Because I’m not teaching anytime in the near future (and because I quite enjoy eating), I have time to film three new DVDs with the crew at Popular Woodworking Magazine.
The first one, which we begin filming Monday morning, is the bookcase project from my upcoming book “The Anarchist’s Design Book.” It’s a contemporary bookcase built entirely by hand using nails, dados, rabbets, tongue-and-groove joinery and hide glue.
I spent a lot of time rethinking book storage when designing this piece. As a publisher, book collector and woodworker, I have a lot of things I like and dislike about book storage. I hate sagging shelves. And I think a lot of our choices when using adjustable shelves are ill-conceived.
This project is as much a treatise on bookshelves as a lesson in building something by hand.
The second project is on making chairs without chairmaking tools. It was inspired by the stick chair I built for “The Anarchist’s Design Book,” but I’ll be designing a new (but similar) chair for the DVD.
Many woodworkers are intimidated by chairmaking because of the angles, tools required and the tradition of using green wood. After building chairs for almost 12 years now for customers, I have developed methods for building chairs using cabinetmaking tools.
I don’t have a shavehorse, froe or many other traditional tools. And you can make a gorgeous chair without those tools if you use your noggin.
The third project is the my ambitious yet.
After many years of putting it off, I’ve decided to do a DVD on building “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” from start to finish on DVD. This project will probably eat up a month of time to do right – and I will do it right. During the last five years of building this chest over and over in classes, I’ve learned a few things about making it easier for beginners to build.
And because people actually seem interested in making this chest – which I love as much as my bench – I feel obligated to do this for all those who cannot afford to take a class and need a little help in getting started.
Those of you who know me personally know that I really dislike being on camera. I’d rather have a double colonoscopy. (What’s that? From both ends? Shudder.) But I’ll take a stiff drink in the morning and muddle my way through.
It has been about three months since I became a blog minion so it must be time to lob a mudball towards Chris. Afterall, in my first post I revealed Chris’ “special” relationship with a certain jack plane. You can read about Schwarzlandiahere.
The Harry Potter-Chris Schwarz connection came to me while working on the post Fear and Anarchy in Fort Mitchell (and thanks to all of you who joined in and twisted some literature with me). The opening sentence to the first Harry Potter book just didn’t work for that post. Next, I tried the second chapter and things got a bit more interesting and uncanny.
“Nearly ten years had passed since the Dursleys had woken up to find their anarchist on the front step…” And a few more pages into Chapter 2 we find this passage, “…Chris had a thin face, knobby knees, black hair and bright brown eyes. He wore roundish glasses held together with a lot of hide glue because of all the times Wally the cat had punched him on the nose. The only thing Chris liked about his own appearance was a very thin scar on his forehead that was shaped like a swooping A.”
When I showed the Harry Potter photo comparison to Chris his response was not about his resembleance to Harry but about his smile. His exact comment was, “Oy, I look so manic in that photo. I hate smiling with teeth.” My response to that nonsense:
Chris, there is nothing wrong with smiling with teeth. There is no mania, or at least not very much. Smile, Chris, smile.
Now, I must get back to reading (and preparing to index) the portion of “The Anarchist’s Design Book” that Chris sent me a few days ago. Except for some artwork the first two-thirds of the book are done. As for the first two chapters, Chris is….feisty.
P.S. Thank you to whoevertook the smiley photo of Chris.
I follow one of Britain’s National Trust blogs that specializes in chinoiserie. Through the blog I was familiar with Erddig, a very popular National Trust site, outside of Wrexham in Wales. What I didn’t know was how the painting above was related to Erdigg and the extraordinary relationship between the Yorke family, Edward Prince and his successors.
The painting of Edward Prince has been in my file for a while but until I could decipher the writing on the scroll, Edward had to wait. Last night I found the poem and much more about the carpenters of Erddig.
Erdigg was built in the 1680s and passed into the Yorke family in 1733. Phillip Yorke I (1743-1804) commissioned portraits of six estate servants and composed poems to be included in the paintings. The paintings were completed between 1791-1796 and in addition to the carpenter, included an elderly housemaid, the blacksmith, the gamekeeper, the kitchen porter and the butcher and publican in Wrexham. Except for the butcher, all the servants were middle aged or elderly and had been in service from a young age. The series of paintings and the poems started a Yorke family tradition of acknowledging and honoring the servants of Erdigg. This remarkable and unique tradition continued for almost 200 years with the paintings, and later photos, displayed in the Servants Hall.
John Prince, father of Charles and grandfather to Edward, was the first recorded carpenter at Erddig. Charles Prince, known as “The Black Prince” because of his dark complexion, succeeded John. Edward became his father’s apprentice. As head carpenter Charles was paid 1 shilling 6 pence per day for a 6 day week; Edward the apprentice was paid 1 shilling per day for a 6 day week. In 1779 Edward succeeded his father as Head Carpenter and we learn a bit more about him from the poem in the painting:
Phillip York called these little compositions of his “Crude-Ditties” and actually published a volume of them. It isn’t a poem meant for a collection of classics, but a message of warm regard for the Prince family as a mainstay of Erddig and an affectionate thank you to Edward for his long service. And four wives! With each new wife I can just imagine what kind of greeting Phillip gave Edward, can’t you?
In 1830 Thomas Rodgers was the carpenter at Erddig and at age 48 he was painted at his workbench. Simon Yorke II wrote the inscription at the bottom.
Rodgers started working at Erddig in 1798 first as a pig-boy and later as a thatcher’s assistant and a slater. After working at Erddig for over 65 years he was made a pensioner at age 90 and died in 1875 at age 94. Twenty-two years after the painting we find Thomas in a photograph taken in 1852. He is holding his saw with his son and successor James Rodgers next to him.
The Yorke family documentaion of their domestic staff gives us a rare look at a 19th-century craftsman in a painting and a photograph. It is a reminder of how much life was changing mid-century. Although the pace of change was slower on a country estate, the traditional ways of life and of making things by hand was being challenged and changed by new technologies and machines.
John Jones, a descendant of Erddig servants, was the head carpenter at age 56 in 1911 when his photo was taken. He entered service in 1872.
Thanks to the Yorke family’s respect for their staff we have a glimpse into the lives of multiple generations of carpenters at one country estate. Hands down, this beats Gosford Park (except for Clive Owen) and Downton Abbey any day.
In 1973 Erddig became a National Trust property. Not long after that a local mine collapsed threatening the stability of the main house and out buildings and a major job of shoring up was undertaken. Although I couldn’t find any photographs of the carpenter’s shop taken in the 19th century I did find a few photos taken prior to and during the 1970s renovations, and a few current photos. Except for the current photos of the workshop all images in this post are from the National Trust.
If you would like to learn more about Erddig go here.
Rona Walker from New Zealand wrote “A Brief Story of the Prince Family” for a family reunion. I wonder if there are any Prince woodworkers in New Zealand?
P.S. If you would like to see the original six paintings by John Walters, including the blacksmith, go here.
I adore my Millers Falls mitre box, and I’ve been bemused by a recent backlash against mitre boxes, which ruled the American worksite and garage during the first half of the 20th century.
The argument against a mitre box is that you don’t need it. You should develop your sawing skills to the point where you don’t need a mechanical contrivance to hold the saw for you. The things are training wheels. And you are a candy-bottom wuss girl if you use one.
To these people I say this: You don’t cut many miters, do you?
Metallic manual mitre boxes are more accurate than the electric miter saw in my experience. They allow a level of finesse and control that you aren’t going to get with freehand sawing. And chances are, if you aren’t a nincompoop, your miters will be dead-on off the saw with a mitre box.
Oh, and when armed with a shooting board they radically decrease your need for a table saw.
If you own a mitre box, you need to know how to maintain and use it.
So this evening I present to you a scan of a vintage Millers Falls manual for using the company’s mitre boxes. I guarantee that even if you are an ace, you are going to learn something from this short little manual.
The manual was given to me by the late Carl Bilderback. During my last visit to his home, he asked me to take his library. To keep the books that I didn’t have. And to give the rest away to deserving young woodworkers.
This vintage manual is one of about 100 books and manuals Carl owned that I did not.
So I present it to you in a free pdf you can download here:
It isn’t often that I’m enthused about poor craftsmanship, but when I’m trying to demolish something, drywall screws and questionable joinery are most welcome.
I spent yesterday at our new building with a wrecking bar and a sledge hammer – trying to prep the place for a big Dec. 12 demolition party. We’re going to remove the 1980s-era bar (leaving the 1890s one intact) and haul out all the layers of crap that have been applied to the interior during the last 60 years.
There are a lot of false walls and odd black-light lighting fixtures that I wanted to remove, and I thought I’d get a good start on the project yesterday.
But thanks to the ridiculous way everything was assembled, it all came down with little effort. In some cases it was the paint that was holding everything intact.
Hooray for poor workmanship.
So with that part done, I began the demolition of the ceramic floor. While the cement board below came up easily I then encountered a layer of good craftsmanship. The person who laid the floor below the cement board did a good job. It’s a circa 1950s (or earlier) composite material that is still stuck down and still seamless (so far).