Books are a lot like meat. The way we make books at Lost Art Press is like braising – we cook things low and slow. We poke at the piece occasionally, and give it time to simmer in its own juices. And we don’t call it done until it’s done.
Setting aside the meaty metaphor for a second, that means most books take about four years from the day we sign a contract to the day the book is released.
OK, back to meat. David Savage’s “The Intelligent Hand” was a lot like making dinner in a pressure cooker on a Tuesday night for a famished family. It had to get done quickly. It had to be really good. And no one could get hurt.
The reason for the pressure was David’s cancer diagnosis. On the day he received the grim news, David started writing this book, even though neither of us knew exactly what it was going to be about.
It begins with some of the best lines to ever kick off a woodworking book:
“Well Mr. Savage, I am sorry to tell you the results of your tests are not good. If you play your cards right you may have two years, three at best. Play them badly and we are looking at months not years.”
So, I begin this book with the hope and intention to reach the conclusion before you do.
And it ends… well we don’t really know how it ends. Our hope is to get this book into David’s hands so he can see the result of months of crazy hard work by him, his staff at Rowden, Megan Fitzpatrick and me.
So what’s it about? On the one hand, “The Intelligent Hand” is the story a boy with a stammer who became one of the leading furniture designers in the U.K., working for clients all over the world, including Saudi Arabia and China. It’s a story of extreme failure – bankruptcy – and how you can build a new life using the debris from the broken one.
It’s a practical and iconoclastic guide to getting started in woodwork. David has always had pointed opinions about the tools and methods his students should use to get good results. And he shares – in great detail – his recommendations for tools, sharpening, cutting dovetails and building a proper workbench.
It’s a primer on design. If you have ever wondered how to train yourself to create pieces that break out of the typical or expected (what David calls the “Mark I Eyeball”), this book is an excellent start. David’s advice is both general (how to keep a mental record of your ideas) to specific (smudge the ink in your drawings with spit to create shadows) and it will make you want to take up pen, pencil and watercolors before you design your next piece.
But perhaps most of all, “The Intelligent Hand” is a peek into a woodworking shop that operates at the highest level of craftsmanship – what many can only dream of. To show how the shop functions, David spins a thread that ties all the book’s disparate parts together – he designs a desk and chair for his wife, Carol.
Like many furniture makers, David and Carol’s house is filled with prototypes or factory-made items. All the good stuff goes to clients. For this book, David shares the process for how these special pieces were both developed and built. It’s a remarkable and challenging process – and something you won’t find in any other book.
In the end, this book is an interesting read on many levels. Beginners will see clearly how to get started in the craft and how far one can go. Intermediate woodworkers will devour the sections on design. And the professional will see “The Intelligent Hand” as a guide to how to run a good business – and sometimes how not to (plus some practical workshop hints).
The book is funny, sometimes tragic and very helpful. And it’s filled with beautiful photos and drawings of David’s pieces from his long career.
Like all Lost Art Press books, “The Intelligent Hand” is produced and printed entirely in the United States. It is 304 pages, 8-1/2” x 11”, and printed on #80 matte coated paper. The pages are sewn together for long life. The hard covers are covered in a cotton cloth and then wrapped in a #100 beefy dustjacket. The book is printed in full color. And it is made without any compromises. Like David. And like our barbecue here in Kentucky.
— Christopher Schwarz