I Speak Hayward…Though it’s Difficult

Originally posted on Rude Mechanicals Press:


I’m so very close to completing the copy edit on the forthcoming Lost Art Press book, “The Woodworker: The Charles Hayward Years.” I then have to traipse over to Kentucky to update the files, then there’s another edit round from Christopher Schwarz, more changes, a few design tweaks no doubt, another edit?…in other words, while Chris and his business partner, John Hoffman, are fighting to publish before the end of the year, they’ve the luxury (and good sense) of waiting until it’s unquestionably ready for prime time.

And I’ll admit, were Chris not busy teaching in England right now, I’d probably be a disappointment; I’m now two days behind my promised deadline of mid-July (which to me means July 15). In my defense, I’d not seen the volumes of work when I agreed to said deadline. That, however, is not the real problem. I am the problem.

In addition to…

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The Hazards of Translating Felibien

Originally posted on essencedebois:

F Fra giovanni da Verone Fra Giovanni da Verona…

The interesting thing about translating André Felibien’s “Des Principes de L’Architecture is how interesting it is, and how hazardous a simple whim, a passing, “I wonder” can be.

There is the angel of my better nature, asking me “You going to wrap this up and get it off before the next ice age?”

On the other shoulder, the devil in the details is whispering “I’d bet you can find some of the work Felibien is talking about when he writes “There was in Florence a Filippo Brunelesco, and a Benedetto da Maiano, who started to create the best works that can still be seen today.”

The angel scolds, “The day is advancing, your long-suffering wife is starting to make also need to finish building the bathroom, and given that you are supposed to be translating Felibien you might get on with, um, translating Felibien.”

F1 guiliano Da Maiano Guiliano da…

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Vinylcase, Bookcase


The simplest project in the upcoming “Furniture of Necessity” has required the most study and forethought.

It’s a bookcase, which is a pretty standard piece of furniture. And the typical way of dealing with the different sizes of books is to make the shelves adjustable. I don’t know why, but I don’t like adjustable shelving systems.

Call me a control freak, but the end user can easily set up the shelves to make the whole thing ungainly, top-heavy and dangerous. I’ve seen pieces that I’ve built that were configured so that the heaviest books were up top and the lightweight stuff was perched below. Yikes.


So this design has fixed shelves. There are three shelf-openings for the three primary size ranges of books that I deal with. I end up buying a lot of odd-size books (thank you, daft art directors), and perhaps you do, too. So the openings and the depth of the carcase accommodate the most sizes possible.

The bottom shelf handles the large books, up to an 11” x 17” trim size (which can be a bit larger than that). The middle shelf handles the very odd square books and the American standard 8.5” x 11” trim size (which again is different once you add the cover boards to it). And the top shelf is for the 6” x 9” trim size and smaller.

The other challenge was making the joinery dead-nuts simple. I’ll deal with that in a future post.


Of course, after designing it, my youngest daughter mentioned how this sort of carcase would be ideal for the family’s collection of vinyl records, with the turntable and amplifier on the open top shelf.

Luckily, I have enough pine to build both.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Tool Chest for New An@%*#!$ (Free Download)


Tomorrow morning I start a class I’ve been waiting a long time to teach through the New English Workshop: “The Tool Chest for New Anarchists.” It’s a low-cost class (I don’t think either N.E.W. nor I am making a dime on the course) for 18 new woodworkers.

We’ll spend the week at Bridgwater College in the West Country building a simple tool chest entirely by hand. While the tool chest itself is important, what is more important to me is that we hand off a set of core hand-tool skills.

So in the true spirit of American aesthetic anarchism, I’d like to invite you to follow along this week using all the materials I’ve created for the class.

You can download the 28-page illustrated manual for the class here:

Boarded Tool Chest

If you wish to build the chest, you can download the complete cutting list here:

Cut list NEW Anarchist Tool Chest MASW NEW – Sheet1(1)

A SketchUp drawing of the chest is here (you’ll need to unzip it to open it in SketchUp):

New Anarchist Tool Chest 2015_explode~

I’ll be posting photos of our progress on the blog and on Instagram using the hashtag #babyanarchists. (You can follow me on Instagram via this link.) I’ve encouraged the students to also use this hashtag if they post photos on social media.

The trial-run class in Oregon.

The trial-run class in Oregon.

I expect this class to go smoothly. This April I did a trial-run class with the Guild of Oregon Woodworkers to work out the bugs and we managed to build the chest in two days (including painting it). So I am looking forward to being able to work at a steady pace this week with time for detailed instruction. In other words, I left the “punishment whip” at home.

— Christopher Schwarz

PS: Today I had a few hours to walk around the town of Bridgwater and get soaking wet. Below are a few photos. It’s a nice and un-touristy town.

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The Bare Bones Basics of Nail Technology


Note: Lately I’ve been pouring all of my creative energy into writing my next book (and editing the books of others). And with Jeff Burks on vacation, the content has been a little light here. So here is the draft miniature chapter I wrote on the airplane on using nails.

I’m often asked why I prefer nails to screws. Here are three reasons: Nails look better. They are quick to install with a hammer. And they allow for wood movement during changes in temperature and humidity.

Screws are ugly (I know, this is in the eye of the be-screwer or be-nailer). They should not be installed with a hammer. And they can crack your work when the weather changes ­– unless you take extra precautions.

That said, properly installed screws hold better. It’s a fact. And they are more accepted by the woodworking elite.

Nails, on the other hand, seem to be the herpes of the furniture-making world. I was taught this hierarchy: Wood-to-wood joinery is the best. Screws are OK. Nails are for rough, temporary or indifferent work.

But nothing could be further from the truth. Nails have been at the core of fine woodwork since Roman (perhaps Egyptian) times. We are just too blind to acknowledge it. Nails are often invisible to the eye – they are toenailed under a shelf or divider. Snaking into a plinth. At the back of a piece and facing the wall.

I see nails as important as the hardware you use for a piece – the hinges, knobs and locks. Cheap nails look like crap. Good nails enhance the piece. But what’s a good nail? Allow me to sidestep the question for a moment and present a historical aside. I would rather show this to you than simply tell it.

Blacksmith-made wrought nails.

Blacksmith-made wrought nails.

Wrought, Cut and Wire Nails
Nail nerds (reporting for duty!) divide the nail world into three broad categories based on how the nail was made:

Wrought or Roman Nails: These are blacksmith-made. The nail’s shaft is roughly square in section and tapers to a point on all four of its edges. The head is formed with hammer blows and typically has three facets.

Once you master these nails, they are iron joy. They bend and move readily. They cinch down hard. They will rob your body of a kidney if you don’t have a trust fund. A blacksmith will charge you more than $1 a nail. That will seem like a lot of money until you start to use them in your work. Then you will know that you are being undercharged.

Oh, and they look fantastic.

Rosehead cut nails from Tremont.

Rosehead cut nails from Tremont.

Cut Nails. In the later 18th century (as near as I can tell), ingenious mechanics developed machinery that could shear out a ton of nails in a short period of time. All that was required was a flat bar of steel and a machine that could “cut” the steel.

Cut nails are a rectangular square in section. In one view of the nail it has parallel sides. In the other view, it tapers. And it usually has a head.

Because of the shape of its shaft, a cut nail needs a pilot hole (except in some soft woods) and has to be oriented a certain way to avoid splitting the work. Think of the nail as a wedge. It is. Apply the wedge so it pushes against the end grain of the top board you are nailing down. Otherwise you are splitting mini firewood with your nail.

If this confuses you, don’t worry. You will do it wrong only once.

Wire Nails. OK, these really are the venereal disease of the nail world. They have a round shaft. They don’t hold for squat. They are cheap. They don’t require a pilot hole. They are the reason people think nails are for rough work.

I avoid using wire nails in my work unless I want them to work loose about a week after I drive them in. Which is never.

Bottom line: I use wrought nails when I (or the customer) can afford it. I use cut nails when I cannot afford wrought nails. I use wire nails to sprinkle the driveway of my enemy.


On the Naming of Nails
Nails have a ridiculous number of confusing names. For the most part, I suggest you ignore the names at first and focus on how they look. That will usually tell you what they are good for. For furniture work, we usually use four types of nails.

Brads. This generic name refers to a nail with a smallish head. The brad is used to lock shelves into dados with what is called a “toenail joint.” Or to fasten one piece of wood to another when the head should be small. Because the head is small, the brad’s holding power is in its shank. So it’s not the best nail for attaching a cabinet back or a chest’s bottom boards.

Clouts or Roseheads. Nails that have a prominent head have the most fastening power. They can keep a cabinet back or chest bottom from being pulled off a carcase. The price of this holding power is that the head is quite visible in the finished piece.

Many times this form of nail is used for “clenching,” which is when an extra long nail is driven through two pieces and the too-long tip is driven back into the work.

Headless Nails. These thin nails have little or no head. They are used mostly for attaching mouldings and hold the work in place while the glue dries.

Pins. These are usually wire nails with a head that are used for attaching lightweight pieces of hardware, such as an escutcheon for a lock, or for temporarily holding pieces of veneer in place.

On the ‘Penny Size’ of Nails
The origin of the so-called “penny system” of sizing nails is murky – on par with the stories surrounding the “nib” on the tips of old handsaw. Suffice it to say that the reason we still use the old penny system is because it is fecking brilliant.

How long is a 5d nail? (The “d” stands for “penny.”) I think I know the answer, but I’d have to look it up first to be sure. The point is that it doesn’t matter how long a 5d nail is, as long as you don’t use the metric system.

Here’s how it works: When you nail things together you have a top board and a bottom board. The nail enters the top board first and then passes into the bottom board.

So how thick is your top board? Let’s say it is 1/2” thick. Now convert that fraction, 1/2”, to eighths – 4/8”. The top number, 4, is the penny size you need: or 4d.

There are exceptions. When working in soft pine, you should increase the nail size by one penny, or 5d in our example. And the second exception is this: Use your intelligence. If the bottom board is very thin, the particular boards at hand are easy to split, you are clenching the nail or you need massive amounts of holding power, you need to adapt and adjust.


On the Pilot Hole
Wrought nails and cut nails usually need a pilot hole, otherwise you will end up splitting the top board. The size of the pilot depends on many factors, mostly how close your nail is to the end of your board and the species being nailed.

My best advice is this: If you are unsure if you will split the work, make a test joint that is identical in every way to the real joint. Start with a pilot hole that is the same size as the tip of your nail. For example, my 4d clout nails have a tip that is about 3/32”, so that’s where I begin.

Drill the pilot to a depth that is only two-thirds the length of the nail’s shaft, otherwise the joint will be weak. If the top board splits, move up a size in bit diameter. Repeat until the joint holds and does not split.

This sounds arduous. It isn’t. After a few projects you will get a feel for the right pilot hole.

One caveat: With wrought nails, I like to use a drill bit that tapers along its length. This greatly reduces splitting.

Driving & Setting Furniture Nails
If you’ve done your due diligence, then driving the nails is the easy part. I like a hammer with a 16-ounce head for most nails. For pins and headless nails I use an 8 oz. cross-peen hammer. The cross-peen is ideal for starting the nail without whacking your fingers.

If your hammer has a slightly domed striking face, you should be able to set the nail flush to the wood without denting it (called “Frenching” by the “English”).

Setting the nails is done with a nail set, also called a nail punch. You usually don’t set clouts or roseheads because the head will splinter the work badly. For brads and headless nails, set the nail 1/32” below the surface – and no more than 1/16”. Setting the nail deeper will make the nail hole difficult to putty or it will simply call more attention to itself if you don’t putty the nail.

Nail sets/punches for furniture making usually come in three sizes. Use the one that most closely matches the size of the head.

The above description is the absolute shortest treatise I could write on nails. There is a lot more to learn, but the education should come from the end of a hammer, not a book.

So don’t read another word on nails until you’ve driven a few cut nails or wrought nails using the instructions above. Most of the questions in your head right now will evaporate as soon as you get busy.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Charles H. Hayward: Duck, Duck, Goose


“The distortion is way too clear.”

— Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks

One of the criticisms frequently leveled at my writing is that I am not consistent.

The criticism is 100 percent true.

After writing many woodworking articles, blog entries and books during the last 20 years, things have changed. My work has changed. The tools available to us have changed. The way we communicate ideas has been transformed.

But still, I wish I had popped out of the womb knowing everything I know now – plus all the stuff I will learn before I die.

As a result, I am taking small comfort from editing the 800 pages of our forthcoming book “The Woodworker: The Charles Hayward Years.” When we selected the articles for the book we grabbed everything the magazine published during a 30-year span on some core woodworking topics.

All of these articles were filtered through the traditionally trained hands of Charles H. Hayward, the editor of the magazine and the author of most of the articles.

We decided not to change a single word of the writing, even when his articles contradicted one another. When you read this book, you might find this annoying at first – why didn’t we fix these blatant problems? After you pass through the stage of being annoyed, you might appreciate our approach.

Take, as an example, the topic of glazed oilstones. This comes up in about a dozen different articles.

At first Hayward says there is little you can do except send the stone back to the manufacturer for refurbishing. Then it becomes clear that his readers have schooled him for that comment. Later articles include all manner of reader-suggested solutions, including boiling the offending stone in a solution with washing powder and liquefying the glazed oil with a torch.

This happens over and again throughout the articles. It allows you to see the breadth of knowledge (or lack of it) in the very best 20th-century writing on handwork.

Hayward, unlike other some woodworking writers of his time and ours, refused to close his mind to other perspectives and techniques of his craft. He could have easily said: “This is how I learned to do it, and so this is the way to do it.” And he would have been right, and also above the criticism of being inconsistent.

But then I wouldn’t like Hayward as much. And we wouldn’t publish this book, which has been another multi-year “how-much-money-can-we-lose” odyssey.

Perfect consistency is for our robot overlords.

OK, back to the editing.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Last Chance to Join ‘The Dovetail Death March’ followed by ‘The Veneering Can Can’


Yes, you can still do this. It’s getting close, but two weeks hard work is still available to you.
Chris has agreed to come to Rowden Workshops in beautiful Devon in England on Monday 24th August until Friday 4th September. He is here to show our students how to build his Travelling Tool Cabinet. This will be a shock to our guys who are used to gentle tapping and slow precise making. Good.

In the second week Chis is going to join the students and follow the veneering of the interior lid and the covers for the tills. We are going to show modern dry lay ups that are taped up then go in the press and we are going to show traditional wet, hide glue cut and fit work. You will do one panel in each process. The designs which we are still working on are probably in satinwood and and rosewood are shown above.

There is provision for eight guests to the Rowden Woody Family. We nearly have a full class of 20 and we are cutting timber for 20 but two have fallen away at the last minute. If you would like to take one of those two places, please get in touch.  Rachel who runs Rowden (rachel@finefurnituremaker.com) will be able to help you find accommodation and sort the details . The cost of the two week course is £2000 inclusive of all materials. We have tools for you so you don’t have to travel with a tool kit.

Two weeks of what we hope will be a stunning, creative, exhausting woody thrash.

Find out about Rowden here www.finefurnituremaker.com.

See you in August!

— David Savage

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