English Tool Chests in England

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The No. 1 question I get from students in my tool chest classes: “Aren’t you tired of building tool chests?”

That’s like asking a delivery-room doctor: “Aren’t you tired of delivering babies?”

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Helping woodworkers build a tool chest and workbench that will set them on a life of making things never gets old. Building a chest or a workbench in a classroom with 18 other people is a sometimes-grueling way to learn the basic joints of the craft and make mistakes in a place where they can easily be fixed.

And in only five days, it’s all over. You have a place for your tools and you know how to use them.

This week I’m teaching a particularly special Anarchist’s Tool Chest class at Warwickshire College in England. It’s a big deal for me for two reasons. First, it’s the first time I’ve ever taught in England. Second, I am the first instructor hired by The New English Workshop, a small company that has a lot of the same fundamental principles as Lost Art Press.

The two founders, Paul Mayon and Derek Jones, are committed to growing the hand-tool craft in England and supporting the existing structure of craft education in this country (more on that later in the week). They have a lot of interesting classes and events planned for 2015, so do sign up updates from their their blog.

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We are three days into the class right now, and things are going well. Except for the fact that I am having the occasional and strange attack of deja-vu. Here’s why: We are building these chests from yellow pine, which is almost certainly from the United States. So as I am surrounded by these tea-sipping, warm-beer-loving English woodworkers, I am occasionally overwhelmed by the familiar turpentine odor of yellow pine. It makes me feel like I’m back in Arkansas and in one of our unfinished houses on the farm. And all the turkeys and armadillos have English accents.

So yeah, it’s a bit weird.

But I love the weird, and so I’m off to a sports bar with the students in a few minutes. I wonder if Bud Light sponsors the local cricket league. I hope not.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in The Anarchist's Tool Chest, Woodworking Classes | 12 Comments

The History of Wood, Part 12

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Credit in the Straight World: A Review in Make Magazine

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Stuart Deutsch wrote a short review of “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” for the August/September 2014 issue of Make magazine, which is usually about building projects involving high technology.

In the review, Deutsch writes:

“The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” is not your average beginner’s book, and its author is not your average seasoned woodworker…. Schwarz’s writing style is unlike what you’ll find in any other woodworking reference. He speaks to you in a friendly and frank nature. It’s as if this book is his diary or a long correspondence to a personal friend.

While I don’t always agree with Schwarz’s approach, I feel this book should be standard reading for anyone who hopes to one day to call themselves a woodworker.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in The Anarchist's Tool Chest | 5 Comments

Update on ‘The Naked Woodworker’

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“The Naked Woodworker” DVD is off to the pressing plant in Virginia, and I am uploading the massive movie files to our store’s servers as I type. So here are details on the project, when it will be available and pricing.

“The Naked Woodworker” is unlike any woodworking product I’ve worked on. It started last May when Mike Siemsen and I were talking at Handworks in Amana, Iowa. While examining his workbench there, we began throwing ideas back and forth about how to capture his bootstrapping methods and bring them to a wide audience.

The core principle: Buy a few good vintage tools, fix them up, build a sawbench and a workbench. Do it fast, well and with no machinery or woodworking power tools.

In February, John Hoffman and I drove up to Siemsen’s shop in Minnesota to film the DVD, the first for Lost Art Press. On Saturday morning we hit the Mid-West Tool Collectors Association’s regional meeting where we filmed Mike sifting through, evaluating, haggling and buying the tools we’d need. (Personal note: If you like handwork, join MWTCA. It’s inexpensive to join, and the rewards are extraordinary.)

NW_Disk1After lunch with some of Mike’s buddies, we drove to his shop and began fixing up the tools we bought. Mike rehabbed the planes, sharpened the saws and fixed up the braces – all on camera.

On the second day, Mike built a sawbench and a fully functional workbench using home-center materials. Both the sawbench and workbench are amazingly clever. You don’t need a single machine or power tool to make them. And they work incredibly well.

Mike finished up work on the bench just as his friends were showing up for his birthday party (hence the beers in the background during the final shots of the DVD). Everyone ate chili (at least, that’s what they were calling it) while sitting on the new bench and playing with the tools.

This spring, I edited the footage down to two short DVDs. One on buying and fixing tools. The other on building the sawbench and workbench. We also commissioned a very nice SketchUp drawing of the bench. And, most telling, we made a spreadsheet that details every tool, screw and stick of lumber we bought for the project. Both the SketchUp drawing and spreadsheet come with the DVDs.

We spent $571.40 for everything. Then Mike sat down and figured out what the prices would be if you paid for your tools more on the high side of things. That price: $769.40.

We hope this project will inspire new woodworkers to just dive into handwork and get started. I talked to too many people who are hesitant about where to begin, how to begin or think they have to buy every tool in the catalogs to begin. You don’t.

We also think “The Naked Woodworker” will be a great thing for experienced woodworkers who need a quick workbench and some sawbenches.

“The Naked Woodworker” will be available in August in two forms: A DVD set for $22, or a download for $20. The download will be available for international customers. We don’t know if any of our retailers will carry this product as of yet. If they pick it up for their catalogs, we’ll let you know.

Next month I’ll post some video samples from “The Naked Woodworker” so you can get a taste of the project.

— Christopher Schwarz

P.S. There is no nudity in “The Naked Woodworker.” Thank goodness.

Posted in The Naked Woodworker DVD | 14 Comments

England. And then More Roorkees

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I leave for England Saturday to teach two classes for the New English Workshop at Warwickshire College, but before that English experience, I have to tend to another.

Today I started roughing out the parts for two more Roorkee chairs in sapele that will incorporate some interesting details. One of the details will be this little piece of brass awesomeness.

If life doesn’t go off the rails I hope to get the legs turned tomorrow.

While in England, I’ll mostly be teaching and sleeping. I’m teaching two tool chest classes, which are about as grueling to teach as they are to take. But I am going to get to meet David Savage on Tuesday, which I am greatly looking forward to.

And I know some of the students in the class, so I’m packing extra ibuprofen for the inevitable hangover(s).

This is my first teaching assignment in England, and I hope it’s not my last. The Germans didn’t seem to mind my occasional nudity. I wonder if how the Brits will?

Better yet, perhaps I should pack one of my wife’s dresses….

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Campaign Furniture, Woodworking Classes | 5 Comments

The Inglorious Conclusion of the Roorkee

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During my early research into Roorkee chairs I received at least a dozen e-mails from chairmakers and fellow woodworkers with this simple message: Turn back; the Roorkee is a bad design.

Many of these woodworkers had sat in mid-20th century versions and reported that it was like falling into in gunny sack with an anaconda. There was no support for your lower back (or any other part). And after a few minutes you lost blood circulation to your legs.

The Roorkee chairs I had built to that point weren’t like that at all. So I persisted in refining my chairs based on what I’ve learned about building Windsor-style chairs during the last 10 years. The result is a chair that I can sit in for hours at a time. Others agree with my assessment. Last weekend I took one of my Roorkees to the Lie-Nielsen Open House where people lined up to sit in it all weekend.

So what’s the difference between the chair in “Campaign Furniture” and the killer gunny sacks? Take a look at the chair above.

This is a mid-20th century copy of a copy of a copy of a Kaare Klint chair that was made to maim you. Mark Firley of The Furniture Record blog bought a pair of these chairs on my behalf so I could study some of their details.

There are several things that make this chair somewhat uncomfortable. Here is a short list.

1. The material is a flimsy vinyl backed by jute. So it actually is a vinyl-covered gunny sack. You might be able to get away with a thin material in the seat, but not for the back. The back offers no support.

2. The back is too short. This short chir back presses your flesh back above your lumbar. A thick material (such as 8 oz. leather) that reaches to your lower back supports the lumbar region quite well.

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3. The thigh straps are flimsy and narrow. Out of the four thigh straps that came with the chairs, three were broken. Without these straps, which run under the seat from left to right, your legs get pinched on the front rail and go numb. I’m going to make a wide, leather thigh strap for this chair and see if it helps.

4. The rails directly under the arms. These prevent the arm straps from stretching too much (a good thing), but they are uncomfortable after a short while. Imagine relaxing your arms on dowels; that’s what it feels like.

To be fair, this chair has its charms. The tapered tenons fit into their mortises with a slight compression fit. This makes the chair feel stable and still allow it to move to adjust to an uneven floor. I’m going to have to play with this idea in my own chairs.

The other charming thing about it is its overall look. I can only imagine how many wife-swapping parties this chair saw.

Speaking of that, I had better burn the vinyl upholstery.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Campaign Furniture | 1 Comment

For the Workbench Nerds

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A have a new post on Basque workbenches on my blog at Popular Woodworking Magazine. Check out the unusual face vise.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Workbenches | 4 Comments