Simple by design

Making Things Work

IMG_2749[2] One of these things is not like the others. Last week I attended a holiday party held by a local publication. This biannual event is always characterized by classy live music and an atmosphere of big-city sophistication found so rarely in the south-central Indiana college town where I live that it always seems to verge on the surreal.

Another defining feature of the event is the elaborate presentation of food. A central table holds crudités, charcouterie and fish. On this occasion the fish were two strapping salmon (discreetly shorn of their heads and tails) festooned with cucumber-slice scales. The muscular fish were artfully arranged side by side to evoke their movement while swimming. (Nothing says “eat me” like a headless corpse positioned so as to suggest its once-lithe motion.)

This pair were joined by a regiment of jumbo prawns hanging from the edge of a silver tureen, as though…

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Consider the Used Tool Chest


Though you might find this odd, a sizable chunk of my commission work is building tool chests and workbenches for people.

When customers first approached me with these jobs, I resisted. My response was: You’re a woodworker; you can build your own for much less money. But after further discussions, I realized that I could say this to almost any aspect of the craft.

Don’t have a shop? You’re a woodworker – build one.
Don’t have a handplane? You’re a woodworker – build one.
Don’t have a wooden floor?
Don’t have a dovetail saw?
And etc.

When it comes to the great Time Vs. Money Scale, some of us have more time. Others have more money. (Few of us have both or neither.) And so I started making workbenches and tool chests for customers. This also conveniently drained my supply of half-built tool chests and workbenches in my garden shed that were left over from classes.


For woodworkers who can’t afford a tool chest from me (they cost $2,000 to $3,500 depending on the options), I encourage them to buy a vintage tool chest. In the Midwest, South and East, almost every antique store has a chest to sell. You just have to tune your eyes to see them. Typically they are holding other items – plates, glassware or creepy dolls – and so they are easy to miss.

They often show up in local auctions – an Amish auction near me usually has a dozen chests each year.

And the price is right. About $200 to $400.

Most of them need to be cleaned up. The tills are worn out and need to be repaired. Mouse holes are common. Rot in the bottom boards is a frequent feature. Dislocated hinges and a pink paint job round out the list of things you’ll want to remedy.

But it is a great alternative. Most chests can be fixed up with a day of work in the shop. And you will get a gold star in woodworker heaven for saving a tool chest from its doom as another plant stand.

— Christopher Schwarz, editor, Lost Art Press
Personal site:

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Deeply carved rosette in cherry on a antique wardrobe, George Davis Antiques & Interiors, Savannah, Ga.

This is an excerpt from “Carving the Acanthus Leaf” by Mary May.

Various styles of rosettes have been used since the Roman Empire as decorative accents and are often used as appliqués (applied to a surface) to adorn furniture and architectural features.

Here are some of the design elements for rosettes:

• They are symmetrical and can be circular, oval, square or rectangular.

• There is a small bead in the center that is either plain or carved.

• In oval or rectangular designs, this center bead is also oval.

• Square or round rosettes that are symmetrical can be turned on a lathe before carving to establish the basic profile.

• There are typically four primary leaves evenly positioned around the rosette.

• The leaves start at the center bead and flow outward toward the edge, with the tips of the leaves defining the outer edges.

• For square or rectangular rosettes, the tips of the leaves end at each corner.

• The midribs or center stems get narrower as they reach the ends of the leaves.

• They often have small, secondary leaves that are between and appear to be positioned under each primary leaf. This example does not contain these secondary leaves.

This design has similar structural elements to other leaves, but some details, such as positioning the eyes, will need to be visually located without guidelines.


STEP 1: Draw a square. This example has slightly curved edges. Draw the center circle and the midrib (center stem) of each leaf ending just before each corner. Notice for this design that the midrib connects from one leaf to the next. This is often done to create a continuous flow between the leaves.


STEP 2: Draw the eyes close to the center circle. These eyes represent where two leaves overlap.


STEP 3: Draw eight circles as shown that intersect and slightly overlap at the pointed end of the eye. These locate the edges of the overlapping lobes.


STEP 4: Erase the parts of the circles that are no longer needed. The remaining lines should extend from the pointed end of the eyes. The dotted lines represent the edges of the lobes underneath.


STEP 5: Erase the dotted lines. Draw the two eyes on each leaf about a third of the way up the leaf at a slight distance from the midrib.


STEP 6: Draw circles as shown that represent the overlapping secondary lobes. The edges of these lobes should extend from the eyes drawn in STEP 5. The dotted lines represent the parts of the lobe that are underneath. Sometimes drawing the edges of the lobes first can help locate the eyes, so steps 5 and 6 can be reversed.


STEP 7: Erase the dotted lines. Draw the pipes that start from the eyes drawn in STEP 5 and curve and flow them alongside the midrib.


STEP 8: Draw the lines that locate the serrations as shown. These are typically positioned perpendicular to the center veins on each lobe, but in this design there are no center veins on the side lobes. Draw these lines at an angle located approximately halfway between the eyes and the tip of each lobe. Note that the center lobe has two of these guidelines that are perpendicular to the midrib. After learning how to position the serrations in the next few steps, these lines are usually no longer necessary as guides.


STEP 9: Take a deep breath. It really isn’t as complicated as it looks. Draw small circles that locate the serrations along the edges of the leaf. These lines should start at the edge of the leaf and curve down to meet the guidelines drawn in STEP 8. The dotted lines show the correct direction of the curve. These circles are simply used to show the curvature of the serrations. Erase the parts of the circles that are not necessary. This process of drawing the circles is often not necessary after learning to understand the shape and position of these serrations.


STEP 10: Erase all lines that are no longer needed. Complete the edges of the leaf by connecting the serration lines as shown and also complete the tips of the leaves.


STEP 11: Erase any unnecessary lines.


STEP 12: Draw lines starting from the inside corners of the serrations that flow down each lobe. These lines represent a high edge (or high corner) in the leaf.


This is the finished drawing with all details.

Meghan Bates

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Coming in 2018: The Lost Art Press Work Jacket


I have two favorite garments: a beat-up motorcycle jacket for winter and a traditional French work jacket for the other three seasons.

The work jacket, sometimes called a bleu de travail, was popular in the late 19th century and the early 20th century among the French working classes – especially farmers, masons and woodworkers.

The jackets are simple, unlined and incredibly durable. They typically feature four roomy pockets – three on the outside and a fourth on the inside that usually is embroidered with the maker’s name. The only other evidence of the pedigree of the garment is usually found engraved on the buttons.

I wear mine in the shop and when working on our building. The pockets are great for holding tools and the jacket is designed to accommodate a wide range of motion. I can saw and plane in this jacket, and it moves nicely with me. In fact, many times I simply forget I’m wearing it. The more it gets beat up, the better it looks.

It’s also just nice enough to wear out to dinner (once I dust it off).

Most of the French work jackets you’ll find for sale are blue, which was the preferred color of farmers and all-purpose laborers. Management wore a similar jacket in a light grey or white. But French (and German) woodworkers definitely preferred black.

For many years I’ve wanted Lost Art Press to produce a work jacket that was faithful to the originals in every way, including the cotton moleskin cloth, the distinct stitching, the engraved buttons and even the embroidered inside pocket. And, because I’m a woodworker, I wanted to offer it in black.

So we’ve teamed up with designer and woodworker Tom Bonamici, who is similarly obsessed with these jackets. Tom has designed a work jacket based on a vintage one he owns. And last week, the factory (here in the United States, of course) produced the first successful prototype.

We are very excited.

In the coming weeks, Tom is going to share the history of these jackets, the details of their construction and how a garment goes from a cool idea to something you want to wear every day. And, in early 2018, we will offer these for sale.

We don’t have prices or a timeline yet. But all that is coming soon.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Geometry in Time for the Holidays

Christ the Geometer

In the spirit of the holidays, let’s perform some simple, ancient geometry to create the iconic symbols of the two religions celebrating major holidays this month. You’ll need only a compass, a straightedge, a piece of paper and a couple of candles to illuminate your work. In chronological order (in more ways than one) let’s start with Judaism’s Star of David:


Begin with a circle and mark the focal point. We have actually started with the symbol for Ra, the ancient Egyptian sun god for whom winter solstice was celebrated for thousands of years prior to Judaism – but that may or may not be another story.

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Now draw a line vertically through the focal point (i.e. a diameter) and mark its intersection points at the rim.

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Next set the compass to span from one of the rim intersection points to the focal point and swing an arc through the rim as shown. Mark the arc’s intersection points.

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Repeat from the other rim intersection and mark two more rim points.

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Connect all the rim points across the circle.

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Erase the circle rim, diameter line and interior arcs and you are left with the Star of David. 

Now let’s create the Christian cross – also from the intersection of line and circle:

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Again we’ll start with a circle (which came to represent the heavens), but this time we’ll draw the diameter line at about a 45° angle.

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Construct another diameter line at a right angle to the first. Use the intersecting arcs method (or just fudge it, I won’t tell).

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Connect the rim intersection points to create a square (which traditionally represents the four directions, the four seasons and the earth itself).


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Now bisect the lower horizontal line and extend the bisection line from the focal point down past the lower rim of the circle.


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We’ll set our compass to the span between the rim intersection point and focal point, and swing a second circle. (A second of a pair of circles traditionally represented the Dyad … the reflection, the knowing of the first circle called the Monad (all one/alone).)

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When we erase most of the lines we are left with a cross … a symbol of the melding of heaven with earth. Or for the math geeks: a pairing of a diameter line (2) with the non-terminating (i.e. irrational) square root of two.

Note: This geometric construction of the cross is not historical but rather the product of my imagination.

— Jim Tolpin, one of the authors of “From Truths to Tools

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Coming Soon: More Classes at Our Storefront


When I purchased my shop building in Covington, Ky., I swore I wasn’t going to open a woodworking school. And, in all honesty, I still don’t want to run a school or return to teaching.

I will, however, allow my friends to use the space to teach classes.

So, in the coming weeks you can look for Megan Fitzpatrick and Brendan Gaffney to offer additional classes at our storefront. Brendan is especially keen on offering low-cost, one-day workshops for locals to introduce them to woodworking, sharpening and woodworking tools. Why? Almost every day people stop by the storefront asking if we will teach them how to build things. (Today, a plumber and a barber asked for classes.)

Megan has a full roster of classes that we have been planning for many months, including a Morris chair design that was made here in Cincinnati, Ohio.

In conjunction with these classes, we also plan to open the mechanical library up for the public to use. The library is still under heavy construction – Megan and I need to build a 12’-long run of shelves to house part of the collection.

So things are changing here – for the better. By the end of the year the Horse Garage will be a fully functional shop with a few good machines. We’ll have space for me to continue my research and build commissions. We’ll have space for Megan and Brendan to offer instruction. Plus rare old books to blow your mind.

One final note: All of our projects begin incredibly small in nature. Lost Art Press sold about 2,000 books its first year in 2007. (We’re up to about 40,000 a year now. That’s a pathetic growth curve for corporate America, but I have only two words for corporate America.) Crucible is still in its infancy, as are our plans for the storefront. I want things to grow organically and be bulletproof. No debt. No reaching for things beyond our grasp.

I hope you’ll join us on our slow journey.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Curriculum aliud*


Fixin’s for tofu and carrot pizza. (Yum?)

My father assigned his office assistant, Bambi, to be my teacher. One of our early lessons involved learning to copy maps, an essential life skill if there ever was one. She showed me how to copy an outline using a grid. “Just draw in some squiggles around the edges,” she instructed as I worked on a map of Florida’s east coast.

“But what about everyone who lives along those bays and beaches?” I asked, concerned that such a laissez-faire approach to cartography might result in the flooding of countless homes, drowning the pets who lived in them. (Never mind their human inhabitants, who were of less concern to me in those days.)

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” she said. “It’s just a map.”

It wasn’t long before we dispensed with this farce and I sought instruction from the young people who were living in assorted small structures they had erected around our tropical half-acre backyard. I learned to make whole wheat bread, tofu and carrot pizza, and home-churned ice milk, washed my clothes in a puddle, and took cold showers to fortify my character.  I dispensed with my hair brush and allowed my dirty-blond tresses to spin themselves into a head of dreadlocks that unsophisticated acquaintances of my parents dismissed as filthy matted hair.


Norman Stanley Hippietoe on the way to dreadlocks — emphatically not a sexualized image, but the opposite: a ten-year-old’s attempt to escape the confines of gendered expectations.

In a nod toward formal study, I read several entries in the World Book Encyclopedia each day and was so taken with the one for panpipes that I wrote to the editor and asked for plans that I might use to make a set. I signed my letter Norman Stanley Hippietoe, an androgynous persona I had invented to replace my birth name and gender. I was elated when a letter addressed to Mr. N. Hippietoe arrived in the mail, even though it carried the disappointing news that the publisher could offer no plans for constructing the instrument.–Excerpted from Making Things Work by Nancy R. Hiller

*Fancy Lass-speak for different curriculum. There’s nothing like learning to make tofu and carrot pizza and wash your clothes in a puddle to set a kid up for the discipline and structure offered by the Fancy Lads Academy.

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