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: christophermschwarz.com