The Church of the Clocked Screws

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I clock my screws, meaning I orient the slot in the screw heads so they are all vertical or horizontal. But I don’t think it’s a mark of superior aesthetics. It’s just something I do, like lining up the silverware on the dining table just so. I can’t help it.

Some people who don’t clock their screws, however, take perverse glee in sending me photos of beautiful antiques with their screws un-clocked. And the images come with a note saying something like: “I guess James Krenov was a moron and didn’t clock his screws, you elitist meat wrapper.”

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Yesterday I took a drive to Columbus, Ind., one of the country’s repositories of excellent post-war architecture. Check out the Wikipedia page. Or the NPR story on the town. Or the great Kogonada-directed movie, “Columbus.”

My favorite building we toured was the First Christian Church, designed by Eliel Saarinen. Considered one of the first modern church structures in America, the building offers nod after nod to the cathedrals and churches of Europe. Yet the building, completed during World War II, is a complete break with the Old World. Even after 75 years, the church feels a beacon of hope, optimism and light.

One of the prominent features of the interiors is the extensive wooden lattice work, which is affixed with tens of thousands of perfectly clocked screws.

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One of the women on our tour gasped when this was pointed out. “How,” she asked, “did they do this?”

I opened my mouth for a second and then shut it.

Clocking screws is not a matter of over-torquing or under-torquing screw heads. It’s a simple matter of thinking about the problem for two seconds and devising a simple solution.

Screws are mass-manufactured items. The slot and the worm of a batch of screws are consistent across all the screws in a box. Now add to the equation a pilot hole (or counterbore) that is the same diameter every time. How can we use these consistencies to clock the screw?

If you don’t know the answer yet, try this experiment. Drill a pilot hole in a scrap of wood. Start a screw in the pilot with the slot facing 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock. Screw it down until it is snug. Note where the slot ends up. Let’s say it ends up at 1 o’clock and 7 o’clock.

What would happen if you started the next screw with the slot pointing to 11 o’clock and 5 o’clock?

— Christopher Schwarz

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Posted in Campaign Furniture, Uncategorized | 37 Comments

Failure in Curly Oak & Pine

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It doesn’t matter if you’ve been woodworking every day for 23 years, failure will find you on a regular basis.

It doesn’t matter if you make a dozen drawings. Build a half-scale model. Remake the seat twice. Remake the legs twice. Or do a careful dry-fit.

All that is not enough.

Above is the latest failed prototype stool for the expanded edition of “The Anarchist’s Design Book.” Like my design for the armchair for this book, the stool design is fighting me every step of the way.

This design failed both mechanically and visually. Mechanical failure: The seat cracked a tad in two places during assembly. This is the result of the undercarriage being too complex for a small structure. All 20 mortises were drilled by eye (no drill press). And the combined slight imperfections stacked up to make the undercarriage difficult to assemble and slightly twisted. And if I have trouble assembling this stool, imagine the problems a new woodworker might have who has never built one.

Visually, the rung positions of the stool leave me flat. The lower rungs are positioned so both short people and tall people can use the stool comfortably. The different rung heights accommodate popliteal heights at different ends of the bell curve of people. And by that measure, the stool works quite well.

The top rungs were positioned so you could easily pick up the stool with one hand to move it around. That idea nearly worked. The problem is that the stool swings toward you when you pick it up and might bark your shins.

By focusing on those functional bits, I made myself a stool that’s a bit visually boring.

It’s not a total loss. We’ll use this stool at the storefront until the cracks in the seat get worse (they might not). Then we’ll use it to make a bonfire and roast some weenies.

Back to the drawing board. Luckily, I have about four more stool sketches to explore.

— Christopher Schwarz

P.S. Comments are disabled because I’ve beat myself up enough with this project and don’t need the help of the internet.

Posted in The Anarchist's Design Book, Uncategorized

Downloading from Conscious Mind

1This is an excerpt from “The Intelligent Hand” by David Binnington Savage. 

Then the stress starts building. This is important. You are a professional; you need to be able to do this creative stuff on a wet Wednesday when the muse is fast asleep in her pretty little bed. The stress is part of turning up the heat to make you work better. We need a little stress now and again. I have given a delivery date to the client. I have told them I will be with them with drawings that do not yet exist. Next week! I must deliver, or I lose all chance of getting the work. I plan for three days of studio work – no phone, no interruptions and no other jobs in that time frame.

My goal, by the end of day one, is to have one set of presentation drawings done and ready to go. That morning, before tea time, is downloading time. I go through a routine – an important routine. (This is mine; you choose your own.) It sets the tone, and it gets my head ready for this special work.

I sharpen five pencils – not six or four, but five nice cedar pencils. I turn off the phone, I make a cup of coffee, I unplug all the digital things that Ping. I put on a playlist of creative music, stuff with no language that I can understand. Opera is good; I don’t speak Italian. A nice cup of coffee, the dog sitting quietly under the desk and I am ready to roll. All this is “Othering” – doing anything other than sitting down to do the damn drawing. But it’s very valuable, as it signals to a part of the head that Special Creative Work is coming, and there is a guy back there – I call him George – who needs waking up. Get Ready to Rock n’ Roll, George!

So, you sit and doodle (well, that term is rather pejorative; this is a kind of drawing that allows the mind to run free). It’s drawing without too much direction. Watch carefully what comes off the end of the pencil. Do not be critical; note it and move on. This is fluid thinking time. Artist Paul Klee famously called it “taking a line for a walk.”

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When I do this, I tend to use a book with a very fine 5mm grid on the page. I get these from a supermarket that imports them from France, where they are used in French schools. The grid helps me to quickly draw in proportion by counting off the squares. It also helps me keep verticals vertical and horizontals …well, you get it. Sometimes, I use a technical .05mm pen instead of a pencil. Pens are great, as they make you draw very deliberately. I almost never use an eraser at this stage.

Writer and comedian John Cleese, when talking about creativity, described how he wrote the scripts for “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” He was surprised he always had more ideas than his fellow writers, but he found he dug deeper past the first idea.

“I would ideally go into a room with no distractions, that is most important, and sit with a pad and paper. Forty minutes would be a good span. The problem, in my case the requirement for next week’s script, would be there. It would sit alongside me, not confronting me, but be there with me in the room.”

The first ideas that pop out of the pencil are the ones from the front of the head. They are the conscious images, the ideas that you have had before and are reheating for this solution. This is old stuff – and it may be fine. Your client likes you for what you have already done, so a version of that may suit the job in hand. Keep drawing, though – you might get past the obvious first idea to another then another. This is good. Remember, this is non-critical and non-celebratory drawing; just dump the stuff on the damn page. Draw fast and free. Fill a page with quick scribbly images, download and move on.

After about a half-hour I start to find myself repeating things. This is when it’s good to go back, review, find the best sketch and take a break. There is no point going on, breaking yourself over this problem. Note when you are done and stop. This kind of work – this downloading – is exhausting, even to the young and strong.

Meghan Bates

Posted in The Intelligent Hand | 2 Comments

Crucible Scrapers (Sold Out)

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I just packaged up a batch of Crucible Card Scrapers and they are en route to our warehouse tonight. We have sold out as of 8:15 this morning….

As I mentioned last week, we are consolidating the Lost Art Press and Crucible websites to make our lives (and yours) a bit simpler. We have set up a bunch of redirects to help direct the traffic to the right place, but we are sure there will be 404s and LOLs. Apologies for sending you literature on sausage making at home. It was not our intent.

Back to scrapers. This isn’t the biggest batch we’ve made, but we hope this helps satisfy the demand. Note that we have not raised the price (we resist Adam Smith’s invisible backhand).

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Crucible Tool, Uncategorized | 13 Comments

Three who make a difference

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This weekend I went through the final proof of Marc Adams’s forthcoming book, The Difference Makers, to be published this summer by Lost Art Press. It’s a rich portfolio of work by 30 makers in diverse woodworking forms and styles. Although I was familiar with some of the woodworkers before I read the book, Marc introduced me to several new ones. The work is gorgeous—technically brilliant and in many cases jaw-droppingly inspiring. I also found Marc’s profiles of the artists a compelling read. Even though I’ve now read every word of this book twice, I am going to purchase a copy when it’s available. I want to be able to look back at those photographs and be reminded to do my best.

Each of us can come up with a list of individuals we admire. Marc presents the artists in this book as exemplary members of a generation on the cutting edge of craft, not only on account of their hands-on work, but for their thinking (and in some cases, writing) about tools, furniture, sculpture and surface decoration. As I reflected on who might be included in my own list of difference makers during a Sunday afternoon walk, I came up with a short list of names: Megan Fitzpatrick, Sarah Marriage and Laura Mays. Here’s why.

I’ve been a woodworker since 1980 and have made my living as a cabinetmaker for most of those years. As a woman in a field long populated primarily by men, I’ve had my challenges, ranging from vague expressions of gender-based discrimination to sexist hijinks and one straightforward sexual proposition. Worst of all, one skilled co-worker at a small shop in rural England quit his job a few weeks after I was hired and killed himself a few months later. “It’s because of you,” said another employee who had known us both. It was 1985, and I was in my mid 20s, mature enough to recognize the insanity of this response to the hiring of a woman, yet still vulnerable to a deep sense of guilt.

Even so, the most insidious effect of being a woman in a field where men have almost exclusively made the rules and determined the standards has come from seeing woodworking as a field into which I was intruding. The problem was not that I minded being an intruder in a men’s club (I didn’t); it had more to do with how I perceived myself and others. On the exceedingly rare occasions when a woman woodworker did appear in the national media (most notably, Aimé Ontario Fraser in the pages of Fine Woodworking), the main thing I, along with most people, noticed was that she was a woman. By far the most common response from readers to editors upon the publication of an article by a woman has long been “Thank you for featuring a woman in the magazine!” What about her work?! Oh, sorry; that has long been secondary to her gender by virtue of its rarity in this context.

Accepting that you don’t really belong does a number on how you see yourself and others, no matter how hard you tell yourself to ignore this message, recognizing intellectually that its validity has long passed. I am of a generation raised to be nice, even in the face of insult. “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me” was the prescribed mantra when I was a child. “They’re being stupid. Just ignore them” came later on, followed by “Don’t make a big deal of your gender. That only makes gender even more of a focus. Just get on with your work. It will speak for itself.” (Please see the last sentence of the previous paragraph.)

Three decades later, Megan, Sarah, and Laura seriously shook up my world. Not only did they mention gender; they made it a focus of their work (note: a focus, not the only one), and they had a powerful rationale for doing so. Women now constitute a significant percentage of woodworkers, especially in the field of studio furniture. Publishing media should represent this shift, not only by citing statistics, but by including images of women working, as they long have with men. When it comes to influencing how we see the world at an existential level, visual imagery is far more powerful than numbers.

Beyond concern for proportionate representation, we all need role models. My role models in woodworking have all been men. Sure, the world of social media today is filled with young women working with wood, but those depictions are new, and notably, most are self-generated. For decades I was comfortable being the tough girl in the shop or on the jobsite, but I couldn’t see myself continuing in this field once I reached middle age. I couldn’t even conceive of how a 50-year-old woman cabinetmaker might look. What Megan and Sarah wrote and said about the importance of visibility catapulted me into a visceral realization that the question of who is granted visibility is not a matter of chance. Sure, as some have pointed out, it depends in part on the willingness of members of under-represented groups to be seen–a willingness that isn’t always present. But ultimately the people who determine visibility, at least, beyond social media, are those who control traditional publishing media and the institutions and organizations with sufficient cultural clout to venture beyond prevailing norms. Finding bases for inclusion often entails broadening the criteria for acceptance (whether into a publication, an exhibit, a club, or a guild) beyond long-established understandings of what constitutes success and what’s considered worthwhile.

Every day I look at Instagram posts by women woodworkers—sculptors, studio furniture makers, designer-builders of custom work and more. More and more women are appearing on the pages of Fine Woodworking magazine, American Craft and related periodicals. My eyes are now so saturated by images of women woodworkers that I no longer focus on their gender, but on their work. One paradox we face today is that the only way to stop going on and on about gender is by drawing attention to skewed proportional representation and calling for an overdue adjustment, as Laura Mays did in an influential Facebook post in February, 2017, Megan did in her editor’s letter that same year and Sarah did in an essay for American Craft.

These three women, all accomplished teachers as well as woodworkers, have significantly shifted my views on the importance of paying attention to gender. In doing so, they have also helped me see myself in a healthier way. I call that making a difference.—Nancy Hiller, author of Making Things Work

Posted in Uncategorized | 19 Comments

Watch Jögge Sundqvist Build a Chair

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Jögge Sundqvist, the author of “Slöjd in Wood,” was recently featured on the Swedish program Go’kväll and is shown building and painting a chair.

The program is in Swedish, but you can still learn a lot from watching the video. First, it’s great to see where Jögge works and the incredible pile of potential parts he warehouses. Also nice: The way he splits the spindles for the backrest and then carves them so they are sympathetic to the pith in the branches. And the details on how he fits his legs.

You can see his finished chair on his Instagram feed.

To watch, click here and scroll forward to the 32:00 mark – just after the make-up tips.

— Christopher Schwarz

 

P.S. Thanks to Heather Barthell for the tip!

Posted in Sloyd in Wood, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

More Scrapers on the Way & Other Crucible News

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This was my fun activity yesterday – hand-stamping 1,000 envelopes for the next batch of card scrapers.

We’re working on the next batch of Crucible Card Scrapers this weekend and will have them in the store in the coming week. We ran into a production snag at the waterjet cutter, but we’ve gotten that fixed so things are moving smoothly again.

As to Lump Hammers, Brendan Gaffney is planning on assembling another big batch this week. We’re also working on a way to greatly increase our output (believe it or not it has to do with tool paths on the milling machine).

As I’ve mentioned before, we are quite grumpy when things are out of stock and are working at this every day. We greatly appreciate everyone’s patience and hope this is a short-term problem.

Website Change
As a way to streamline our lives, we’re moving all the Crucible tools into the Lost Art Press store. When the move is complete, we’ll close the dedicated Crucible website and redirect all the traffic to Lost Art Press.

Consolidating the websites will save us loads of time, which is the primary reason for the switch. We’ll also save a little money by having only one website.

I am certain there will be some chatter out in the world that this consolidation is “the beginning of the end” for Crucible. I assure you, it is absolutely not. In fact, I’m planning on getting a Crucible tattoo on my forearm – my first – to match John’s. That’s how dedicated we are to growing the tool business.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Crucible Tool, Uncategorized | 31 Comments