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: 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.