In the City

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When Roy Underhill opened his fantastic school in Pittsboro, N.C., the core idea was to spread the doctrine of handwork to woodworking students in the local community and around the world.

But something else happened that I saw first-hand.

After teaching at The Woodwright’s School a half-dozen times (and watching Roy, Mary May, Tom Calisto, Elia Bizzarri, Bill Anderson and many others teach there), I saw something even more amazing than 12 woodworking students building stuff by hand.

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I watched hundreds of passers-by – non-woodworkers and non-students – become captivated by the craft by merely stumbling in off the street to find people merrily engaged in handwork.

Roy has always welcomed visitors with open arms. The first time I saw this happen I thought it was disruptive to the teaching process. Then I realized how wrong I was.

“The true mission isn’t just in teaching enthusiastic woodworkers,” Roy told me. “It’s about showing the community that woodworking is alive and well.”

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Those words have been heavy in my mind as we renovated the storefront for Lost Art Press. Yes, it’s the place I work every day, building furniture and stabbing split infinitives through the heart. But it’s also the chairs in the window. It’s showing the neighbors that handwork is alive and well. It’s in meeting four other makers on our block who make things with wood for a living.

This is why I didn’t build a shop in the country (though that solitude would be appealing). There’s work that needs to be done. Not just at the bench but in the community as well.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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15 Responses to In the City

  1. Now I understand. It’s all making sense. 👍🏼 >

  2. tombuhl says:

    Thank you, Chris for using your eyes and heart, in addition to your words and hands. May your doors be graced with enthusiasts as well as curious souls who pass by. Well done.

  3. You are spot on Chris. I do my woodwork in a Club with a couple of dozen members. We feed off each other , for example a pyrographic specialist has become interested in cabinetmaking. A garden furniture maker now makes cases with dovetails. We spread it further by exhibiting at our local fete and having open days as part of a local art festival twice a year.

    All of us find that our family, friends and acquaintances are intrigued and interested in what we do and come and watch us. Whats more what we do is echoed all over the world!

    • Thank you Chris for your fine work, teaching writing and especially sharing your wonderful abilities and techniques. I’ve certainly learned well from your efforts primarily at Poplar Woodworking Magazine even as you stilll contribute.

  4. Paul Straka says:

    Well said.

  5. Craftsmen without customers struggle. Roy has probably done more for woodworking than perhaps anyone else, except Leonard Lee. To be successful in returning any craft to a place of value, we must, as a society, train customers. That is what is so often forgotten in craft training programmes sponsored by goverments..
    Richard O. Byrne

  6. laterthanuthink says:

    Chris, thanks for all you do for hand tool woodworking. I enjoy your blog, books and videos. On a related note I just downloaded your February 2007 article from Popular Woodworking “Sharpening Scrapers”. As a bonus I was offered a free download of Ivin Sickels delightful 1889 book “Exercises in Wood-Working”, reprinted in 2010 with you on the cover. I can’t wait to try out Exercise 21, “Creating a Dovetailed Box”, although the cut list calls for starting with a 14″ wide dressed pine-board. Not too many of those around these days.

  7. pfollansbee says:

    For 20 years, I worked in a living history museum making furniture in front of the public. One of the highlights of that job happened one very crowded day, a woman watched me work for a while, and turned to her partner & said, “It makes me want to go home & make something!” Best result I could ask for. Keep the door open, Chris.

  8. lighthorselee says:

    “Roy has always welcomed visitors with open arms.” Curious statement, I walked into Roy’s school on February 12th, 2016 on the first day of a class, walked in off the street just like Chris says. Roy approached and wanted to know why I was there and then completely ignored me. I got the feeling I was bothering him. Wasn’t feeling comfortable being there at all and kind of odd feeling. I’ve been to at least 6 one week and two week woodworking courses at a school in Maine and my experience was people were always welcome.

    I’m willing to give Roy a pass because it was the first hour of the first day of what was a bench building course which can be kind of intense. But I wasn’t welcomed with open arms.

  9. skywalker011 says:

    You are such a mind to the community you’ve harbored. Thank you for caring so greatly about the craft. Really

  10. dogtownmayor says:

    Every time I see that dang chair !……..I’ve got to build one…..or five!

  11. Rachael Boyd says:

    this explains why I don’t like my new location for the school the size is perfect the front window is south facing so lots of natural light, and the rent is right.
    my new school location is in a industrial complex 3 rows of warehouse building and I am in one of the units. the old location was on a main street were I could show my furniture and had people walking it all the time and some just watched me work or if a class was going on and they watched the students working away, and after reading your post here it all makes scene why I don’t spend as much time in my shop. the school is doing ok cause the students like it and they still learn to work wood and for them its more about the light from the window the look and feel of a woodworking shop with all the smells that go with it. I however miss the walk ins and the chats that go with them.

  12. stevevoigt says:

    Great post, and i know firsthand that community presence has an impact; it did on me. As a kid, I used to walk past a luthier’s shop on the way home from school. That definitely contributed to my early fascination with woodworking. Maybe there’s a kid walking past your shop now who will grow up to be a woodworker…

    On another note, I’ve been thinking about combining the kind of tall, modern fanback style (seen in chairs by Moser, Nakashima, etc.) with the reverse-taper octagon legs a la John Brown. This has taken on greater urgency since I had to disassemble my lathe. I see in the pic above that you’ve already done it, and it looks great. I’ll have to do it now, for sure…

  13. Gotta say, that highback chair looks fantastic – like the modern spawn of a Welsh stick chair and a Philadelphia comb-back. Nice design.

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