I was tracing through this story while putting together the manuscript, I was struck by the fact that Johnson paid $14 for the two chests, making it Fisher’s biggest commission ever.
What did those chests look like? And where are they?
At that moment, it dawned on me to revisit the two chests I’d been dismissing as not from his hand. Maybe these were made by Fisher?
Mike and I had the drawers out, our heads inside and flashlights glaring for a good long while. We began to reveal bit by bit little evidences that make it possible that Fisher was, in fact, the maker of these chests. Besides the fascinating chalk marks that tie these pieces together, we were looking at some unique construction details like the fact that the backboards that were resawn by hand and attached bookmatched next to each other.
My mind reels as I record this story in the book. With the War of 1812 (which Fisher was adamantly against) just declared, his new infant son deathly ill and his windmill partially assembled, this commission must have been a dramatic one to work through. Putting these kinds of stories together in this book has been an amazing privilege. There is more to write so I should end here, but it’s refreshing to come back up for air to share with you my adventures in writing.
Filed under: Uncategorized
This is an excerpt from “The Woodworker: The Charles H. Hayward Years: Volume II” published by Lost Art Press.
That drawer runners must be strong is fairly obvious, but there are other equally important considerations to be kept in mind. For example, they must be square with the front and be free from winding. The latter point may not always be apparent. Glance for a minute at Fig. 2, which represents a cabinet seen from the side with the end removed. If the distance between runners and guides is measured it might well happen that it would be the same everywhere, and the work might be passed as in order. But the drawers would not run properly owing to the runners being in winding. This is a detail over which it is easy to trip.
When there is just one drawer occupying the whole space in a carcase it generally runs directly on the bottom, and the top acts in place of kickers. In a similar way the cabinet sides are virtually the guides. When there are several drawers, or when the lower part is occupied by a cupboard, however, it becomes necessary to add separate runners, guides, and kickers. The method of fixing these depends primarily upon the construction of the cabinet itself. For instance, the fixing in a cabinet with solid ends is rather different from that in one having panelled ends, because in the former allowance has to be made for shrinkage.
SOLID END CABINETS
A reliable method for these is given in Fig. 1. It will be noticed that the mid-drawer rail is grooved at the back. This is to enable a dustboard to be fixed, but it incidentally provides a useful means of securing the runners, the front ends of which are stub-tenoned. When no dustboard is required the groove is cut in locally to provide a mortise in which the stub-tenon can fit. The runners are grooved with the plough at the same setting, then when the stub-tenons are cut it is merely necessary to make them line up with the groove.
It will be seen that the runners rest in grooves worked across the ends. This is essential for a really strong job because the grooves offer direct resistance to the downward pressure of the drawers. It is important, however, that no glue is used for fixing because, in the event of shrinkage, the ends would be liable to split. The best plan is to glue just the tenon and drive in a skew nail, partly to force the runner tightly home, and partly to hold it whilst the glue sets. At the back a screw is used, the wood being cut away to remove the groove and to enable a shorter screw to be used. Note that a slot is cut for the screw rather than a round hole. This enables the end to draw along the runner in the case of shrinkage, so avoiding splitting. The screw serves to hold the runner in place rather than to provide direct support.
Since there is no end to which the centre runner can be attached, another method has to be adopted here. It depends in a measure upon the kind of back being fitted. If there is a fairly substantial muntin in the middle it is often possible to cut a groove across it and allow the back end of the runner to rest in this. If this is not practicable the simplest alternative is to introduce a hanger at the back, as shown in Fig. 1. This can be conveniently dovetailed into the top rail. At the bottom it is again dovetailed, this time into the runner itself. The fixing at the front is by the stub-tenon as in the side runners. Skew nails again are advisable to prevent any tendency to pull out. Both edges are grooved for dustboards, and in this connection it should be noted that the back dovetail is set in at each side sufficiently to clear the grooves easily.
A guide is needed in the middle, and the best form is a plain square of wood glued and screwed directly on top. It is a good plan to make it slightly tapered in width so that there is a trifle more width at back than at the front, so giving easy clearance for the drawers. This is not essential, however. Many workers prefer to make the job exactly the same size back and front. What is important is that there is not less clearance at the back.
When there is a solid top to the carcase this prevents any tendency for the drawer to drop when opened.
Sometimes, however, a couple of rails are substituted, as in Fig. 1, and this calls for the use of a kicker as shown. One only is needed because the rails are built out in their width at the ends and provide the necessary support. The strongest method is to frame the kicker between the rails before the last named are glued to the ends. Alternatively, a stub tenon can be cut at the front only, the back being butted. There is sufficient give in the wood to enable the tenon to be inserted and the back pressed down. A couple of nails can then be driven in askew, one at each side.
— Meghan Bates
Filed under: Charles H. Hayward at The Woodworker
During the Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event last weekend several attendees mentioned how they loved that our books were printed via letterpress.
I had to correct them because that’s absolutely not the case. We are printing just one book letterpress, “Roman Workbenches.” All of our other titles are printed using 20th-century offset printing technology. (The most modern way to print – digital – is still too ugly for me to even consider.)
What does offset printing look like? Check out the video I shot at the plant where we manufacture color books.
Letterpress is a physical process that is similar to what Gutenberg came up with, or how we make prints with potatoes. Like all printing, it requires skill and training to get a book that feels like a real book and not some manifesto or corporate annual report.
Today I spent an hour at Steam Whistle Letterpress as Brian Stuparyk and his dad, Ken, dialed in the settings for a plate and began making the impressions for one of the sheets. The short video above documented the process.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Roman Workbenches, Uncategorized
Reader Marcello Kozik sent us a fantastic video of guitars being made on Roman workbenches in Brazil. Take a look at all the ingenious ways the bench is used – including resawing.
Be sure to watch to the end when he plays the guitar.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Roman Workbenches, Uncategorized, Workbenches
The opportunity to be listed as a subscriber in the deluxe version of “With All the Precision Possible: Roubo on Furniture” ends at midnight tonight. After midnight, that door is closed.
During the last few weeks we’ve received some pushback about the price for the deluxe edition. It’s $550, which includes domestic shipping (international shipping is extra).
I know this seems a lot for a book on woodworking when birdhouse books can be had for $20. Here is our perspective on the price.
We wanted to offer the book, which represents thousands of hours of work during the last 10 years, in a variety of ways so everyone can benefit from it. You can buy a pdf of the book for $27.50. It has all of the information contained in the other editions of the book. The standard edition of the book is $57, which we think is a bargain for what you get. This standard edition is 472 pages, printed in the United States, the binding is sewn for long-term durability and the paper is bright and thick.
Finally, there is the deluxe edition. We are printing only 1,000 copies of this edition. It is offered in the original 11” x 17” size – same as the original Roubo books from 1774. This deluxe edition is printed to the absolute highest standards using the best materials we could find.
And yes, it’s $550.
For a book collector, that is a laughably low price. Vintage books (and high-end modern editions) that are $550 are at the low end of the spectrum. I gladly paid $2,000 for a vintage copy of Felebien (in French). And I routinely spend $500 to $1,000 for 19th-century books from England on carpentry and joinery for the Lost Art Press reference library.
What John and I sought to do with this book is give you a “period rush” – an inexpensive look at what high-end publishing is like. We both had that rush in 2013 when we received our copies of the first deluxe edition of “Roubo on Marquetry.”
When the truck dropped off the copies at John’s house in Fishers, Ind., we slashed open a box and each pulled out a copy. We each slid it out of the slipcase and then opened it. For the next 30 minutes we gaped at the copies in John’s garage. Honestly, unless you are a book collector, this book is unlike anything you’ve seen.
I know the above sounds like a hard sell. It’s not. We’ve sold only about 30 percent of the press run. So we’re going to have this book on hand for the next few years. If you can’t afford it now, maybe you can afford it after you sell that extra spleen you have hanging around.
But mostly, we’re just happy that we were able to offer this sort of book. Maybe it will take another year for us to break even on the project. That’s OK. But I know that everyone who buys this book will get more than they bargained for – from the authors, the publishers, the pre-production staff and the printers and binders on the front line.
This is as good as it gets.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Roubo Translation, Uncategorized, With All the Precision Possible
Editor’s Note: One of the many exciting books in the works at Lost Art Press is Joshua Klein’s book on Jonathan Fisher (more on Fisher here). Fisher was an ingenious American colonial polymath and woodworker who could fashion almost anything out of wood – a clock, a lathe turned by a windmill, his own tools, furniture for his town, convertible beds and on and on.
This project will be in our hands for editing soon and you’re going to hear a lot more about Fisher and Klein’s personal journey of discovery in researching Fisher. In the meantime, here’s a crazy story about the lengths Joshua is going to for the book.
— Christopher Schwarz
I remember talking with Don Williams about his struggles working on the H.O. Studley book, “Virtuoso: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of Henry O. Studley.” He said the challenge was unearthing information about who H.O. Studley was. Don searched far and wide to understand the story of this man and his legendary tool cabinet. Studley left no paper trail of letters describing his work, little if any of his other woodwork has been identified and much of the research required extensive traveling. Talk about a complicated project!
When Don visited my wife and I in Maine a few years ago, I took him through the Jonathan Fisher house. As we walked around the house looking at artifacts, we discussed the fact that the Fisher story has the opposite problem. Fisher’s house (five minutes from my own) is full of furniture, tools, paintings, journals, letters, etc. The archives are brimming with tiny little notebooks full of 18th- and 19th-century script, most of which was written in a shorthand he developed at Harvard. There are boxes of drawings, historic photographs and archaeological findings. Digesting this enormous body of information in order to discern a cogent furniture-making narrative would be an enormous task. If Studley was about accumulation, Fisher is about distillation.
As I was writing the chapter about Jonathan Fisher’s barn workshop, I was presented with the task of bringing together all of these artifacts into one scene. I know them all so well and am so immersed in the journals that I could picture it in my mind. His “tool closet” of planes, his lathe in the background, the sheep in the corner, his bald head and the “grave” demeanor on his face. It was almost like I was there. The problem was to describe it to the reader. Although I explained the setting as best as I could, I realized that looking at photographs of objects was not going to be enough. I wanted the reader to see things in context.
To my knowledge, no one writing a historic monograph on a pre-industrial furniture maker has ever commissioned an artist to recreate a workshop scene. Usually, there just isn’t enough information to create such a thing. But because almost everything from Fisher’s shop is either extant or we have paintings or photographs of it, I knew it was possible.
Is it necessary? No. Is it awesome? YES!
Fortunately, I’m working with Chris and John on this book so, of course, they were game. I contacted my first-choice artist, Jessica Roux, from Brooklyn, N.Y. I’ve admired Jessica’s work since seeing it on the covers of Taproot magazine. It struck me right away because it reminded me of Fisher’s own balance of academic training and folk whimsy. Also, the way she uses color and texture reminded of the many 18th/19th-century workshop paintings we all drool over. Her aesthetic vision seemed just right for this.
When I explained the project to Jessica, she was interested. I expressed how important historical accuracy was and she assured me she was used to several rounds of back and forth with authors to make sure things were conveyed correctly.
With the green light, I assembled images of the tools, historic paintings and Fisher himself and sent them along with a rough compositional sketch as a starting point. Then the back and forth began. During the last three weeks, Jessica has been refining a sketch that Chris and I will approve before she creates the final image. The color will happen in a magical digital process I look forward to learning more about.
We hope this artwork will bring Jonathan Fisher to life for you as you read this book. His life was one full of beauty, drama and lots of wood shavings — I can’t wait to share this unbelievable story.
The manuscript will be in Chris’ hands in a matter of weeks. Stay tuned.
— Joshua Klein, Mortise & Tenon magazine
Filed under: Uncategorized
Brian Stuparyk at Steam Whistle Letterpress is cranking up his Vandercook proofing press today to print the 500 copies of “Roman Workbenches.” I spent some time with his this morning as he adjusted the press for the run – tracking down an odd squeaking noise and adjusting the rollers to get the right spread of ink.
Printing the four signatures for the book should take about a week. Then the pages head to the bindery in Massachusetts. We’re still on track for shipping the book in April (though crappy weather, a trucking strike or a mutant squid attack could always throw us off).
Our customer service line, firstname.lastname@example.org, has been buzzing lately with questions about this book. Here are answers to the two most common questions:
Question 1: Is there a waiting list if people cancel their orders or there are extra books available?
Nope. No waiting list. If we have extra books or unbound copies become available, we’ll figure out how to sell them after all of the 500 people who ordered the book have an undamaged copy and are happy.
Question 2: Are you going to print a standard edition that is less expensive?
We hope to. I’m off to Italy next week for some additional research. And I really need to get to Germany for some important sleuthing – probably in June. If these trips are fruitful, I’ll probably expand the book with photographs and the additional information.
I think these benches are fascinating and have a lot to teach us. But I also don’t want to end up insulating my house with unsold copies of “Roman Workbenches.” We have been taking a lot of financial risks lately (deluxe “Roubo on Furniture” for one), and so I’m in a cautious mood.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Roman Workbenches, Uncategorized
The deadline to be listed as a subscriber in the deluxe version of “With All the Precision Possible: Roubo on Furniture” is midnight on Wednesday, March 15. No exceptions. We need to send the list of subscribers to the printing plant to keep this project on track for a June release.
Also, a reminder: Subscribers’ names will be listed using the name on their order form unless they send a note to email@example.com with alternative instructions by March 15.
Several people have asked: Can I list my company or organization instead of my name? Yes, if you let us know by March 15. Other have asked: Can I list my business address and website? No, this is not an advertising section.
Other customers have inquired about how the book is selling. I just checked and we still need to sell 60 copies to break even on the project as a whole, including the press run, trucking charges, boxes, and editing and designing fees. So John and I are still holding our breath, but we haven’t started selling our plasma.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: With All the Precision Possible
One of the things that makes me nuts about woodworking shows is listening to older woodworkers complain about 20-year-olds and how they (among other vices) have little interest in woodworking.
This weekend’s Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event was no exception. What was exceptional is that I listened to much of this drivel while people in their 20s and 30s wandered around Braxton Brewing, used the hand tools and talked to the makers.
A lot of our customers are young adults, and the only difference I see between them and the older generations is the younger woodworkers are apt to use materials in addition to wood – metal, plastic and ceramics. And they are more likely to adopt technology into the things they make – robotics, 3D printing, CNC, laser cutting.
Historically, interest in woodworking goes up and down a little bit but remains fairly steady through time. (Unlike interest in scrapbooking or personal journaling, which peaked at crazy heights and then almost disappeared.)
The urge to make useful things is an important part of the human experience.
Woodworking has long been dominated by people older than 50 because they have more money and aren’t chasing around their kids or changing diapers (generally). Younger woodworkers don’t have the same kind of time to devote to the craft. But they are out there. And when their kids get older, they buy a place with a garage and they have some disposable income, they are going to buy a handplane or a table saw and build a workbench.
Yes, it sucks that many schools have eliminated shop class. And it’s stupid that we now encourage kids to go to college who would be happier in a trade.
But despite all that, people find a way to learn woodworking. It’s just not the way you did it (see also, YouTube). And they might not build the same things you like to build. And they might use different kinds of tools. And they just might not like hanging out with old dudes who complain about the younger ones.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Personal Favorites, Uncategorized
Tonight we’re playing a variant of the Hammerschlager game made popular by Mike Siemsen at Woodworking in America. We’re playing at Rhinegeist brewing. Schlaging starts at 8 p.m. and ends at 10:30 p.m. The prize: The last of our “With Hammer in Hand” letterpress posters.
Hammerschlager is a game of skill played with a stump, a cross-peen hammer and nails. Two opponents take turns attempting to sink a nail using the peen side of hammer. The first one to sink the head flush or below the surface of the stump wins.
Here are the local rules for the game tonight.
- If you break or abuse any of the equipment (especially the hammers), you’re done – disqualified.
- You may face a particular opponent only once. Period. In other words, you cannot play against a person more than once. Once only you shall face a particular opponent. Don’t cheat.
- You start the stroke with the peen of the hammer resting on the stump.
- If the nail is knocked crooked, your opponent may straighten the nail to vertical before taking his or her turn.
- The loser of the round marks the winner’s forearm with a slash using a marker (provided). The person with the most marks at 10:30 p.m. wins the poster.
- The winner of the round is allowed to face the next opponent immediately. The loser has to return to the back of the line and find another opponent.
- All disagreements are settled by the judge (me). Decisions are final. It’s just a stupid game. Don’t make me hate you.
- This is not a drinking game. You may drink while you play if you like, but drinking is not required, requested, suggested or smiled upon. It’s just a dumb game.
See you tonight.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Uncategorized
This is an excerpt from “The Joiner and Cabinet Maker” by Anon, Christopher Schwarz and and Joel Moskowitz.
For those of you who chisel out your waste when dovetailing, this section is not for you. Move along. There’s nothing to see here.
OK, now that we’re alone: Have you ever been confused about which frame saw you should use to remove the waste between your pins and tails? I have. For years I used a coping saw and was blissfully happy.
Then I took an advanced dovetail class with maestro Rob Cosman and he made a strong case that a fret saw was superior because you could remove the waste in one fell swoop (instead of two). So, like any good monkey, I bought a fret saw and did it that way for many years.
But fret saws aren’t perfect. Almost all of them require tuning. You need to file some serrations in the pads that clamp the blade, otherwise it’s all stroke, stroke, sproing. Oh, and the blades tend to break. Or kink.
And fret saws are slow. I use 11.5 teeth per inch (tpi) scrollsaw blades, and it takes about 30 strokes to get through the waste between my typical tails in hardwood.
If you want to see a good video on how to tune up a fretsaw, check out Rob Cosman’s site. He shows you how to hot-rod the handle and bend the blade for the best performance.
About Coping Saws
What I like about coping saws is that they cut faster. I use an 18 tpi blade from Tools for Working Wood. (I think they’re made by Olson.) The blades cut wicked fast thanks to their deeper gullets and longer length. It takes me 12 to 14 strokes to remove the waste between my typical tails.
The other thing I like about the coping saw is that its throat is deeper (5″ vs. 2-3/4″ on my fret saw), which allows me to handle wider drawers without turning the blade. Also, the blades of a coping saw are far more robust and almost never come loose. I’m partial to the German-made Olson coping saw. It’s about $12 and beats the pants off the stuff at the home centers.
The major downside to the coping saw is that you have to remove the waste in two passes instead of one. Because the coping saw’s blade is thick, it sometimes won’t drop down into the bottom of the kerf left by your dovetail saw. So you get around this by making two swooping passes to clear the waste.
One last thing: Some of you might be wondering why I didn’t discuss wooden bowsaws, another fantastic frame saw. At the time I was writing this book, my bowsaw was busted. First, one of the arms cracked after someone (no names) over-tensioned it. I fixed that. Then the twine busted and I didn’t have any on hand.
Since building the Chest of Drawers, I got my bowsaw back on its feet (bowsaws do not have feet, by the way) and it is giving my coping saw a run for its money. The fret saw still hangs dusty and lonely on the wall.
— Meghan Bates
Filed under: The Joiner & Cabinet Maker
I don’t think I’ve ever used that many exclamation marks… ever.
If you are coming to the Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool event at Braxton Brewing on Friday or Saturday, look for Don Williams. He’ll be selling his excellent beeswax and mind-blowing polissoirs.
What’s a polissoir? Oh my. Go here and look around. It’s a simple pre-industrial finishing tool that will change your mind about wax finishes.
The polissoirs are handmade in Virginia by one of Don’s neighbors to Don’s specifications and are things of beauty. The blocks of pure beeswax are purified on Don’s farm by him and his wife. The wax is, pardon the expression, the bee’s buzz.
And if you want to learn (a lot) about traditional finishing techniques, just ask Don about his shellac collection….
The show starts both days at 10 a.m. Free admission. Great beer, coffee and conversations about woodworking and tools. What more could you want? A foot massage? Don’t ask me.
Full details on the event are here.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Finishing, Personal Favorites, Uncategorized
I love the smell of ponderosa pine in the morning…. Smells like…vanilla.
–Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore, Apocalypse Now (director’s cut)
We’re going to travel a little further afield today, but first, a correction: Last time, I posted a photo that I claimed was of a tuliptree, but as A Riving Home pointed out in the comments, the photo was actually of a mockernut hickory (Carya tomentosa). What happened was that I had taken photos of both, but at the last minute decided to save the hickory for a later post, and then managed to mix up the photos. Here’s the real tuliptree:
(The description in the previous post still applies.)
In February, the forest begins to show signs of renewed life. The earliest migrant bird, the Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe), has arrived, and the resident species are singing their hearts out. There’s some color seeping into the grayness of the landscape, and on a warm, rainy night, you might hear a chorus of spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer). By the end of the month, some of the trees have begun blooming. The most noticeable of these are red maple (Acer rubrum), with its deep red flowers, and silver maple (A. saccharinum) with dull orange flowers. The pinkish flowers of American (Ulmus americana) and slippery (U. rubra) elms quickly give way to pale green flying saucer-shaped seeds.
Some shrubs begin leafing out in February as well, but these are nearly all non-native plants, such as Amur honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii) and autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata). The native plants know that there’s still a good chance for a hard frost, so they wait.
We begin in an area of bottomland near the Hocking River here in Athens County, where there are a couple of species that dominate. First, one of the easiest of all trees to identify:
The patchy, ghostly white and gray bark of the American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) always stands out against the gray backdrop of the winter forest. Close up, the lower portions of the trunk are covered in numerous small, brown scales:
The other dominant bottomland tree in this area is the often huge eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides):
Its bark is deeply and coarsely furrowed, with the ridges being more or less flat-topped.
Both of these trees can be found further up slope, but it’s always a sign of abundant ground water when they are. In particular, you can find these trees along ravines and exposed layers of porous shale, where the soil is always wet. These layers of shale correspond with coal seams, in this area the Middle Kittanning or “No. 6” coal.
One of the most important trees to a woodworker is black cherry (Prunus serotina):
Further north and at higher elevations, black cherry can be the dominant species in a forest, but around here it’s mainly found as scattered individual trees, usually but not always near water. The bark is dark, brownish-black, and broken up into oval scales that curl up around the edges. Another feature of cherry trees is that they are almost never straight. This is because as the tree grows, the main stem has a pair of terminal buds, rather than just one, and one of the buds “wins,” depending on the lighting conditions. Thus, each year, the tree heads off in a slightly different direction.
We’re going to move up slope now, to some forested land that my wife and I own just over the county line, in Meigs County. A close relative of the eastern cottonwood is bigtooth aspen (P. grandidentata):
The bark is a medium gray, sometimes with a gold sheen, and interrupted by a combination of horizontal ridges and vertical splits. Further north, quaking aspen (P. tremuloides) replaces bigtooth aspen; its bark is similar but whiter.
American beech (Fagus grandifolia) is characterized by smooth, nearly featureless gray bark:
There are several species of hickory in the forests, most of them difficult to tell apart. The aforementioned mockernut hickory is fairly common:
The bark has the sort of criss-crossing X ridge structure that many of trees in the forest have, but in the hickories, these ridges tend to look as if they are strands braided together. This is more apparent in a young tree:
One species of hickory that is not hard to identify is shagbark hickory (C. ovata). Although the braided pattern is obscured, you can still kind of see it if you squint; it tends to be more obvious near the base of the trunk:
Pines are tricky. A big part of that is that people plant a lot of pine trees, and the species that they plant are very often not native to the area, so you never know what you’re looking at. Around here, only one native species of pine, Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana), is common:
It’s characterized by relatively short (about 2″/5 cm) paired needles that are flattened and somewhat crescent-shaped in cross section, and usually twisted.
The other pines that occur in the area all have much longer needles: eastern white pine (P. strobus), pitch pine (P. rigida) and shortleaf pine (P. echinata). It generally takes a combination of characters (number of needles in a bundle, shape and size of the cone, etc.) to distinguish these species.
Ponderosa pine (P. ponderosa), a species of the western half of the United States, really does smell like vanilla, although you have to get your nose right up to the bark to notice it. You won’t find any ponderosa pines growing around here, but you might nevertheless find it at your local home center; the clear pine boards are often cut from that species.
Not everything in the forest is a tree, of course. There is a ground-hugging plant that looks strangely like a conifer of some kind:
And one of its common names is indeed “groundcedar.” In fact, though, it’s not a conifer at all, but rather a member of an ancient lineage of plants, Lycopodiophyta, and not closely related to any of the more typical plants. This one is the fan clubmoss (Lycopodium digitatum).
Sedges (Carex sp.) are a rather overwhelming group of grass-like plants; there are about 2000 species worldwide, and 140 just in Ohio. One of the most common is eastern woodland sedge (C. blanda):
There are many species of ferns in the forest, but these two are the only ones that are likely to remain green in winter:
The marginal woodfern (Dryopteris marginalis), on the left, may die back to the ground in very cold winters, but the Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides), on the right, stays green regardless.
The marginal woodfern can be identified by the fact that the sori (the spore-bearing structures on the undersides of the fronds) are located along the margins of the pinnules:
It’s still a bit early for wildflowers, although I did find the leaves of this eastern waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum) poking through the leaf litter:
The only blooming flower that I found (actually, I think my wife found it) was this non-native purple deadnettle (Lamium purpureum):
There should be many more wildflowers next month.
Filed under: Uncategorized
Megan Fitzpatrick at Popular Woodworking Magazine is looking for a managing editor to fill the spot recently vacated by Rodney Wilson, who did a heck of a job before moving up in the world.
I joined Popular Woodworking in 1996 as the managing editor, and it is the most challenging and rewarding job I’ve ever had. You have to be hyper-organized because the managing editor has to make sure the trains run on time. That the authors get paid. That the manuscripts arrive on time. And that corrections get made.
On the flipside, you have access to a dream shop of workbenches, hand tools and power equipment, including a 12” jointer and 20” planer. Whenever your head is too full of adverbial nouns, you can walk to the shop and clear your brain by cutting dovetails for an hour.
Megan is a demanding boss, but that’s the best and only kind in modern publishing. Magazines with lesser editors have all closed their doors.
Best of all, the job is open-ended. After I mastered my paperwork and manuscript duties (that took about a year) I was encouraged to become a better woodworker, write articles, begin blogging, travel to visit authors and work on tool reviews. All that led to being able start my own publishing company with John.
If you love woodworking and want to live and breathe it, this is the job.
Take look at the job description here. Yes, you have to live in Cincinnati.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Personal Favorites, Uncategorized
When you order a book from us, you are supposed to receive an email when the book has been received by the shipping company. When the shipper scans the book – beep – that sends the message to our store’s software. And our software sends a message to you with tracking information.
Sometimes, USPS isn’t very good about scanning packages in a timely manner. Sometimes they don’t get scanned. And so you don’t get an email. But you will get your book.
We have complained (a lot) to USPS. They are overworked so I doubt this will change.
So apologies for the delayed emails or emails that didn’t come.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Uncategorized
So this week I sat down with my image consultant and he had some harsh words for me: “You need a ‘thing’ to set you apart from other woodworking bloggers, podcasters and television personalities.”
I asked: “A thing?”
“Yeah. Charles Brock has that patchwork hat. Roy Underhill has his hat and suspenders. Scott Phillips has his similar hat and suspenders. Norm Abram – tool belt. David Mark has tattoos. Tommy Mac has his muscle shirts., and….”
I say: “I have a beard.”
“Sorry,” he said. “Unless your beard is equal to or greater than Peter Follansbee’s, then it’s just hardscrabble. Plus, he has cornered the market on the tie-dye T-shirt and shorts thing. So don’t even bring those up”
“Ugh,” I said. “What do you recommend?”
“You could wear a cape,” he suggested. “Maybe array tools on the interior?”
I countered. “What if it gets caught in the jointer or the table saw? That could be dangerous.” I paused. “Look, I don’t like to have my face appear on the blog or on video, what about a mask? Like a luchador?”
The consultant had a good point: “In this day and age, dressing like a Mexican wrestler will get you excoriated by the liberals or deported by the conservatives.”
We locked eyes.
“A vicious temper?”
“I’m not touching that.”
“Look, I already said I’m not touching those.”
“Copious body hair?”
“Hmmm. How much body hair do you have?” the consultant asked. “Do you have to shave your back?”
“No. I pluck three hairs from my right shoulder,” I said. “Two from my left.”
“A huge afro?”
“Bob Ross is dead!”
“But Bob Ross’s afro is so awesome it has been retired.”
And that’s where my time was up with the image consultant. His recommendation: Mount a Kickstarter campaign to raise enough money to perform a statically significant survey of what my gimmick should be.
Maybe a huge rodeo belt with a pterodactyl holding a carving gouge….
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Satire, Uncategorized, Yellow Pine Journalism
I try not to make this blog about personal stuff, but ever since boyhood I’ve tended to fixate on things. It might be an object. It might be a task. But I won’t sleep (literally – ask Lucy) until I scratch that itch.
Today it was this three-legged stool. I woke at 3 a.m. (typical) and began working on the next phase of this design until my wife woke at 5:50 a.m., showered and turned on her hairdryer. Something about her hairdryer puts me back to sleep – it’s why I am still conscious now.
After six hours in the shop – three of it just staring at the stool’s component – this is where I am. I still need to add the chamfers to the seat and clean off all the sawblade marks, but I’m pretty happy with the direction this is headed.
The mass of the legs, stretchers and seat are more balanced. I’ve added curves to make the seat less jarring. And the stretchers are now tapered octagons, like the legs.
I might sleep tonight.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: The Anarchist's Design Book, Uncategorized