Misconceptions About Signatures

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During the last four months I’ve had some odd encounters with customers at shows, classes and the like.

Customer (holding a book): “I understand that you aren’t signing books anymore. But would you mind signing this one book for me?”

Me: “Huh? What? I’ll sign anything. Got a baby?”

I am happy to sign anything and with anyone’s name (I do a passable “Roy Underhill” and a crappy “Norm Abram”) on your books, DVDs, T-shirts and bare flesh when you see me. I’ve signed a man’s chest (and I have bad dreams still), and I’ve signed a dozen books in blood in Australia.

What I cannot do is personally sign every book we sell through the Lost Art Press web site. All of our inventory is two hours away, and it changes so rapidly that I would spend a significant amount of time driving, unpacking books and packing them again.

That is why I now sign books via a letterpress bookplate printed by Steamwhistle Press in Cincinnati, Ohio. These are printed on a treadle machine, one-by-one, on quality adhesive-backed paper. I have signed each one individually with an ink pen (non-treadle-powered).

These are not cheap. In fact, they cut into our profit significantly. But that’s OK because we like them.

So next time you see me, lift up your shirt and hand me a Sharpie.

Or, on second thought…. lift up your girlfriend’s shirt and…. Oh nevermind. I’m in so much trouble as it is.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Personal Favorites, Products We Sell | 10 Comments

Some Roorkee Details to Ponder

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Ghurka – the maker of fine leather goods – offers a couple of different Roorkee patterns for sale at its website: the officer’s lounger and the officer’s chair.

Both are made in the classic style in oak with nice leather details.

What caught my eye were a couple of construction details. One that I like, and one that makes me say “Hmmmm.”

The one I like is the way they attach the arm straps to the back of the legs. I assume there is a threaded insert in the leg. Then the strap is secured by a brass thumbscrew. Even better: the maker has punched holes in the arm strap so you can take up the slack. After studying a bunch of old Roorkees, the arms always go slack.

I’m sure I’ll try this method out on a future chair.

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The other detail is the way the maker adjusts the straps on the reclining back of the chair. The adjustable straps use Sam Browne buttons and punched holes. It creates a clean look and requires less hardware than a buckle, but the straps cannot be adjusted as finely as a result. Perhaps it’s no big deal.

All in all, very nice examples.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Campaign Furniture | 9 Comments

Full-size Leather Lips for Your Stool

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The leather “lips” for the seat on the stool in “Campaign Furniture” have stymied a few readers. Their exact shape isn’t critical, but I should have provided a gridded diagram to make things easier.

Reader Glenn Frazee has made it super-easy to cut out your leather lips. He generated the following full-size pattern in pdf format for you to download. Simply print it out (with no scaling) and use it to make a wooden template for your lips.

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Thanks Glenn!

I also have some interesting hardware options for the stool to share with you in the coming weeks. Think: “blacksmith-made tri-bolt” and “hidden nuts.”

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Campaign Furniture | 1 Comment

Peter Galbert on Practicing Mistakes

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Editor’s note: Peter Galbert’s upcoming book on chairmaking is filled with stuff I have already begun to put into practice in my shop. Check out this short passage.

While learning techniques for turning specific details is important, I’ve found that having a process to practice and improve them is critical to mastering them. I remember learning to turn and feeling like mistakes and catches came out of nowhere, like a mugger in the night. But turning is simple physics, and the combination of tool, wood and movement will yield absolutely predictable results. Just like driving a car, the key is learning what the controls are and how to combine them to keep out of harm’s way. The problem almost always lies with you and your tool, and while this sounds like condemnation, I take it as encouragement. If the technique you are using gives poor results, you have the ability to choose a different technique, but first you must identify the problem.

Because the occasional turner usually needs to make a only few pieces when a project calls for them, it’s natural to assume that carefully turning a good bead on a scrap piece of wood is the way to bone up before chucking up a furniture part. The problem with this assumption is that it implies that squeaking out one good bead is proof positive that you can repeat the feat.

I’ve found it’s more productive to turn 10 poor-looking beads quickly. This gives the turner the chance to rehearse the movements and isolate the problem areas. I encourage consciously repeating mistakes, as long as they aren’t unsafe, until you can do so consistently. That way, you will learn to investigate the mechanics of the trouble, and avoiding it becomes easy. Plus, like a boxer learning to take a punch, you won’t become overly rattled by a simple catch or mistake.

— Peter Galbert

Posted in Chairmaking by Peter Galbert | 3 Comments

The Piltdown Cabinet

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Most woodworkers become adept at hiding repairs on their furniture or antiques. But some use this skill to fool a buyer into paying much more for a piece that is actually modern or has been cobbled together from several antique sources.

The forgery trade employed many famous woodworkers, including Charles Hayward (by his own admission in his short biography). And there are many written accounts that explain the forgery trade. And it still goes on today quite actively.

One common ruse is to buy old but inexpensive pieces and chop them up for the vintage wood and patina. Then assemble bits and pieces from several sources to create something that looks much earlier, rare and expensive.

The pull above is a victim of the chop-shop trade. It was culled from an early campaign chest so the wood (oak veneer over tight-grain deal) could be used for something else. The pull made its way to woodworker Richard Arnold, who gave it to me this fall.

And while campaign pieces are typically the victims of the chop trade, they also can be the final result of the ruse, as explained by Bernard Jack in his book “The Antique Story Book” (Etching Hill Press).

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Demand for Military Chests was outstripping supply and (the antiques dealer) had several people making them for her. She was sure I could do the work, adding that her local dustman was able to turn out one a week in his spare time. She would supply the Victorian chests and all the brasswork and pay me a fiver for each one. I apologised for being unable to help, saying that I was already heavily committed, but thanked her for the offer. I wonder who owns the chests the dustman made?

So the next time you are in a museum or antiques store and get to examine something rare or extraordinary, keep in mind that there is a shadowy world of woodworkers out there who are corrupting the furniture record we study and replicate.

— Christopher Schwarz

If you want to read more about the world of fakes, check out this article about the Chipstone Collection.

Posted in Campaign Furniture | 21 Comments

Too Busy to Sharpen

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I criticized a carpenter working for me recently for using dull tools. He excused himself by saying that he had been too busy to sharpen them. He had been working for weeks with a dull saw, and with a plane which had notches in it, leaving ugly ridges on the boards he was planing.

He had probably wasted more time in working with dull tools than would have been required to sharpen them several times, to say nothing of the inferior work he was turning out.

There are multitudes of people who never do good work because they never prepare for it, never put themselves in a position to do good work—they never sharpened their tools; never trained themselves for it, and they go through life botching their jobs…

Orison Swett Marden

North Judson News – December 24, 1914

—Jeff Burks

Posted in Historical Images | 4 Comments

What Will Become of Me?

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A tall pine-tree had been cut down in the forest, and dragged away to a back yard, where it now lay chopped into blocks of wood for fuel, piled up on the top of one another. Near the yard, on the other side of the hedge, was a garden with a green lawn, and out amidst the foliage there peeped forth a charming villa, where a family from the neighbouring town were wont, during the summer months, to come to live, and inhale the balmy air and bask in the country sunshine.

During the long, dreary spring the wooden logs had plenty of time to reflect on their future, but the majority of them were agreed that there was not much to reflect upon, for the fate of a log of firewood was once for all decided, and could not be altered.
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Posted in Historical Images | 3 Comments