Did the Router Beget the Handplane?

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At any idle moment, I dive into editing our massive Charles H. Hayward project. Unfortunately, I am the bottleneck in this project. Megan Fitzpatrick has edited the entire thing and entered most of her changes, but I am far behind her.

Perhaps I’m getting slow because I’m not on the front lines of editing a magazine any more.

In any case, I am deep in the book’s section on planes and enjoying the heck out of it. Maybe that’s the problem.

One of the articles sent me scurrying to my library to check a few sources on the history of the handplane, including a suggestion that the plane evolved from the router. That’s odd. Many other sources have suggested the adze was the stepping stone between the chisel and adze. So I had to look at some early routers (maybe this is what is slowing me down?).

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Take a look at the entire article (minus final edits) and get a preview of the nice vintage look we’re using for this massive project, which is weighing in at 891 pages.

And now I’ll stop blogging tonight, which is surely slowing me down.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Charles H. Hayward at The Woodworker, Handplanes | 4 Comments

Not Too Artistic

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“The chair is the closest thing to a person. You can give it personal expression. Obviously, it has been just as important for me to make sensible cabinets. Everything in a house must definitely not be too artistic. One thing should accentuate the other. There needs to be a neutral background. In my view, cabinets and the like must be something that works. Chairs, too. But cabinets don’t need personal expression.”

— Hans J. Wegner

Editor’s note: Hans Wegner’s “Fish Cabinet” is one of my favorite pieces of Wegner’s case pieces. Designed for the 1944 Cabinetmaker’s Guild Exhibition, the cabinet appeared to be in line with the sober work of Kaare Klint and his students. But when the front was opened it revealed an intense intarsia scene that was executed by Wegner himself. Wegner cut the veneer with a pocketknife and assembled the intarsia in a week of intense work. While several commentators have imbued this piece with meaning it probably doesn’t have, I just like it for what it is. It reminds me of a tool chest. Plain on the outside….

Posted in Personal Favorites | 5 Comments

Oh Yeah, the Japanese Toolboxes

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Sometimes I forget the unwritten rule of woodworking blogging: If you don’t show the finished project then everyone assumes you failed and threw the thing in the trash.

Earlier this year I wrote about some Japanese sliding-lid boxes I was building for a forthcoming article in Popular Woodworking Magazine that were based on a 20th-century example I’d found in Australia.

I wrote about the box design, the wood and some difficulties I had finding the right dome-head nails. And then, nothing more.

No, I didn’t burn them. I finished them up, wrote the article and shipped them off. One went to my dad; the other to one of my favorite customers. And then I dove back into “The Furniture of Necessity.”

Above is the photo that Al Parrish took of the finished boxes. Look for the plans in an upcoming issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine (and stop spreading those nasty rumors).

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Projects | 14 Comments

Your Local Digital Pub

Brians ATC (1 of 1)

This fall, Lost Art Press will add a discussion forum. The “digital pub” will be a space for readers to converse, share photographs of LAP-inspired builds and ask questions related to hand-tool skills, books and life in the craft.

When I joined Chris a few weeks ago for the Anarchist’s Tool Chest class at Phil Lowe’s Furniture Institute of Massachusetts, I mentioned my plans to launch a “fan site.” I wasn’t sure what domain name to use, but when Chris showed up at happy hour in his “Death to the Pixies” t-shirt, it was obvious: “Fu**ostArtPress.com,” I blurted out. Sometime between that outburst and the next round of beers, Chris decided to let me give it a shot.

But the forum is also an idea that John and Chris have been thinking about for a while. Over the years, they’ve received a steady stream of questions, along with suggestions for what they “NEED” to add to the web site. When Chris decided to give up e-mail, pesky readers like myself lost the capacity to ask those questions. And Chris lost one of the most treasured aspects of being an author – the pleasure of receiving feedback from engaged readers.

So the forum fills gaps on both sides. For readers, it will be a virtual pub. For authors, it revives a digital means of receiving feedback, questions and criticisms.

At this point, I bet you’re asking two questions: (1) “Who is this guy?” and (2) “What’s he got to do with the blog?” Although I hate writing about myself, here are some quick answers.

(1) I’m a woodworking nerd. I have more experience reading about wood than building furniture. But that is about to change. For the past decade, I’ve been a professional professor and a hobby woodworker. This fall, I’m reversing those roles. While being an adjunct professor of American religious history has been a fulfilling vocation, it hasn’t paid the bills. I’ve yet to find that coveted tenure-track job, and I’m fed up with the corporatization of higher education. Inspired by authors like Chris, Robert Pirsig, and Matt Crawford – and encouraged by my wife and many of our university colleagues – I’m taking the plunge into anarchy. I’m building my own furniture designs. Valuating my own labor. Refusing to accept the Ikea-fication of our world. And narrowing the gap between what I do and what I love.

(2) I’m going to moderate the forum. While I encourage constructive criticism, this won’t be a space for hate. (And I will have a really low threshold for any posts derogatory of other readers.) We want this to be a friendly pub where the whole family can enjoy bratwurst and beers, not that bar down the street where every Saturday night someone gets their head bashed in with a cue ball. (I actually love those bars – this just isn’t going to be one of them.) In addition to moderating posts, its my job to keep other blog readers and LAP authors up to date. Each Monday, I’ll write about what’s trending in the forum, including links to conversations and photographs. As the discussions build, I’ll solicit comments and responses from LAP authors.

We anticipate we’ll be ready to launch the forum by mid-September. Until then, you’ll have to keep using the lame “comments” function to tell us what you think!

— Brian Clites, your new moderator and author of TheWoodProf.com blog

Posted in Discussion Forum, The Anarchist's Tool Chest, Woodworking Classes | 26 Comments

Buy Now or Forever… etc.

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You might have heard that Karl Holtey will cease making planes soon. If you have ever wanted one, now is the time to buy as they will only go up in value.

I got to fondle two of them at the New English Workshop. They are such jewels I found myself trying to figure out how to raise the 2,000 pounds to purchase one in ebony.

The New English Workshop still has them for sale on its site here. Snag one if you can. During last week two (two!) were sold immediately.

The last plane Holtey is making is the No. 984 panel plane. According to his site, he is still accepting deposits for these.

While most people will remember Holtey’s planemaking enterprise as a quest for perfection (which is correct, in my opinion), I think Holtey should also be remembered for how he single-handedly changed the woodworking world.

It was Holtey who first explained how bevel-up planes could be used to create high-angle tools. It sounds obvious now, but it wasn’t then.

He created a smoothing plane in 1998 (the No. 98) that basically was transformed into Veritas’s line of bevel-up bench planes, which took the woodworking by storm and have been a boon for beginners.

Holtey was the first – as far as I know – to experiment with different steel alloys for cutting irons for handplanes and spread the idea worldwide. The first A2 plane blade I saw was made by Holtey.

Holtey also developed a unique bedding system for plane irons that negates wood movement in wooden-bodied planes and even simplifies the bedding in metallic planes.

And those are just off the top of my head.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Handplanes | 16 Comments

Don’t Be ‘That’ Student

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After more than 10 years of teaching woodworking classes, I’ve seen a lot of weird stuff, from a guy who slammed his tools to the floor when he couldn’t cut a tenon to a woman who was so rich and odd that she tried to buy all my tools off my bench. Oh, and a guy who almost died from a heart attack.

More typical, of course, is to have a class where one student does everything he can to ruin the experience for everyone.

As I get set to take my first woodworking class in more than five years at David Savage’s shop, I thought you might want to hear about how I plan to get the most out of my week on the other side of the bench.

1. Take notes. Draw pictures. Review.
I couldn’t have made it through college without taking notes, and woodworking classes are no different. When I take a class, I dedicate an entire notebook to the enterprise and write down everything. I draw pictures of all the setups with dimensions. And I write down anything clever or profound that the instructor says.

Even more important, I review my notes before the next day’s class. The notes show me how I got to that particular point and where I am going.

Taking notes helps you and the entire class. When a student asks me four times how to do an operation, I fall behind in teaching other students.

2. Socialize – to a Point
I’ve seen woodworking classes where people have made new best friends and even forged new business plans. And that’s the highest reward of a class.

I’ve also seen classes fall into chaos when two chatterboxes put the brakes on the entire classroom by getting distracted by their new relationship.

Some classes have times when you have to wait on a tool to do a certain operation. Socialize then, at mealtimes and after class. You are paying about $20/hour (plus expenses) for the instruction. Make the most of it.

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3. Open Your Own School
Every class has at least one “special” student – someone lacking social skills, personal hygiene or self-control. The most difficult classes have three or four of the specials – and they feed off one another.

If you have to comment on or challenge many operations of the instructor, maybe you aren’t cut out for a class. Asking questions is necessary – but if you go off the reservation and off-topic, your fellow students will sharpen their knives. Yes, I have experienced open revolt against a few students.

If you have left-field questions, save them for after class or offer to take the instructor out for a drink.

4. Don’t Make the Class Something it Isn’t
Many students approach me before a class and say something like: “Hey, I know we are building a tool chest, but I’d like to build a chest of drawers instead. Can you help me along?”

The instructor should say, “Nope.” But really it’s not a question that should even be asked. Most classes are strapped for time. Diverting the class isn’t fair to the rest of the students.

5. Don’t Ask the Instructor to Do the Work
Some students are there only for the trophy – the finished project. And so they are eager to let the instructor or assistants do their work for them. True, there are times the instructor has to do an operation for all the students to take a shortcut (such as milling stock). But if you don’t cut the wood, your fingers aren’t learning squat.

I would rather try and fail than watch and succeed.

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6. On Borrowing & Loaning Tools
I’m always happy to let students and fellow instructors try my tools. After all, it’s a great way to test different brands or tools you are curious about.

Even so, always ask before you borrow. And always return the tool immediately after a few minutes of work.

Some students think that borrowing my block plane grants them carte blanche all week – with a sharpening service, too.

7. How to Become the Instructor’s Friend
Some students try to befriend the instructor – that’s cool, even instructors need friends. But there’s a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it. The wrong way can throw a class off the rails.

Wrong way: Chat up the instructor at every moment, sucking up all the time between demonstrations and preventing the instructor from checking the work of all of the students.

Right way: Step in to help without being asked. If a fellow student is falling behind, offer to help them by sharpening a plane or a chisel. Or if the fellow student seems confused, explain the operation to help them along. Offer to help move heavy materials for the class. And almost finally….

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8. Buy Doughnuts
Sugar, lard and cream filling improve everyone’s woodworking. Believe it.

Finally, shower every morning, use deodorant and brush your teeth. Or take a class in slopping barns.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Woodworking Classes | 33 Comments

The Right Way to Use a Square

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When I teach edge-jointing by hand, I am surprised by how many woodworkers (even experienced ones) evaluate their work incorrectly.

For starters, every board has a “true face,” sometimes called a “datum surface.” This is the one surface that you should press the stock of the square against. This applies even to machine work – electric planers are notorious for creating boards that taper across their width.

So you should mark one true face and always check your progress against that face.

Second: Tilt the square so one arris touches the edge (see photo above). Putting the square flat on the edge will put small errors in shardow. Ergo: You think you have a perfect edge, but when you get to glue-up you learn the gappy truth.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments