Three New Upcoming DVDs


Because I’m not teaching anytime in the near future (and because I quite enjoy eating), I have time to film three new DVDs with the crew at Popular Woodworking Magazine.

The first one, which we begin filming Monday morning, is the bookcase project from my upcoming book “The Anarchist’s Design Book.” It’s a contemporary bookcase built entirely by hand using nails, dados, rabbets, tongue-and-groove joinery and hide glue.

I spent a lot of time rethinking book storage when designing this piece. As a publisher, book collector and woodworker, I have a lot of things I like and dislike about book storage. I hate sagging shelves. And I think a lot of our choices when using adjustable shelves are ill-conceived.

This project is as much a treatise on bookshelves as a lesson in building something by hand.


The second project is on making chairs without chairmaking tools. It was inspired by the stick chair I built for “The Anarchist’s Design Book,” but I’ll be designing a new (but similar) chair for the DVD.

Many woodworkers are intimidated by chairmaking because of the angles, tools required and the tradition of using green wood. After building chairs for almost 12 years now for customers, I have developed methods for building chairs using cabinetmaking tools.

I don’t have a shavehorse, froe or many other traditional tools. And you can make a gorgeous chair without those tools if you use your noggin.


The third project is the my ambitious yet.

After many years of putting it off, I’ve decided to do a DVD on building “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” from start to finish on DVD. This project will probably eat up a month of time to do right – and I will do it right. During the last five years of building this chest over and over in classes, I’ve learned a few things about making it easier for beginners to build.

And because people actually seem interested in making this chest – which I love as much as my bench – I feel obligated to do this for all those who cannot afford to take a class and need a little help in getting started.

Those of you who know me personally know that I really dislike being on camera. I’d rather have a double colonoscopy. (What’s that? From both ends? Shudder.) But I’ll take a stiff drink in the morning and muddle my way through.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in The Anarchist's Design Book, The Anarchist's Tool Chest | 11 Comments

An Uncanny Resemblance


It has been about three months since I became a blog minion so it must be time to lob a mudball towards Chris. Afterall, in my first post I revealed Chris’ “special” relationship with a certain jack plane. You can read about Schwarzlandia here.

The Harry Potter-Chris Schwarz connection came to me while working on the post Fear and Anarchy in Fort Mitchell (and thanks to all of you who joined in and twisted some literature with me). The opening sentence to the first Harry Potter book just didn’t work for that post. Next, I tried the second chapter and things got a bit more interesting and uncanny.

“Nearly ten years had passed since the Dursleys had woken up to find their anarchist on the front step…” And a few more pages into Chapter 2 we find this passage, “…Chris had a thin face, knobby knees, black hair and bright brown eyes. He wore roundish glasses held together with a lot of hide glue because of all the times Wally the cat had punched him on the nose. The only thing Chris liked about his own appearance was a very thin scar on his forehead that was shaped like a swooping A.”

When I showed the Harry Potter photo comparison to Chris his response was not about his resembleance to Harry but about his smile. His exact comment was, “Oy, I look so manic in that photo. I hate smiling with teeth.” My response to that nonsense:


A little tilt to his head and Chris and the Cheshire Cat are simpatico.

Chris, there is nothing wrong with smiling with teeth. There is no mania, or at least not very much. Smile, Chris, smile.

Now, I must get back to reading (and preparing to index) the portion of “The Anarchist’s Design Book” that Chris sent me a few days ago. Except for some artwork the first two-thirds of the book are done. As for the first two chapters, Chris is….feisty.

Suzo Ellison

P.S. Thank you to whoever took the smiley photo of Chris.

Posted in Personal Favorites, The Anarchist's Design Book | 5 Comments

“And good chips, from that old block.”

Edward Prince, Carpenter, Aged 73 by John Walters

Edward Prince, Carpenter, Aged 73 by John Walters painted in 1792.

I follow one of Britain’s National Trust blogs that specializes in chinoiserie. Through the blog I was familiar with Erddig, a very popular National Trust site, outside of Wrexham in Wales. What I didn’t know was how the painting above was related to Erdigg and the extraordinary relationship between the Yorke family, Edward Prince and his successors.

The painting of Edward Prince has been in my file for a while but until I could decipher the writing on the scroll, Edward had to wait. Last night I found the poem and much more about the carpenters of Erddig.

Erdigg was built in the 1680s and passed into the Yorke family in 1733.   Phillip Yorke I (1743-1804) commissioned portraits of six estate servants and composed poems to be included in the paintings. The paintings were completed between 1791-1796 and in addition to the carpenter, included an elderly housemaid, the blacksmith, the gamekeeper, the kitchen porter and the butcher and publican in Wrexham. Except for the butcher, all the servants were middle aged or elderly and had been in service from a young age. The series of paintings and the poems started a Yorke family tradition of acknowledging and honoring the servants of Erdigg. This remarkable and unique tradition continued for almost 200 years with the paintings, and later photos, displayed in the Servants Hall.

Phillip Yorke I by Gainsborough and the west fro view of Erddig

Phillip Yorke I by Gainsborough, late 1770s; the West front view of Erddig.

John Prince, father of Charles and grandfather to Edward, was the first recorded carpenter at Erddig. Charles Prince, known as “The Black Prince” because of his dark complexion, succeeded John. Edward became his father’s apprentice. As head carpenter Charles was paid 1 shilling 6 pence per day for a 6 day week; Edward the apprentice was paid 1 shilling per day for a 6 day week. In 1779 Edward succeeded his father as Head Carpenter and we learn a bit more about him from the poem in the painting:


Phillip York called these little compositions of his “Crude-Ditties” and actually published  a volume of them.  It isn’t a poem meant for a collection of classics, but a message of warm regard for the Prince family as a mainstay of Erddig and an affectionate thank you to Edward for his long service. And four wives! With each new wife I can just imagine what kind of greeting Phillip gave Edward, can’t you?

In 1830 Thomas Rodgers was the carpenter at Erddig and at age 48 he was painted at his workbench. Simon Yorke II wrote the inscription at the bottom.

Thomas Rodgers, Carpenter, 1830 by William Jones of Chester.

Thomas Rodgers, Carpenter, 1830 by William Jones of Chester.

Rodgers started working at Erddig in 1798 first as a pig-boy and later as a thatcher’s assistant and a slater. After working at Erddig for over 65 years he was made a pensioner at age 90 and died in 1875 at age 94. Twenty-two years after the painting we find Thomas in a photograph taken in 1852. He is holding his saw with his son and successor James Rodgers next to him.

Erddig servants on the front steps. Thomas Rodgers is front row, second from right; his son James is next to him.

Erddig servants on the front steps in 1852. Thomas Rodgers is front row, second from right holding his saw; his son James is next to him.

The Yorke family documentaion of their domestic staff gives us a rare look at a 19th-century craftsman in a painting and a photograph. It is a reminder of how much life was changing mid-century. Although the pace of change was slower on a country estate, the traditional ways of life and of making things by hand was being challenged and changed by new technologies and machines.

John Jones, a descendant of Erddig servants, was the head carpenter at age 56 in 1911 when his photo was taken. He entered service in 1872.

John Jones, Carpenter, 1911.

John Jones, Erddig Carpenter, 1911.

Thanks to the Yorke family’s respect for their staff we have a glimpse into the lives of multiple generations of carpenters at one country estate. Hands down, this beats Gosford Park (except for Clive Owen) and Downton Abbey any day.

In 1973 Erddig became a National Trust property. Not long after that a local mine collapsed threatening the stability of the main house and out buildings and a major job of shoring up was undertaken. Although I couldn’t find any photographs of the carpenter’s shop taken in the 19th century I did find a few photos taken prior to and during the 1970s renovations, and a few current photos. Except for the current photos of the workshop all images in this post are from the National Trust.

If you would like to learn more about Erddig go here.

Rona Walker from New Zealand wrote “A Brief Story of the Prince Family” for a family reunion. I wonder if there are any Prince woodworkers in New Zealand?

Suzanne Ellison

P.S. If you would like to see the original six paintings by John Walters, including the blacksmith, go here.

Posted in Historical Images, Personal Favorites, Workbenches | 8 Comments

Mitre Box Manual, a Free Download


I adore my Millers Falls mitre box, and I’ve been bemused by a recent backlash against mitre boxes, which ruled the American worksite and garage during the first half of the 20th century.

The argument against a mitre box is that you don’t need it. You should develop your sawing skills to the point where you don’t need a mechanical contrivance to hold the saw for you. The things are training wheels. And you are a candy-bottom wuss girl if you use one.

To these people I say this: You don’t cut many miters, do you?

Metallic manual mitre boxes are more accurate than the electric miter saw in my experience. They allow a level of finesse and control that you aren’t going to get with freehand sawing. And chances are, if you aren’t a nincompoop, your miters will be dead-on off the saw with a mitre box.

Oh, and when armed with a shooting board they radically decrease your need for a table saw.

If you own a mitre box, you need to know how to maintain and use it.

So this evening I present to you a scan of a vintage Millers Falls manual for using the company’s mitre boxes. I guarantee that even if you are an ace, you are going to learn something from this short little manual.

The manual was given to me by the late Carl Bilderback. During my last visit to his home, he asked me to take his library. To keep the books that I didn’t have. And to give the rest away to deserving young woodworkers.

This vintage manual is one of about 100 books and manuals Carl owned that I did not.

So I present it to you in a free pdf you can download here:

Setting Up a Millers Falls Miter Box

Look it over. At the very least, you’ll learn the proper names for the adjustable bits, including the King Bolt.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Downloads, Saws | 19 Comments

A Toast to Crappy Craftsmanship


It isn’t often that I’m enthused about poor craftsmanship, but when I’m trying to demolish something, drywall screws and questionable joinery are most welcome.

I spent yesterday at our new building with a wrecking bar and a sledge hammer – trying to prep the place for a big Dec. 12 demolition party. We’re going to remove the 1980s-era bar (leaving the 1890s one intact) and haul out all the layers of crap that have been applied to the interior during the last 60 years.

There are a lot of false walls and odd black-light lighting fixtures that I wanted to remove, and I thought I’d get a good start on the project yesterday.

But thanks to the ridiculous way everything was assembled, it all came down with little effort. In some cases it was the paint that was holding everything intact.

Hooray for poor workmanship.

So with that part done, I began the demolition of the ceramic floor. While the cement board below came up easily I then encountered a layer of good craftsmanship. The person who laid the floor below the cement board did a good job. It’s a circa 1950s (or earlier) composite material that is still stuck down and still seamless (so far).


— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Personal Favorites | 12 Comments

Finding Furniture in Unexpected Places

By Edward Gorey

Oh, look! A three-legged stool by Edward Gorey

Recently I saw a painting that really should not have featured any furniture at all. My reaction was, “Well that was unexpected.” Have I become more attuned to the presence of furniture (the non-upholstered kind) after reading and indexing several books for Lost Art Press. Have I been spending more time finding images of furniture and woodworking than watching cat videos? Yes, I think that must be it.

So, I did a review of some of my saved images, a few books and films and started noticing…Windsor chairs. I guess in the past the birthday cake and the cats in 1950s-era dresses distracted me.

Windsor chairs by Gorey (l.), windsors & sideboard by Mainzer.

Windsor chairs by Gorey (l.), Windsors & sideboard by Mainzer (r.)

One of my favorite books is “Under the Cherry Blossom Tree – An Old Japanese Tale” retold and illustrated by Allen Say. Maybe I should have noticed this before with all the time I spent on “Campaign Furniture.”

Is that..? Yes it is! A Roubo folding campaign stool!

Is he sitting on…? Yes it is! A Roubo folding campaign stool!

In my 1968 copy of “The Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth Grahame and illustrated by David Stone I stumbed on this cozy scene. Previously, I focused on all the cute little mice crowded together and warming themselves by the fire. Now, all I can see is the (Furniture of Necessity) settle.


In Hitchcock’s 1954 film “Rear Window” James Stewart lives in a really neat studio apartment. The focus is on him, what Grace Kelly will wear in the next scene and what are the neighbors up to. Did you know he had a tansu in his apartment? In 1954?

Tansu to the far right under the hanging light.

Tansu to the far right under the hanging light.

I have a tansu so maybe I’m a little tansu-sensitive. But did you notice the two in last year’s animated “Big Hero 6”?  A fairly large tansu with sliding doors and multiple drawers was in the workshop where Hiro is putting armor on Baymax.

Large tansu far right.

Large tansu far right.

The better tansu is in Hiro’s bedroom. The bedroom is stuffed with detail and it was hard to get a good long look at the tansu. By watching one clip about 30 times I did get the configuration figured out. The top two-thirds: five square equal-size drawers run lenghwise on the right; on the left side there are four drawers with the top three of equal size, the lowest one is about half again as deep. The next section has sliding doors; the bottom section is one full-width drawer.



Tansu detail.

Tansu detail.

Bottom of tansu, sliding door and drawer below.

Bottom of tansu, sliding door and drawer below.

You might be wondering which painting started this whole thing. It was an 18th-century Korean painting with tansu. Since this is a somewhat family-friendly blog only the edited version can be shown:

An unexpected tansu on right, giggling girl on left.

An unexpected tansu on right, giggling girl on left.

I was searching for examples of traditional Korean furniture and this painting was in the search results. It is from “An Album of Erotic Paintings.” There’s no need for furniture in this type of painting! By the way, the giggling girl is pointing at something hilarious.

I’m going to make my searches much, much more specific in future.

Suzanne Ellison

Posted in Personal Favorites | 10 Comments

Thomas Hennell and Recording Britain

Building a Wiltshire Waggon near Longleat, April 1941.

Building a Wiltshire Waggon near Longleat, April 1941.

When war broke out in 1939 there was great concern over the losses that might occur in Britain due to bombing, possible invasion and war operations. At the same time Britain was seeing the same changes America was experiencing: the loss of rural industries, the growth of cities, roadways overtaking small towns and mass production practices displacing small businesses and farms. Taking inspiration from America’s Federal Arts Project Sir Kenneth Clark the diector of the National Gallery initiated a program titled, Recording the Changing Face of Britain.  He also estsablished a similar program, The War Artists’ Scheme.

Lists were made of sites that were to be documented with pen and ink and watercolor. The goal was to record those sites considered typically English (little of Wales was included, Northern Ireland was left out and Scotland had a separate recording program). There were 97 artists involved with over 1500 works completed. The Pilgrim Trust (funded by American millionaire Edward Harkness) was used to commission works by prominent artists and to pay small sums to other artists who submitted their work. In 1949 the Pilgrim Trust gave the Recording Britain artwork to the Victoria and Albert Museum and the illustrations shown here are from the V & A collection.

One of the ‘other’ artists was Thomas Hennell and he is featured here because he specialized in drawing and painting the countryside and the craftsmen of the countryside. Hennell suffered a mental breakdown several years before the war started and was not eligible to serve with the armed services, however, when war broke out in 1939 he offered his services as an artist to the War Ministry. He drew and painted for the Recording Britain project and was also dispatched to record war preparations. By 1943 he was a full-time and salaried war artist. He participated in D-Day and traveled with the Canadian First Army and later, a Royal Navy Unit, as they advanced during the invasion. In June 1945 he landed in Burma and there documented the end of war operations. Hennell was 42 years old when he was killed in Indonesia in November 1945.

As the war progressed the original lists had to updated as areas of Britain not considered priorities were threatened by bombing or the need for military bases. Hennell was quickly dispatched to Lasham when local residents figured out where an aerodrome was to be built and the Beech Avenue, a stand of trees first planted in 1809, was to be destroyed. From Volume 4 of “Recording Britain” by Arnold Palmer, “…by the afternoon post a letter was dispatched to the artist. Before his [Hennell’s] answer came, he and his hard-working bicycle were well on their way to Hampshire.” To give you and idea of the size of the Beech Avenue and its importance four-fifths of the trees were felled for the construction of the aerodrome leaving two short lengths totaling a quarter of a mile.

The Beech Avenue, Lasham, Hampshire, 1941.

The Beech Avenue, Lasham, Hampshire, 1941.

In the early years of the war Hennell captured several craftsmen in their shops carrying on with their work. Although they were living in a time of great uncertainty, and each day’s war news brought more anxiety, there was always the shop to tend to. A new order came in, repairs were needed here or there and each job in the shop gave some small sense of normalcy.

Interior of Workshop of Mr. Clapp, Cooper, Walton Street, Bath, 1940.

Interior of Workshop of Mr. Clapp, Cooper, Walton Street, Bath, 1940.

Hennell seems also to have captured the ‘personality’ of the various shops.  Mr. J.W. Brunt’s wheelwright’s shop seems well-ordered compared to the controlled chaos of his smithy (in the gallery below).

Wheelwrights at Work in Mr. J.W. Brunt's Shop, Newington, 1940.

Wheelwrights at Work in Mr. J.W. Brunt’s Shop, Newington, 1940.

The artists that helped create the works in the Index of American Design and the Recording Britain program helped document handmade objects, scenes of daily life and landscapes many of which now exist only on paper. Thankfully, during 1940 and 1941 before he became a full-time war artist, Thomas Hennell completed 33 drawings and watercolors of the English countryside that included several craftsmen’s shops.

Which makes me wonder how many of you have documented your shops, or your corner of the dining room, or basement, or garage? Have you made a sketch of your shop or asked your talented  daughter/son/niece/nephew/grandchild to make a sketch for you? Whether a masterpiece done in crayon by a five-year-old or sketched by your art student teenager, either would be a treasure.

-Suzanne Ellison

Posted in Historical Images, Personal Favorites | 10 Comments