Ingenious Mechanicks: Proving It

Book of Hours, MS M.739 fol. 10r, Germany, possibly Bamberg. 1204-1219. Morgan Library & Museum, New York

While sifting through bushels of old images for the research for “Ingenious Mechanicks,” Chris and I would often come across some odd something or other that made us scratch our heads. To give you a look behind the scenes, I’ll show you examples of how we verified a workholding device was real and not a figment of the artist’s imagination. The first two examples are not in the book and are some investigations I did on the side.

Grasping Limbs
In the image above Noah is directing the building of the Ark. A board is held on two stands. I termed them “grasping limbs,” and Chris said it was a weird way to depict sawbenches. Plenty of images from the same time period showed four-legged sawbenches. Was this an anomaly? Could I find more images like this and, more importantly, find a description or photograph with the “limbs” in use?

Bronze bas-relief panel, 12th century, Basilica of San Zeno, Verona, Italy.

In fair Verona an even earlier example of the “grasping limbs” showed up in another scene of Noah’s Ark. But, more proof was needed.

Copyright Guédelon. Photo by F. Folcher.

In northern Burgundy the building of a 13th-century castle using traditional methods is underway. Here we see an actual example of the “grasping limbs.” They do exist.

“Die Hausbücher der Nürnberger Zwölfbrüderstiftungen” are a rich source for learning about the work of 15th and 16th-century craftspeople. In several paintings there are carpenters using various means to secure wood to sawbenches or other supports.

Hans Mathes, 1500-1585, “Die Hausbücher der Nürnberger” Amb.317b.2º folio 45v (Mendel II). German National Museum.

Brüder Hans prefers to use staked sawbenches for his work and is using sturdy metal kramps, or clamps for workholding. This makes sense for heavy work at a construction site. Were metal clamps such as this still in use several hundred years later and were they used by different crafts? Let’s go to Slovakia.

Trencianske Muzeum v Trencine, Slovakia. Photo by J. Hanusin.

Here we have a spoon carver drilling holes in the bowl of a very large spoon. He is using metal clamps to hold the spoon in place. The photo is dated 1954. With a little more research I’m sure many more examples can be found.

The Way of the Peg
Using a combination of early 20th-century photographs, some help from the “Die Hausbücher der Nürnberger” and the Old Testament (plus try-outs in Chris’ workshop), the power of the peg as a workholding devise was revealed. Pegs are covered at length in the book, below is a small portion of the discussion.

“Woodworking in Estonia” provides valuable information on how carpenters worked on the low Roman-style workbench. Pegs at the end of the bench were a common method to use as a planing stop.

Karl Schreyner, 1425, “Die Hausbücher der Nürnberger” Amb.317.2º fol 21r (Mendel I). German National Museum.

The “Schreyner pegs” were a key to using pegs as end and side stops on the workbench.

Bible Historiale, MS M394 fol 57r, Paris, France, ca. 1415. Morgan Library and Museum.

Moses guiding carpenters in the construction of an altar. The carpenter traverses a board with the pegs on two sawbenches serving as side stops. Using your sawbenches as auxiliary work surfaces to your low workbench is also featured in “Ingenious Mechanicks.”

A shot from Chris’ shop with end and side pegs securing a board on the low workbench.

A return trips to Estonia for edge-jointing a board. Adjust the height of the pegs to better hold the board. A peg at the end and pegs on either side hold the board in place.

Historie Biblie Figurate, Manuscripts of the Library of Raphael de Marcatellis, Sint Baafskathedraal, Gent, Belgium.

And we are back to Noah. If there is a gap between the board and the side pegs, a wedge will take care of the problem.

When Chris was looking for the right space to create his workshop he mentioned one of his goals was to have a woodworking laboratory. He wanted a place to exchange and explore ideas on work methods and design. “Ingenious Mechanicks” is one product of that goal. It is also an invitation to other woodworkers to join the conversation.

In the next behind the scenes look I go looking for Saint Joseph; he isn’t always easy to find.

— Suzanne Ellison

Posted in Historical Images, Ingenious Mechanicks | 8 Comments

A Trimming Trick and a Degree Change


Getting the lid, the dust seal, the carcase and the top skirt of the tool chest all working in tandem requires some care. Small errors compound quickly.

In the end, the lid should overhang the carcase by about 1/16” on its front and ends before you attach the dust seal. Sometimes you have to trim the lid. Sometimes you have to trim the carcase.

Trimming the lid is straightforward. Mark what you want to remove and plane it away.

Trimming the carcase can be trickier. On one carcase on my bench today, the lid was out of square by less than 1/16” over its 24” width. The best solution was to trim the carcase. But the wood that needed to be removed was a thin taper that started at less than 1/16” at one end and diminished to nothing at the other end.

To mark this out I use blue tape.


I first used a knife to mark where the taper should begin. Then I laid the tape down on the edge of the carcase. I put a shoulder plane on the carcase. Because of the tape, I can easily see the wood I need to remove (even with 49-year-old eyes). If I get any blue tape in the mouth of the plane, I know I’ve gone too far.


The Dust Seal
The dust seal is dovetailed at the two front corners and wraps around three edges of the lid. With these two particular chests, the dust seal is 1-3/8” wide. The problem here is the slope of the dovetails.

Usually I use a 1:4 slope for dovetails (about 14°). The problem is that the slope is a little extreme for a piece of wood 1-3/8” wide. So I use a less-radical slope, 1:8 or about 7°. This slope makes the base of the dovetail a good deal beefier.

While I’ve gotten away with a 1:4 slope on the dust seal, it looks like a pencil-necked chicken.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in The Anarchist's Tool Chest, Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Hand Tool Immersion 101


A few years back, Christopher Schwarz taught a handful of what he affectionately calls “the baby anarchist’s tool chest class.” The premise was to help build the woodworking community by offering to young would-be hand-tool woodworkers a low-cost class to jump-start their skills. These classes involved an intensive week of tuning up old tools, then learning to wield them while building a simpler version of his “Anarchist’s Tool Chest” in which to keep them, and little sleep or showering (because: camping).

Since Chris has stepped back from teaching, Mike Siemsen has taken up the baby anarchist baton, and is (for I think the third year) offering much the same at his Minnesota school. The 2018 “Hand Tool Immersion 101” class is May 7-11, and costs $650 (materials included). Mike is offering free camping and communal dinner prep on site. And bathrooms and showers. Because Mike spoils his students.

Find out more at the Mike Siemsen School of Woodworking website.

— Megan Fitzpatrick

Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Unto Others


I spent this afternoon installing five hinges made by blacksmith Peter Ross on two tool chests. And though I’ve installed a lot of them, I involuntarily marveled at their beauty and utility. They are that gorgeous.

In fact, one the best parts of my life is getting to work with other artisans, whether it’s a woodworker writing a book for Lost Art Press, a blacksmith making a chest lock, a foundry worker pouring a casting or a bookbinder making a deluxe edition.

While this statement seems obvious – who wouldn’t want to work with these awesome people? – I don’t think it is. It’s a damn challenge to work with others. Every piece of blacksmith-made hardware is different and requires extraordinary individual attention. Every woodworker who writes a book is different and requires individual attention. And so forth.

In fact, my work would be a lot easier (and profitable) if I simply wrote books, published them and ignored the work of other people.


But my life would be much less rich. And I would be a lesser person for it.

That’s why I have great respect for publishers such as Marc Spagnuolo and Joshua Klein, who have reached out beyond their insular worlds (we all have insular worlds – we’re woodworkers) to bring the ideas of other people to the forefront.

Marc, as you might know, has been filming the work of people such as Anne Briggs and Darrell Peart for The Wood Whisperer Guild. Joshua has enlisted an entire host of writers and builders to create new knowledge through Mortise & Tenon magazine.

Both of these guys could easily do their own thing, ignore the rest of the world and live handsomely. They both have magnetic personalities that would allow them to be the epicenter of their own universes.

But they haven’t. And my hat is off to them.


Your work will be better if you listen to a variety of voices. Don’t just listen to me. Learn what you can from all the other people out there. And pay special attention to the people who are also willing to listen to others.

Learning this craft from 100 teachers (instead of just one) is more challenging for you, the student. At some point you will need to say: “Wait, this particular bit of gospel is total BS to me.” But you will be a more resilient, informed and balanced woodworker as a result.

You will see the overall patterns in our craft, not just methods of a single teacher. And maybe, when it comes time for you to teach others, your mind will be open, and you will glady promote the work of others, even if it challenges the work you do every day at the bench.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Uncategorized | 19 Comments

Make Your Own Dang Shirts


Until we can get our act together and get Lost Art Press T-shirts back in the store, feel free to make your own T-shirts using our logo.

We don’t make T-shirts to make money (unlike some rock bands). We make T-shirts because people ask for them, and because we need something to wear that doesn’t have holes in it.


You can use these logos at a print-on-demand service, or even on an existing favorite shirt using an inkjet printer and special paper. Note: If you put our logo on thong underwear or a tube top, please don’t send us a photo.

I’ve put two logos – our main logo and our beehive logo – into a compressed file you can download and unzip. They are sized for T-shirts at 300 dpi.

LAP Logos

We can’t offer tech support on these (such as changing the ink color). But I’m sure a local 11-year-old could help you with that.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Uncategorized | 14 Comments

My Favorite Detail on the Tool Chest


One of the other small design changes I’ve made to my tool chest design is to bevel the top edge of the lid’s panel. It’s a 30° bevel with a 1/16” flat at the edge.

On the original chest, I merely rounded the panel’s corner with a block plane. It looks OK, but this bevel looks much better. By the way, the bevel on the panel is an echo of the 30° bevel on the chest’s skirts.

It’s Friday, and so my head is full of cottage cheese. When the cheese clears, I’ll write up an explanation of how the lid works. I’ve probably had more questions about that aspect of the chest than any other.


Personal Note
If you follow the comments on this blog, you might have noticed a little back-and-forth with a reader about some details of the chest. This entry is not to shame the reader – honest, Stan – but instead to explain how I deal with comments.

I don’t (and honestly cannot) answer every question that is lobbed at me on the blog, Facebook, Instagram or via vacuum tube. Here’s why:

Many questions are from the Google-impaired. Rather than shame them, I hope my silence encourages them to look for the answer on their own.

Sometimes answering a question will only encourage trolling, or will drag decent readers into a troll fight. I steer clear of those briar patches.

Sometimes I decline to answer questions directly and instead try to elucidate what I think is important about the question (and not the direct answer). I do this for a variety of reasons, including the fact that sometimes what I write gets taken out of context and spread around the Internet like cow dung.

And sometimes I don’t know the answer, so I just let the question be.

I don’t mean to be indirect or inscrutable, I simply took too many Zen Buddhism classes in college.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in The Anarchist's Tool Chest, Uncategorized | 11 Comments

Slöjd Bowl and Trough


This is an excerpt from “Slöjd in Wood” by Jögge Sundqvist.

Traditionally, households needed to be self-sufficient and had to make all kinds of everyday objects. There were many kinds of hewn bowls and troughs for baking, meat preparation, milk production and fermented drinks. They were made from a green blank from a tree trunk. The trunk was cut and split lengthwise into a half, then hollowed out from the heartwood side. Because these containers are exposed to moisture, the design incorporates strength and durability. The walls at each end of the trough must be three times thicker than the wood along the sides. The handles are placed at the ends of the blank.

I have learned another way of doing this from the legendary woodworker Bengt Lidström, who made beautiful bird bowls. He worked from either the heartwood side or from the bark side. Both methods are described in this chapter.


Tools. Chopping block, froe, wooden maul, axe, shaving horse, drawknife, adze, workbench, scrub plane, spokeshave, Japanese saw, sheath knife, long bent gouge (#8, 35mm), spoon gouge (#9, 13mm), ruler, pencil, folding ruler, screw clamp, chip carving knife, paintbrush.

Material. Straight-grained, knot-free deciduous wood such as aspen, alder or birch, wood glue, raw coldpressed linseed oil, and artist’s oil paint.

Choose a straight-grained, knot-free piece. Trim to about 10cm (3-15/16″) longer than the bowl you want to make. When a tree is felled, the pith always has a crack that begins in the end grain. When you split the blank, line up the froe blade with this felling crack.

Hew away about 1cm (3/8″) of the juvenile wood nearest the pith. While hewing, sight along the edge of the blank’s end-grain face as a reference for a flat surface.

If you are hollowing from the bark side of the log, further flatten the heartwood side so the blank sits steady on the bench. Use either a plane at the workbench or a drawknife at the shaving horse. Remove the bark with a drawknife.

Lay out centerlines on the bowl face. Transfer the lines to all four faces. Now lay out the shape of the bowl using the centerlines to guide the shape. Make sure there is 2cm to 3cm (13/16″ to 1-3/16″) extra material on both ends to fasten the blank on the workbench.

You will use a lot of force during hollowing, so it is important to clamp the blank firmly to your workbench. Now hollow out the blank with an adze.

To quickly remove material on the bark side, you can first use a thin, straight-beveled axe to cut off the upper layer. You can also use a bowsaw to make multiple depth cuts to allow the waste to chip out more easily.

Use an adze for hollowing out the blank. The adze has a bevel on the outside, which in combination with the short handle creates an arc when you cut. Lock your elbows to the sides of your body. Place the other hand around your wrist for control and accuracy. Holding the adze at the farthest end of the handle, drive it into the wood vigorously to make depth cuts into the surface. Start from the middle of the hole and work toward the ends.

Like hewing with an axe, you now change the angle of the cut to clear away the waste.

Turn the piece and refasten it if it is difficult to cut from the other side. Use your body to change the cutting angle as you follow the shape.

You can also use a mallet and a long bent gouge (No. 8L, 35mm) to start cutting in the middle of the bowl. To begin hollowing, it is easiest to cut across the fibers. Keep in mind that cutting the fibers across the grain doesn’t leave as smooth a surface as cutting with the grain.

For controlled cuts, place your left hand on the gouge handle just above the tool edge and use your wrist as a brake as you press it against the blank.

With your right hand against the end of the handle and supported by your chest, push the gouge forward by leaning into the cut. Use steady pressure to get long, even and controlled cuts.

This technique is particularly useful in the bottom when you cut near the cross-grain wood, where the fibers meet each other. The left hand acts as a control for both speed and depth of cut.



The narrow ends of the bowl are thicker and angled toward the bottom, making the end-grain fibers longer and therefore stronger.

Smooth the rim along the top of the bowl. At this stage, it is necessary to refine the form by marking new lines.

Check the level of the sides of the bowl by laying a straight edge across the top.

Measure for even thickness along the bottom by using a ruler to compare the height of the sides versus the depth of the bowl.

The fibers rise a little after drying. Remember to clean-cut the bowl when it is dry for a smoother surface. For a bowl 40cm (15-3/4″) long, I suggest a final thickness of 8mm (5/16″) along the sides and bottom, and about 20mm (13/16″) in the end-grain wood. If there is tear-out in cross-grain wood, you will need to carefully make the final clean cut at a 90 degree angle to the fiber direction.

Meghan Bates

Posted in Sloyd in Wood | 1 Comment