Arts & Kraft Inc. Furniture

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“You’ve got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.”

— Charlie Parker

“We believed punk rock existed through people like ATV and Mark Perry. He said, ‘Here’s a chord. Here’s another chord. Form a group.’ And we believed in the things that were being said. So, it became true.”

— Billy Childish, guitarist and vocalist for Thee Headcoats

During a recent trip to Seattle, my family and I spent a day at the Experience Music Project to see the exhibit on the band Nirvana and to take in the permanent and fantastic exhibit on the history of the electric guitar.

As my daughter Katy and I made our way through the Nirvana exhibit I was blown away by the T-shirts, posters, album covers and instruments that had been made by the musicians themselves in the Pacific Northwest’s punk scene. It reinforced something that I have long thought but have never expressed: Making furniture and making music is similar.

You can be establishment. You can be punk. Or you can be anywhere in between.

Me, I’m a more of a punk furniture maker. I have little interest in high-style pieces that were made for the ultra-rich – things that are elaborate and require immense technical skill. Yeah, I respect the hands and the training needed to carve a Newport shell or create a hunting scene in marquetry. But it has no connection to the way I live or my taste in objects.

I like three three chords. I like simple lines. I like music that was made without any hope of selling it to the masses. I like furniture that was made by unknown amateurs who made what they could with materials at hand and sometimes struck gold. I like music that was written, recorded, printed and distributed by the players. I like furniture that was designed, built, finished and used by its makers.

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I like music that cannot be pegged to particular moment in pop history. I like furniture that could have been made in the 17th century or the 21st.

Where is this sort of furniture? It’s everywhere (outside of museums), and it’s invisible to most furniture historians.

Where do you find the plans for this furniture? You don’t. There really aren’t plans. This stuff is so basic and so animalistic that plans aren’t needed. But there are three chords. Three joints. A few basic tools. A few progressions.

After that it’s up to you.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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23 Responses to Arts & Kraft Inc. Furniture

  1. Matt Merges says:

    Yes on all counts. And this is why, on the lid of my Anarchist Tool Chest, are stickers of the punk bands The Ramones, and X. They remind me to put it all out there, and make real things.

  2. Chris, no offence, but you are establishment in the woodworking world. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Being an entrepreneur is admirable and makes the world go ’round.

    If being punk means practicing a skill regardless of its economic potential then why would it matter if you carve shells or play classical flamenco guitar? Look at Shaker, it used to be “punk” and now it’s in almost every new subdivision kitchen in North America.

    Who cares about labelling someone’s skills? Practice and create.

    • I reject that label. Vociferously. Simple as that.

      I am not employed. I don’t have employees. We make books that others won’t make. If that’s establishment, then I have a weird dictionary.

      • Chris, I understand your point. Maybe I’m confusing your current success as an entrepreneur with being “establishment”. I realize you are running a business and need to defend that, but my comment was not intended as criticism. With respect.

  3. Dan Westfall says:

    And all the people said, “Amen.” Music and wood woodworking go hand in hand for me too. I’m just more talented in woodworking.

    It probably doesn’t help any but I don’t put you on a pedestal or think of you as an “establishment.” Your a solid woodworker and a damn fine author. I share your ideals… and sometimes get irritated that your more gifted in articulating them(snicker).

    Lost Art Press is doing a wonderful service to our craft, and for that I look forward to shaking your hand at Handworks. Take care, Dan Westfall

  4. Mark Maleski says:

    Nuh- uh, Bird was not establishment. Big bands were, and they looked at him as a rebel because he played music you couldn’t dance to, with odd sounding 9ths and 11ths. Good post, but consider swapping Charlie Parker with someone like Joshua Bell.

  5. brentpmed says:

    There is your next shirt design: “All I need is a Red Staked Chair, three chords and the truth”

  6. Sean Hughto says:

    “you can play a shoestring if you’re sincere.” – John Coltrane

  7. Thought it funny you had to say “the band Nirvana…”, does the cover of Nevermind, inspire to not chase the “all mighty dollar” and just take pleasure in your art?
    Also assuming you daughter new about Nirvana before she got to Seattle.
    Rock on!

  8. This post really “resonated” with me. (Roll on snare drum… crickets)

  9. error4 says:

    The analogy is very good. I think Kurt Cobain would have found a kindred spirit in you, Chris!

  10. woodworkerme says:

    you can be a punky woodwroker but you can’t work punky wood. well may I should try, it mite be the next big thing

  11. drewstout says:

    I really like the rise of the anti-establishment woodworking movement over the past 5-10 years. I’m not romanticizing it as “us vs. corporate woodworking America”. It’s just that I’ve really started to enjoy woodworking much more since I’ve begun gravitating toward hand tools and more basic concepts. For me, half the fun is exploring new and fundamental ideas, which are really just old ideas in most every case, but ideas that have nonetheless been buried under convenience and mass production for a few generations.

    I know most people prefer to stick with buying 4/4 lumber and using power tools to achieve a pristine look, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But I’m having a blast going the other way!

  12. Jeremy says:

    I’m not sure there is a “the man” in woodworking to stick it to. If there is, it would be middleman distributors IKEA, Crate&Barrel, PotteryBarn etc. just as the musicians playing pop are still musicians with possibly a good style, it’s really RIAA and labels that are the establishment and force a particular trend.

    Just like in music, in furniture it can all be simple and then there is a throwaway riff or hook that can define an entire maker, genre or era and can even in it’s simplicity, can take all your senses to a very specific place and time. That’s what I strive to find, even if at times others might think me completely tonedeaf.

    BTW I love that embellished scrollwork on that simple trestle. I’m interested in learning more about it.

  13. Chris, I think you would enjoy the book “Our Band Could Be Your Life” by Michael Azerrad. Punk for many people is not about being anti-establishment, although for many that was it all it is, but rather about a DIY sensibility as an answer to the corporate regime that dominated the music business in the 1970s and 1980s. Music then, as now, is disposable and finance-driven, with little ability for the artist to connect to the listener. But there is another way, and the book documents the way so many groundbreaking punk and “alternative” acts pursued not just a new music style but an underground music business model, just like what you noted at the exhibit.

  14. jenohdit says:

    I’m not seeing the connection between an approach to wood working that emphasizes the use of quality tools, their proper setup, and traditional skills with an approach to music that generally doesn’t value similar elements of musical tradition. Sure, there is self publishing and self distribution, but that is nothing new, nor particularly “punk” unless my grandfather the minister was more punk than I realized.

    It is possible to be both competent at writing music and to be “punk” if rejection of the mainstream industry is the measure. Harry Partch, William Colvig, Moondog (Louis Thomas Hardin), George Anthiel, Charles Ives even, and many many others whose work will never be celebrated in a Frank Gehry designed shrine to artists who have captivated the mass market have proven that.

    Partch created his own 43 note musical scale and notation system. He founded his own recording label in the 50s and distributed records through mail order, and he designed and built his own musical instruments which he performed on while conducting an ensemble. I think Lost Arts Press has much more in common with that than a band that had one good song in them.

  15. So what I read was……you are going to cut the arms off of a beehive T, put your divider logo on a back patch (for your jean jacket), and meet us in October at Fest in Gainesville for the best punk rock weekend of the year!

    We will save you some floor space……and bring Raney (His “about” mentions The Stooges).

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