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 | 23 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 | 14 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 | 31 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

Looking For a Dime. Found a Quarter

The exterior of the partial mansard-roof building. Though the paint job is new, we'll be repainting it in more historically appropriate colors.

The exterior of the partial mansard-roof building. Though the paint job is new, we’ll be repainting it in more historically appropriate colors.

Don’t you hate how every Lost Art Press project takes years to complete?

Me too.

After more than three years of work, Lucy and I have found a building for Lost Art Press where we will live out the rest of our days, making stuff and writing about it. We have come to an agreement with the owner of a circa-1890 commercial building with a living space above. If nothing goes wrong, it will be ours at the end in late August or early September.

The building is located in a residential neighborhood in Covington, Ky., that is off Main Street in a particularly German part area. The building first appeared in city records about 1890 as Jos. Horstmann, a “Dealer in staple and Fancy Groceries, Liquors, Cigars &c.” Two Germans lived above the store at that time – a baker and a stonemason.

The store remained a grocery and saloon for many years – switching to soft drinks during Prohibition – and was a meeting place for organizations such as the Latonia Mutual Aid Society and the Deutscher Pioneer Verein, a German publishing group. By the middle of the 20th century, it was a cafe. In the later part of the century it was a jazz club and, finally, a lesbian bar.

A view of the interior of the current bar. We will keep the vintage bar on the left. The black paint and tile will be replaced.

A view of the interior of the current bar. We will keep the vintage bar on the left. The black paint and tile will be replaced.

We have no desire to become bartenders, so we will convert the first floor to a storefront with a hand-tool workshop, offices, library and photo studio. The upstairs will be our living quarters. The rear of the building has a small courtyard, plus a two-bay garage for a car and a few machines.

These changes will take place during the next four years as we get our youngest through high school and off to college. So we’ll have plenty of time to do the work and do it right.

Have no fear that this blog is going to become the daily diary of This Old Storefront. While we enjoy fixing up old buildings, I much prefer building furniture and writing about it. But there will be a change of scenery. And I’ll probably sell off a last hoard of surplus tools to help make improvements that I cannot do myself.

And when it’s done, we’ll invite everyone to come see it.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Personal Favorites | 52 Comments

When the Nicholson Bench is Not a Time-Saver

Alex Primmer and Deneb Puchalski during one of the many panel glue-ups last week.

Alex Primmer and Deneb Puchalski during one of the many panel glue-ups last week.

The Nicholson-style workbench is a great choice for a woodworker who is short on time or materials – I can usually build one of these benches in half the time of a French bench and this English form requires half the materials.

Unless you have narrow wood.

This last week a group of us at the New English Workshop birthed 10 new Nicholson-style workbenches during a class held at Warwickshire College. After five days of work, we got all the benches assembled and ready for final clean-up and vises.

That’s exactly how long it takes to get a French-style workbench assembled in a classroom. What happened? Why weren’t we sipping sloe gin and eating meat pies on Wednesday evening while sitting upon 10 finished benches?

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The Nicholson benches I have built used 2x12s. The top is two 2x12s glued on edge – that is the only panel glue-up. For this class, we couldn’t get our hands on any primo dimensional stock for the benches, so we used ash that was ripped down to about 6-1/8”.

One of the benches knocked down flat for travel.

One of the benches knocked down flat for travel.

So we had to glue up the top from four boards. The aprons were two boards. Some internal bits also had to be glued into panels. As a result, we spent two entire days gluing up panels and truing them up. And that’s why we barely squeaked by late on Friday afternoon.

The lesson here is to use dimensional 2x12s for a Nicholson bench. Otherwise, you negate the time-saving advantage of this classic English form.

— Christopher Schwarz

A stack of a few benches. Note that the legs are still over-long. Many of the students wanted high workbenches. Who am I to argue.

A stack of a few benches. Note that the legs are still over-long. Many of the students wanted high workbenches. Who am I to argue.

Posted in Woodworking Classes, Workbenches | 3 Comments