David Savage, author of “The Intelligent Hand,” is in the hospital and not doing well. Before he leaves us, I want to get something off my chest.
I met David in person in 2014, but I had known about him and his work for many years. On this side of the Atlantic Ocean, David’s designs (which are incredible) never get a lot of press. But on occasion his articles about hand tools, business and the craft cross the sea.
His blunt, some would say “pungent,” tone rubs many people the wrong way. He rattles manufacturers when he states his opinion about tool steels (he hates A2), the state of tool manufacturing (fairly sorry) and honing guides (also not a fan).
I loved his columns in The Woodworker and Furniture & Cabinetmaking magazines. While I disagree with him on some points (and who cares about points?), I admire his courage to say what he thinks, which is based on long experience. He doesn’t equivocate. And he does not give a stuff (his words) whether you like it or not.
I was eager to meet him. When the chance arrived in 2014, I was teaching a tool chest class at Warwickshire College. David drove up from London to meet me for an early dinner. When I told the students and instructors my plans with David, they were quick to warn me. The short version: They’d heard through the grapevine that David is difficult, wickedly opinionated, pigheaded, even rude.
I walked to the restaurant and found David outside. We shook hands, and within five minutes I knew he was going to be a friend for life.
No matter what you’ve heard from others, David is a lovely man. Generous to a fault. Self-deprecating (also to a fault). Terribly honest. And has no secrets (that I could find).
While all that is important for you to know, I also want you to know that my relationship with David fixed me (I can’t think of a better word) in many ways as a human being.
Like David, my writing has always attracted strong detractors, ever since my first piece was published in my 8th-grade newspaper (a profile of a bunch of snobby homecoming queen candidates). Throughout my career, I’ve been baffled by the hate letters. It’s one of the big reasons I shut down my public email – I was weary of the steady diet of threats (mostly beatings, but one Klan death warning), threats of lawsuits and people who wished ill on me, my business, my family.
I’ve compared notes with fellow writers. Except for the political columnists, I have a way-above-average hate magnet. To be honest, this criticism eroded and sometimes shredded my psyche. I’m sure this was the intent of the detractors. And I was a loser in the battle.
David was the first writer I ever met who had the same hate magnet. But he was better than me. He did not brood. Instead, he carried on with his life and work. He didn’t back down, compromise his ideals or even mellow (“The Intelligent Hand” is evidence of that).
Having observed David for the last four years, I now have the courage to follow his example. His business and his creative spirit survived bankruptcy and becoming radioactive in his own trade. (Side note: David said that after his bankruptcy, one of the first people to call him with words of encouragement was John Brown.)
After spending 16 days with David in Devon, I rewrote “The Anarchist’s Design Book,” and it became a book with a much sharper edge. A book that was much closer to my thoughts as a woodworker. This summer, as I edited and designed “The Intelligent Hand,” I felt the last of my inhibitions fall away. (Thank you, David.)
Because of him, my next book might be a monster. And now I don’t give a stuff, either.
I don’t have the words to fully state my gratitude. My thanks will be in the form of my next book. I only hope he will be here to read it. Who knows? Crazier things have happened.
— Christopher Schwarz
48 thoughts on “Living Well is the Best Revenge”
If you’re not getting hate mail, you’re not doing your job!
Many years ago there was a photo of you on the cover of Popular Woodworking. In that photo you looked a lot like my dear friend Doug from junior- and high-school and beyond. Ever since then I liked you. The more I read of what you write and see the sorts of people who have gathered around you the more my regard for you rises. I’m really not a woodworker. I’m a computer programmer and musician. (As far as any aspirations to woodworking, you pretty much summed me up in the Make or Break podcast interview when you said a lot of people read the magazines and catalogs and think that if they buy all the right equipment and jigs they’ll become woodworkers. I’ve got a shop full of tools and jigs but not much to show for it. Turns out I don’t have patience or an eye for design.) In spite of my lack of woodworking status, I’m greatly looking forward to your “monster” book. I wish I was anywhere near your part of the country so I could come to one of the Open Houses. I would have loved to have seen your clock.
Anyway, I’m happy to hear that you feel fixed by David. You are a valuable person in the world and if you have detractors it’s only because they’re afraid.
Thanks for your words here – I’m glad you ran smack dab into David and he “fixed” you – sounds like y’all are what we used to call simpatico – each of us needs a few folks in our life who strengthen us – you have and continue to strengthen so many other folks in your multiple spheres of influence that you deserve an iron to sharpen and strengthen your iron – and I love the “stuffing” place you’ve gotten to in your life !!
Thank you! I am grateful and I too have been made better by what you write here, in “The Anarchist Handbook” and “The Intelligent Hand.” Please ignore the trolls. And keep going!
There is no doubt after years of writing you have a lot thicker skin than I think you give yourself credit for. I’ve spent almost 35 years prosecuting criminals for a living. My relief from it has been to go pound nails and saw wood for the last 25 years. I’m extremely successful at what I do. I don’t give one tinkers……about what people think. I work with people who don’t like me much. Just because I’m successful. You know as well as I do there people who hate just for sport. You don’t need constant affirmation any more than I do. Go home and look at your wife and beautiful children and recognize after all these years Chris you don’t have to prove a darn thing to anyone. You’ve paid your dues. I don’t know you personally. Never met you. But I’ve so much of your work. I love Lost Art Press and what it stands for. The fact that you take the time to publicly thank David says as much about you as it does about him.
Your career success speaks to your writing,editing and woodworking skills. Your forthright comments and opinions demonstrate your honest approach to life. I would hope nothing will change your beliefs and attitudes. The world needs more Chris Schwarz and fewer baseless comments posted on vapid blogs. Keep up the good work.
Chris, I am so glad to hear you have arrived at this strong place in your life. A man who lets his opinions be shaped by others whims does not really have one of his own- David showed you this truth. We all need our Davids- keep the faith and do not waiver!
There are a lot of things in this world I don’t understand. Togliatti surfaces. Women. The Republican party. At the top of the list is hate. Most of it, anyway. Leave people the hell alone. There are better ways to spend time and energy than wasting it on hate.
David’s work has added something to my life, and that’s a fine accomplishment. We shouldn’t ask or expect anything more.
It’s a shame that you can’t express yourself without insulting others.
You clearly weren’t attempting to compliment adherents to the Republican party.
Net result: your message is worthless and lost on half of your readers
It was your attitude and edgier writing that drew me to your work. I remember the first book of yours I read. It was your book on workbenches. I was at the library looking for a book to read and yours seemed interesting. I had read enough of the introductory woodworking books that told me “this is a block plane and this is a chisel” and I was getting tired of them. I enjoyed the workbenches book so much I looked for some of your other titles. After I read a couple of your books I told my wife I could see you and I either hating each other or getting along very well because we were very much alike. I have read many more of your books since then and met you and that has only strengthened my opinion of you. Keep up the great work.
I hope you just keep writing whatever the f…stuff you feel like. If you piss a few people off, you probably also push a few others into opening up their minds and thinking a bit more clearly about their own lame brained opinions. Anyway, you are among true friends when you can state whatever damn fool notion comes into your head knowing that any misunderstandings will be hashed out with good will. I think John D. McDonald said that and it sounds like you found the same thing in Mr. Savage.
Very nice words Chris…
You are smart, curious, ask the important questions, and do not take BS for an answer… many people are scared by that because it shakes their comfort zone. If it wasn’t for people like you, personally I would find our world very boring. Please continue, the knowledge you acquire and pass along is much appreciated by many I’m sure. I can’t wait to read that monster…
Wonderful. Sending fistbumps.
Wow, Schwarz the über teacher strikes again. When you think you are reading about his challenges dealing with hate mail, a little voice in your head starts to ask, “What am I afraid of?” “Why am I holding back?” And then you realize that Schwarz put that thought in your head and made you think before you even had a chance to resist.
Very sly, this woodworker is.
From a distance I feel I have come to “know” Christopher Schwarz fairly well. Through his blogs, his many articles and books, his magazine Woodwork, and his Lost Art Press, I have learned a great deal and even adopted some of that advice with the Schwarz spin.
I never met David Savage. I wish I had. In his blog post above, Christopher Schwarz leaves no doubt that David Savage was among the finest of men. The Intelligent Hand is a gift to all woodworkers from two exceptionally fine fellows.
While I have never had the honor to meet David I have followed him through his writings and emails. I have enjoyed all of his thoughts and writings. He always stood by what he wrote and I respect him for that I might not always agree but that’s ok.
I feel the same about Chris I have been following him for years now, I have read pretty all of his books, and a lot of his blogs. I have learned a lot from his writings, videos and blogs. I might not always agree but I respect his opinion. I believe everyone should be the same, I could go on, but I am sure it might fall on deaf ears. I had the chance to meet Chris in Brooklyn at a opening. I have not meet many famous people in my life, but I felt I meet a famous person that day. So I stand by Chris and LAP. I hope David does get to read your next book.
Thank goodness, Chris! Mr. Savage gave you an amazing gift. Telling the truth even when people don’t want to hear it is risky. As my mother used to say, “The truth shall set you free.”
I vote with my wallet. Show me the pre-order page for your “monster” and I will be all over it. I appreciate your knowledge, the research that built it, the sharing of it, the business you have built with it, the people you have brought into that business to continue to build it, the LAP brick and mortar storefront that is now the anchor for it, and the expansion of the core via the Crucible (yep, I got my lump from the first batch). I will be happy to someday shake your hand and thank you for what you have taught me.
Bravo! Chris, you are a person of integrity, and one of the people I most admire. Keep being yourself and doing all the cool things you do.
Aloha from Hawaii and thankyou for your ‘Spot on ‘ comments to having a better life !
I am reminded by your post of man who’d already spent a great deal of his life in harm’s way, David Farragut by the time he added one of the most endearing phrases to our lexicon, “Damn the torpedoes…” It also happens to be the title of one of my favorite rock-n-roll albums. So if you’re a fan of Mr. Petty to, drop the needle and full speed ahead, mon ami!
Cheers, mate and Merry Christmas!
If you wouldn’t say what you really believe you could attract people that you don’t want to attract (and what is the point of that?). It’s a shame that people react with such strong negativity but really, that is a compliment – you move them to such an extent. I am sure it doesn’t always feel like a compliment, however. People don’t seem to like anything that threatens their accepted ideas of the world and to me that just sounds like their problem. Anyway, great blog post!
After spending 17 years in the same shop that I clearly wasn’t going to evolve any further at, I decided it was time to change. I narrowed my choices down to 3 woodshops. The first wanted to hire me but as full time CNC programmer/ operater. Thanks but no thanks. Number two, a very high end manufacture agreed to meet with me. It was one of those places that has crazy showrooms, not just ebenisterie, but interior decorating, fabrics, wallpaper, paint. Overwhelming, fancy-lad stuff. They said they would let me know. I sent my CV and a letter to the third company and herd back quickly. No less than FOUR interviews later, I was hired as head of production, starting in January. I dug a little deeper to find out as much as I could about the buisness and just about everyone said I was crazy to go there and that the boss was a foul character. Having met with him several times for interviews, he came off a bit dry, certainly orderly but nonetheless well mannered. I stopped by last week to check in and after a little chitchat he told me he had just been diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. So I will soon begin a journey with a man,that many people say is an ass, who will almost definitely pass away soon.
Chris, your article just made my day.
Let’s make the best out of our time here.
I will pray for David. He sounds like a great man, in need of the Good Lord’s loving care.
He is and does – world will be duller and a little less worthwhile without him.
I’m an old friend whose late father was a significant influence on David.
Well done sir.
Someone should read this at his celebration of life.
Dale Earnhardt once told a young rookie Jeff Gordon who was getting booed at driver introductions… “Don’t worry son, as long as their making noise you got no problem.”
Death threats? From the Klan? I didn’t think those guys could even read. I’ve been hooked on your site since I built your tool chest. Because of your writings I have a fantastic collection of working planes, chisels, saws, etc, 90% of which I have restored from garage sales and e-bay. Because of your publications I have explored carving, Japanese timber framing, saw sharpening, furniture, moldings and much more. Whatever it is you’re doing, it’s working.
I’m reading David’s book and find nothing acerbic, controversial, or defaming in it. What I find, outside of the book, is that disagreeing, challenging, or questioning a person or entity turns into an offense, sometimes a legal offense.
How are we expected to grow intellectually if not challenged or our minds expanded?
Having met David at LAP at the opening. I liked the guy right off. When I found he had health isues, I pray for him daily. I sure hope somebody prays for me too. Thank you Chris for all you do. Haters hate. Doesn’t ,make them right.
“Might be a Monster.”
Because the last two weren’t? Or are you aiming for an expanded spectrum of monstrosity?
My heart goes out to David, I am almost through his book and don’t think he is forward or brusk.
He has something to say and says it.
I am sorry he is not doing well. I have been expecting this outcome.
If this is where you got a thicker skin so be it.
I’ll keep buying your books and try to be better at woodworking
I’ll repeat my recent post in a “bash CS” thread that’s still going strong:
“I don’t agree with every thing he says, but he makes me think long and hard before I disagree. He even makes me think hard before I agree.”
Keep up the good work. Thinking seems to be good for me.
Let the detractors detract, let the haters hate, and ignore them as they stew in their juices and rot away. Maybe you could pay attention to them if they became talented woodworkers, wrote books, taught classes, started businesses, changed the world, and never stopped encouraging others. But remember: Those who can, do. Those who can’t, criticize.
Keep up the good work.!
Not that you need to hear it but I’ve been a fan since your outfeed-table workbench. I continue to draw inspiration from your work and will now set out to read your updated efforts. All the best Chris there are a number of us that truly appreciate your efforts.
In my opinion the modern public space is effectively policed by people who seem to think that a kind of bland inoffensiveness must be the norm. In such an anodyne environment – you can almost hear the muzak being piped in the background – blunt, honest criticism i.e. daring not to find everything wonderful can attract a wholly disproportionate response. So you end up with people who simply don’t know how to cope with fair criticism overreacting and branding people like David Savage as being beyond the pale or people like Christopher Schwarz (who as far as I can see has never been given to writing obnoxiously) getting death threats.
Add to that the fact that the internet provides a safe haven for people with crabbed little minds to say things which would earn them a punch in the teeth if they said the same in the pub and you can see how the temperature can go up.
The answer is surely no more than to carry on writing with integrity. It’s bound to attract a hostile reaction from the feeble minded but so be it. In any event the broad mass of mentally healthy people can see the nutcases for what they are.
Chris, thank you for your forthright and well stated thoughts on David Savage. As I have been reading woodworking books and magazines for years, I came across David’s tool suggestions pages and opinions.They were a breathe of fresh, honest, non biased air. And wow, what a great furniture designer and maker. We’ll be lifting him up and his family at this time. Looking forward to reading his book and learning about a great woodworker and furniture maker. And I definitely appreciate he stays true to himself and style and doesn’t give a “stuff” about what others think. In my humble opinion “trailblazers” are the difference makers.
Chris, thank you for going “Anarchist” in the intent and accomplishment you write and build with consistently. I am 43 now (by God’sGrace, what a ride). Your books, blog, articles, and revival of an amazing craft and skill set has continually challenged me, caused me to grow and stretch as a woodworker, and keep on keeping on when it comes to making furniture and sawdust! It’s also kept me out of a great bit of “trouble”; idle hands … you know.
My passion for woodworking by hand kicked off officially 16 or so years ago when I received a simple set of black plastic handle set of Stanley chisels for a wedding gift from a good friend. Then I was off to the races, scouring the internet; so my addiction to Popular Woodworking, Finewoodworking, and the birth of Lost Art Press began. The Anarchist Tool Chest really helped me focus. So my “casino”, “down at the bar” time, and other habits thankfully have been replaced by heading to the workbench and getting lost in a project for hours and hours until my sweet wife comes out and says “honey, are you coming in for supper?” And the I head in to eat realizing I found a hobby that I love, which is highly therapeutic and can turn a dollar every now and then. Thank you and Mr. Roy Underhill for bringing back the craft. It never left, but I needed a guide and “map” to the “treasure”; I’m a fidgeter; but not at the workbench!
Thanks for writing this post-my thoughts go out to Mr. Savage and his family. And I appreciate your point here as well…sometimes it’s hard to swallow things you disagree with. Full disclosure: I find some of the things you write annoying. But then how does anyone ever grow and evolve? And it also occurs to me that getting annoyed by other peoples’ thoughts/opinions/lessons might be more of a reflection on me than on the writer/teacher. In my thus far short time on this planet, one thing I’ve learned is that a person needs to be challenged and flustered and frustrated to the point where they question where exactly they stand on things. Otherwise you’re just a spectator. Keep up the good work. And keep being annoying. Merry Christmas.
bene vivendo est optimum vindictae
Been my life motto since retiring eight years ago.
Rock on Chris.
I’ve always enjoyed your honest perspective, hand in hand with the many times you essentially say, “This works for me. If something else works for you, more the joy. Just don’t get in my face.”
As a tangent, I could not find a better communications path, so I’ll take this one.
There are many books mentioned in the blog as being in the pipeline. And we wait (mostly) not wanting to beg for updates.
Have you considered adding an “Upcoming works/Works in Progress” tab to the website? This could cover the vague overview, as well as the envisioned timeline — even when that is “wish we knew.” And maybe keep some of your impatient customers out of your hair.
This thought prompted by another blog’s reference to Jennie Alexander’s Tree->Chair book, and me wondering how that’s going, without wanting to pester you with questions about a very personally involved book.
Dave sounds like a guy I would love to met. I liked your letter to us and I hope you continue harden your views against the HATE COMMENTS we all experience during the day. If more people are as direct as you are we would have fewer stupid responses to the things we do and want to accomplish. Thanks Chris. Best of health to Dave.
Very well said.
Those old boys with strong personalities are awesome in person. I’ve met a few of them in the woodworking world and I know I’m all the better off for that.
Simple words to say that your Anarchist’s books have been part of my life since i acquired them (signed by you: makes a difference!) Those books have been my Friends since. You are a fantastic writer and teacher. It has been an honor to meet you. And i am happy for you having found such a friendship in somebody that sounds like a Mentor.
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