What is that Shadowy Thing? Solved.


When you look at old engravings, there are going to be details that confuse. Perhaps they were drawn incorrectly. Or you just don’t have enough information to interpret the marks on the page.

Several years ago, I wrote about the French benches in the La Forge Royale catalog, which illustrates several benches with wagon vises. The images of the benches show an odd thing hanging down below the benchtops. It’s clearly a stick, but its purpose isn’t discussed in the text of the catalog.

After several years of speculation, we now know what this dangling stick is. It is the handle for the wooden screw that attaches the top and base together. Thanks to a photo from Jameel Abraham, we have this clear cut-answer.


Of course, this answer raises some questions. Does this method of attaching the top and base adequately resist the horizontal forces from the leg vise? If you built a bench like this and attached the top and base with lag screws alone, you’d be sorry. I am sorry.

Perhaps the top and base of this French bench are attached with both the wooden screw and some dowel pins. I guess I’ll never know until I get to take apart one of these benches myself.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Workbenches | 19 Comments

Insults From Beyond the Grave


Philippe Lafargue, my Roubo translation collaborator and long-time friend, has been insulted.

Deeply. By M. Roubo himself.

Roubo’s chapters on chairmaking are technically sublime, with many profound insights and word pictures I find captivating. However, he is incessant in his demeaning descriptions of chairmakers, accusing them of being sloppy, careless, unskilled and slothful. Somewhere between the lines he is probably implying that they are hung over, their feet stink and they don’t love Jesus. Though he does not comment on their table manners, we can guess what he might say.

As a graduate of the renowned École Boulle curriculum in classical French chairmaking, Philippe unsurprisingly takes umbrage at these characterizations. He has gone so far as to wonder out loud (well, in print correspondence) why it is that Roubo was so contemptuous of chairmakers.

If we knew where Roubo is buried, it might be worth trying to dig him up and asking him. When you read Roubo’s accounts of chairmaking, you will no doubt ask yourselves the same question.

— Don Williams

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

Care of Grindstones


The American Agriculturist says, perhaps there is no farm implement which is so useful and so little esteemed as the grindstone. If it was kept under shelter and otherwise properly taken care off, one of these instruments should last almost a man’s life-time instead of wearing out in a few years.

No grindstone should be exposed to the weather, as it not only injures the wood work, but the sun’s rays harden the stone so much as in time to render it useless; neither should it be run in water, as the part remaining in the water softens so much that it wears away faster than the other side, and many a “soft place” in a stone has arisen from this cause alone, and not from any in equality in the grit.

The proper way is to allow the water to drop on the stone as it is needed, either from a cast-iron water cup, or (what answers very well) an old white lead keg, supported above the stone, with a spile near the bottom, which can be driven in when needed, and if kept filled with water will last a long time.

Finally, the stone should not be allowed to “get out of the round,” as no tool can be properly ground unless the stone runs true; if it should become uneven, get some one to turn it, and with a nail rod raze it down until it becomes perfectly round.

Greasy or rusty tools should be well cleaned before grinding or they will choke up the grit. If this should occur, a little sharp sand and water on a board kept against the stone while turning, will clean it off and sharpen up the grit.

The Dairy Farmer – January, 1861

—Jeff Burks

Posted in Historical Images | 4 Comments

No Tools to Lend


No Tools to Lend

These words, inscribed on the door of a farmer’s tool house, recently caught our eye, and furnished a ready theme for meditation. Borrowing is an ancient and evil custom, the fruitful source of many troubles. In the ruder stages of civilization there might have been greater necessity for borrowing than now; but as the world progresses there can be less and less need of it.

The tendency of cultivated humanity is to independent action—the tendency of barbarism is to a servile obligation. The more educated a community, the less they borrow, and consequently the more the borrowing element predominates, the greater their degradation.
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Posted in Historical Images | 6 Comments

A Roorkee Footstool


The principles behind the Roorkee chair can be easily adapted to other forms of furniture besides chairs. Its loose-tenon joinery has been used to make beds and even tables on occasion.

Today, however, I saw my first Roorkee footstool.

This weekend I visited the new Lee Valley store in Vaughan, Ontario, to deliver a couple talks on workbench design and campaign furniture. For my talk on campaign furniture, I brought along five campaign pieces (Me to border guard: “No, I am not invading your country”). But I didn’t have a Roorkee chair with me – my last one sold to a customer.


So I was happy when local woodworker Vincent brought along two Roorkee chairs he had made – plus a Roorkee footstool that was built using the same principles.

Made using purpleheart, the stool had a thigh strap and a slanted seat cover, just like a Roorkee chair. The rest of the attendees were gaga over it, taking photos and trying it out.

Vincent also made some nice modifications to the original Roorkee plan. Instead of turning round stretchers, he made his stretchers octagonal and terminated with a tapered tenon. They looked very nice – I’ll have to try that on a future chair.

Also, the “grip” turning at the top of the chair bowed out slightly in the middle instead of being straight. It looked nice and felt nice in the hand as well.

All in all, the new Lee Valley store is quite nice. The company is trying out some new things with this store. So if you are ever driving north of Toronto on the 400, be sure to stop and chck it out.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Books in Print, Campaign Furniture | 1 Comment

Animal Locomotion


Last year we discussed the work of 19th century British photographer William Henry Fox Talbot. A print attributed to Talbot circa 1844, known as ‘Carpenter and Apprentice‘, may be the oldest surviving photograph of woodworkers.

The subject of this blog entry is the work of Eadweard Muybridge, known to many as the man who provided photographic evidence that a galloping horse could have all four hooves off the ground at the same time. You have probably seen his photographs whether you recognize his name or not. Many are not aware that Muybridge also photographed woodworkers. His studies may contain the oldest images of woodworking in action.

Muybridge had a penchant for photographing his models in the nude. His woodworking images depict semi-nude and fully nude males. If you have a problem with nudity, or are browsing this blog from work, you might want to skip this post.

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Posted in Historical Images | 21 Comments

Time to Stop and Smell the Sapele


Tucked between my trips to both coasts and editing Peter Galbert’s in-fricking-credible book on chairmaking I’ve been building this folding campaign bookcase in sapele for an article in Popular Woodworking Magazine.

The bookcase looks so simple: two boxes that are hinged together. Truth is, this has been one of the most challenging pieces I’ve built in a long time. Most of the joinery is just dovetails, easy-peasy. But the backs of the cases attach to the carcase with a wack-a-doodle joint that has no name. I call the joint “banjo.” If you think that is a reference to the film “Deliverance,” you might be correct.

But what’s been even more mind-bending have been the mechanical aspects of the piece. For everything to work, the adjustable shelves and drawers have to clear the glass doors when pulled out. The hinge barrels of the glass doors have to be placed precisely to allow them to open fully without binding against the case and yet allow the two halves of the bookcase to close tightly.

And all the hardware (there’s a buttload) has to co-mingle, sometimes in unexpected ways. I destroyed the edge of a chisel while mortising the strikes for the door locks. I kept trying to lever out a little piece of waste that wouldn’t budge. Turns out the “waste” was a screw.


Like many campaign pieces, this one has more than 30 pieces of hardware that have to be mortised flush. After writing a book on campaign furniture, that’s easy. What was hard was what happened when I opened a new bag of brass screws that were decidedly soft. Within a few minutes I had four screws that were buried in the work with broken heads.


Good thing I have this screw extractor. I bought this in the 1990s from Woodworker’s Supply and it is the only one I’ve ever used that works (for me).

Today I’m dovetailing the two drawers and cleaning up the exterior for its finish (shellac and wax). I am sure I’d make my April 15 deadline if I didn’t have to go to Canada on Thursday.

Yup. I’ll be at the new Lee Valley store west of Toronto this weekend to conduct a couple of seminars and hang out with our northern neighbors. The address of the new store is: 167 Chrislea Road, Vaughan, ON L4L 8N6. Here is my schedule:

Friday, April 11, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Everything You Need to Know About Workbench Design

Friday, April 11, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Book Signing & Meet & Greet

Saturday, April 12, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
An Introduction to Campaign Furniture

Megan Fitzpatrick, the editor of Popular Woodworking Magazine, will also be there conducting a seminar on her recent adventures in kitchen cabinetmaking. Reading her accounts of it on her blog make me want to move into an apartment where I never have to work on my kitchen.

So all this is the long way of saying: Sorry I haven’t answered your e-mail during the last few months. I do answer all e-mails. But I still have about 40 in the queue.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Campaign Furniture, Projects | 20 Comments