While other magazines, books and television shows promise you the “ultimate” router table, it’s only Lost Art Press that dares to show you the “Death Row Router Table.”
Before you watch the video, please endure the following story. And before you comment on this article, read every word of this article.
For the April 2000 issue of Popular Woodworking I wrote a story about the woodworking that is done by death-row inmates. It was a topic that took me more than a year to research and write.
For the most part, death-row inmates aren’t permitted to use machines or many power tools, and yet despite their isolation and the limitations put upon them, they build some amazing things. Imagine if you had limited materials, limited tools but (nearly) unlimited time.
That is why the story really interested me – it was a story about woodworking that occurs in some of the most unlikely places.
But you can’t write about anything dealing with the death penalty and avoid controversy. My story never took a stand on the death penalty and didn’t make the subjects out to be particularly sympathetic – I made sure to mention their crimes in the story. Yet, several readers cancelled their subscriptions – one reader even taped the pages of that story together so that he would never encounter it again.
And my boss at the time has said several times in public that we shouldn’t have published that story. I disagree with him. But that’s not why I’m telling you this story.
During my reporting I went down to visit Kentucky’s death row at the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville, Ky., and take some photos of the woodwork of the inmates. It was my first visit to a death row and as you can imagine, it was pretty spooky. The Eddyville facility is on Lake Barkley and looks like a foreboding castle overlooking a gorgeous river.
The warden of the prison, like all corrections officials I’ve dealt with in my career, was as open and as hospitable as possible. He gave us a lengthy tour of the facility, let us take as many photos as I liked and showed us an amazing display of prisoner-made weapons they had confiscated.
The most incredible thing about the weapons was how often little bits of woodworking equipment were used in making shanks – red clamp handles were a common handle. Jigsaw blades were a common blade.
During our tour, the Eddyville officers showed us the woodworking shop, where the prisoners made furniture for state offices and to learn a skill. And that’s where I saw this “router table.”
Note that the death row inmates weren’t allowed into the woodworking shop, so calling this a “death row” router table is completely disingenuous – just like every other router table story ever published. But this router table was the only thing the prisoners used – both for pattern-routing and for edge-forming.
I thought it was quite ingenious.
Note that I’m not advocating you do this in your shop. The safety police will come to your house and de-louse you and then take your router away forever. And if the safety nannies post comments here on this router table, I’m going to delete them – so be forewarned.
I am presenting this video as a nearly lost art and a document of how woodworking is done behind bars because it is interesting. I am not glorifying criminals. I’m not telling you to do something unsafe – no more than stories about airplane crashes encourage more airplane crashes.
— Christopher Schwarz