Last Chance to Pre-order ‘From Truths to Tools’

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We’ve just received our shipment of the first printing of “From Truths to Tools” by Jim Tolpin and George Walker. We’ll start shipping out the people who placed pre-publication orders in the next seven days.

So this is the last call for people who would like to order the book and receive a free download of the book. Order by Oct. 30 so you can get the free pdf download with your printed copy of the book. After that date the pdf will cost extra.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Authentic Finish for a Roman Workbench

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The only thing that disappoints me about my Saalburg workbench is the finish. It’s not jet black like the original I studied in Germany in June.

Of course, when the bench was thrown down a well circa 200 A.D., it probably wasn’t jet black then. But still, the black looks correct to me because I’ve been staring at photos of a black workbench for months now.

Today I figured out how to reproduce it.

I’m at Larry Barrett’s house this week taking a chairmaking class with four other friends. We’re building the Jennie Alexander Chair (with a few modifications) made famous in the book and DVD “Make a Chair From a Tree.”

Today we split out the long back posts from green oak and began by sorting through the oak stacked in Larry’s yard. Some of it looked exactly like the oak Saalburg workbench. And I do mean exact.

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This oak had been stored in a giant steel tub in the side yard of Larry’s house and the steel had rusted through, releasing a continuous supply of iron into the water. The result: jet black oak that wasn’t just on the surface. The wood was jet black as much as 1/2” into the wood.

This makes complete sense. At Saalburg, The wooden objects were thrown into wells along with lots of iron objects. It made the same stew in Larry’s log tank.

I have no plans to reproduce the finish on my bench, however, but I know how to achieve it.

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

Posted in Roman Workbenches, Uncategorized | 12 Comments

Falling in love — with a house

The following is excerpted from A Home of Her Own

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Photo: Kendall Reeves, Spectrum Studio of Photography and Design

Every so often she passed the striking limestone house and wondered what was going on there. Friends and colleagues knew that she and Tim had been interested in the place, and one day a coworker, who happened to live behind the house, mentioned that he had not seen the owner in some time. Margaret made some inquiries and discovered the owner had died. After a respectful delay, she contacted the owner’s daughter, who said she was still too attached to her mother’s home to imagine parting with it. But a few months later she contacted Margaret and arranged to show her the property.

“It was cavernous,” Margaret recalls. “You’d walk into one room and it would open onto another. There was a wonderful feel of continuousness.” There was also a captivating element of surprise; where any other house might have had an exterior wall, this house had a sunroom, a patio, or a porch, producing a rare sense of communion between inside and out. As she went from room to room, Margaret felt what she describes as “a selfish giddiness — something like, ‘This house can’t be true!'” Did the owners know what they had?

Even the lot behind the house was magical. Just beyond the garage, stone steps led into a sunken garden surrounded by a tangle of vines, in the midst of which stood a limestone sundial. Near the rear property line a majestic tree of heaven and a cluster of ancient conifers watched over the house and its garden like a convocation of druid priests.

After that first visit, she felt compelled to return. The house was still not on the market. One day, while looking around the back, she discovered an unlocked door. Could she go in?

The question was rather, could she not? She felt drawn.–Nancy Hiller, author of Making Things Work

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You Must Get Unstuck

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A chair made by Jennie Alexander, author of “Make a Chair from a Tree.”

Early on as a woodworker I visited a successful professional cabinetmaker in Indiana who also sold wood on the side. After picking out some ash boards, he offered me a tour of his shop and showroom.

His cavernous barn was filled with heavy machinery. For someone whose sole machine was his grandfather’s contractor saw, his shop was impressive. His showroom was filled with country pieces: pie safes, potato bins, kitchen tables and the like.

He opened a door of a pie safe where the door’s panel had split. With a vexed look on his face he said, “No matter how many nails I put into these panels, they always split.”

We then moved to his office where he told me how he had become a professional woodworker 30 years prior. He was a Vietnam veteran, like my dad. After leaving the service, he’d bought a set of six woodworking books, which perched on a shelf behind his desk. He’d read the books, opened his business and built furniture using the plans in those books.

For me, it was remarkable that he had run a thriving furniture business for 30 years and didn’t think wood movement was something that could be mastered. Maybe he skipped the section on wood movement in the six books he owned. Perhaps his books didn’t cover the topic.

Honestly, this story isn’t a criticism of the guy. We all get stuck at different points in the craft. We get comfortable with our tools and processes. We design our projects around those constraints. We accept the consequences of our tools and knowledge.

I myself have been stuck at least 50 times since 1993.

The Exit Sign
The only way out of this condition is to regularly throw yourself into the briar patch. Play punk rock at a country and western bar. Take off all your clothes at a family reunion. Or attend a class about something you haven’t done before.

I try to take a class every year. The class could be on woodworking (such as the class on veneering I took from David Savage two years ago). Or it could be on leather work. Rebuilding a carburetor. Taxidermy.

Tomorrow I head to Maryland to learn to build a post-and-rung chair with Larry Barrett, a chairmaker who has worked with Jennie Alexander and is helping edit the third edition of “Make a Chair From a Tree.” Larry has made a lot of the “Jennie Chairs” (with some of his modifications). And I wanted to make one of these chairs before I edit the book. It will help me understand the construction process and master the technical details of this incredible chair.

I’m bringing a few friends for the week-long class, and together we will absorb everything Larry has to give. We will (I hope) pay Jennie a visit in her Baltimore home. And we will all become unstuck.

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

Posted in Uncategorized | 17 Comments

Register for Classes with Megan and Brendan

Registration is now open for 2018 classes with Megan Fitzpatrick and Brendan Gaffney. The classes will be held in our storefront and are limited to six participants.

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To register for Megan’s April 7-8 class on building a Dovetailed Silverware tray, click here. The class is $250 plus a small materials fee.

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To register for Brendan’s April 21-22 class on making a Cabinetmaker’s Sector, click here. The class is $300, which includes all materials.

Full details on the classes can be found here.

Posted in Lost Art Press Storefront, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Passing It On

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Published by John A. Gray and Green, printers. Photo courtesy of: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-pga-01411.

“Utility furniture is now on the market, and everyone is able to see in what respects it differs from the uncontrolled product, and to form conclusions as to what extent we may expect it to influence furniture design of the future. The story of mankind with all its perverse, twists and turns, its chivalries, its discoveries, its unconquerable vanities, and its tragedies, stamps itself even on our furniture, so that the very line of a chair-leg or the rake of a chair-back may be a dumb witness to the end of an epoch or the herald of a new age. But there is more than mere history in the shapes of things: there is the sum total of human experience.

“When a craftsman of to-day sets to work to make a chair, the knowledge which he takes so much for granted is the stored-up inheritance of generations of craftsmen who had preceded him. He is profiting by their discoveries, their failures, and adding whatever of its own particular worth in new processes the present age has to offer. Only in our own age the ratio of skilled craftsmen is diminishing, and with so much that is good and civilised in process of being destroyed, one wonders how much will survive.

“Not that it is difficult to see that war will leave behind it advancement in some branches of knowledge, not only in weapons of destruction. We may, for instance, look for considerable advance in surgery, learned on the living bodies of shattered men, a considerable advance in chemical discovery, in aviation, but these are not the things on which our civilisation can be rebuilt. We are finding to our cost that men may have these and still be barbarous. Civilisation is founded on a sense of order, measure, proportion, self-control both of the mind and of the body, exactly the qualities which the acquisition of any true skill tends to develop. In fact, we may say that it is upon the world’s craftsmen in wood, stone, clay, who have made it possible for the living thought of one generation to be handed on to the next, to be a living witness of what man can do, and a living challenge, a standard to live up to and, if possible, surpass. To transmute the soaring vision of man’s destiny into a cathedral needed the work of stonemasons, carpenters, glassmakers, just as it took a craftsman to conceive of the letters in wood from which modern bookcraft had its beginning. Always the craftsman has been the conserver, the guardian, who passed on what was imperishable from one age to another, not failing to set his own seal upon it in the doing. Because no man’s work is exactly like anothers. There are always the little individual characteristics that stamp it as his own, giving it just that living touch which the machine will always lack.

“But now that the machine is with us, what are we to do about it? We cannot go back, even if we would. It has brought leisure and amenities which we value, and which could, if we would, be turned to good account. For leisure and amenities provide just that opportunity of developing those creative qualities of which modern life tends to rob us and which will be badly needed in the world after the war. It is only by doing creative work of some sort that a man learns both to know himself and to train himself for more and better work, and it is essentially the mark of the civilised man. To be indifferent, careless of one’s time, to want only to be amused, is to invite personal disintegration, a loss of personality which is not only a loss to oneself but to the community at large. For after the war we shall want men of personality, men of creative ability, men with patience, shrewdness and sound judgment to deal with the problems of peace. The new world cannot be a good world unless we conserve for it all that we have inherited of lasting value from the old. Only the barbarian blindly destroys. It takes civilised man—the man with the craftsman spirit—who is careful to see that beauty does not perish, to pass it on.”

— Charles Hayward, The Woodworker magazine, 1943

Posted in Honest Labour, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Wedging Mortise and Tenon Joints

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FIG. 1. A. AN OLD METHOD. Tenons and wedges were cut back in the stiles and a “pocket piece“ let in, making a first class finish. B. A BAD METHOD. Wedges are driven into the tenons themselves, causing splits


This is an excerpt from “The Woodworker: The Charles H. Hayward Years: Volume III” published by Lost Art Press. 

“We’ll glue those wedges and tenons!” How often is this explanation heard when gluing up framed work. A usual response being to dip the wedges into the glue and drive them hard home, unless the wedges break off or bottom badly.

If we analyse the reason for wedging a joint we find that the wedges are provided to ensure a compression in the fibres of the tenons to equalise the inevitable movement due to age and conditions. At the same time it is necessary to provide a mortise with parallel sides for the tenon, so allowing for movement.

Take as an example a through mortised and tenoned wedged joint, the shoulders being tightly fitting to ensure rigidity in the work. In framing up we glue the shoulders and a small adjacent area only of the tenon, to allow the movement along the tenon (see Fig. 3 B). It will be obvious that to solidly glue the whole joint is defeating the essential object of that particular joint.

The logical method would be to glue the shoulders as usual, place the long grain edge of the wedge to the tenon, but do not glue (it may in fact be slightly greased), but gluing the remaining parts of the wedge into the mortise of the stile, making a parallel path for the tenon, but under compression. A joint made in this manner will not open at the shoulders.

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FIG. 2. DIAGONAL WEDGED TENONS IN THIN WOOD. This method is permissible in this case

In the case of double tenons, drive the outside wedges first to set the compression, the inner ones then being driven to equalise the compression on the tenons.

Good quality work of the old days had the tenons and wedges cut back in the stiles to allow for shrinkage clearance, and a pocket piece let in and flushed off in the stiles, making a workmanlike job (Fig. 1 A).

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FIG. 3. A. THE EFFECT OF WEDGES INSERTED IN THE TENON AND GLUING ALL OVER. Tenon is held at outer edge of stile and shrinkage takes place away from shoulder B. THE CORRECT METHOD. Wedges are placed between tenon and sides of mortise, and only the shaded area of tenon is glued. Shrinkage of stile can then take place at its outer edge, but shoulder holds firm


A Bad Fault.
An odious method becoming prevalent to-day is tenon splitting and wedging the tenon out into a fantail in the mortise; it is apparent that the least shrinkage will pull the shoulders right open, when all rigidity in the work vanishes (see Figs. 1B and 3A).

Such a method is only permissible when diagonal wedging in thin material such as carcase construction, shelves to ends (Fig. 2), or in fox-wedging in the appropriate joints.

Selecting suitable joints and framing them up is a complicated matter at times, but consideration on the foregoing lines will amply repay the craftsman in the quality of the work he produces.

Meghan Bates

Posted in Charles H. Hayward at The Woodworker | 3 Comments