Please Don’t Let Me Be Understood


Handworks 2017 was a blur of faces, handshakes and hugs with people I haven’t seen in ages. It also was a chance to meet a new crop of hard-core woodworkers, people in their 20s who are determined and talented – it was unlike anything I’ve seen before at a woodworking show.

In the cacophony of questions, comments and criticism came an unfamiliar young voice that startled me.

“How is it that you see your anarchism as separating you from politics,” he said, “when what you do is so political?”

It’s the kind of question you expect in a 400-level PolySci class, not a barn. So I stopped and tried to answer the question. Note that I’m terrible in these situations (which is why I’d be a slip-and-fall lawyer at best). Eventually I said enough words that the questioner (mercifully) let me go.

The guy was Dan Clausen, who writes the Pequod Workshop blog and is a literature PhD candidate at the University of Nebraska. He’s a thoughtful guy I’ve been following for a while, and he is able to cut through a lot of the BS in hand-tool woodworking. Today the “Full Stop” quarterly republished one of his essays titled “The Anarchist in the Woodshop,” which you can read in full for free here.

It’s an essay about the things that we don’t say about our work here at Lost Art Press. It might alarm some and comfort others. But the bottom line is Dan is a pretty keen observer and got it right. Check it out.

— Christopher Schwarz




About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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29 Responses to Please Don’t Let Me Be Understood

  1. steverennells says:

    Read the article. Twice. Loved it. But now I’m really confused. Am I conservative or liberal? Bah! I need to sharpen something.


  2. duckfarmer27 says:

    Good article. But then there are those of us who are engineers and not word smiths of a philosophical bent.



    • rwyoung says:

      “…relatively affluent basement and garage hobbyists drawn to “the simple life” and the traditional arts…”

      “Simple life” my curvy butt! (apologies to H.J.Simpson). Ain’t nothin’ simple about it. Without progress, the “simple life” would still be completely helpless against meningitis and encephalitis and all end up like Mary Ingllas Wilder (scarlet fever isn’t a high probability candidate for causing blindness). Polio would still be rampant and other than some modern clusters of idiots, measles could still be a death sentence.

      Work with your hands, think with your mind. Do both in equal measure. That is not simple.


    • holtdoa says:

      To quote Heinlein,

      A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

      Get your Renascence on!


  3. Great article. Look forward to meeting you in Maine at the Lie-Nielsen event.


  4. jaredtohlen says:

    Excellent article. He very eloquently stated a lot of things I’ve silently mulled over (though not in such well-educated and -informed process) since jumping on this “bandwagon.”

    “How practical is this, really? …I should hope rather practical… But not in the typical sense we might view practical in our consumer society… Does it really even matter?”

    Would love to get around some of y’all someday and soak up discussions such as what Dan has presented. I’ve attempted to work and talk through it with friends and family (who view my “hand tooling” as… eccentric), but I don’t know that it quite communicated.

    Ah well, ramble, ramble. Thanks for what you have done and are doing.


  5. xxxmike says:

    Wow! Great article. I had given up on reading the work of “academics” for a while – this one was certainly worth reading


  6. Anthony Wilson says:

    Why do I enjoy LAP books so much, and yet this blog usually pisses me right off?

    Chris, this is not a rhetorical question.


    • SSteve says:

      Can you cite some posts (aside from this one) that pissed you off?


      • Anthony Wilson says:

        The not uncommon posts that veer off course…into political correctness, marxist flirtations disguised as “anarchy”, and plain old hypocrisy.

        Publishing books by authors like Galbert keeps me hanging around though…


        • SSteve says:

          I was going to say that any post by the blog hosts is, by definition, not off course. But I read the site’s Terms of Service before writing my reply and saw that we all, visitors and hosts alike, are regularly in violation of Rules 2 & 3. Maybe the ToS needs to be revised to reflect the evolution of the site’s content.

          Personally, I’m happy to read the civil discourse on this site even when it isn’t necessarily aligned with my beliefs. It sure beats all the screaming in the mass media (which I avoid for sanity’s sake). And I like to read about the personal convictions of the owners of the businesses I deal with. I don’t know much about Marxism or Anarchy (I haven’t yet read the essay this blog post linked to) but I don’t remember seeing any hypocrisy from Chris.


        • You will not find one point of view on this blog. Our authors run the gamut from evangelical Christians and apocalyptic preppers to Marxists and peaceniks. As long as they are good people and good woodworkers, they are A-OK with us.


    • raney says:

      Personally, I find that the line between ‘disagree’ and ‘pissed off’ seems become totally blurred online. And this is not a comment on how ‘wrong’ people are – I find it has exactly the same effect on me. It’s one of the reasons I avoid social media for the most part.

      For me, though, the meanderings into off-topic stuff is not off-topic at all. My thoughts on culture and politics and humanity in general are intimately tied up with what I do and make. I get that lots of people would rather have straight-up how-to articles, but it’s not like there aren’t a billion of those available everywhere else..


      • Anthony Wilson says:

        Thank you for your comment Raney – I hear you about social media.

        I come here for the great publications but get agitated by the politics…I guess my problem is I just don’t want to leave.


  7. jonfiant says:

    I’ll have to reread it a few more times, sometimes I’m a little slow on the uptake, but as you said, I think he got it. He’s a very good writer, the kind that makes you think about every word, and why he chose that particular word.


  8. I spent a good chunk of today writing what I thought was a very good article. This is so good that I just swept mine back under the metaphorical rug.


  9. Lee B says:

    A lot of really good points, but seemed a bit confused on the economic aspect. There’s an attempt here to reconcile economic productivity growth and surplus with an anti-consumer economy ethos.

    “There has to be some mechanism to get money from where the money currently is, and we ought to be forgiven if we prefer this one to violence.)”

    Does there? Wendell Berry once quoted one of those small family farmers referenced in the article as recalling “We had everything but money.” That’s what I got out of these books. It’s not just about furniture, it’s about the loss of so much meaning and beauty from nearly every aspect of our lives. If the anarchist woodworker philosophy is not ultimately aiming for a world where money and surplus wealth are no longer the goal, then it is, as the Texans say, all hat and no cattle.


  10. Very cool… Dan got around to actually formulating the question I have been wanting to ask. If this article answers it? Hmmm… Might be clearer on a second read. The mission for the craft is very clear, but the political standpoint might still be a bit vague. Maybe simply because the craft should represent the politics itself, without too much interference?


  11. nrhiller says:

    I expected this article to blow up the comments section of your blog.

    Cheers to Dan for pointing out some significant paradoxes, not to mention ironies, in this happy corner of the world. Similar observations have animated conversation among some (perhaps many) of us ever since we found this niche in the woodworking sphere. But even greater kudos to Dan for having the generosity and self-awareness to appreciate that such paradox and irony do not in and of themselves negate the validity of the enterprise that is trying to live a good life. If he takes that generosity into academe and keeps getting his work published, he will be doing us all a favor.

    After three reads (and the article easily warrants more) I’m grateful to Dan, and to you, for enriching my understanding of the particular shade of anarchism you espouse. Thanks for sharing this piece, which is refreshing, and ultimately a compliment to Lost Art Press.


  12. Jim Maher says:

    Eh, not so much.

    Needed shelves for the garage. Got some construction lumber and tools and built it. That was fun. Then book shelves. Then boxes for stashing tools and leftover lumber. Then came Norm, and Roy and Scott and I thought I could do some of that. And I learned about lumber stores, and that’s where it began to spin out of control. Then needed a hutch and an end table and two night stands and decided to wing it – and found I needed to study a little more.

    The philosophy and politics and morality and self-fulfillment and thinking are interesting related topics (and some DO resonate), but they are not my “reason for doing this”. I just need stuff, and I don’t want to pay exorbitantly for something that ain’t quite what I’m looking for. And, now, I got some tools and a horde of lumber and a little practice and I CAN make something at least presentable.

    So I do.


  13. jmwagle86 says:

    The title? almost “lyrical” except for “oh Lord..”


  14. Thanks for putting this up Chris. It’s really great to have so many people reading, engaging, and even challenging my conclusions. And I’m quite humbled by the many generous things you all have been saying. The plurality of this little corner of human endeavor never ceases to encourage.


  15. Jeremy says:

    Please tell me someone is making that offerman-Roubo mashup into a sticker.


  16. Sean Hynes says:

    Is there a German word for when someone else is able to put into words your core values and beliefs in a better way than you could yourself? If not there should be.

    Reading that essay gave a similar feeling to the first time I read Walden, or Peter Korn’s “Why we make things”, as well as certain parts of ATC and ADB (the later especially).


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