Makeshift Machinists

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I really believe that a machinist who likes to see things, can find more solid enjoyment in some of the rough-and-tumble jobbing shops located in the woods, than he can in some high-toned manufacturing establishments, gotten up without regard to cost. The workmen turned out by such concerns are invariably of more value than those raised in nice shops.

* * * * A new man comes along and says he worked ten years in Hotchkiss’ shop. Now, Hotchkiss has the reputation of selling the nicest shafting known to the market. You want a man to turn shafting, and, of course, you ask this new comer if he worked any on shafting in Hotchkiss’ shop. He answers truly that he never did much else. You consider yourself lucky, and set the man to work.
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American and British Workmen and Machinery

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During a recent visit to Great Britain I gave considerable attention to men and machines, and the following are some of my observations and impressions. Not desiring to criticize any special locality, I will simply use the word “Britain;” and in comparing with the United States will use the word “American.”

My first attention to mechanics was given to locomotive building, as I wished to solve some puzzling matters, such as the general claim that a given number of men in America will build over twice as many locomotives per year as the same number would in Britain—that American builders can compete against the British for foreign orders and yet pay their men about twice as much per hour. This is rather a big question, but I satisfied myself that I found enough to account for differences as great as the above, partly as follows:
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Where His Gunpowder was Only Snuff

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“Writing a book is like driving a car at night. You only see as far as your headlights go, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

— E.L. Doctorow

I was pissfarting around with my combination square today when Megan Fitzpatrick stopped by the shop to pick up a manuscript to edit (it’s the Hayward Project, by the way). She looked curiously at the panel clamped in my face vise.

“That’s a huge sliding dovetail in this…uh, what is this thing?” she asked.

I gave her the simple answer: a table. But the real answer is something more like: The sum total of a thousand ideas about contemporary furniture design that are finally taking shape – thanks to a manuscript from the 15th century.

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Let’s back up. The last six months of work have been incredibly unprofitable for me. I’ve delayed several upcoming commissions (apologies; you know who you are) and I haven’t completed a single piece of furniture to sell since December. Part of this is because I devoted big chunks of time to “Chairmaker’s Notebook” and “Virtuoso.” But I also stumbled on a bright string in the forest that has led me to design, prototype and build pieces that explore new territory for me. So commerce can wait.

The images with this entry are part of the story, but certainly not anything worth commenting on. If you think the legs are chunky, I suspect you don’t even know what you’re looking at just yet.

I hope to have this “table” prototype complete this week. Then I’ll post some finished photos and explain the piece a bit more.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Posted in Furniture of Necessity | 18 Comments

English Dislike of Innovation

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One great cause of the decrease in English exports is the conservatism among English manufacturers and their extreme dislike of innovations. They are inclined to stick to old processes and old styles, refusing to study the tastes of their customers.

They seek to impose their own notions and ideas upon the world. Hence, foreign buyers seek in America, in Germany, and in France, goods better suited to their taste and needs. French manufacturers are particularly ready and quick to suit their work to the tastes of their customers. They are especially apt in devising new styles and patterns, such as shall most readily meet the varying tastes of buyers.

They realize that variety is pleasing and fashion capricious, and never hesitate to change a machine, or a pattern, when the old one fails to suit; while the Englishman looks well at the cost, and prefers to continue “in the good old way,” with the hope that some day the fashion may come round again.
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Do Not Be Discouraged

word_to_apprenticesDo not let artisans discourage you from learning this or that trade because they have not made a success of it. They may tell you that a certain trade is overcrowded. Investigate a little and you will find that only the botch workman and chronic kickers are out of work. The cheerful, enthusiastic workman is idle only when misfortune overtakes the whole country.

We have here hundreds of mechanics who have no real heart in their work, and no sort of interest in the welfare of their employers. To be discharged is considered no disgrace, and to be in debt is no cause for worry. They work while the eye of a boss is upon them, and kill time when it is not. They growl at the workingman’s condition, but are solely responsible that they are not better off.

You will find them in one shop this week and in another the next, and their sad tales of being oppressed by bosses will make you shed tears—if you are green enough. It is a certain and undeniable fact that the poorest workman is the one who does the most complaining.
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The Hayward Project v. The Blair Witch Project

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John and I really should avoid alcohol when we discuss our business.

One of the first books we discussed publishing in 2007 was securing the rights to publish some of the fantastic writing of Charles H. Hayward, who was editor of The Woodworker magazine from 1936 to 1966. Lots of people have pirated his work (you know who you are shamey, shame, shame), but an authorized reprint hasn’t happened.

Could it be done? Thanks to the IPA we were drinking, we decided to try. John spent months negotiating the rights. I collected every copy of The Woodworker I could get, many of them bound into annual editions.

Then the real work began.

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I won’t bore you with the details of the last seven years, but last night I printed out the first 771 pages of Vol. 1, Tools and Techniques for copy editing. We still have 400 pages left to design – an arduous process because we are rebuilding the pages from the ground up. This isn’t a scan-and-jam, print-on-demand book.

This first volume will be 1,100 pages – the maximum our bindery can handle. The second volume will be 700 pages.

Each time we touch this work for editing or design, we are personally amazed. This first volume might be 1,100 pages at 8.5” x 11”, but the density of information makes it feel like 2,000 pages. Every illustration (there are thousands) and page is packed with woodworking, mainlined and right to the vein.

Our goal is to publish Vol. 1 in time for Christmas. I won’t have information on pricing or availability until late fall, so I’m going to ignore those questions from people who didn’t make it this far into the blog entry.

Vol. 2 will be next year. My next book will be 32 pages long with lots of doodle space.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Posted in Charles H. Hayward at The Woodworker | 36 Comments

The History of Wood, Part 55

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