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 | 10 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 | 50 Comments

2015: Lots of Chests, Lots of Countries

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If you want to build a tool chest or a workbench in 2015 with the assistance of a sasquatch (me), 2015 could be the year. I have just about finished lining up all my classes for next year. While it might seem early to be discussing this, I know that many busy students need to plan their lives a year in advance.

I’ll be discussing these classes in more detail in the coming months. But here is a broad overview.

January: It looks like I’ll be returning to Highland Hardware at the end of the month to teach a weekend class, perhaps on building a Dutch tool chest.

February and March: I return to Australia for a tour of the country – very exciting. Here is the preliminary schedule:

Feb. 23-27. Build a Roubo Workbench at the Melbourne Guild of Fine Woodworking.
Feb. 28. Hand Tool Event at the Melbourne Guild of Fine Woodworking.
March 2-4. Dutch Tool Chest class at the Melbourne Guild of Fine Woodworking
March 6-8. Class at Robert Howard’s School in Brisbane. Topic to be announced.
March 11-13. Dutch Chest class at the Henry Eckert School in Adelaide.

April: I’ll be teaching at the Guild of Oregon Woodworkers April 9-12, topic to be announced.

May: I return to the Woodworkers Club in Rockville, Md., for a week-long class May 4-8. The topic is still up for discussion.

May 15-17. Handworks in Amana, Iowa. Do not miss it.

June 12-19: I return to Dictum (yay!) in Germany to teach classes on building a traditional sawbench, mallet and marking gauge.

June 22-28: I get the honor of teaching at Phil Lowe’s Furniture Institute of Massachusetts. We’ll be building the Anarchist’s Tool Chest for one class and I think we’ll be doing a two-day seminar on tackling the tricky bits for campaign chests – the full-blind dovetails and hardware, in particular.

July: I return to England to teach two classes for the New English Workshop. At this point, one class will be a workbench, the other will be a chest. We’re still working out the details, but both classes will be brand new ones. One of them is a project I’ve been mulling over for years now.

Aug. 10-14. We build Roubo workbenches at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking.

Sept. 28-Oct. 2. I’ll be teaching a tool chest class at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking. Just like the classes for the New English Workshop, I can’t say much until we finalize some details. But this will be a class that is very important to me.

There are a couple more classes that I’ll add to the schedule. But the schedule above really is the physical limit for me if I want to build furniture and edit books as well. I do hope you can make it out to a class next year.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Woodworking Classes | 26 Comments

I am an American Anarchist

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And so she asks: “What does it mean? ‘The Anarchist’s Tool Chest?’”

I take a deep breath and purse my lips a bit. I get asked this question a lot, especially by non-woodworkers, people who haven’t read “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” and complete wankers.

The truth is, I eschew labels such as “libertarian,” “liberal” and “lemming.” While I am happy to explain my outlook on life, I do it without a whiff of political language. Instead of talking about the political landscape, I’d rather live in the real one.

So my basic response to the question goes like this: I dislike large organizations – governments, corporations, churches. When organizations get enormous, the humans in them tend to do inhumane things, such as start wars, burn each other at the stake or enslave people in factories.

I refuse to participate in those organizations as much as possible. I don’t vote. I don’t give money to churches. I don’t shop at Wal-Mart, or really any other chain store. I admit it’s difficult to be Puritanical about this. Buying a car or a computer is difficult without somehow engaging with a large organization, but I do my best.

Most of all, I try to consume less and make more – and not be an a-hole about everything I’ve said above. The world has enough of those, and I’m surprised they don’t have their own organizing body.

If you are interested in American anarchism, or the particular branch that applies to woodworkers – aesthetic anarchism – I encourage you to read the following short bits.

1. The Wikipedia entry on Josiah Warren, the first American anarchist and the founder of the Cincinnati Time Store.

2. The 1906 book on Josiah Warren by William Bailie. It’s available for free here from archive.org.

3. Buy a copy of “Native American Anarchism” by Eunice Minette. Many libraries have the book. You can buy one from AbeBooks.com as well. The book is a bit mistitled. It has nothing to do with Native Americans. It is about anarchism that took root in America.

Most of all, if you think you are an anarchist, refuse to listen to the non-anarchists who dismiss your approach to life. That’s like listening to the factory owners who laugh at hand-tool woodworking as quaint.

The best response to the criticism is to close the laptop, sharpen a chisel and chop some dovetails. As George R.R. Martin writes over and over in his books, “Words are wind.”

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in The Anarchist's Tool Chest | 38 Comments

The Oddest Cut Nails I’ve Seen

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I’ve seen wrought nails made by a blacksmith. Cut nails made by a steel-gobbling machine. And wire nails snipped from enormous coils. But I don’t think I’ve seen nails that have been “stamped.”

I think “stamped” is the right word. I could be wrong.

Paul Mayon of the New English Workshop procured these nails for the two tool chest classes I’m teaching at Warwickshire College this month. Paul looked for traditional clout nails like the ones made by Tremont in the United States, but he came up empty.

These stamped nails are unusual in they look to be die-cut from a sheet of steel, like a cookie cutter. So in one important way, they are much like a cut nail: In one dimension the point of the nail has parallel sides; in the other dimension the point is wedge-shaped.

However, the nails have not been run through a “header” machine, which is like a giant hammer that “upsets” the end of the nail to create a roundish head. This head is what gives clout nails (and other headed nails) their holding power when fastening backs and bottoms to cabinets and chests.

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So the heads on these nails extend out in one dimension only. Also unusual: The heads have an additional miniature head on top. I assume that this little head allows you to set the head of the nail below the surface of the wood when using a nail set that is designed for wire nails (if so, it’s a clever idea and works).

In use, these nails seem to bite properly, and the heads deform the wood at times, much like the splintering you’ll get with clout nails. I have no idea how these stamped nails will hold over the long term – perhaps an English reader can let us know in the comments section below.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments

Another Greenville, Another Magic Mart

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People gripe about traveling abroad, especially for work. I don’t get it. Here is how it’s done.

1. Take yourself on a “date.” Jet lag is easy to conquer with modern chemistry. I tell people that I give myself a “roofie” before I fly across the globe. First I take myself out for a nice dinner – in this case an overheated Mexican craphole in a New Jersey airport. And I order extra salsa – in this case they brought ketchup.

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Then I get myself a nice girlie drink, the ones that come with either a paper umbrella or a glittery tube top. And, after telling myself how irresistible I am, I slip myself a few pills while I’m not looking. Two ibuprofen and two Benadryl.

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With the help of this concoction I can sleep all the way across the Atlantic while a 6-year-old ninja goes all Donatello on the back of my seat.

2. Don’t nap. When I land I behave like I’m on local time. I stay up as late as I can the first day I am there and crash hard. After that, the trick is to never stop swimming.

3. Embrace everything. When I teach, I always round up the students to go out in the evenings to get dinner and a couple of drinks. We usually enlist a local to help us find a cheap dive with good food, good beer and a goodly amount of patience with loud-mouthed woodworkers. Tell bad jokes. Stay up too late. Crash hard. Repeat.

And never say “no” when you are invited to do something with the locals. The best way to see a new place is through the eyes of a resident. The worst way to see it is from the seat of a tour bus.

The week I’ve been at Warwickshire College, teaching a class in building “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” for the New English Workshop. We’re in a nice little town called Leamington Spa outside Birmingham. The place is awash in Georgian architecture, quaint little shops and just enough pubs to get us into trouble.

It has been a remarkable week for many reasons.

This is my first course in England and the first course for New English Workshop. It’s a great little company run by Derek Jones and Paul Mayon that seeks to really honestly and truly prop up the craft.

Here’s one example: The tool chest I’ve built for the course will be auctioned off by David Stanley Auctions while it is full of incredible tools donated by toolmakers all over the world (Karl Holtey, Veritas, Bad Axe Toolworks and many others – a complete list to come). All the proceeds from that auction will go back to Warwickshire College to support its furniture-making program.

I’ll have more details on the auction as we get closer to the date.

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As a nice gesture, I had all 18 students sign the underside of the tool chest. That should confuse some future tool collector.

The other great thing about the course has been getting to know the students, many of whom I’ve corresponded with via e-mail. One of the highest of the highlights was getting to meet Kieran Binnie, a luthier, woodworker, music lover and history nut.

Kieran runs the Over the Wireless blog, where he discusses woodworking, building guitars and martial arts and somehow blends them all into a very interesting and readable mix. Oh, and his guitars are gorgeous. Do subscribe to his blog. And read more about Kieran on Chris Hughes’ blog at Artifact Bag. And check out this Telecaster he built. Must. Resist.

A dozen of the 19 chests we built in five days.

A dozen of the 19 chests we built in five days.

As we loaded up the 18 students’ chests today, I marveled that we got so much work done in only five days (and without a single stomach pumping and only one instance of barfing). When woodworkers build a serious tool chest it is usually the point where they give themselves over to the craft. You can see that after five hard (nay, brutal) days of dovetailing under extreme time pressure, that each person has become a little different. And it’s not just the odd smell.

Building such a difficult piece in a short period of time gives them the confidence they can do a lot of other things in the craft. And it can be done quickly and precisely.

So this blog entry has gone on far too long. I’ve got another date tonight. This time with a pillow and an unplugged alarm clock.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in The Anarchist's Tool Chest, Woodworking Classes | 9 Comments