A Better Shop Knife

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I lost my shop knife while we were unpacking at Handworks this spring, and I have been on a quest since then to find its replacement. (The company that made my now-lost knife no longer exists.)

I am dang picky about knives. I’ve carried one every day since elementary school. So it is no small thing when I say this: I am glad I lost my favorite knife at Handworks because now I have a Kershaw Link drop-point knife in gray aluminum blackwash.

Here’s what I need in a knife:

  • One-handed operation – I need to be able to quickly close and open the knife with zero fuss.
  • The blade has to lock in the open position for safety.
  • It has to be lightweight and compact.
  • It has to have a belt clip.
  • All the components need to be incredibly rugged. I hate flimsy knives.
  • Oh, I also dislike flashy materials or things that look like a Klingon’s wet dream.

That is a tall order, and I rejected a lot of knives until I found the Kershaw Link. What makes the knife even more extraordinary is it is made in the U.S. and can be found for about $40 retail. (I bought mine on sale for $31.)

The blade is stainless steel, but it takes a good edge and is plenty durable when cutting wood, wire and whatever shop material is asking for a stabbing or a slashing. Totally recommended.

— Christopher Schwarz, editor, Lost Art Press
Personal site: christophermschwarz.com

P.S. This is not a sponsored post. We don’t believe in that crap and buy all our products at  retail.

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Storefront Open Day, Oct. 14, Should be a Doozie

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We have lots going on at the storefront now, so if you wanted to pick a good weekend for a visit, Oct. 14 would be ideal. Here’s a short list of stuff to see:

  1. I’m building my reproduction of the Saalburg workbench right now. It should be complete (or nearly complete). Come check out the workholding and let us know what you think about our experimental archaeology project.
  2. I’m also making a crazy dugout chair – a style of chair that was popular in the British Isles in the 18th and 19th centuries (and maybe earlier). It should also be complete by then and will have some unusual details involving roadkill.
  3. We’ll have copies of the deluxe “Roubo on Furniture Making” and will be supplying commemorative bibs to keep your drool off them (just kidding about the bibs). If you want to see a book that exceeds all our others, this is your chance.
  4. Demolition has begun on the “Horse Garage” behind the storefront, which will become the machine room for my shop. Come see barren walls and debris!
  5. We’ll have a large load of Crucible dividers that are seconds. The have tiny cosmetic flaws and are $90 cash. And Raney has threatened to hang out and show off our next tool from Crucible.
  6. Finally, as always, we’re happy to answer questions about tools or techniques – or even give you a sharpening lesson.

Our storefront is at 837 Willard St. in Covington, Ky. The hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every second Saturday of the month.

— Christopher Schwarz, editor, Lost Art Press
Personal site: christophermschwarz.com

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The Silent Witness

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From “A New Library of Poetry and Song,” by William Cullen Bryant, The Baker Taylor Co., 1903

“Young people are often amazed at the tenacity with which older folk cling to their old furniture. They will take it with them from one house to another; usually to smaller houses, to bungalows or to a room ·or two as the family grows up and goes away and old age and infirmity increases. With each move the furniture grows more unsuited to its surroundings, too big and clumsy by far, and the young people think how odd to prefer these things to the modern stuff so much more suited to their surroundings. Then the young ones go off, themselves acquire homes and start along the same well-worn path. And the old folk, left alone with the familiar things, find something in them far more precious than anyone could know; memories of children and friends, of old joys and sorrows, every line and scar with a story behind it, every fine polished surface the record of their own youthful vigour. For Time, the artist, is at work again, and this is perhaps his last, best gift to them.”

— Charles Hayward, The Woodworker magazine, 1936

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Arts and Crafts classics at The Wilson

Making Things Work

Please note: The following images are snapshots I took during my visit to The Wilson. They are used here with explicit permission, which required a lot of work and a fee, as described in a previous post. I respectfully request that you avoid gaily copying and using them for your own purposes.

The research for my book on English Arts and Crafts furniture (scheduled for publication by Popular Woodworking in May 2018) entailed a visit to England last winter. Aside from immersing myself anew in the architecture and scenery of the beautiful land that produced the Arts and Crafts movement, I needed to take measurements from a chair designed by C.F.A. Voysey in 1898.

IMG_0680 Be still, my heart.  An original two heart chair, as the form is known, designed by Voysey, though this example flagrantly flouts its designer’s prohibition against finishing with stain or polish.

While waiting for my appointment…

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Block Planes

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A modern favorite. Block planes get a bad rap from the hand-tool purists, but they are the proletariat’s favorite plane. They are simple to set up and use. And they are inexpensive.


This is an excerpt from “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” by Christopher Schwarz.

You can build furniture without a block plane. But why should you? The block plane is one of the greatest hand-tool inventions of the Industrial Revolution, in my opinion. With a block plane and a little skill you can accomplish almost any task. These tools trim end grain, face grain and whatever else you ask of them – and they do it even if the iron is a mite dull (thanks to their lower pitch). They are the most flexible plane ever manufactured. You can change the pitch of the tool with great ease and close or open the mouth with no special tools. And they are simple to set up.

Woodworking purists scoff at the tool, but I think that this is only because it doesn’t fit into their narrow tool list. If block planes had been invented in the 18th century, you can dang well bet that every re-enactor would be spouting off about how the block plane was the savior of the age.

In fact, I have to say that the block plane is one of my favorite planes because it was the first hand tool I ever used with great success.

When making my very first piece of handmade furniture, a sitting bench, I realized that I needed a way to trim the bench’s front and back pieces to the seat of the bench. I didn’t have an electric sander – much to my chagrin – so I decided to go to Walmart and buy a block plane. I don’t know where I got this idea; probably from my grandfather.

They had one block plane. It was a “Popular Mechanics” brand and was cheap and blue. I bought it, took it home and put it to work. It was not sharp. I did not sharpen it. It cut the pine surprisingly well. I can remember being amazed at the curly shavings that emerged from the mouth. I knew at that moment how powerful hand tools could be, even if wielded by a moron.

If you look at the history of block planes, you should be prepared for some enormous diversity and confusion. It seems that toolmakers made more kinds of block planes than any other kind of tool. I’m going to try to boil down the major features here for you, but be aware that I cannot cover every kind of block plane ever made.

Low Angle or Standard?
Block planes come in two flavors: low-angle or standard-angle. Low-angle tools have the iron bedded on a ramp that is 12° off of the sole. Standard planes have a 20° bed. Low-angle planes make it easier to achieve lower planing angles, which are nice for end grain. Standard-angle planes make it easier to achieve higher planing angles, which are nice for reducing tear-out.

The reason I always use a low-angle block plane is two-fold.

1. The lower angle makes for a more compact tool that fits better in my hand. Your mileage may vary here.

2. With the low-angle plane you have a wider variety of planing angles available to you. You can achieve angles as low as 37°. Standard-angle planes can only go as low as 45°, if you want the edge to last more than a few strokes. Both planes can achieve high-planing angles. So the low-angle tools are more versatile.

So I see no reason to even own a standard-angle block plane. And I don’t.

Adjustable Mouth or Not?
Low-rent block planes generally have a fixed mouth, though there are some nice small block planes with fixed mouths. I prefer an adjustable mouth. Why? When I am using a block plane to true end grain, I don’t want the leading corner of the work diving into the mouth aperture. When I work in tricky grain, I will use every weapon available to me to attempt to reduce tearing – including an adjustable mouth.

And when I need to hog off material, I simply open the mouth as wide as it will go. Easy. If you have only one block plane, I recommend a low-angle tool with an adjustable mouth.

Lateral Adjustment or Not?
All block planes have lateral adjustment – you can tap the blade left or right to tweak the position of the cutting edge in the mouth. The question here is whether you need a lateral-adjustment mechanism, which can be as simple as a plate that shifts left or right to move the blade left or right, all the way up to a Norris-style adjuster that will control both the depth of cut and the lateral adjustment.

I find that all lateral-adjustment mechanisms that are supplied on a plane generally offer only coarse adjustments. The fine adjustments come from tapping the plane’s iron with a hammer. So to me, it doesn’t really matter if the plane offers some sort of formal lateral-adjustment mechanism. That’s because of the way I adjust a block plane:

• Sight down the sole and extend the iron until it appears as a black line against the shiny sole.

• Use your fingers to shift the iron left or right until the black line protrudes consistently from the mouth.

• Retract the iron to take up the screw-feed mechanism’s backlash. Then extend the iron a bit and use a small hammer to tap the iron left or right into its final position.

So do what you want to here. You don’t have to have a lateral-adjust mechanism. But it won’t hurt your efforts either.

Meghan Bates

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Other Anarchist Designers

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When I wrote “The Anarchist’s Design Book” during a five-year period, my hope was that my explanations of staked and boarded furniture forms would inspire other woodworkers to take up the tools and produce their own variations.

Lots of woodworkers have built the staked sawbench, backstool, chair and worktable. And, in the boarded category, I’ve seen a lot of bookcases, tool chests and six-board chests during the last two years.

My favorite response to the book, however, has been among those who took the designs in the book and pushed them further. I truly think that staked and boarded forms have few limits. You can make almost anything you need for your house with these techniques. And (here’s the best part) these techniques are extraordinarily fast – rivaling the pocket screw and Domino in the speed department.

If you’d like to see how others are approaching these pieces, here are some links.

Brendan Gaffney, the new managing editor at Popular Woodworking Magazine, has been churning out staked projects for his new apartment in Covington, Ky. Check out this entry that discusses his pieces. I like how he modified the chairs with a lower crest, clipped the corners on the worktable and added a splash of color to the set.

Greg Merritt at Hillbilly Daiku has been turning out some fascinating variations, including his sewing table, his version of the staked stool and a side table with an underhung drawer. Greg pushed the aesthetic of these designs with his pyrography, color and additions of rope.

Jason Thigpen at Texas Heritage Woodworks is currently working on a staked armchair (so am I). We are taking totally different tacks, and I can’t wait to see how his comes out. You can see a lot more examples of these forms on Instagram by following the #stakedfurniture hashtag.

Also exciting to see: People teaching classes based on these designs and their adaptations.

If you have links to other people who have adapted these designs, post them in the comments below. Your link might just inspire someone else to pick up the tools.

Final note: I like to mention every now and again that my designs are “open source.” Use them however you please. Make copies or change them. Sell your work. The only “no-no” is reproducing the book and selling it….

— Christopher Schwarz, editor, Lost Art Press
Personal site: christophermschwarz.com

P.S. There will be a third book in the “anarchist” series. But it’s too soon to discuss it (no it’s not “The Anarchist’s Birdhouse”).

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The Hand, the Hound or the Truth?

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Editor’s note: Sorry, this post is not about “Game of Thrones.”

George and I often get asked which book should be read first, and we don’t have a quick answer. Because our research has been a quest, we didn’t write them necessarily in the order a beginner should take them up. We both agree, though, that our most recent “From Truth to Tools” would probably be the one we’d suggest reading first. It will go a long way to help you visualize space with practical knowledge of how our tools fit into the picture.

The second pick depends on how you like to learn. Read “By Hand & Eye” if you like to know the “why” as well as the “how” behind design and proportions. Otherwise, we suggest starting with “By Hound & Eye” if you tend to learn more by doing, and you just want to get down to it. Whichever way you begin this journey, we are confident you’ll come out seeing the world – and your craft – in a whole new way.

— Jim Tolpin, byhandandeye.com

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