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

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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

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 | 15 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

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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