ATC Interview, Part I

Disobey Me

Author’s Note: During the next 10 months, Lost Art Press will mark the fifth anniversary of The Anarchist’s Tool Chest. As the quinquennial approaches, John and Chris might even have a few surprises up their sleeves. But before everyone gets all teary-eyed, Chris thought it would be more fitting to have someone grill him about everything that could be better about the book. I volunteered.

Hence, the conversation below is the first of what I anticipate will be a three-part interview. I focused on what I perceive to be some of the most challenging aspects of the book’s “anarchism.” The second interview will focus on the chest itself. In the final interview, I’ll ask Chris what major changes he would make to the book, if he was starting it all over again from scratch.

For the subsequent interviews, I’ll incorporate as many of my favorite reader inquiries as possible. So, if you’re dying to grill Chris about the ATC, please email me your questions.

— Brian Clites, your forum moderator and author of thewoodprof.com.
brian@lostartpress.com

—————–

Brian Clites: Good morning, Chris. Five years ago, you said that you disliked the word “anarchist.”  Now that the term has become synonymous – at least among woodworkers – with your approach to the craft, are you less frustrated with it? Or, perhaps, has that made you hate it all the more?

Christopher Schwarz: Good morning. I still dislike it, but I have embraced it nonetheless because it tends to get people talking about what it means. Like, “Here’s a middle-aged man with no tattoos or piercings. Conservative haircut. Horn rims. He’s an anarchist?”

Once you explain what aesthetic anarchism is (a tendency to avoid large organizations and embrace DIY and self-reliance), and what it’s not (violent; an effort to overthrow governments), then a real conversation can begin.

BC: Do you think, as a whole, U.S. society is more or less consumptive of chip-board crap than it was five years ago?  In other words, irrespective of your book’s philosophy, have things gotten better or worse for the furniture most people buy?

CS: I am an eternal optimist and am happy to see more Americans interested in well-made things created in their communities – bread, cheese, beer, leather goods, clothing, even flasks. I haven’t seen much interest in craft-made furniture, however. And that interest might be a long way off. What I do see, however, is an overall increased interest in “making” things, furniture, robots, jewelry, whatever.

That is where it will begin: People making things for themselves that clearly outclass the mas-manufactured junk. Then your friends see it and ask: “Will you make me one?”

My personal focus is not on society as a whole. I think my best hope is to train makers and get them to a very high level quickly – and that’s what “Furniture of Necessity” is all about. In some ways it is more radical than “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest.”

BC: Does the readership of LAP satisfy your mantra “disobey me”? Do you worry sometimes that too many of us – particularly novices – want you to be their guru?

CS: We all need some help at first – I sure did. So I’m not bothered by beginners who ask endless questions. That’s totally natural.

What I don’t like seeing is people who cannot cut the umbilical cord. Even after years of bench work and building dozens of great projects, they still want someone to validate their decision to buy a particular brand of 3/16” chisel. Or worse – for me to do the research for them.

BC: You described the ATC as a chest for the tools you really need, and proclaimed that you should probably throw away any tool that doesn’t fit in the chest. The ATC represented for you a moment of enlightenment, a breaking free from the endless cycle of tool attachment. Setting aside for the moment stationary machinery, how would you grade yourself as a tool consumer over the past five years?

CS: I’ve added only two tools to the chest since I finished building it in 2010: a shooting-board plane and a large specialty square for laying out compound angles. I’ve replaced a few tools, but those have actually been downgrades in terms of expense – a simpler coping saw and a Stanley 45 instead of my Barrett plow, for example.

I have bought several tools to review them for Popular Woodworking Magazine – but then I have given those away or sold them. I’m doing those reviews as a favor to Editor Megan Fitzpatrick. I am a reluctant reviewer.

BC: Stated a bit differently, what would you say if someone suggested that perhaps you’ve merely substituted hand tools for power equipment, and that you remain firmly wed to the joys and challenges of tool lust? 

CS: Let me put it this way: When I go into a general woodworking store (or the tool crib at the home center) I feel a little ill and upset while surrounded by all those jigs, tools and accessories you don’t need. So I just put my head down, pick up the shellac flakes or glue that I came for and head for the cashier.

My attitude toward tools has seeped into every aspect of my life, as I suspected it would. I beg my family not to get me gifts for holidays. I’ve given away all the cooking gizmos that people have bought me over the years. When I buy socks, I buy the best darn socks I can find.

One thing I want to add, however, is this: I don’t expect or ask anyone to behave like I do. I don’t ask my family to eschew consumer goods. Our household is not “The Mosquito Coast.” Everything I do is by example only.

BC: Thanks Chris. I look forward to our next conversation about the book.

CS: Likewise.

This entry was posted in The Anarchist's Tool Chest. Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to ATC Interview, Part I

  1. anfaith says:

    It’s interesting how this aesthetic has influenced me beyond woodworking in other creative endeavors. Simplicity, core concepts, tools for use, quality over quantity, focus on fundamentals, and don’t worship at the alter of “experts” but learn from those who do as well as those who teach. I’m learning copperplate writing with flexible dip pens, and these same set of principles apply.

    Thanks, Chris.

  2. Josh says:

    Thanks for the post, Brian and Chris. I like the sentiment that closes the interview, at the same time that I enjoy the mental image of Chris running around his house screaming “Ice is civilization!”

  3. One of the few good interviews I have read. Brian your questions clearly qualify you for this job in my opinion. You have my attention. >

  4. mnrwoods says:

    After reading ATC, I sold my table saw and almost every other power tool I own (save for a band saw) in order to buy quality hand tools. So I definitely drank the Kool-Aid. After thinking about how I work, realizing that my small wall cabinet is too cluttered, I am in process of building the chest. Now that I am firmly committed to hand tools, I am wondering how frequently Chris rips wood by hand, or if he resorts to his table saw more often than not.

    Perhaps you could also ask him if he takes his metal planes apart to clean out the dust trapped in them before stowing them in his chest at the end of the day. It seems to me that after taking such pains to seal dust out of the chest, I would not want to introduce dust via the tools themselves.

    • Now that I am firmly committed to hand tools, I am wondering how frequently Chris rips wood by hand, or if he resorts to his table saw more often than not.

      When I work for myself, I do almost everything by hand *except* for thicknessing of stock. When I am doing commission/production work (four Roorkee chairs, for example), I fire up the table saw.

      Perhaps you could also ask him if he takes his metal planes apart to clean out the dust trapped in them before stowing them in his chest at the end of the day.

      Yup. I clean out the planes every time I sharpen with a European badger-hair brush. Only EUROPEAN badger hair will work. And the badger’s name must be Fredrico.

      Keeping the tools clean and oiled is easy when you have only three bench planes….

  5. Reblogged this on Sawdust & Woodchips and commented:
    This book and it is unquestionably a great read .

  6. 4narchist1 says:

    I think the importance of ATC requires the literary description: it is a seminal work. I choose that description because the definition is “having a strong influence on ideas, works, etc” and “contributing to the seeds of later development. The word choice is also perfect with Chris’ brand of humor when considering the medical definition!

    I take wordkworking classes at Homestead Heritage with Master Craftsman Frank Strazza. A poster in the classroom reads “Who will inherit the family particleboard?”

  7. Scott Taylor says:

    ATC added to my world, it did not take away. I was fortunate enough to attend classes with Tage Frid a couple of decades ago, he was the most practical of craftsmen, the man loved his belt sander but he could knock out a hundred dovetails with a bow saw… So to me this is not an either/or but a both or more. Hand planes? Yup. Refurbished Disston D-7 and D-8? Of course. Unisaw and Festool? On a regular basis.

  8. One question.
    On what planet is a proper pitch fork going to fit into your so called “Anarchist” tool chest?
    I need a new hero…

  9. Mike Siemsen says:

    I have always preferred The Razor Back products of Ames or those of Union Fork and Hoe, The three tine fork is excellent for feeding hay and bedding with straw. Since you don’t feed with the same fork that you clean up with the 5 tine manure fork is the one to use on the other end of the stock. Both can be used interchangeably when gathering with neighbors to hunt down whatever is bothering you at the time. Reanimated corpses, government officials, reanimated government officials. Ames was one of the founders of the transcontinental rail road. Where Irish and Chinese wore out a lot of shovels. the handles are too long to fit in the tool chest, hang them up!

    3 tine
    http://www.razor-back.com/tool/feed-forks/73115-3-oval-tine-hay-fork/
    5 tine
    http://www.razor-back.com/tool/forks/74113-5-oval-tine-manure-fork-48-in-handle/
    note the limited lifetime warranty!

    The Razor Back shovel is probably the best shovel made but looks out of place in a mob.
    http://www.razor-back.com/tool/digging-shovels/45657-round-point-shovel-with-closed-back-and-dual-rivet/

  10. proclus153 says:

    I’m reading ATC right now, and I particularly liked the question about CS’s comfort with his status as a woodworking guru. I’ve often wondered, given the sentiments expressed in ATC, whether he is disconcerted by the fact that he is the closest thing to a tastemaker the microcosm of handtool woodworking has right now.

    My theory on the insecurity that seems to keep a lot of new and amateur woodworkers like myself from venturing out on their own is that they have no frame of reference for what it means to make something. Too much of the information on craft that a novice is likely to encounter in a casual search consists of spiffy, pornographic images of a perfection that seems totally unattainable, and causes those who don’t give up entirely to retreat into pursuits in which they feel like they have less chance of screwing up: tool acquisition, sharpening, references to authority, etc.. The important antidote to that way of thinking that I believe ATC tried to present, and that I hope Furniture of Necessity elaborates on, is that your right to make things isn’t something conferred on you by virtue of special training, or the number of tools you have, or even your skill level. It’s part of
    being human. One of the most important ideas I’ve encountered in my reading on the subject I generally think of as the “philosophy of craft” is that the striving for perfection has to go hand in hand with actually getting the job done. Because amateur woodworkers are, by definition, not pressed by the necessity of getting a job done, and are bombarded with images of perfection toward which they should strive, they often overlook the importance of getting in the shop and building something, even if they will inevitably end up falling far short of perfection.

  11. raney says:

    I like bad brains and leather jackets.

    Anarchy for President!

    No, wait… anarchy for EMPEROR!

  12. morse2496 says:

    @lostartpress socks #babyanarchists

    A post shared by Matt Morse (@mmorse2496) on

    Are these the best socks you could find?

Comments are closed.