When I work in the shop or on my laptop, I find that I do a lot of staring.
As I assemble a project, I often catch myself just staring at the parts or the assemblies for many long minutes until I shake myself out of the fugue state. I don’t know what the heck I’m doing. Processing things? Getting used to their shape? Evaluating? Brain farting?
But I do the same thing when I’m writing. I end up staring at a lot of photos and sentences at times. Again, it’s like my brain is on “pause.”
The end result, however, is that I get some small insights from my mouth-breather behavior. At least, I think I do.
I did a lot of staring at tool chests and tools as I wrote “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” (which is perhaps why it took 14 months to complete). As I gazed on the beautiful inlaid chests and then the chests with pedestrian guts, something clicked in my head.
The fancy chests were mostly in books. The plain chests were mostly ones I had seen in person.
In fact, the only real fancy chests I had encountered “in the wild” were at John Sindelar’s Tool Museum. Sindelar has a taste for tools that range from the refined to the outrageous. But he doesn’t collect many plain things.
Tool chests that are plain – both inside and out – are what you will find at flea markets, antique store and at many tool meets. They are painted on the outside and plain pine on the inside. The only vibrant color inside is usually the stains of hard use.
After much staring at chests, I realized that simple and plain chests are the dominant form, easier to build and just as useful as a chest that is inlaid with pearl and ebony.
And while my tool chest is as plain as I could manage, that doesn’t mean I dislike the fancy chests. Far from it.
This weekend while at Sindelar’s museum I made a visual inventory of his chests on display (he has many more in storage, including an awesome one with secret compartments).
By far, my favorite chest in Sindelar’s collection is the one he calls the “seven tarts” chest. The interior of the chest is moderately elaborate, with some inlay on the sliding tills. But the highlight of the chest is a series of seven frames planted on the inside of the lid. Each frame features a photo of a different woman (real or sculptural). It’s not pornographic (unlike Sindelar’s mermaid brace), but it is charming.
I’ve included some of the chests on display this weekend at the museum for you to peruse in the gallery above. Just remember while you are staring at these chests that you aren’t going to find this stuff at a garage sale. So keep staring.
— Christopher Schwarz