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Lost Art Press: Chris Schwarz
This is an excerpt from “The Woodworker: The Charles H. Hayward Years: Volume IV” published by Lost Art Press.
Although there are many occasions when sliding doors can be used with advantage it should be pointed out that they should not be fitted where hinged doors can be used satisfactorily; the chief reasons against their use are that they give only limited access to the interior, and entail increased cost, due to the extra depth required over-all.
Consider Fig. 1 for example. Sliding doors are shown, but imagine that hinged ones had been used. With these wide open, access to the interior would be carcase-wide. This is impossible with sliding doors; when the right-hand door is pushed in behind the left, access to the interior is provided for approximately half the carcase width only. To get at the left-hand side of the carcase it is necessary to push both doors right over to the other end. Take note as well of the cost of the extra inch or so required on the depth of the carcase all round, and also the additional work involved in fitting the running tracks.
What then determines the use of such doors? Call to mind those tiers of sliding door showcases so often fitted behind a shop counter; probably assistants have been passing busily to and fro attending to customers. Imagine the chaos that would ensue if such doors were flung open on hinges, thus effectively blocking all the available passage way behind the counter. Again, in a minor way, it is essential to fit sliding doors to cabinets in some modern kitchenettes, where the swing of a hinged door might foul some other member of the kitchen equipment. To sum up, sliding-door cabinets are at a disadvantage where immediate and complete access is required, but are ideal when utility and passage room have to be considered.
The cabinet in Fig. 1 is given to illustrate the methods of fitting sliding doors. It would, however, make up into a handy article for the kitchen, and could be carried out in birch and afterwards painted or enamelled. Alternatively, as a shop fitting, fumed oak would look well. All references to patent metal sliding tracks have been omitted; these are usually somewhat expensive and cannot always be obtained through retail dealers. With a little care, no difficulty should be experienced if made entirely in wood. The over-all sizes can be amended, of course, to suit individual requirements.
The sizes for setting-out are given in Fig. 2 and the construction in Fig. 3, whilst Fig. 4 gives four methods of arranging the sliding doors, any one of which will prove satisfactory in operation.
The methods are lettered A, B, C, and D.
Method A is the simplest. Note that only one groove is required in the top and bottom for the parting beads which separate the two doors. The back door is retained in place by means of fillets, 1/2 in. x 1/4 in., glued and pinned to the top and bottom and positioned parallel with the parting beads. The front door could be held in place by means of facing strips, cup-screwed on to the edges of the top and bottom. Note that these facing strips are flush with the ends when fitted and should be neatly shouldered between them.
Method B probably gives the best finish and is shown in Fig. 2. This gives the same thickness of ends, top, and bottom all round; in addition, no screws are required for fixing the front facing strips.
The top and bottom must be rebated down 1/4 in. for the doors and then grooved again for the parting beads. Finally the front edges of the top and bottom are grooved for the tongues of the facing strips. These again are neatly stepped between the ends.
Method C follows closely to that of B, but one important variation is that the bottom edge of each door is shod with a piece of strip brass, approximately 1/8 in. thick. These strips run full length and should be screwed up to the undersides; make sure that the screwheads are well countersunk. The running tracks are also provided with full-length strips of brass sunk flush and screwed into the bottom. Thus we have brass running on brass, which has proved very satisfactory in use. Needless to say, all sharp burrs on the metal should be removed with a file. Alternatively, a hard fibre could be substituted for brass.
Method D hardly needs comment. The top and bottom edges of the doors should be grooved to receive half-round beads, the latter being pinned to the carcase top and bottom. At the front in order to give a finish, quarter-round beads are pinned right around the carcase. The plan details given in Fig. 4 will also be found easy to follow. The door stiles which adjoin the ends could be beaded or rebated in to the latter. Alternatively, a tongued facing strip might be carried right up the ends, thus following on the idea given with method B. Or, again, a quarter-round bead could be pinned on. Note the fillet (L) which is screwed to the back door stile. This effectively closes the gap between the two doors and should be shaped around the parting beads at the top and bottom; it will not be required, however, if method D is adopted.
— Meghan Bates
Filed under: Charles H. Hayward at The Woodworker
Today I crashed back – hard – to the United States with little sleep, folders full of photos and memories of the best pizza I’ve eaten. And as I twitched to sleep on the airplane this afternoon or morning or whatever, I wondered if I had enough information for a book.
I don’t. But I think I will soon.
If things go well this summer in Germany. If a package arrives in Kentucky. If a translation pans out. Then I’ll have an expanded book for you this fall on so-called Roman workbenches that will probably have to be called something else other than “Roman Workbenches.”
While these benches have their roots in Greco-Roman culture, the form is ubiquitous in the West and the East in both modern times and those of two millenia ago. These benches, and the techniques to use them, have been hiding in plain sight. Recorded. Written down. And mostly ignored.
I don’t have many more words for you this evening (or is it early morning?), so instead enjoy these images taken by Narayan Nayar during our trip to Pompeii.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Roman Workbenches, Uncategorized
Editor’s note: For several months I’ve wanted to tell you about a book that furniture maker David Savage is writing for Lost Art Press called “The Intelligent Hand.” But each time I tried to frame the book in words, I stumbled. It’s not a how-to book, but then it is. It’s a book about why we do things, though that’s a laughably weak description of it. It’s about working wood at the very top limits of design and craftsmanship, though it will appeal mightily to beginners.
And so I decided to cop out and share with you a small section of the first chapter – the part that really grabbed me. OK, that’s a bit wrong as well. The first paragraph of this book might be the most arresting thing I’ve read in woodworking. So we’ll save that bit for later.
David is working hard on the book and a good deal of the text has been fleshed out. I don’t know when it will be complete. Like all Lost Art Press books, it will be done when we can’t improve it any more.
— Christopher Schwarz
Way back in the early 1980s I read books by James Krenov that inspired me to take up working with wood, making furniture. He inspired a generation to hug trees, love wood and make as beautifully as one could, but from the position of a skilled amateur. Jim never sought, I believe, to make a living from this. That was my madness. What Jim did do, however, was touch upon the reason that is at the core of this book. Why do we go that extra mile? Why do we break ourselves on that last 10 percent? This is the 10 percent that most people would not even recognise, or care about, even if it bit them on the leg. This is the bit that really hurts to get right, both physically and mentally.
But get it right, deliver the piece and she says: “Wow, David, I knew it would be good but not that good.” Get this right, over-deliver and soon you don’t need too many more new clients, for she will want this experience again and again. We have been making for the same clients now for most of my working life. They get it, they like it and they have the means to pay for it. Your job is to do it well enough to get the “Wow David,” have the satisfaction of doing it right, get the figures right and feed your children. Not easy I grant you, but for some of you it will become a life well lived.
This is the quality thing at the centre of our lives. This is the issue that brings people to Rowden from all over the world, each with some form of bleeding neck. Each knowing they can do more with their lives. They come with a damage that they feel can be fixed with a combination of physical work and intelligent solutions. Both are essential.
Work is unfashionably sweaty. We generally now sit at terminals in cool offices. We are bound by contracts of employment that would make an 18th century slave owner look benign. The only exercise we get is the twitching of our fingers and the occasional trip to the coffee machine. Our bodies, these wonderful pieces of equipment, are allowed to become indolent and obese. We feed up on corn starched, fast food and wait for retirement. Exercise, if we take it, has no meaning. We don’t exercise to do anything we run or jog, but we go nowhere. We work out in the gym and get the buzz, the satisfaction of the body’s response to exercise. But we don’t use the energy constructively to make stuff.
White collar work has become what we do, almost all of us. It pays the bills and keeps us fed, we get a holiday and our children are kind of OK. And that is fine for most of us. But there are some of you who know that something is missing. Something creative, some way to spend your day working, physically exercising your body and your mind. Thinking and revising what you are making, as the consequence of the quality of your thoughts. This is intelligent making; this is The Intelligent Hand.
This then is written for you. This is to help, encourage and support a decision to leave a world where thought and work are separated. This is for the brave souls who need to plough a contrarian furrow, where intelligence and making exist together, and you are in control of your life. Don’t be scared but don’t expect it to be dull or easy. But a life well lived never is dull or easy.
— David Savage
Filed under: The Intelligent Hand, Uncategorized
Last summer I attended the Lie-Nielsen Open House and intended to publish a photo gallery when I returned home. For various reasons beyond my control that project was shelved. I thought I would finish the project to help fill in for a slow week here on the blog. If you have never attended the open house at Lie-Nielsen I would highly recommend it. Consider making room in your schedule for the next event this July.
The gallery contains 1325 photos from the event and will use ~400MB of bandwidth per viewing. For that reason I would not recommend browsing from a cell phone unless you are connected to WiFi.
I have tested the gallery to work with all manner of desktop computers, tablets and smart phones. A direct link to the photos is available if you would prefer to just download the whole set and view them on your preferred device offline.
This is the first gallery I have posted in a long time. The software and hosting is new. The website is just an empty shell that may have unresolved bugs. If this test goes well I will be adding more galleries from other events when I get time.
Filed under: Personal Favorites
Brian Stuparyk at Steam Whistle Letterpress reports that he (and his family) have completed printing the letterpress pages for “Roman Workbenches.” Soon (I hope this week) the sheets will be packed up and trucked to the bindery in Massachusetts.
As you can see from the image from above, the paper and letterpress printing have a texture that I think you’ll enjoy, especially if you grew up on offset printing like most Americans.
I don’t have a date for when the bound books will be ready. Once the sheets arrive there, the bindery will be able to give me a better idea. But it won’t be long.
We long been sold out of the entire run of “Roman Workbenches” in letterpress version, but we’re hoping that not too many sheets will get spoiled during binding and we’ll have some extras to sell. Stay tuned.
In other shameless product news, the deluxe version of “With All the Precision Possible: Roubo on Furniture” has been sent to press. We’re on track for a summer release.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Roman Workbenches, Uncategorized
Are you a little bit obsessed with the workshop in Roubo’s Plate 11? Do you need a new poster for your shop or new wallpaper for your computer screen or tablet? Do you really, really want to see the wood shavings in the foreground and all the stuff leaning against the back wall?
Here’s a higher resolution scan of the workshop for your viewing pleasure: Atelier Roubo
P.S. My test rabbit (thanks, KP) used the scan for wallpaper on his PC and was very happy.
Filed under: To Make as Perfectly as Possible, Roubo Translation
My job at Lost Art Press is basically this: wrangling content. I read it, edit it, listen to it, transcribe it, write it, find it, scan it, organize it, cut it, extrapolate it, link to it, contract it and share it. And through this wrangling, no matter the author or topic, universal themes emerge.
Often an 8-5 occupation, by nature of design, is one of repetition. And perhaps that’s part of the appeal of woodworking, both as an avocation and vocation—it requires constant learning, no matter the skill level. There’s always more to learn, new paths to take, ways to improve. There’s a scholarly aspect to it, and always the feeling of the possibility of a new discovery, with only the turn of the page or an afternoon at the bench.
And so I see the theme of lifelong learning emerge, over and over, from masters of the craft, in both written and vocal form.
In many ways it’s why Lost Art Press exists—as well as the many magazines, books, forums, guilds, classes, schools and DVDs that delve into the intricacies of woodworking.
There’s always more to know.
Here are some quotes, both formally written and in the form of snippets of conversation, that I’ve gathered during my more recent content wrangling from a few masters of the craft who still, to this day (or did, until they died) foster a love of learning.
“It’s interesting to speculate as to exactly when in one’s career one writes a book. I wrote ‘Welsh Stick Chairs’ three years ago, but I am still on the learning curve, and I’ve moved on. In theory, I suppose when one is 99, lying on the death bed, then you write about what you’ve learnt. No. I think the important thing to remember is that not all information in print is law, even if you don’t agree with what you read, it should stimulate thought.” —John Brown, Good Woodworking, 1994
“I’ve mainly been doing sculptures and some new chair stuff. I’ve had a great time and want to continue the ball rolling. I also want to further my chairmaking so when I get home I don’t feel I’ve done nothing in terms of my main craft. So I’ve pursued a couple different [ideas], and I’ll see how these things develop and hopefully [they’ll] become a part of what I do.” —Peter Galbert, on life as a resident artist, 2016
“I’ve often said, only sort of whimsically, if you had to distill down my job it would say, ‘Be productively curious.’ I was productively curious.” —Don Williams, on his almost three decades as Senior Furniture Conservator at the Smithsonian Institute, 2017
“For me, it’s really just keeping engaged, keeping really interested into what’s going on because we can never completely know it. And I hate and love that at the same time. I love being in the position of not knowing but maybe going to find out. And so it’s basically about keeping my eyes open and not taking myself too seriously, because nobody else does. And that’s really it. Not taking things personally in terms of interpreting the world as being against me or for me or any of that. I’m just here observing slowly, with my eyes as wide open as possible.” —Jim Tolpin, 2017
“Neither of us are trained designers, bur rather experienced builders with a healthy curiosity. We both began experimenting with the practices and suggestions laid out in the period design guides. We set aside tape measures and began using dividers. We opted to use geometry to trace layouts, even when precision tools were easier and more convenient. Our goals were to learn to see, and to discover if the tradition might reveal relevant information for today’s builder.” —George R. Walker, in his preface to “By Hand & Eye,” May 28, 2012
“There is a point where a craft becomes an art, and he can find enough to learn about woodwork as an art to last him for a lifetime.” —Charles H. Hayward, “Chips from the Chisel,” The Woodworker, 1936
— Kara Gebhart Uhl
Filed under: Uncategorized
Today Narayan Nayar and I took the train to Pompeii to look at a fresco that features Perdix, a Roman workbench and some adult content suitable for Cinemax. (“Oh my, I don’t think I have enough money for this pizza.” Cue the brown chicken, brown cow soundtrack.)
As we got off the train, my heart was heavy with dread. Yesterday, our visit to Herculaneum blew my mind but was disappointing in one small way: The House of the Deer was closed that day to visitors. The House of Deer had once housed a woodworking fresco that has since been removed and has since deteriorated. So all I was going to get to see was the hole in the wall where the fresco had been.
So as I got off the train this morning, I fretted: What if the House of the Vettii is closed? After a not-quick lunch that involved togas (don’t ask), Narayan and I made a beeline to the House of the Vettii. And as I feared, its gate was locked. The structure is in the midst of a renovation and was covered in tarps and scaffolding.
I peered through the gate and saw someone moving down a hallway inside. He didn’t look like a worker. He looked like a tourist. Then I saw another tourist.
We quickly figured out that a side entrance was open and they were allowing tourists into a small section of the house. I rushed into that entryway and waved hello to Priapus. After years of studying the map of this house I knew exactly where to go. I scooted past a gaggle of kids on spring break and into the room with the fresco I’ve been eager to see for too long.
It’s a miracle this fresco has survived – not just the eruption of Vesuvius but also the looters and custodian that decided (on behalf of Charles III) which images to keep and which ones to destroy. (Why destroy a fresco? According to the Archaeological Museum of Naples, many were destroyed so they didn’t get into the hands of “foreigners or imitators.”) The royal collection preferred figurative scenes or ones with winged figures. For some reason, this one stayed in place and has managed to survive.
Narayan spent the next 40 minutes photographing the fresco in detail. The photos in this blog entry are mere snapshots I took with my Canon G15. His images will be spectacular.
OK, enough babbling. I need some pizza. Thank goodness they’re only about 4 Euro here.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Roman Workbenches, Uncategorized
Although Roman furniture is well represented in frescoes, mosaics and sculptures few pieces of wooden furniture survive. The pieces we have for study survived in wet environments such as ship wrecks and wells or were carbonized and buried during the eruption of Vesusius in 79 A.D. Most of the carbonized pieces are from Herculaneum and were preserved and sealed in place by meters-deep pyroclastic material. Pompeii was not entombed as deeply as Herculaneum and contemporary records tell us that some residents (and looters) were able to go back and retrieve household valuables. From Pompeii we have a few plaster casts of the impressions left behind by wooden pieces.
Another source of Roman furniture came to light in 1930 in Simpelveld in the Netherlands when a man digging a foundation for a house uncovered a sarcophagus. The outside of the sarcophagus was not decorated, but the inside revealed a furnished villa for the deceased.
The Simpeveld Sarcophagus is in the collection of the Rijiksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden, is dated between 175-225 A.D., made of sandstone and measures 205 cm (about 81 in) in length. It is presumed the sarcophagus was made to hold the (cremated) remains of a wealthy woman.
The woman is resting on a three-sided paneled couch, or lectus. Each end is angled outwards to facilitate a cushion and aid in the comfort of the recliner. A lectus (with variations to the number of sides) might be used for sleeping or dining, or both. As you can see they had turned legs.
At the end of the lectus is a roofed structure that some researchers think may be a depiction of the deceased’s villa. It may be something else entirely. The last piece is some type of open cupboard.
On the other side of the sarcophagus there is a sturdy stand with three large containers, an ornate round table, another stand with crockery and jugs (one with its neck turned outwards), a cupboard with doors, an open space and a cupboard with five niches.
The round table is a mensa delphica with three legs ornamented with lion heads and claw feet. In the photo above, right, is a similar table from Herculaneum.
The cupboard has frame and panel doors. Here also we have a similar example from Herculaneum with hingles made of a series of wood cylinders, similar to a piano hingle. And a drawer!
At the end, closest to our resting resident, are a curved-back chair and a chest with a keyhole. The chair may be a cathedra, which was known as a woman’s chair. Based on other sculptural evidence a cathedra may have been made of wickerwork.
Every home had a chest for storage of valuables. They were often bound with iron straps and were locked. Above is a chest found in Herculaneum.
I did not find any full photos of the opposite (short) end of the sarcophagus. It looks as though there are two other open pieces.
Without all the missing contents we don’t know which of the pieces would have been the lararium, or household shrine. If I had to guess my choice would be the open cupboard with the the five niches to accomodate a lamp, incense, salt and dishes for offerings.
One thing to consider is each piece of furniture may not be to scale. For instance, if the cupboard with the frame and panel doors were of a larger scale it might be an armarium, for the storage of arms, and would typically be found near the entrance of a home. The armarium is the ancestor of the modern armoire.
The Simpelveld Sarcophagus is unique. Usually the decorative work on the outside of a sarcophagus is what interests us. There are often depictions of heroes from mythology, a bacchanal in progress, or scenes from the life of the deceased. For the Simpelveld Sarcophagus we have to look inside the thing and what do we find? A cosy Roman home packed with household goods and a reclining resident.
Filed under: Furniture Styles, Historical Images
No matter how much you read about a person, a piece of furniture or a place, the real thing is always different. Today, Narayan Nayar and I visited Herculaneum, the doomed coastal city in Italy that has changed the way I look at woodworking workbenches.
There are no workbenches at Herculaneum. But there was an image of one. Once. But it was cut from the walls of the House of the Deer, shipped to Naples where it deteriorated to the point where almost nothing of the bench is now visible. Still, the image (actually an image of the image) is incredibly important to me. It’s the first drawing of a holdfast that I know of. And it shows a low workbench being used for sawing – another critical clue.
So I had to visit Herculaneum and other sites involving the 79 AD eruption of Vesuvius. Not that I expected to discover “new” information about woodworking, workbenches or tools. But to give me some context for everything I’ve read for the last 20 years.
What was shocking? For me, it was the paint and the painting. I now need to do more reasearch on the surviving frescoes at Herculaneum, but I was struck dumb by the detail, clarity and color of what I saw today. Was it restored by modern hands?
As Narayan and I walked around the ruined city it became clear that that modern people are both the saviors and sackers of the now-exposed stonework, plaster and frescoes. Narayan and I saw a little girl rummaging inside an ancient clay vase. Other frescoes were covered by Perspex and clouded by the sun and humidity.
I tried to tread lightly all day because Herculaneum is a non-renewable resource. But my tiptoeing is a drop in the bucket against modern air pollution, adventurous little girls and 2 million other visitors. Ultimately, everything turns to dust.
So the best I can do is to provide an account of what I saw that is unprejudiced by cultural or temporal bias so that future woodworkers will know why Herculaneum is a pile of rubble to be remembered.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Roman Workbenches, Uncategorized
As cautionary woodworking tales go, Nancy R. Hiller’s might just be the funniest – and the most sincere.
Standing in contrast to James Krenov’s “The Impractical Cabinetmaker” from 1979, Hiller’s new book, “Making Things Work: Tales from a Cabinetmaker’s Life,” is not about waiting for a particular plank of wood to tell you its true purpose. It is not an exhortation to fuss over each detail, no matter the personal cost. There is not a shop cat.
(Side note: I do love Krenov’s books, but they have not taught me squat about making a living.)
Instead, Hiller’s funny and occasionally ribald story is about a cabinetmaker who was trained to work at the highest level possible and how she has dealt with the personal anxiety that occurs when the desire and drive for excellence collides with paying the monthly bills.
The backdrop for “Making Things Work” is a cast of characters who could populate a Cohen brothers film – a Missouri furniture maker who masquerades as a Brit to impress his customers. A 30-something client and her older husband who seem hell-bent on cheating every trades worker in the Midwest. And Hiller’s British trainers, who through teasing, criticism and mockery finally let her know what “navy cake” really is.
At the center of it all is Hiller. She seeks to run an honest business, make beautiful things and be fairly paid. Doing all three things at once is an immense challenge, and she tells her odyssey in a series of vignettes that read like a modern-day Aesop’s fable. There is a lesson in each chapter about the craft, business or personal relationships. But it’s up to you to decode them. Her indirect approach is one of the great charms of the book.
If you are considering abandoning your cozy corporate job to make furniture, “Making Things Work” is required reading. It will illuminate you as to how difficult the profession can be. If you are undaunted after seeing the quality of Hiller’s furniture and reading about her struggle to make a living, perhaps you have a shot.
For amateur woodworkers, the book is a great read. Hiller is a fine and precise writer who knows exactly when to land a punch line (sometimes with a sledgehammer).
For those of you who appreciate the manufacturing quality of Lost Art Press books, “Making Things Work” will please you. Hiller used one of our printing vendors here in the United States. This is a book designed to last.
Most of all, kudos to Hiller for taking on this book like a piece of fine furniture. She managed most of it herself, from the writing to the production to the distribution.
“Making Things Work” is available from Hiller’s website here. Highly recommended.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Personal Favorites, Uncategorized
This is an excerpt from “The Essential Woodworker” by Robert Wearing.
The accurate sawing of tenons (Fig 119) is a vital skill. They should be sawn with confidence and should fit from the saw. To saw clear of the lines, for safety, is not recommended since whittling an overthick tenon to size is both more difficult and less accurate than sawing correctly in the first place. A 250mm (10in.) tenon or backsaw is the most commonly used for this purpose. Frame saws are used in Europe and by some workers in the USA, but they have never been popular in Britain since the manufacture of good-quality backsaws, and beginners usually find them rather clumsy.
Before starting, check over the names of the parts on Fig 95 and shade in the waste. While there is little chance of throwing away the wrong piece, it is essential that the sawdust should be removed from the waste and not from the tenon. That is, the ‘kerf’ (the sawcut) should be in the waste and just up to the line. Beginners using the thick pencil aid in Fig 105 should saw away one pencil line and leave the other intact. The technique is not difficult if the following guidelines are followed: do not saw down two gauge lines at a time; do not saw to a line which is out of sight. (A modification to the saw is described in Appendix B.)
Start sawing always at the farther corner not the nearer one. Beginners may find it useful to chisel a triangular nick there to start the saw accurately (Fig 120). With the rail held vertically in the vice, start to saw at that far corner, slowly lowering the handle until a slot is cut about 3mm (1/8in.) deep (Fig 121). Now tilt the workpiece (Fig 122) and, keeping the saw in the slot, saw from corner to corner. Then turn the work round, or stand on the other side, and saw again from corner to corner, leaving an uncut triangle in the centre (Fig 123). Now grip the work vertically and, running down the two existing sawcuts, remove this last triangle, sawing down to the knife line, but no farther. Keep the saw horizontal (Fig 124).
Sawing the shoulder is most important as this is the piece left exposed. Except on wide rails, which may be planed, the shoulder should go up from the saw. Cramp to the bench, deepen the knife cut and chisel a shallow groove (Fig 126). Lay a very sharp saw in the groove and draw it back a few times to make a kerf, then saw off the cheek. Take the greatest care not to saw into the tenon (Fig 127), which would then be severely weakened. Should the waste not fall off, the cheek has probably been sawn with an arc-like motion, leaving some waste in the centre (Fig 128). Do not saw the shoulder deeper. Prise off the waste with a chisel, then gently and carefully pare away the obstruction. Saw off the haunch if not sawn previously.
Saw off the set-in with a little to spare, and trim this back to the knife line with a chisel only just wider than the tenon size. This avoids damage to the corner of the shoulder. Finally saw the mitre (Fig 129). The tenons should be lettered or numbered to identify them with their mortices.
— Meghan Bates
Filed under: The Essential Woodworker
I leave for Naples, Italy, in the morning to research Roman workbenches, which is a shocking sentence to write.
When I wrote my first book on workbenches, I had never seen an ancient French workbook in person. I’d never used a leg vise. And I had about 238 other unanswered questions as I pieced together my first Roubo workbench.
Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to see a lot of workbenches all over the world, and I’ve learned an important lesson: There ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby. Getting your hands on a thing is worth 1,000 images or translated texts.
Before starting Lost Art Press, jetting off to Europe to look at old paintings, sculptures, woodworking and a volcano was a laughable idea. But thanks to the company John and I have built during the last 10 years, this trip was an easy call.
We couldn’t have done this without your support. I know that a lot of you buy all our books, regardless of whether you are deeply interested in the topic or not. That sort of customer loyalty is the reason we can take chances with projects that may or may not produce results.
I know that many of you are wondering why the heck we are dabbling in these benches that look like they are for slaughtering pigs (and yet you buy the books anyway). I can now assure you that this particular adventure is a rich and untapped vein of craft knowledge that has been right in front of our faces for a couple centuries.
I have a big pile of paper on my desk that is filled with stuff I have to translate, build and put to use on this topic. But first, I have a date with a volcano.
— Christopher Schwarz
P.S. I won’t be blogging much during the next week. Meghan, Kara and Suzanne have all offered to pitch in during my absence. So enjoy a profound absence of squirrel metaphors during the next eight days.
Filed under: Roman Workbenches, Uncategorized
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