Do You Know The IAD?


In the Baltimore-Washington D.C. area we have three IADs. Most people aren’t aware of the first one, the Institute of American Deltiology, part of the University of Maryland Special Collections. There you can find over one million postcards and related materials! I wonder if they have this one by Mainzer:

Postcard by Mainzer.

Then there is IAD, as in Dulles Airport. Besides a lot of people flying in and out, Dulles has hosted the arrivals of pandas, a Komodo dragon and a lowland gorilla to name a few.  The traffic you might encounter on the way to the airport is also very famous. From my house the trip should take about 1-1/2 hours; I plan on at least 2 hours, three if it’s raining.

The IAD you might be most interested in is the artworks of the Index of American Design in collection of the National Gallery of Art.


The idea for documenting hand works and decorative arts started as an effort to define the American aesthetic. During the Great Depression the Federal Arts Project, part of the Works Progess Administration (WPA), employed more than 300 artists to draw and paint a huge variety of items. The project ran from 1935 to 1942. The artists were paid a weekly wage of $23.86, an amount that enabled many of them to survive the Depression.

The artists drew and painted clothing, textiles, all variety of household items, toys, furniture, tools and so on. The output was over 20,000 images. The National Gallery of Art has more than 18,000 images available online. When furniture was documented it might be done as a watercolor, a measured drawing or a combination of both:

How a chair might be documented.

How a chair might be documented.

Within the  overall project there was an effort to document three uniquely American design groups: Pennsylvania German, Shaker and Southwestern. Furniture designs range from the very simple to the refined work of 18th and 19th century urban cabinetmakers. The Index is a great resource for furniture makers and historians, especially since many of the documented pieces could now be lost. In the gallery below there are several examples of furniture and as many woodworking tools as I could find.

Earlier this year film maker, Michael Maglaras, released “Enough to Live On – The Arts of the WPA.” In a short intro segment he sums up the purpose of the Index of American Design as “…to copy the work of the great, and many anonymous, hand skill artists of the past.” We in turn are the recipients of the work done by the hands of the WPA artists. The Index of American Design is our family heirloom.

You can read much more about the Index here. Once on the page there is an option to “Tour the Index.” You can select several surveys (overviews) such as Furniture, Metalwork, Shaker, etc.

If you would like to go to the online listings of the Index at the National Gallery of Art go here. In the search box you can search for chairs, setttees, desks, spurs and so on, but keep in mind the results will include artworks outside the Index.

To watch a brief (4 minute) film by Michael Maglaras introducing the Index on Vimeo go here. Maglaras’ company is 217 Films. You can also look for another short piece on the WPA artist by Carl W. Peters.


A whirligig named “Lumbering”

Suzanne Ellison

Posted in Handplanes, Historical Images, Saws | 8 Comments

Inside Baseball…That is, if Roubo Ever Played Baseball

LAP-Roubo-PressmarkMany of you have followed the adventures of “To Make As Perfectly As Possible” for years, including the frustrating chaos of our document flow during Roubo on Marquetry. I am happy to say that most of that particular set of headaches was solved at the outset of “Roubo on Furniture Making,” which is now in the hands of the Lost Art Press elves who make magic happen.

From the outset of “Roubo on Furniture Making,” I treated every individual plate and its accompanying text as a stand-alone unit. Given the badminton game that emerges from creating a volume such as this, that strategy was a lifesaver. Consider the minimum possible travels for each word:

  1. Michele transliterates the French text. Because she is a translating machine this is actually the least time-consuming part of the project. By far.
  2. I receive Michele’s transliteration and massage it as extensively as necessary to make it comprehensible to a 21st-century craftsman. This is usually the most time-consuming part of the project.
  3. My edited and annotated text goes back to Michele to make sure I am not misrepresenting the text.
  4. Michele reviews it and send is back to me. (Actually, the preceding two steps are repeated several times until we are in agreement.)
  5. Once we are in agreement we sit together, literally side-by-side as I read aloud every word of the English manuscript while she follows the original French text. We stop and discuss as often as necessary, which can be pretty often.
  6. Once we complete the read-through, it goes to Philippe Lafargue in France to read our product with the eye of a native Frenchman trained in chairmaking at Ecole Boulle.
  7. Philippe returns it to me, and I massage his comments into a completed whole.
  8. It then goes to LAP for a first round of editing.
  9. It is returned to me to review and if necessary to revise the edits.
  10. It goes back to Michele and Philippe for one last look.
  11. Then it goes back to LAP, and they begin to do the magic that they do to make it into a physical book.

To give you a sense of the scale for “Roubo on Furniture Making” (almost twice as big as “Roubo on Marquetry”) we have included the following plates:

Plate 4: The Way to Stack and Saw Wood
Plate 5: The Processes and Tools Used By Sawyers
Plate 8: Samples of Joinery
Plate 9: Doubled Assemblies with Dovetails
Plate 10: Jupiter’s Thunderbolt Joints for Lengthening
Plate 11: Interior View of a Woodworking Atelier
Plate 12: Tools Appropriate for Sawing Wood
Plate 13: Tools Appropriate for Smoothing Wood
Plate 100: The Way to Take Measurements of the Woodwork and to Draw it on the Plan
Plate 101: The Way to Prepare Woodwork to Receive Carved Ornaments
Plate 102: Ways to Glue Wood in Panels Flat and Curved
Plate 103: The Way to Construct Columns in Wood
Plate 104: How to Construct the Bases, the Capitals and the Entablatures in Wood
Plate 105: The Different Ways to Glue Curved Wood
Plate 223: Elevations of Many Modern Chairs
Plate 224: Different Sorts of Folding Seats with Their Illustrations
Plate 225: Plans and Elevations of Different Types of Stools and Benches
Plate 226: Side Views and Elevations of a “Queen’s Chair”
Plate 227: The Way to Make Serpentine Legs, and How to Prepare Frames to Receive Upholstery
Plate 228: The Upholstery of Seats with Caning and the Art of Caning in General
Plate 229: Selection of the Cane, the way of Splitting it and the Caners’ Tools
Plate 230: Developments of the Various Operations of Caning
Plate 231: Plans and Elevations of Cabriolet Armchairs
Plate 232: Different Ways to Construct Arm Rests
Plate 233: Designs and Elevations for a Desk Armchair
Plate 234: The Manner of Determining the Desired Center of All Sorts of Seats
Plate 235: Plans and Illustrations of Many Stylish Chairs
Plate 236: The Plan and Elevation of a Sofa
Plate 237: Illustrations of Many Large Sofas
Plate 238: Way to Draw a Full-scale Pattern of the Curve of a Seat
Plate 239: Development of the Curves of Seat Twisted and Flared
Plate 240: Plans and Illustrations of Different Sorts of Bathtubs
Plate 241: Side-Views and Elevations of Various Convenience Chairs
Plate 242: The Design and Illustration of a French Bed
Plate 243: Development of French Beds
Plate 244: Plans, Sections and Elevations of Different Pavilions
Plate 245: The Way to Draw Extended Curves in use on Bed Canopies
Plate 246: Elevations of a French Bed
Plate 247: Description of Polish-style Beds, their Proportions Shapes and Decoration
Plate 248: Illustrations of a Turkish-style Bed and Its Developments
Plate 249: Plan and Elevations of a Campaign Bed with Its Illustrations
Plate 250: Different types of Seats and Folding Beds or Campaign Beds
Plate 251: Diagrams and Illustrations of a Table and a Camp Bed with their Developments
Plate 252: Description of Daybeds, some Cradles and Cots
Plate 253: Different Types of Table Legs and Their Development
Plate 254: Different Forms and Constructions of Dining Tables
Plate 255: Plans and Elevations of Billiard Tables and Their Development
Plate 256: A Continuation of Description of a Billiard Table and the Instruments that are Necessary to this Game.
Plate 257: Elevations of a shuffleboard and of a Card Table, with its Illustrations
Plate 258: Plans, Cross Sections and Elevations of a Three-way Table
Plate 259: Other Sorts of Game Tables and Their Development
Plate 260: Plans and Elevations of a Desk with its Developments
Plate 261: Plans and Elevations of a Closed Desk
Plate 262: Plans and Elevations of a Roll-top Desk
Plate 263: Further Developments of Roll-Top Desks and Other Writing Tables
Plate 264: Plans and Elevations of a Secretaire and Some of their Developments
Plate 265: Another Portable Secretaire and Small Writing Table
Plate 266: Plans, Sections and Elevations of a Dressing Table and of a Night Table
Plate 267: Elevations of Different Legs of Ornate Tables
Plate 268: Different Types of Screens
Plate 269: Plans and Drawings of an Armoire
Plate 270: Sections and Development of the Armoire Represented in the Preceding Plate
Plate 271: Various Sorts of Shelves and the Profiles Appropriate for Armoires
Plate 272: Plan, Section and Elevation of Buffets
Plate 273: Developments of the Buffet Represented in the Preceding Plate
Plate 274: Side View and Elevations of a Common Commode
Plate 275: Small Commodes, Corner-pieces and Chiffoniers
Plate 276: Plans, Sections and Elevations of a Secretaire in Shape of an Armoire
Plate 308: Squares, the English Saw, and Other tools used by Cabinetmakers
Plate 309: The Bench Lathe for Furnituremakers
Plate 310: Different Poppets, Supports and Tools for Turning
Plate 311: Screw Taps and the Wooden Dies used by Cabinetmakers
Plate 312: Some Machines Appropriate for Making Fluting for Cylinders and Cones
Plate 313: Developments of the Machine for Cutting Flutes
Plate 314: Description of the Machine Commonly Called the Tool for Waves, and the Way of Making Use of It in Different Ways
Plate 315: The Development of the Machine Represented in the Preceding Plate.
Plate 316: More on the Tool for Wave-Making Mouldings
Plate 317: Different Types of Vises for Locksmithing
Plate 318: Different Tools for Working Hard Woods, used by Cabinetmakers
Plate 319: Different Tools Appropriate for piercing metals, used by Cabinetmakers

On top of these sections will be numerous essays enhancing the explanations of the original text.

I hope you will agree that it will be a robust contribution to the body of historic knowledge in the arsenal of contemporary woodworkers.

— Don Williams,

(Editor’s note: “Roubo on Furniture Making” is scheduled for a 2016 release. There will be  standard, deluxe and ebook versions of the volume, just like with “Roubo on Marquetry.” More details to come when they are available.)

Posted in Roubo Translation, To Make as Perfectly as Possible, To Make as Perfectly as Possible, Roubo Translation | 7 Comments

The Train Wreck is Behind You


I don’t sleep as well when I have French workbench in pieces in my shop. Even a little wood movement in the joints can make assembly a bear, or at least a ticked-off warthog.

Yesterday I fit the legs in their mortises. Today I got everything major assembled. Some specs for the curious:

  1. The base is drawbored with 5/8” hickory dowel stock. The drawbore offset was a strong 1/8”, and I drove the pins in with a sledge.
  2. All the joints are strengthened by Titebond Liquid Hide Glue.
  3. This bench is 9’ long – the most common size called out in “l’Art du menuisier.” It’s more than a 1’ longer than my bench but seems a lot longer.
  4. Height is about 31”, as per the customer’s request. A nice height – almost as nice as 38”.
  5. Benchtop depth is 21”, one of my favorite depths.


Next comes the fun part. This customer asked for the full-on Plate 11 treatment. So it’s getting two Peter Ross holdfasts, the fully joined tongue-and-groove shelf, Peter Ross planing stop and iron bits for the vise, a dovetailed drawer, swing-out grease pot and tool rack at the back.

This will be the closest full-on Plate 11 bench I’ve yet built. The next closest thing involves a time travel machine, which Stumpy Nubs is currently fabricating on an X-carve in Baltic birch.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Projects, Workbenches | 37 Comments

‘Why Don’t You Try Cutting Your Own Throat With It?’


NOTE: If you comment on this entry, please don’t try to guess who the manufacturers are in the stories below. Chances are you will libel someone. I’ll delete any comments that attempt to guess their identity. Thanks for your understanding.

One of the things I won’t miss about public life is the occasional threat of violence.

I think a lot of woodworkers think hand tool woodworkers and toolmakers are laid back and everyone gets along. That’s not always the case.

To be honest, the people on the power tool side of manufacturing are (on the whole) far more professional and easy to deal with. They understand how tool reviews work and see the long game in developing a relationship with a writer.

The hand tool people are more like an Italian family.

It started with a few e-mail messages when I was at Popular Woodworking from people who threatened to beat me up if they ever saw me or met me in a dark alley.

Then, during a show several years ago, one of the vendors cornered me about why I wouldn’t review his tool.

“Honestly, I’m not interested in your tool at this time,” I told him.

The dude got in my face, and I thought he was going to punch me. All I could think was, “If he hits me, that sure would make a good blog entry. And I’ll be sure to mention his tool.”

But he backed down without whacking me.

My favorite encounter was with a company that sold sharpening supplies. After reviewing one of the company’s products (a favorable review in my estimation; they disagreed), their people asked to have a chat during a show.

They showed me one of their edges on a chisel.

“Tell me that’s not perfectly shiny and sharp.”

I looked at the tool.

“Shiny doesn’t mean sharp,” I said. “And I think I see some dubbing on the edge,” pointing to the glint on the tip.

“Why don’t you try cutting your own throat with it? See if it’s sharp.”

I handed the tool back.

That’s when the countdown to the Year(s) of the Hermit went into overdrive.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Personal Favorites | 47 Comments

The Travelling Anarchist’s Tool Chest Contents: No 9, Bob’s Tools


I hear of good people sending Chris tools to help young makers. Most of us have too many tools; I am still buying tools at 66 and giving lots away to students and friends. It’s a great gift, something you have used and worked with. There is a load of romance in used tools. The history of who had it before you were given it, or got it on eBay. Their sweat is burnished into the handle. If you are like me, you hope that a little of their skill will help you do a bit better job.

I put out a general “if you have any tools that you think could go into this chest to help a young maker get going let me know.” Well I don’t know if British makers are just mean or didn’t hear me but the response has largely been from across the pond. Typical is this:


I hope these help get someone inspired to work more with their hands and wood. It’s odd that a nail set or chalk line can provoke something inside. And this something can last a lifetime. Well, these tools are genuine… nothing fancy. Please consider something for the runner-up … to all of us who didn’t make first place.


Bob asked for his gift to be anonymous, well I respect that, but cannot allow it to go unmarked. (sorry, Bob) The tools Bob sent me, and it cost him $70 to mail it to me, are old, good and useful, and all will go in the chest. I will also take Bob’s point on “failing” to win. Something for the poor devil who will do the final week but not win the chest. They have the courage to try and fail and deserve recognition. So who amongst you, following Bob’s example, have a good shoulder plane that you can give up? Let me know here and I will get back to you.

— David Savage,

Posted in The Anarchist's Tool Chest, Woodworking Classes | 5 Comments

Green Wood & Workbenches


The question of whether early workbenches were built from green wood or seasoned wood has a simple answer: yes.

But what was the common practice? For that question, I turned to A.J. Roubo’s “l’Art du menuisier” for the simple reason that Roubo’s work is still the legal standard in Europe for determining what is proper woodworking practice.

All the following translated passages will be found in “To Make as Perfectly as Possible: Roubo on Furniture” in 2016. The translations are by Donald C. Williams, Michele Pietryka-Pagán and Philippe Lafargue.

The logical place to start is the text for Plate 11. But Roubo doesn’t offer advice on the wetness or dryness of the wood. Following are the only discussions of workbench wood selection in Plate 11:

This bench is of elm or beech wood but more commonly the latter, which is very solid and of a tighter/denser grain than the other….

One should observe also to put the heart-wood side of the bench on top because it is harder than the other, and if the wood experiences dimensional changes, it is more likely to change from this side rather than shrinking from the other side.

It should be noted that throughout “l’Art du menuisier” Roubo discusses certain parts that must be well-seasoned (i.e. dry). But he doesn’t mention it in Plate 11.

If, however, we look to Plate 4 we get some clues. Plate 4 is about the maintenance of a wood yard outside your shop – how to stack green wood so it will dry without warping or rotting.

The reason you need a wood yard?

What I am saying here is only general. I know perfectly well that all woodworkers cannot have great wood yards nor large provisions of wood. But still, for reasons of economy, they should always do their best to be well prepared with samples, and to watch over their preservation as best as they can, so as not to be obliged to have to buy some from the merchants. The wood that they sell is almost never dry, and the woodworker will pay dearly for what the wood merchants have.

In the text for Plate 4, Roubo doesn’t discuss workbench wood directly. But workbenches are discussed:

Beech is found cut into planks of 15-18 lines, and even 2 thumbs thickness by 7, 9 and 12 feet in length.They also sell slabs of this wood for making woodworking benches, tables for the kitchen, and butcher tables, tables that have a length from 7-12, and even 15 feet, by 18-30 thumbs in width, and 5-6 thumbs thickness.

And Roubo also discusses dryness in general:

The more wood is hard, the more time it takes to dry. That is why one should not reasonably use wood that has not been cut at least 8 years in order to be able to do good work. It is not necessary, however, that it be too dry, especially for pieces of joinery, where the wood has no more sap and where the humidity is totally expunged: this cannot be appropriate [once the sap no longer is flowing from the lumber and the moisture has departed there is no need to season the lumber any further].

Interestingly, French timber merchants still follow this rule, according to Bo Childs, who brought over all the French oak for the French Oak Roubo Project. Our slabs were at least 10 years old.

What I take away from the text to these two plates is that seasoned wood was the norm in the shop. Roubo offered no exceptions for workbenches (something he does offer later in the book on garden woodwork).

This lines up with my experience building these benches: chances are the wood is going to be semi-dry. Not fresh cut. Not dry as a popcorn fart. Eight years is not enough time for these slabs to fully acclimate, but you can build benches with them. They’ll move around on you quite a bit the first year or so. But it’s easy to manage if you own a handplane.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in To Make as Perfectly as Possible, Roubo Translation, Workbenches | 10 Comments

Hermit’s Journal: Day 2


Late Friday John and I arrived home after six days of backbreaking but inspiring work at the French Oak Roubo Project put on by Benchcrafted and Bo Childs of Barnesville, Ga.

It was my last scheduled trip until an indeterminate ever. If you want to see photos from this fantastic week, check out this Instagram feed.

What’s on the docket for me next? First I need to finish this workbench for a customer. (Oh, and to the commenter who suggested I’m getting rich off selling my work, I suspect you don’t do this for a living. You are more than welcome to pay my water bill this month, which would be a huge help.)

After the bench gets finished, I will dive into Lost Art Press’s three most-active books.

  1. Finish editing “Woodworker: the Charles Hayward Years.” Only 350 more pages to go! The book is all designed. I’m the problem.
  2. Complete the edit of “Woodworking in Estonia.” The book is entirely designed and just needs a final comb-over. I’m the problem.
  3. Finish laying out “The Anarchist’s Design Book.” I’ve laid out 10 of the 21 chapters. I just have to finish the beast. Again: The problem is me.

Thanks go out to Suzanne the Saucy Indexer for picking up my slack on this blog and doing a fine job. As I can eschew shaving and basic hygiene for the next year or so, I think I’ll be able to rapidly get these books done and out the door.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Charles H. Hayward at The Woodworker, The Anarchist's Design Book, Woodworking in Estonia, Workbenches | 27 Comments