The Making of a Cabinetmaker – Part II


My actual experience at the bench as an embryo cabinetmaker began when I was fourteen years of age. I had been at school all the winter and spring, but was with my father in the shop a great deal before and after school hours. At this time my father was working on piece work in the town of C, and in every odd moment I helped him all I could. He made a great many extension tables at so much a foot. They were 8, to and 12-foot tables, some were of black walnut but most were ash.

There was only one thing I could help him about on these tables and that was, after he had planed and scraped the tops I would sandpaper them. He had a cork block around which he folded the sandpaper, and after admonishing me to sandpaper only with the grain I would go at it. I took kindly to the work and he let me tinker a good deal for myself, and I became greatly interested in making a toy bureau. I made the frame, glued it together and get out the drawers, fitting them as well as I could. The first bureau was rather crude but I was proud of it.

I was given some practical lessons in shoving a plane. Like all beginners, I was awkward. Though I had seen my father use a plane from earliest recollection, when I attempted to use one in planing a hardwood board level, or to make a “rub” glue joint, what looked so easy as my father did it was a hard enough job when I tried it myself.
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Noah’s Arks


In Kew Gardens is a seldom-visited collection of all the kinds of wood which we have ever heard of, accompanied by specimens of various articles customarily made of those woods in the countries of their growth. Tools, implements, small articles of furniture, musical instruments, sabots and wooden shoes, boot-trees and shoe-lasts, bows and arrows, planes, saw-handles—all are here, and thousands of other things which it would take a very long summer day indeed even to glance at.

The fine display of colonial woods, which were built up into fanciful trophies at the International Exhibition of eighteen hundred and sixty-two, has been transferred to one of these museums; and a noble collection it makes.

We know comparatively little in England of the minor uses of wood. We use wood enough in building houses and railway structures; our carriage-builders and wheelwrights cut up and fashion a great deal more; and our cabinet-makers know how to stock our rooms with furniture, from three-legged stools up to costly cabinets; but implements and minor articles are less extensively made of wood in England than in foreign countries —partly because our forests are becoming thinned, and partly because iron and iron-work are so abundant and cheap.
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Truth of the Day: Plastic Finishes

sawbench_finish.jpgI don’t write much about finishing because Bob Flexner has done that for us. “Understanding Wood Finishing” is one of the core books that should be in every woodworker’s library. Read it once through and then refer back to it when you wander into uncharted territory.

Bob has a reputation as an iconoclast, a rebel or a curmudgeon, depending on who you talk to. As someone who edited his column in Popular Woodworking Magazine for many years I can say this: He has no tolerance for BS, marketing, marketing BS or romantic naming conventions for finishing products. And unlike other authors who write about finishing, Bob does not sell his own finishing products.

We are constantly bamboozled by finish manufacturers who push “tung oil,” “Danish oil” or whatever on us without telling us what actually is in the can. Finishing is not complex. There are only a few ways that finishes cure. And once you understand the differences, then finishing becomes as straightforward a skill as flattening a board.

During the weekend I had to look something up about fixing orange peel in a film finish and stumbled on a remarkable fact in his book. Sometimes we are our own worst enemies.

“Myth: You often hear polyurethane disparaged as a ‘plastic’ finish.

“Fact: All film finishes, except possibly shellac, are plastic! Solid lacquer, called celluloid, was the first plastic. It was used as early as the 1870s to make collars, combs, knife handles, spectacle frames, toothbrushes, and later, movie film. Phenolic resin, called Bakelite, was used to make the first plastic radio cases. Amino resins (catalyzed finishes) are used to make plastic laminate. Acrylic resin (water base) is used to make Plexiglas.”

Flexner then goes into detail about how modern varnishes were developed.

Sweet mother of mystery, this book is only $15 at ShopWoodworking. Buy it and read it.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Update: ‘Virtuoso: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of Henry O. Studley’


If you’ve wondered why I’m losing my hair, it not entirely genetics. It also has to do with our upcoming title, “Virtuoso: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of Henry O. Studley” by Donald C. Williams and Narayan Nayar.

The good news is that the book is in capable hands. We have Wesley Tanner (of “To Make as Perfectly Possible” fame) designing the book. And it is beautiful. We have photographer Narayan Nayar processing all the photos and dialing in the color for the press we are using. Plus I, Don Williams, Megan Fitzpatrick, Jeff Burks and others have been fine-tuning the text to make it as clean as we can.

What’s making me crazy, however, is the deadline. We have to get the book to the printer by midnight Thursday to ensure that it will be delivered in time for Handworks and the exhibit of the Studley tool cabinet and workbench in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

It will be a squeaker.

We plan to open pre-publication ordering for the book on Monday. The title will be full-color, 8-1/2” x 11”, 216 pages, and printed on beautiful and heavy matte paper with a stunning dust jacket. The price will be $49. We hope to offer free shipping for domestic customers who order before the press date, but we’re still running those numbers. Our kids have to eat, and I need to buy a 50-gallon vat of Rogaine.

We also plan to offer an option where you can order the book now and pick it up at Handworks – that will be the first place the book will be released to the public. More details on the ordering process over the weekend.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Update: ‘Chairmaker’s Notebook’

CN_cover_web2So where is Peter Galbert’s book “Chairmaker’s Notebook” that was supposed to ship from the printer on March 20? The book is supposed to leave the Tennessee printer today and arrive in our warehouse either tomorrow or Friday.

Then our fulfillment service is creating a special assembly line to process all of the orders (more than 1,100) immediately.

In other news about the book, we are preparing to publish a set of full-size plans for the two chairs in the book. These plans were hand-drawn by Peter and include the full-size seats with all the angles, all the turning profiles (both baluster and bobbin), plus the details on the bending form for the fan-back.

I’m currently scanning the plans and will have details on price and availability soon. These plans will not be bundled with the book and will be actually be produced and shipped by a third party. So no one is going to miss out on a deal or discount.

I’m driving up to our warehouse on Friday and should have photos of the finished product soon.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Update: Hand Tool Immersion Class


I’d like to say “thank you” to all the woodworkers who have donated tools, money and offers of assistance for the Hand Tool Immersion class for new woodworkers being held at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking this fall.

The class filled up in 45 minutes. Marc encouraged me to hold a second one, but I’m afraid I am too tied up with <insert insane list of items here> to even consider it. The good news is that we are already planning additional deeply discount classes for new woodworkers for 2016. Details to come when they are available.


As to the tools y’all have sent, we now have an official imperial crapload of them in my sunroom. In fact, I think we’ll have all 18 students covered. We just have to first figure out exactly what each student needs to complete his or her toolkit.

By the way, if you are a student in this class, you should receive instructions in May on getting your toolkit sorted. So stay tuned on that front.

As to offers of food, teaching assistance and cheerleading, I want to say “yes” to all of the generous offers. I just need to talk over what is possible with Marc next month while I’m at the school. It’s his school, his facility and his insurance. So it’s really his call as to whether you can bring your flea circus to help flatten chisel backs.

The other update for this class (and the similar one in England) is that I’ve started building the tool chest we’ll all be building during these classes. I’ll be shooting photos and will have a manual for the students with drawings etc. This manual will allow me to take naps during the class, perhaps even to skip a couple days of the class to hit the Oaken Barrel for a bender. Who knows?

The wood for the chest is some sweet 4/4 white pine I recently scored. The stuff almost planes itself.

— Christopher Schwarz

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The History of Wood, Part 47


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