‘Go, Go, Go’ – a New Book on Tage Frid

Editor’s note: One of the other books we have in the works is tentatively titled: “Go, Go, Go: The Life, Influence and Woodworking of Tage Frid”  by Bill Rainford. In this post, Bill introduces himself and explains a little bit about the book. Were thrilled to work with Bill on this book about Frid (1915-2004), one of the most influential woodworkers of the 20th century.

— Christopher Schwarz

I’m driven by a lifelong desire to learn, build, experiment and share. I love examining furniture to see how it was made and read the tool marks. I enjoy digging through period sources to learn a new technique or build something that has not been seen for generations. I also search out designs that take form and function into account. These inclinations can often take me down some deep rabbit holes or on crazy adventures. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

As I progressed in my woodworking I got tired of building predominantly power tool projects from magazines. I wanted to design my own pieces and get into more traditional tools and techniques. Around that time I was referred to the three-volume set of books “Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking” by the Taunton Press. This iconic set of books was eye opening. Tage’s no-nonsense approach, acerbic humor and amusing anecdotes made for a memorable read.

Many of the tenets of Frid’s teaching resonated with me and still guide my work. A core principle of Frid’s mentoring was to teach several different techniques to accomplish a given task so a student had a deeper well of technical knowledge to draw upon when the time came to use it. Long before “hybrid woodworking” was a coined phrase, Frid espoused the use of power and hand tools to help a craftsmen compete and make a living. In addition to a respect for traditional techniques and wood itself, I also appreciated his efforts to show how a craftsman should strive to make something that is functional, comfortable, tailored to the room or audience and also affordable.

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The Rainford Family (From left to right):  Alyssa, Bradley, Bill and Henry Rainford

My Background

I grew up on Long Island, N.Y. I’ve been a lifelong woodworker and maker. I’m at my happiest when I am out in my workshop. I started out helping my father and grandfather around the house as a child – finishing the basement, building a deck etc. I grew up watching “This Old House” and “New Yankee Workshop” and building power tool oriented projects. Once I got a place of my own I got into building things such as a custom mantel, a loft, staircase, bookcases etc. but I didn’t feel fulfilled. I wanted to get into more intricate hand work. That’s when I learned about the North Bennet Street School (NBSS), which is the oldest trade school in the United States. After taking some hand tool fundamentals and carving workshops at the school I went on to become a graduate of the two-year Preservation Carpentry program. I now develop and teach traditional woodworking workshops at NBSS, the Boston Architectural College, Historic Eastfield Village and other regional schools, conferences and events.

I consider myself to primarily be a traditional joiner, building and restoring traditional windows, doors, trim and casework though though I’ve also built a fair amount of furniture, restored timber frames and worked on historic buildings such as the Old State House in Boston, the Harvard Shaker Meeting House in Harvard, Mass., and similar properties.

I’ve written for Fine Homebuilding, Popular Woodworking, Early American Industries Association, Fix.com and my blog RainfordRestorations.com

I live in southern New Hampshire with my a wife, Alyssa, and two sons, Bradley and Henry. I’m thankful to my wife for being supportive of all my woodworking  activities and for my two sons who love watching me work around the house.

Genesis for the Book 

A couple of years ago I wrote up a blog post which shared my thoughts about Tage Frid and his work and wondered what ever happened to his tools and furniture. You can read that post here.  In response to that post I received a comment from Tage’s grandson Oliver Frid and had the opportunity to visit Tage’s son Peter’s home.

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Oliver and Peter Frid (right) with one of Tage Frid’s iconic 3 legged stools

It was an inspirational visit and they were gracious hosts to put up with me being excited to see many of Tage’s tools and furniture pieces in person. You can read more about that visit in this post. As I learned more about Tage’s life and work I realized there were a lot of interesting stories to be shared with a wider audience.

What will the Book be About? 

The book will be a mixture of biography, woodworking projects with plans, interviews and an exploration of the impact of Frid’s work. From Frid’s time working for the Royal Danish Cabinetmakers (at the time Kaare Klint was running the department), to his time at the School for American Craftsmen and the studio art movement through his time at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and Penland, the goal is to share projects based on Frid’s work in those periods and some by those whom he taught and inspired. It will be an eclectic mix of chairs, tables, casework, built-ins and workshop projects that explore the various forms Danish modern designs can take on in a flavor reminiscent of Frid’s aesthetic.

After working on colonial and Shaker styles of furniture and buildings for such a long time, I’ve found that Danish modern designs really appealing. I’ve been intrigued by how well Danish modern pieces can fit into a traditional home in large part due to their expressed construction, use of traditional joinery and respect for and re-interpretation of traditional forms.

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Bill standing at his new workbench. (Photo by Doug Levy for the related Popular Woodworking Magazine article)

Upcoming Article

One of Frid’s most-remembered projects is his traditional Scandinavian workbench with a shoulder vise, square dogs and a tail vise. It was similar to the bench I was trained on. Inspired by Frid’s design and my own preferences I built my own interpretation of this bench and made a series of modifications to address many of the criticisms folks have had with Frid’s earlier workbench. The bench I built was about 2′ longer, a few inches deeper, built up in some areas to add weight and makes use of some newer construction techniques and new easier-to-install hardware that was not available to Frid in the 1980s. If you’d like to learn more about this workbench and whet your appetite for the forthcoming book, I encourage you to check out my article in the February 2017 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine, which is due out next month.

If you’d like to learn more about me and my explorations in woodworking, please check out my blog or follow me via my other social media accounts below.

— Bill Rainford
Twitter: @TheRainford
Blog: RainfordRestorations.com
Facebook: Bill Rainford Woodworking

Posted in Tage Frid: Go, Go, Go | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

Sticker Madness (and an FAQ)

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My oldest daughter, Maddy, processed her first batch of stickers last night and braved the rain to drop them off at the closest mailbox.

First off, she thanks all of you for spelling her name correctly (Maddy with a “y”). And she was very impressed with how organized (read: OCD) everyone was about the self-addressed stamped envelopes (SASE). Except for the guy who sealed the $5 bill in his SASE.

We still have plenty of stickers and you can get your set (plus a bonus sticker until they run out) by enclosing $5 in an envelope along with a SASE. Send it to:

Stick it to the Man
P.O. Box 3284
Columbus, OH 43210

Maddy will take your SASE and put three high-quality vinyl stickers – one of each design – in your envelope and mail it to you immediately. These are the nicest die-cut stickers we could find and should even be suitable for outdoor use, according to the manufacturer. The stickers are made in the United States, of course.

Here are answers to a few common questions.

Q: What if I want two (or three) sets? Do I have to send multiple SASEs?

A: We’re not barbarians, and Maddy is good at math. If you send $10 you’ll get two sets; $15 will get you three and so on. All in the same envelope.

Q: Will a regular business-sized envelope work?

A: Yup. These stickers are about 3” long – not huge.

Q: If I’m in another country and have some U.S. bills, can I participate?

A: Yes. We’re working on a way to process international orders. But if you send Maddy an SASE with a $5 (U.S.) bill and sufficient postage, she’ll fill the order.

I just received a text from Maddy and she has picked up the second day of orders and will process them immediately.

Thanks for all your support. Maddy is thrilled to be doing this and it really does help her make ends meet in college.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Stickers, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

S. 36. Of the waving engine.

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This is an excerpt from “The Art of Joinery” by Joseph Moxon; commentary by Christopher Schwarz.

The waving engine described in plate 5. fig. 7, hath A B, a long square plank of about seven inches broad, five foot long, and an inch and a half thick. All along the length of this plank on the middle between the two sides runs a rabbet [a raised track], as part of it is seen at C. Upon this rabbet rides a block with a groove in its underside. This block is about three inches square and ten inches long, having near the hinder end of it a wooden handle going through it [that is] about one inch diameter, as D E. At the fore-end of this block is fastened a vise, [that is] somewhat larger than a great hand-vise, as at F. The groove in the block is made to receive the rabbet on the plank.

At the farther end of the plank is erected a square strong piece of wood, about six inches high, and five inches square, as G. This square piece has a square wide mortise in it on the top, as at H. Upon the top of this square piece is a strong square flat iron collar, somewhat loosely fitted on, having two male screws fitted into two female screws, to screw against that part of the wooden piece un-mortised at the top, marked L, that it may draw the iron collar hard against the iron [that cuts the moulding], marked Q , and keep it stiff against the fore-side of the un-mortised piece, marked L, when the piece Q is set to its convenient height. And on the other side the square wooden piece is fitted another iron screw, having to the end of its shank fastened a round iron plate which lies within the hollow of this wooden piece, and therefore cannot in draft be seen in its proper place. But I have described it apart, as at M. {Fig. 9.} Its nut is placed at M on the wooden piece. On the farther side of the wooden piece is fitted a wooden screw called a knob, as at N. Through the farther and hither side of the square wooden piece is fitted a flat piece of iron, about three quarters of an inch broad and one quarter of an inch thick, standing on edge upon the plank; but its upper edge is filed round {the reason you will find by and by}. Its hither end comes through the wooden piece, as at O, and its farther end on the opposite side of the wooden piece.

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Upright in the hollow square of the wooden piece stands an iron, as at Q , whose lower end is cut into the form of the moulding you intend your work shall have.

In the fore side of this wooden piece is [a] square hole, as at R, called the mouth.

To this engine belongs a thin at piece of hard wood, about an inch and a quarter broad and as long as the rabbet. It is disjunct [distinct, unconnected] from the engine, and in fig. 8. is marked S S, called the rack. It hath its under[side] flat cut into those fashioned waves you intend your work shall have. The hollow of these waves are made to comply with the round edge of [the] flat plate of iron marked O {described before}. For when one end of the riglet [workpiece] you wave is, with the vise, screwed to the plain side of the rack, and the other end put through the mouth of the wooden piece, as at T T, so as the hollow of the wave on the underside of the rack may lie upon the round edge of the flat iron plate set on edge, as at O, and the iron Q , is strong fitted down upon the reglet [sic]. Then if you lay hold of the handles of the block D E and strongly draw them, the rack and the riglet will both together slide through the mouth of the wooden piece. And as the rounds of [the] rack ride over the round edge of the at iron, the rack and reglet will mount up to the iron Q , and as the rounds of the waves on the underside of the rack slides off the iron on edge, the rack and reglet will sink, and so in a progression (or more) the riglet will on its upper side receive the form of the several waves on the underside of the rack, and also the form or moulding that is on the edge of the bottom of the iron. And so at once the riglet will be both moulded and waved.

But before you draw the rack through the engine, you must consider the office of the knob N, and the office of the iron screw M. For by them the rack is screwed evenly under the iron Q. And you must be careful that the groove of the block flip not off the rabbet on the plank. For by these screws, and the rabbet and groove, your work will be evenly gauged all the way (as I said before) under the edge of the iron Q , and keep it from sliding either to the right or left hand, as you draw it through the engine.

Analysis

Of course, the No. 1 question you have to have about the “waving engine” entry is what the heck the thing actually does. Is it a planer? A moulding machine? Well, yes. It works like both a planer and a moulding machine to produce what are called rippled or waveform mouldings, which were all the rage during Cromwell’s reign in England.

Wave mouldings show up in many picture frames of the era and reflect light in a most unusual way – thanks to their undulations or ripples.

Moxon’s device seems complex from the description because he is writing about a thing that doesn’t exist in this exact form today. In essence, the waving engine produces rippled mouldings much like a duplicator lathe or a pattern-cutting bit in a router. A flat piece of iron follows a block with the desired pattern cut into it. This moves the stock against a fixed cutter, which gradually (very gradually) cuts away the waste to reveal the final wave shape in the workpiece.

The workpiece, by the way, is pulled through the waving engine by hand. If you are interested in this fascinating machine, I recommend you check out a 2002 article by Jonathan Thornton, who built a close reproduction of Moxon’s waving engine and shows how it developed into a fancier machine that worked with a crank. It’s easily available in pdf format from Stanford University’s web site for the Wooden Artifacts Group (http://aic.stanford.edu/sg/wag/authorindex.html).

by Meghan Bates

Posted in The Art of Joinery | 2 Comments

How I Met John Brown

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Chris Williams worked with John Brown for many years making chairs.

Editor’s note: As we revealed yesterday, we’re excited to announce that Lost Art Press will publish a book on the life and work of the late Welsh chairmaker, John Brown. Here, one of the co-authors, Chris Williams, shares how he met John Brown in the late 1990s.

— Kara Gebhart Uhl

I never knew his name at the time, other than there was a mythical chairmaker from the western seaboard side of my native homeland of Wales. He made chairs by hand without the aid of electricity and lived in his workshop. In the early 1990s, with some research, I found out that he had written a book called “Welsh Stick Chairs.” It was being sold in a bookshop less than an hour’s drive from me.

I drove to Newport Pembrokeshire to buy a copy of the book. I later learned that the man I had held the door for on entering the bookshop was John Brown. He had just dropped off a box of books for them to sell. The owners were very enthusiastic at my interest in the book, and I was ushered into a side room where they showed me a chair that John had made them.

The book was a revelation to me. It was so informative on this little-known subject and included a photographic chapter that was truly inspiring. I was hooked on the chairs and the author. I read John’s monthly articles in Good Woodworking magazine fervently. His writing was great — nothing of the anorak in his articles. And I thought his take on life was so different than the norm.

My day job as a carpenter and joiner was a varied one, but the chairs were deep in my psyche by now, and I dabbled somewhat with them for a few years. Looking back they were poor. I hadn’t yet been fueled by the Zen-like teachings which were to come.

Several years later my partner, Claire, and I were in Australia and New Zealand on a gap year/working holiday. I enjoyed the change of scenery and meeting new people but something was missing. There is a word in the Welsh language, “Hiraeth,” which loosely translates to a longing, with a sadness, for an absent something — not homesick. By chance I picked up a copy of Fine Woodworking (the Nov./Dec. 1997 issue) in Melbourne in which there was an article on John Brown — a great article. It was at this point that I realized it was time for me to head home to make chairs, and to meet John Brown in person.

It was with some trepidation that I telephoned him. To my surprise, his number was in the phone book. The conversation was a blur — lots of nerves on my side. But it must have gone OK because a few days later I head west to John’s home. I was given clear instructions on the whereabouts of the workshop, but alas I got lost in the wilds of North Pembrokeshire. I eventually found the workshop down a long narrow lane under the shadow of Carn Ingli, which translates to “mountain of the angels.” It was a truly beautiful landscape of small fields with stone-walled boundaries and small wooded valleys meandering down to the Celtic sea — a landscape that obviously inspired John. The undersides of John’s chair seats were embellished with a simple Celtic cross for which the area is famous for.

I was greeted politely but hurriedly by John as he was in the process of gluing up a chair. I watched him work but also took in the hand tools that were everywhere, neatly placed in various racks and shelves. Photos, paintings and poems also adorned the walls of the workshop. I had truly come across a different type of life, at least one in contrast to my conservative Welsh upbringing. It felt more like a home than the cold and soulless workshops that I had spent years in. I felt at home when I was offered a cup of tea. Two pots later, it was it time to leave. I left buzzing after the experience and little did I know then what adventures the next 10 years would bring for both of us. It was far from a happy-ever-after story but one that would change my life profoundly forever.

— Chris Williams

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Posted in John Brown Book, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Plumbing the Mystery of the Mason’s Medal

medal-sketchIn this sketch I did of a Masonic “Past-Master’s Jewels” medal,  notice the representation of the pythagorean theorem. It is reported that its presence on the owner’s medal indicates that person was what we would likely now call a crew foreman. One of his many responsibilities was to ensure that all the layout tools were true – a clue as to why there’s the homage to Pythagoras. This theorem, codified later by Euclid into his “Proposition 47,”  offers a logic proof that the area of the squares erected on the legs of a right triangle would equal the area of the square erected on its hypotenuse. That’s all well and good, but why would that particular equation be of vital interest to the foreman of a joiner’s or mason’s crew? To try to find out, I decided to construct an exact-as-possible, large-scale drawing of the graphic upon which I could explore with a pair of dividers.

mason-mystery

The first thing I discovered was that the vertical line CL, which is fixed by the inherent baseline’s intersection points C and D, forms a right angle with the hypotenuse. Even though this result is likely nothing more than symbolic (there are a lot easier ways to generate a right angle with a compass and a straightedge), I believe this right angle – hidden in plain sight – is probably as important to the medal (and its wearer) as the theorem itself. The right angle (“recto” in Greek) is simply the right way to set a vertical post. (Wood’s superb resistance to compression happens when, and only when, the post is set at a right angle to level – an orientation that aligns the grain parallel to the force of gravity). It’s also the right angle to create symmetry to a baseline in common rectilinear structures (think cathedrals).

No reason to stop there, though. Exploring further revealed other attributes of this graphic that offer additional symbolic (and real) representations of the truths inherent in Geometry (note the traditional capital G). Print out the template (you’ll find it offered for free on the shopping page of www.byhandandeye.com) and take a look around on it for yourself. You’ll discover triangles with perfect 2:3 base-to-height proportions (one of the fundamental harmonics in music and architecture of the Medieval era); you’ll find sequences of the infamous triplet (the 3-4-5 triangle) revealed in the hypotenuse and even in the circumference of the circle that started it all; and you may find the module upon which the entire construction revolves. Have fun with this – I sure did!

– Jim Tolpin, ByHandandEye.com

Posted in By Hand & Eye, By Hound and Eye, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

How I ‘Met’ John Brown

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My first Welsh stick chair. It’s not much like John Brown’s chairs, but it was a start.

In 1996 I was hired as the managing editor at Popular Woodworking, a struggling second-tier woodworking magazine that focused on publishing project plans (17 Must-build Plans Inside! Build an Alien on a Swing!). At the time I was hired, I was a nascent hand-tool woodworker (not by choice, really) with my grandfather’s hand tools plus a Craftsman table saw that seemed determined to eat me.

Before being hired by the magazine, I’d been building tables, chests, benches and bookshelves, but what I really wanted to build was chairs. Chairs are, to me, functional sculpture. Building a chair in 1996, however, seemed impossible. It involved wet wood, compound angles, foreign joinery and weird tools.

Plus, I wasn’t sure what kind of chair I wanted to build. Windsor chairs are beautiful, but they are too feminine and ornate (in general) for my taste. And while I have always loved modern chairs from the Scandinavian countries, the joinery and materials in those chairs seemed even more daunting.

One day I picked up a copy of Good Woodworking magazine in our magazine’s office mail. It had a UK postmark. And opening it was like being struck by lightning. For the most part, Good Woodworking was like the magazine I worked for. It was project-focused (Chopsticks! Build Something for Your Toast!) and was aimed at the not-Fine Woodworking crowd.

But inside that issue was a John Brown column that featured a chair so beautiful and hound-like that I thought it would bound off the page. I wolfed that column down. Then I scurried to our magazine’s “morgue,” where we kept back issues of all our competitors’ magazines. I read everything that had John Brown’s name on it.

That, I decided, was the chair I would build.

It took me six or seven years to build that chair. And it involved a trip to Cobden, Ontario, during an icy March. It was a trip north with a guy (John Hoffman) who would eventually help me found Lost Art Press. But despite the delay and challenges, I built that chair, and it changed the course of my woodworking.

My Monthly Visitor

Good Woodworking was published monthly, which is an insane pace for a woodworking magazine. But I waited impatiently every month for it to arrive. I photocopied the John Brown articles (which I still have) and read them several times over.

My affection for Brown was three-fold. First, it was about the Welsh stick chair. He introduced me to the form that has guided my taste in chairs since 1996. Second, it was about hand tools. I’d been using hand tools almost exclusively since age 11, and it was shocking that someone else I admired did the same thing. I didn’t do it by choice (my parents wouldn’t let me use power tools), but thanks to Brown I decided that I was OK. And third was how he declared “I am an anarchist” in one of his columns. (In fact, his column was labeled “The Anarchist Woodworker” for a period of time.)

I’d been introduced to anarchism my by my cousin Jessamyn West in the early 1990s when she explained how it wasn’t always about the violent overthrow of all government to create chaos. It opened my mind, and during graduate school in 1993 I became a fan of Noam Chomsky and his views on media, hegemony and anarchism.

When Lucy and I moved to the Cincinnati area, I discovered Josiah Warren, the father of American Anarchism and an amazing Cincinnatian. When I walked into the doors of Popular Woodworking magazine in 1996 I was a closeted American Aesthetic Anarchist. Believe me, it’s not something you should list on your resume or even talk about over lunch.

John Brown was the first person to put “woodworking” and “anarchism” together, and it was pure genius. Though I doubt his ideas and mine about anarchism were similar, I am forever in debt to him for making that connection. That is why I dedicated “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” to him and Roy Underhill (another political subversive).

How Did We Get Here?

When Brown died in 2008, I hoped that someone from Good Woodworking would write the definitive book on Brown and include all of his columns from the magazine. It seemed a natural salute to one of our generation’s most influential woodworkers.

That didn’t happen. Friends of Brown asked me why Lost Art Press didn’t publish that book. Here’s the short answer: I didn’t know Brown personally, and so I left that task to friends who did.

A few years ago, Chris Williams sent me an email out of the blue. Chris worked with Brown for many years (though I’ll leave that story to his pen). He convinced me that Lost Art Press might be the best publisher for this important project.

So please know that I enter this arena reluctantly. While Brown is my woodworking hero, I’ve always thought I was unqualified to publish a book on him. I never met him. I’m an American. And etc.

But I am dedicated to do a good job. Lost Art Press is, at times, about lost causes or lost ideas. Our goal since 2007 has been to re-establish the balance between power tools and hand tools in the modern workshop. Exploring the ideas and influence of Brown will definitely tip those scales.

I am not sure when our book on Brown will be complete. In our world, a book is done when it’s done. But we will finish it, as sure as we finished a nine-year project on Charles Hayward or a seven-year project (at least) on A.J. Roubo.

And it will be something.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in John Brown Book, Uncategorized | 15 Comments

In the Works: The John Brown Book

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My tattered folder of John Brown columns that I’ve carried with me since 1996.

I am pleased to announce that Lost Art Press will publish a book on the life and work of the late John Brown, the Welsh chairmaker who is a personal hero.

The book will be written by Chris Williams and Kieran Binnie. Chris, a Welshman, apprenticed at age 16 as a carpenter and joiner and met John Brown in the early 1990s. He worked with Brown for many years making chairs until Brown retired from the craft. Kieran is a luthier, attorney, a regular columnist with Furniture & Cabinetmaking magazine in the UK and runs the Over the Wireless woodworking blog.

Together, they will put together the book that we think John Brown deserves.

As the plan for the book stands now, it will be divided into three parts. The first part will be a biography of Brown based on interviews with family, friends, fellow woodworkers and Chris’s personal experiences with Brown. The second part (we hope) will be some of Brown’s best columns from Good Woodworking magazine. We have yet to secure rights to republish these columns, but that is in the works. The third part of the book will be Chris and Kieran demonstrating how Brown built his chairs.

While the fantastic book “Welsh Stick Chairs” also does this, Chris will explain how many details of the chairs had evolved since the publication of that important book.

We have secured the blessing of almost all of Brown’s children for this book, which was important to me personally.

The road ahead for this book is a long one because we want to give it our very best. In the meantime, we’ll share many of the details we encounter in our research here on the blog. If you don’t know much about John Brown’s work and you read this blog, we think you’ll enjoy the months ahead.

Next up: I’ll write a blog entry about how John Brown entered my life (which was through the written word; I never met him). Then Chris will tell the story of how he came to work with Brown.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in John Brown Book, Uncategorized | 20 Comments