From the Head

 

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(Jonathan Fisher’s) notebooks are also full of artistic flourishes. For Fisher, mathematics was more than raw numbers – it explained the beauty of the world around him. – JONATHAN FISHER MEMORIAL.


This is an excerpt from “Hands Employed Aright: The Furniture Making of Jonathan Fisher (1768-1847)” by Joshua A. Klein. 

Fisher’s biographers have dealt extensively with his academic interests, especially mathematics and science. The archives at the Fisher House are full of notebooks of geometry lessons, surveying formulas and navigational methods from his studies at Harvard. Notebooks from his time in Blue Hill also show elaborate calculations and scale drawings – even for simple projects such  as outbuildings.

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Fisher made an orthographic projection of his barn in one of his notebooks 30 years after it was built. – JONATHAN FISHER MEMORIAL.

 
His fascination with natural science is evident from weather records, drawings and notes about animals he studied, and the almost-clinical observations he made in his journal about his ailments and physical condition. One of the most vivid examples of his analytical mind can be seen in a journal entry from Nov. 29, 1824, only days after the death of his daughter, Sally. Here he wrote, “In the evening while calm in mind and not then thinking particularly of my deceased daughter, a great heat came over my breast, which followed with restlessness; then a prostration of strength, or nervous debility and faintness, from which I was gradually restored within 2 or 3 hours. A sympathy, I suppose, between the nervous system and the mind, but in a manner to me inexplicable; something similar but less in degree I experienced several times after the death of my eldest son. We are fearfully and wonderfully made.”

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Fisher’s geometry exercises retain the foot holes and scribe marks of his dividers during layout. The parson was trained in geometric design, and his body of woodwork reflects it. – JONATHAN FISHER MEMORIAL.

His time alone in his study was sacred. This wood-paneled room, opposite the front parlor, was where Fisher spent much of his time. Most mornings he sat near the fireplace working on his Hebrew or on sermons.

His daughter, Nancy, recorded once how his “little room [was] consecrated to learning, Devotion and perhaps sometimes to the Muses.” Fisher commended academic pursuit not only to his own children but to the community he ministered. His involvement was critical in bringing about the Blue Hill Library and Blue Hill Academy. He also served as a trustee and regularly  gave money to Bangor Theological Seminary, “the palladium of truth in this region.” He wrote several books and broadsides, the most ambitious of which, was his 350-page self-published, “Scripture Animals” (1834), which contained descriptions of every animal recorded in the Bible, accompanied by a woodcut that he engraved. Besides his native English, he was proficient  (or at least moderately so) in several languages: Latin, French, Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic and Malay, as well as that of the local Passamaquoddy tribe. He preached all throughout Massachusetts and Maine, and devoured newspapers and books, saving or transcribing interesting anecdotes or recipes for future use.

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Opposite his parlor, Fisher spent much of his time in his study preparing sermons, performing mathematics and learning new languages.

His preaching tone was heavily influenced by his academic training and was described as more instructive than inspired. An excerpt from his conclusion to “Scripture Animals” illustrates this well. In defending the good character of God despite the existence of predation in the natural world, he writes, “To illustrate the subject, I will suppose that by means of the several kinds of carnivorous animals, three animals subsist where otherwise but two could have subsisted. I will suppose that each of these animals enjoys as much as either would have done; if there had been but two; in this case the enjoyment is as three to two. I will next suppose the comparative enjoyment of animals to be, on an average, nine degrees, for one degree of suffering; this gives eight degrees of positive enjoyment for each animal. If there are three animals for two, there are eight degrees of enjoyment for twenty-four. Let us suppose the suffering under this economy diminished one third, which I think probable, then in the case of three animals the degrees of suffering will be but two, and the degrees of positive enjoyment by means of rapacious animals twenty-five, instead of sixteen. Is it not then real evidence of benevolence in God, that there are rapacious animals?”

Winsomeness was not his forte.

Meghan Bates

 

Posted in Hands Employed Aright | 3 Comments

‘Make a Chair From a Tree’ Streaming Video Now Available

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We are pleased to announce that after years of work, revisions, agita and waiting, that you can now watch the great video “Make a Chair From a Tree” streaming on virtually any device.

The video, shot by Anatol Polillo, has been digitized and is available through our store for $25. When you order the video, you will be able to stream it to almost any internet-connected device. You also will be able to download it to watch it on your phone, tablet or desktop machine without an internet connection.

We offer this two-hour video without any Digital Rights Management (DRM), which means you will be able to play the file on any device without any passwords, keys or other inconvenience.

This video was based on the second edition of Jennie Alexander’s “Make a Chair From a Tree” book and includes many of the improvements she developed after teaching this post-and-rung chair for years.

The chair itself – what we call the “Jennie Chair” – is the most comfortable wooden chair I’ve ever sat in. And I say that as a chairmaker. The chair is made from an economy of both tools and materials. It really is an astounding piece of work.

In addition to the video, we have produced a packet of updated drawings that illustrate the important bits of the chair and the jigs that Jennie discusses in the video. You’ll receive a link to download the pdf at checkout. Or you can download these drawing here. These drawings are the latest and most accurate – we were working with Jennie on these up until her death in 2018. If you own a copy of the DVD, please feel free to download these updated drawings.

On a personal note, thanks to all of the people in Jennie’s life who allowed us to move forward with this important project, from Jennie’s heirs to her woodworking colleagues to her family, friends and caregivers. We think Jennie’s legacy and her influence on woodworkers will not end with her death. And that’s why we will offer this video and a third edition of the book “Make a Chair From a Tree” in the coming months. With any luck, there will be future generations of woodworkers who will be inspired by her simple (but elegant) designs and methods.

You can order the video here.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Make a Chair from a Tree, Uncategorized | 12 Comments

One Way to Build a Crate

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I am not a cratengineer. So I am certain that the way you build crates is better than mine.

My method is the result of a few things:

  1. Observing how hundreds of shipments of books, machines and furniture have been damaged during my last three decades in publishing and furniture making (I have not experienced any damage with my crates, by the way).
  2. Asking my trucking company what I should do to ensure my shipments aren’t damaged.
  3. Using as little material as possible to add as little weight and cubic footage as possible.
  4. Setting a goal of building a crate in less than one hour.
  5. Spending $40 to $50 on materials on average.

My crates are made primarily from 5mm-thick sheets of underlayment, which I can buy for $13 to $16 a sheet. All the interior bracing is made from 1” x 1” pine strips that I rip down from 2x4s. And the skids are 4x4s, which I usually salvage from dumpsters in our neighborhood. The crates are assembled with No. 8 x 1-1/4” self-tapping construction screws. No pilot holes are necessary with these screws. The interior cardboard and bubble wrap are usually salvaged from dunnage that we receive here.

I’m going to do this in a lazy photo-essay style. Here we go.

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  • Measure the piece with care. I don’t skimp on time with this step. Take careful measurements of the depth, width and height of the piece. Then add 2-1/2” to all those measurements to create the size of the “shell” of your crate.
  • Create a cutting list. Again, you’ll get to the automatic, bang-that-crap out in a moment. Take care. I make a cutting list and even a quick plywood optimization sheet so I don’t get turned around when cutting down the plywood. After this, I cut the parts to size. Then I take the 2x4s (I used two in this case) and rip them into 1” x 1” bracing strips.

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  • Cut the bracing strips to length and screw them to the top and the bottom of your crate. Don’t measure. Put a strip up against the plywood, mark it and cut it. I use a bench hook and carcase saw. A chop saw is not faster here.

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  • Cut the skids to length and screw the bottom to the skids. Use lots of screws. Don’t skip the skids. A flat-bottomed crate is much more likely to get fatally forked by a forklift. Skids don’t add much expense, but they add a lot of insurance.

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  • Once I get the base made, I do a quick check to ensure my measurements are correct. I do these “reality checks” with every project – sometimes several times a day – in order to avoid errors. It helps.

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  • Install one of the side pieces. Here you can see how I use the top piece to prop up a side piece as I screw it in place.

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  • Then I start adding more interior bracing strips. Here you can see how I use spring clamps to holds the bracing strips in place while they are screwed down.

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  • Keep working around the base, adding side pieces until you have this sort of enclosure. The top and front should be open so you can add the bracing that immobilizes the object.

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  • Wrap the project in cardboard and bubble wrap where you plan to brace the project to the crate. I usually use three braces: One to restrain it from moving up, and two to restrain it from moving front to back. I haven’t found it necessary (so far) to worry about things moving left and right. The three braces keep things locked down.
  • The interior bracing is 1” x 1” pine. Place it against the cardboard and bubble wrap and press the brace in place. Trace its position on the wall of the crate. Shift the position of the brace and drill some pilot holes through the traced silhouette. Now put the brace in place and screw it down. Don’t get aggressive – you are screwing into end grain so it’s easy to split the brace.

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  • This is what it looks like before I screw the the top and front in place. Don’t forget to include contact information on the inside of the crate in case the label gets ripped off your crate.

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  • If I have any of my one-hour time limit left, I spray paint the Lost Art Press logo on the crate. Just for fun.

I hope this was helpful to someone out there.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Uncategorized | 21 Comments

More Supplemental Material for ‘The Anarchist’s Design Book’

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To make things easier for you, I’ve collected all of the supplemental information I’ve released for “The Anarchist’s Design Book” (so far) into a pdf with a short introduction and an appendix on making your own seat templates.

This is available as a free download to anyone who has purchased “The Anarchist’s Design Book” anywhere in the world. We’re on the “Honorable Tortoise” system here. Don’t download it if you haven’t bought the book.

I’ve arranged all these pages into a book that you take to any “print on demand” service to print and bind it as a book for you. You can also download the color cover for it. Here are the links:

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You have my express permission to print out a personal copy or two for yourself. If you sell them, however, I will phone the tortoise.

Here’s what’s in the 70-page supplement:

  1. A short introduction to the sometimes drug-addled world of chairmaking
  2. A chapter on building a Staked High Stool
  3. A chapter on building a Staked Armchair
  4. An appendix on making your own seat patterns for the chair.

I hope you find this information easy to use and interesting.

The next project is a settle chair, which I have been sketching for months now. Like all good chairs, it has a secret code I need to crack that will make building it a cinch.

By the way, our next tool at Crucible Tool will be a Chairmaker’s Decoder Ring.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in The Anarchist's Design Book, Uncategorized | 20 Comments

0 Stick Chairs for Sale

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The stick chairs are piling up in the shop, and more are in the works. So if you would like to have one for your home or office, read on. These ship anywhere in the continental United States via common carrier. Here are the details.

SOLD Red oak stick chair, $800 plus shipping

This chair is ideal for a sitter who is 5’9” or shorter. It sits fine for taller people, but the crest rail contacts the shoulder blades instead of hovering above them. The seat is 17-1/2” from the floor at the pommel. It slopes back to create a chair that is ideal for conversation – not for typing. The finish is organic linseed oil with beeswax, which has a nice matte appearance.

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Maple stick chair, $800 plus shipping SOLD

This chair is ideal for a sitter who is 5’9” or taller. It sits fine for shorter people, but the crest rail is designed for a taller individual. The seat is 17-3/4” from the floor at the pommel. It slopes back to create a chair that is ideal for conversation – not for typing. The finish is natural soap flakes, which creates a pleasant, smooth and lustrous finish.

Shipping Details
I box all my furniture in plywood crates to ensure they are protected. The crate is no extra charge. Shipping is via common carrier, which can be anywhere from $100 to $300, depending on your location and delivery details. I am also happy to deliver these chairs anywhere within a 100-mile radius of Cincinnati for no extra charge. Or you can pick it up at the storefront in Covington, Ky.

I am happy to answer questions about the chairs, but the first one to say “I’ll take it” gets it. Please contact me through my website via this link to ensure I see your message.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments

FAQ: Expanded Edition of ‘The Anarchist’s Design Book’

ADB_2nd_printing_hires_IMG_2490_1024x1024I am at work on adding five or six chapters to “The Anarchist’s Design Book” for an expanded edition that we will release in the future. Several customers have asked how this will work. Here are the answers.

Q: What will be in the expanded edition?

The core content of the expanded edition will be the same as the current edition. The additional content will be five projects that I wish I had included in the first edition: a staked high stool, a staked armchair, a boarded settle, a boarded settle chair and a boarded mule chest. These five projects use the same techniques – staked joinery and boarded construction – as in the current edition. In other words, I’m not adding a section on some new (or very old) joinery technique.

Q: When will the expanded edition be available?

We hope to release the new printed edition in late 2019 or early 2020.

Q: Will the five projects be available to people who own the current edition?

Absolutely. Anyone who owns the current edition will be able to download the five additional chapters for free. And they will be able to do this no matter if they bought the book from us or from another retailer. The additional chapters will be in pdf format,  and designed in pages that are identical to the current edition. You will be able to print them out if you like or keep them on your computer.

Q: How will this download work?

Simple. We will have a link in our store for people with the current edition. Click the link and the download will begin. The link will be posted indefinitely.

Q: Will these additional projects feature copperplate etchings from Briony Morrow-Cribbs?

Yes. Briony has agreed to create new copperplate etchings for the expanded edition.

Q: Will the expanded edition cost more than the current edition?

Yes. Adding five more projects will increase the printing cost, so we will need to increase the price of the printed book when the new edition is released.

Q: Will I be able to trade in my old edition for a new one?

Sorry but no.

Q: You are releasing some of the chapters in advance as they are completed. Why?

Several reasons. They are going to be released for free, so why not do it now? Second, readers have been asking for them as photos of the projects have appeared on the blog and our Instagram feed. And third, readers might catch a mistake or two before we go to press.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in The Anarchist's Design Book, Uncategorized | 12 Comments

Another Free Chapter and More Free Psychoses

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You can now download a free pdf of my Staked Armchair project if you have purchased a copy of “The Anarchist’s Design Book.” This download is given on the honor system. If you already own this book, no harm will come to you by clicking the link below.

If, however, you have not purchased “The Anarchist’s Design Book,” you will suffer a curse that involves an Aldabra tortoise with multiple felony convictions.

Here’s the link:

ADB Staked Armchair

The design for this chair is regulated by the lumber industry. When I design a piece of furniture from scratch, such as this chair, I look carefully at the materials available to the workaday woodworker. For example, asking you to buy 12/4 spalted sapele for the crest is a bit silly. This chair can be built with one chunk of 8/4 red oak and some 5/8” dowels from the home center. Nothing fancy.

In short, I try to design my pieces around common lumber sizes so that the design can be built in both Los Angeles and Baltimore without too much fuss.

For many years, I wished that I didn’t impose restrictions like this on myself. What if I designed a project based on my desires alone, and I could use whatever crazy materials I wanted? I tried that approach for a while and it was uninspiring. For some reason, I prefer to work within strict limitations of what wood species are available, what lumber sizes are common and how few operations/tools are required.

This is my sport. And projects like this bring me a little satisfaction.

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The wood for this chair is less than $50 – way less than $50 if you are frugal. You don’t need a drawknife, steambox, shavehorse, froe or hatchet to make this chair. Instead, you need mostly furniture-making tools plus a scorp and travisher to saddle the seat. The wood is from any lumberyard. You can build it with hand tools. But if you have a band saw you’ll find the work goes faster.

It sits remarkably well for an all-wood chair. I’ve had these chairs sitting around the shop for the last several months and lots of people have sat in them and offered feedback. The No. 1 comment: I didn’t expect this chair to be this comfortable.

The trick is the geometry, of course, plus knowing your way around the lumbar region of the human body. The armbow is designed to support the lumbar (a fact that surprises most sitters) with the crest rail hovering slightly above the curve of your shoulders.

The seat is lightly saddled to avoid casting your buttocks like a Jell-O salad. And the “hands” of the armbow are set back from where you would expect them on an armchair by a couple inches. This small change affects how your forearms interact with the chair – for the better in my opinion.

So if you’ve ever wanted to build a Welsh stick chair, this chair is an excellent introduction to the form. If you are into Windsors, this chair has a few lessons, but you are going to need some more estrogen to get the job done with the feminine baluster turnings (this is only my opinion; many people of sound mind love Windsor chairs).

So download the chapter – at the peril of the highly disturbed tortoise if you don’t own “The Anarchist’s Design Book.” And think it over. Chairs aren’t so hard. Even I can build them, and I’m just a journalist who grew up in Arkansas.

— Christopher Schwarz

P.S. Anyone who complains about typos will also get a visit from the tortoise.

Posted in The Anarchist's Design Book, Uncategorized | 35 Comments