If You Don’t Have a Tenon Saw

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One of the more remarkable items I got see this summer that belonged to Jonathan Fisher was this fascinating homemade saw. Stoutly made with pegged mortise-and-tenon joints, the tool looks like what happens if a hacksaw and a tenon saw had a love child.

Joshua Klein, the Maine woodworker who has been studying Fisher, was undecided as to what Fisher used the saw for. The teeth are fairly coarse – though that could have happened after Fisher’s death in 1847. So one theory is it was a fancy bucksaw. Another is that it was a tenon saw.

If it’s a bucksaw, it’s the fanciest bucksaw ever. Also, the depth of cut is pretty limited.

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So judging from the overall physical characteristics of the tool, I think it’s more likely it was used for joinery. But who knows? To me it looks like a miter-box saw (and Fisher did make his own miter box devices), though I would expect to see some more wear on the wooden parts from the saw rubbing on the miter box.

If you are interested in the continuing research into this fascinating early American woodworker and Renaissance man (and a direct relative to Thomas Lie-Nielsen), subscribe to Joshua Klein’s blog, Workbench Diary.

— Christopher Schwarz

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What is Nonexistent

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The wheel’s hub holds 30 spokes
Utility depends on the hole through the hub.
The potter’s clay forms a vessel
It is the space within that serves.
A house is built with solid walls
The nothingness of window and door alone renders it usable,
That which exists may be transformed
What is nonexistent has boundless uses.

Laozi, founder of philosophical Taoism

Posted in Historical Images, Personal Favorites | 3 Comments

Fly to Another Country & Raise Your IQ

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When David Charlesworth made his first trip to the United States, he flew into the cornfields of Indiana all jetlagged and hungry.

So we took him out to eat. And someone in our party (it was the genius, I suppose) decided that Longhorn steakhouse was a good idea. It’s a throw-your-peanut-shells-on-the-floor place. Big belt buckles are de rigueur. No snakeskin boots, no service.

When we walked in, we told David: “The women here will love your accent.” He looked doubtful, but we were correct. Not only did the 20-something hostess swoon when David said “Hello,” but several members of the wait staff came over to our table during the evening just to hear him speak.

It’s no secret that in the United States, having a British accent raises your IQ by at least 10 points. During my 25 years in publishing, I’ve learned that it is hopeless to argue with a British accent during a meeting. I might have fact and figures, but he has the accent. Case closed.

The pedestrian footbridge over the River Leam.

The pedestrian footbridge over the River Leam.

The same goes for South African accents. Australian accents, not so much. Many Americans can only picture “Crocodile Dundee” when an Australian speaks.

When I go overseas, I assume I sound like a hick. So I try to speak clearly, evenly and without any Arkansas idioms. Still, I imagine my students hear me as “Cooter” from “The Dukes of Hazzard” – a gun-toting, tobacco-chewing, redneck dufus.

Perhaps not.

During my recent trip to England, one of my English hosts commented that he had spent the previous evening listening to one of the American students talk about his philosophy of furniture design.

“It was fascinating,” the Brit said. “Or maybe it was just his deep voice and American accent that made me listen to him all night.”

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Personal Favorites | 9 Comments

The ‘New Anarchist’ Tool Chests

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Asking a newly minted woodworker to build an Anarchist Tool Chest in five days is about like asking them to grow a tail.

During a five-day class, most students are working on the lid when we run out of time. This is somewhat frustrating for the students and myself because we both want the sucker done and ready to use.

One solution would be to add extra days to the course. But most students are so worn out after five days of high-pressure woodworking that the sixth day would be mostly nap time (we’ve tried it). There are other solutions I’ve pondered, all of which add time or cost or whatever. (This is my polite way of saying that I’m not looking for your suggestion to hold the class on Saturn, where the days are much longer.)

So this summer I have designed some different chests to build in 2015. One of the chests isn’t ready to unveil because it is part of a kooky-go-nuts low-cost new class I’m developing for 2015 (Hint: I hope you like the smell of B.O.).

The other chest is designed and ready to discuss. This chest is basically the same size as the Traveling Anarchist Tool Chest, but it has some simpler joinery and an additional cool feature.

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1. Fewer dovetails. Students have dubbed my Anarchist Tool Chest classes as a dovetail death march. I don’t disagree. This new chest replaces the dovetails on both the lower and upper skirts with miters.

For the upper skirt, I think this is an overdue change. The upper skirt is a component of the chest that doesn’t see a lot of wear; it’s rare to see damage to this part of an old chest. Also, the upper skirt is now a three-piece assembly instead of going all the way around the carcase. This speeds assembly up and allows me to add a built-in stop for the lid (more one that in a minute).

Alas, the lower skirt does take a heap of abuse, so I resisted using miters here. Sure, I’ve seen miters survive just fine, but I’ve also seen them fail on old chests. So I’m recommending students add steel corner brackets, another feature I’ve seen on surviving tool chests.

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2. A different lid. I love the lid on my old tool chest, but it has a lot of joinery and takes more than a day to build by hand for most people.

So here I’m using a lid design shown both in chests designed by Charles Hayward and Paul Hasluck. The lid is a simple flat panel with the grain running left to right. It is surrounded on three sides by a dovetailed dust seal (just like on my old chest). The flat panel is glued to the front of the dust seal and rabbeted into the ends. Cut nails keep the ends attached to the flat panel and allow it to move, pushing the wood movement to the back of the chest.

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The other feature I like is that I have extended the width of the flat panel so it will act as a stop, keeping the lid upright when open. In the current drawing I have it open at 90°, but I can lean it back by planing a bevel on the lid.

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This simpler lid also provides a nice canvas for a marquetry panel.

I’m still drawing out the interior of the chest, but it will be much like the Traveling Anarchist Tool Chest. There will be two sliding trays, a rack and two sawtills – one for panel saws and one for backsaws.

3. And finally, I have thinned down some components of this chest to make it lighter in weight, but still plenty strong. The thinner components – the bottoms, skirts and dust seal – are all things I’ve seen on old chests. Nothing new here. I’ve also thinned down the thickness of the carcase so that we can use off-the-rack white pine to save expense and reduce weight.

I’ve loaded my SketchUp drawing into the 3D warehouse. Be warned. This is the metric version. I’m not switching to metric. But I’m just back from England and I’m trying to train my brain to work better in metric. When I finish the Imperial version, I’ll post that as well.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in The Anarchist's Tool Chest, Woodworking Classes | 14 Comments

Obsession No. 212. Umbrella Chairs

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When I wrote “Campaign Furniture,” I tried to avoid some of the “camp” campaign pieces – mostly pieces of furniture that had been adapted to plastic modern versions and available for sale at Bed, Bath & Beyond.

But this week, I call uncle.

One of the students in my New English Workshop class at Warwickshire College had spent most of his life in the tropics and collected a good deal of portable furniture, including a set of “umbrella chairs” he had purchased in the 1970s.

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One evening after the class had adjourned, he took me out to his car and showed me a couple of them. He had replaced the upholstery, but the wood and metal were original.

While I have seen these chairs in operation in plastic and nylon, they are simply amazing in wood, metal and cotton.

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First off: There is not a single woodworking joint in the frame. Everything is handled by geometry, butt joints and hardware. The more you play with them – open and shut and open and… – the more you appreciate their cleverness.

Oh, and they are comfortable, too.

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The student’s chairs were made from some sort of mahogany-like wood and a non-ferrous metal. Perhaps aluminum. As soon as I finished fooling with the chair, I resolved to build some. I’m going to need to fabricate some hardware. But that’s not a big deal, right?

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Campaign Furniture | 12 Comments

The History of Wood, Part 13

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Sticks and Stones and Naked Gnats

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In our household, we have offered the following guideline to our young girls: Words are not weapons. The only way that words can hurt you is if you let them hurt you.

So, as you can imagine, we allow complete freedom of speech within our walls (though we caution them to take great care with people outside our family). This is the same policy I follow on this blog. I will never write any words here that I would not say in front of either of my grandmothers (God rest their souls). It’s just polite.

This makes it difficult for me to discuss dovetailing on the blog. When I teach dovetailing, I use an awful expression to describe the amount of compression that the joint can and should endure where you drive the bits together. In other words, I try to explain how far away from your knife line you should saw your pins to fit the joint together tightly. Wood compresses. And we should take advantage of it.

So in an effort to describe this tiny measurement, I today asked my students for ideas (after using my foul expression). The students are British, for the most part, and should have some sense of propriety. Here are the three top suggestions.

When sawing your pins, you should saw slightly away from your line – exactly one…

1. Gnat’s firkin
2. Gnat’s chuff
3. Gnat’s nasty

I personally like No. 3 (alliteration is the mark of quality writing). Why they focused on gnats I do not know.

If someone has a better G-rated suggestion, I’d like to hear it. There could be a beer in it for you.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Techniques, Woodworking Classes | 53 Comments