Your Assignment Today…


The lessons inside “By Hand & Eye” cannot be learned by reading alone, any more than you can learn to cut dovetails from a book.

You must put pencil to paper so the book’s ideas about proportion will become physical things on the page before you. Then the ideas will be in your fingers – not just your mind. When I was editing “By Hand & Eye,” I had to perform these exercises to gain entrance into the heads of Jim Tolpin, George Walker and the pre-Industrial artisans. (Many of the exercises were done at a bar in the Dallas/Fort Worth airport, which generated a lot of odd looks from fellow passengers.)

It was well-worth doing and has absolutely made me a better designer.

This week we had a reader who was struggling with the first drawing exercise in the book called “Making a Visual Scale.” In that exercise, you are asked to make seven rectangles using a compass, straightedge and pencil. Tolpin and Walker are purposely a little obtuse about the process to make the rectangles because it’s important that you make a small mental leap yourself.

To help the reader, George offered a small nudge on his blog yesterday in this entry. If you have been struggling with this exercise (or skipped it – naughty, naughty), here’s the chance to wake up your inner eye this Saturday. Give it a cup of coffee.

For those of you who don’t own the book, here are the four pages from the book in pdf format so you can try it yourself.


If you like this sort of thing, you are going to be thrilled by an upcoming and inexpensive workbook from Tolpin and Walker. The workbook answers this question: Can you learn design from a cartoon dog? More details to come.

— Christopher Schwarz

P.S. “By Hand & Eye” is back in stock in the Lost Art Press store after we sold out of the last printing.

Posted in By Hand & Eye, Downloads | 12 Comments

Revising the Seat


Today I’ve been sketching a new seat for the three-legged backstool. Here’s where we are at 3:59 p.m. and ready for a beer after a long day of editing.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Furniture of Necessity | 11 Comments

How I Evaluate My Own Work


If you put your work out on display, you will receive criticism.

There’s the favorable: “Will you sell it to me?”

And the not-so-good: “Wow, that is a nice piece of oak you used.”

I’m used to it, and it doesn’t phase me. But I try not to let the comments of others color my own opinion – good or bad – of my work. I let my photographs do that. When I finish a prototype, it’s helpful to photograph the piece against a plain backdrop. No photographic lights, scrims, gridspots, filters or Photoshop. Just a camera set to f22 on a tripod and flat, overhead fluorescent shop lighting.

I pick a few stock vantage points and try to position the camera where viewers will stand. I take a half-dozen photos and look at them on screen and (more importantly) print them out so I can draw on the printouts.

Today I took a few minutes to record this backstool prototype. What do I see? The seat can be smaller and I’m going to futz with its D-shape a little. I’m happy with the crest rail. And the rake and splay of the legs works, functionally and visually. I’m still getting used to the fact that the chair has only three legs, but it’s sort of growing on me.

Anyone, the next iteration will have a smaller seat. Time to draw some new shapes on the printouts.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Furniture of Necessity | 53 Comments

Everything has been Restocked


As of now, we are back at full stock on all our books and sweatshirts. Here are the details:

The third printing of “By Hand & Eye” arrived at our warehouse this morning. The demand for this book has remained surprisingly strong. Just when we think sales are plateauing, they increase. The authors, Jim Tolpin and George Walker, have two cool surprises in store for you this year. You can find one hint here.

Also this week, we received shipment of the third revised edition of Christian Becksvoort’s “With the Grain.” This third edition adds details on 10 trees not found in earlier editions. If you have an earlier edition of the book, here are the 20 pages that you can print out and insert into your current copy.

Finally, our new sweatshirts are back in stock in all sizes from small to 2XL. We have switched to Royal Apparel to supply our sweatshirts, which are American-made and of good quality. This sweatshirt is similar in almost all of the characteristics of our earlier sweatshirts, but John reports the fabric feels a bit heavier. This will likely be our last offering of sweatshirts for the season. So if you want one, get them before it gets warm outside and we switch to Lost Art Press Speedos.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in By Hand & Eye, With the Grain | 16 Comments

The History of Wood, Part 39


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The Unpredictable Backstool

A coarse phone shot of the chair before I trimmed the legs to final length. It's sittable, but needs a lot of clean-up before paint.

A coarse phone shot of the chair before I trimmed the legs to final length. It’s sittable, but needs a lot of clean-up before paint.

The three-legged form of backstool is ideal for uneven or dirt floors, though it looks wrong at first to modern eyes, like a Zap Xebra three-wheeled car. Though we all know in our heads that a three-legged stool is stable, adding a backrest to it throws our eyes off.

Even Victor Chinnery, the dean of English furniture, wrote the following warning in “Oak Furniture: The British Tradition” (Antique Collectors Club).

“Three feet will stand with greater stability on an irregular surface, but it nevertheless takes a certain amount of skill to sit comfortably in such a chair, since it is easily overbalanced.”

Judging from the number of extant three-legged backstools, that statement seemed like it was written with the eyes, not the buttocks. But the only way to test the statement was to build a three-legged critter and sit in it after a few beers. So I did.

As I designed this backstool, I followed the geometry I found in other three-legged backstools and chairs – usually the back leg rakes backward significantly. So I was careful to replicate that feature when I made models of three-legged stools before building one.

As my backstool came together I sat on it at every stage in construction. At first I expected to be tossed to the floor. That didn’t happen. And when I had my first formal sit-down in the completed backstool, here’s what I felt: stable.

My front legs were planted over the front legs of the backstool. My tailbone was on top of the back leg. I leaned back and my head hovered over the footprint of the rear leg. I cautiously creeped my buttocks left. Then right. I reached for my fourth beer.

And… nothing.

How does the backstool get its reputation as tippy as a drunken uncle? Part of the instability is an optical illusion, but part of it is real. It just has nothing to do with sitting on the chair.

We use chairs and stools for more than sitting. If you stand or kneel on this seat and the pressure is outside the triangle created by the feet, you’ll get a rude surprise. Or stand behind the chair and lean on the crest rail. If you lean on its center then nothing happens. But if you lean on one end of the crest rail, you might just bite the floor.

If you aren’t sold on the idea of a three-legged chair, that’s OK. It’s simple work to make this backstool with four legs instead of three. But consider this: If you do have the guts to make the three-legged version you’ll never have to yell at your kids for tipping backward in their backstool.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Furniture of Necessity | 31 Comments

More Chairs of Necessity


Peter Follansbee, one of the authors of “Make a Joint Stool from a Tree,” dug up some photos of historical examples of chairs that Randle Holme drew in the 17th century.

The photos of chairs are here. Peter also wrote up a list of many of the terms for chairs and stools he has encountered in his research. Crazy stuff. Check it out here.

Also, since Peter left Plimoth last year he now has even more items that he sells on his blog – spoons, beautiful bowls and even some carved panels. If you like Peter’s stuff, this is a direct way to support his pioneering work. His current batch of items for sale is here.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Furniture of Necessity, Make a Joint Stool from a Tree | 3 Comments