You Must Get Unstuck


A chair made by Jennie Alexander, author of “Make a Chair from a Tree.”

Early on as a woodworker I visited a successful professional cabinetmaker in Indiana who also sold wood on the side. After picking out some ash boards, he offered me a tour of his shop and showroom.

His cavernous barn was filled with heavy machinery. For someone whose sole machine was his grandfather’s contractor saw, his shop was impressive. His showroom was filled with country pieces: pie safes, potato bins, kitchen tables and the like.

He opened a door of a pie safe where the door’s panel had split. With a vexed look on his face he said, “No matter how many nails I put into these panels, they always split.”

We then moved to his office where he told me how he had become a professional woodworker 30 years prior. He was a Vietnam veteran, like my dad. After leaving the service, he’d bought a set of six woodworking books, which perched on a shelf behind his desk. He’d read the books, opened his business and built furniture using the plans in those books.

For me, it was remarkable that he had run a thriving furniture business for 30 years and didn’t think wood movement was something that could be mastered. Maybe he skipped the section on wood movement in the six books he owned. Perhaps his books didn’t cover the topic.

Honestly, this story isn’t a criticism of the guy. We all get stuck at different points in the craft. We get comfortable with our tools and processes. We design our projects around those constraints. We accept the consequences of our tools and knowledge.

I myself have been stuck at least 50 times since 1993.

The Exit Sign
The only way out of this condition is to regularly throw yourself into the briar patch. Play punk rock at a country and western bar. Take off all your clothes at a family reunion. Or attend a class about something you haven’t done before.

I try to take a class every year. The class could be on woodworking (such as the class on veneering I took from David Savage two years ago). Or it could be on leather work. Rebuilding a carburetor. Taxidermy.

Tomorrow I head to Maryland to learn to build a post-and-rung chair with Larry Barrett, a chairmaker who has worked with Jennie Alexander and is helping edit the third edition of “Make a Chair From a Tree.” Larry has made a lot of the “Jennie Chairs” (with some of his modifications). And I wanted to make one of these chairs before I edit the book. It will help me understand the construction process and master the technical details of this incredible chair.

I’m bringing a few friends for the week-long class, and together we will absorb everything Larry has to give. We will (I hope) pay Jennie a visit in her Baltimore home. And we will all become unstuck.

— Christopher Schwarz, editor, Lost Art Press
Personal site:

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to You Must Get Unstuck

  1. KeithM says:

    I took MACFAT from Drew Langsner some 30 years ago. It was a great experience.

    But, I still see new factory furniture all the time that is built (from wet wood, apparently) that hasn’t a clue about wood movement. Every once in a while, I hear from a customer with a big crack in their dining table, “It sounded like a gunshot one day at 3 am.”

    “You can’t control wood movement, you can only accommodate it.”


  2. I’d be unstuck and awestruck … enjoy the trip. I haven’t been this excited for a sequel since The Empire struck back.


  3. Ash says:

    So the new edition of Make A Chair From A Tree is actually happening? Great news — I’d sort of given up hope…


  4. Paul Straka says:

    I have heard Jeanie is having some health issues. Please pass along to her a heartfelt thank you for all she has done to pass along her knowledge. She has impacted lives far and wide with books, video and remarkable story.


  5. Tom Schneider says:

    What a great looking chair! It looks so light and welcoming. Enjoy the class, Chris.

    Jealous Tom.


  6. pfollansbee says:

    an iconic chair, launched many woodworking careers mine included. 18 pieces of wood that will last ages & ages. have fun.


  7. burroborracho13 says:

    I saw one of her chairs upclose this summer. Amazing! Have fun!


  8. Gilgaron says:

    Odd comment: something about the way the photo was taken makes my eye think everything is in miniature but to a wary eye it is full scale. What makes it look so?


  9. Jonathan Schneider says:

    Sound like a lot of fun! Wish you guys a good time.

    May the grain be with you


  10. Bruce Lee says:

    So long as you don’t come unglued 😉


  11. nrhiller says:

    I am getting unstuck with great help from Mary May and Chris Pye. Love this post.


  12. Steven says:

    Ay, I found myself stuck in a hand tool echo chamber. Well after high school I’m now in Morrisville State, studying wood- no hand tools at all besides what I brought. Definitely got me out of the hand tool rut. Industrial facers, sawmills, giant rotating clamping rack all the way down to regular top level bandsaws and table saws.

    Echo Chambers are hard to break, especially online. Social media is designed to surround you with things you like already. But it’s worth it.


  13. So, will the book be available thru LAP? And when?


  14. What were the six books?


Comments are closed.