Ash Monday


Hey, wanna see a guy flush several hundreds of dollars and two days of work down the toilet? Read on.

During the last week I’ve been preparing the stock for a week-long class on building a simple stick chair – it’s my first chairmaking course (cue the Depends commercial music). Last week, I bought some ash slabs and have been breaking them down bit by bit to get the right curves for the crest rails, armbows and doublers. And I’ve been trying like heck to squeeze out single-board seats for all the students.

As I started band sawing the seats this morning, I immediately got a sinking feeling. Sections of the boards were cutting like styrofoam. This tree had been on the ground and had some punky patches.

I managed to salvage most of the seats, but there’s no way I’m giving these to students. You don’t want your first chair (or last one) to split apart on the bench. I’m going to have some words with the people at the slab yard. There’s no time to argue with them about this issue right now, so I’m headed to Indiana in the morning to drop several hundred dollars on some new seat material at a different yard.

When this sort of week-altering disaster strikes, I usually switch gears. I go home and do some writing and editing. And some cooking and listening to music.


When I got home today I found a long-awaited package – “Scottish Vernacular Furniture” (Thames & Hudson) by Bernard D. Cotton. This book saved my whole day. It’s a gorgeous full-color work and filled with a wide variety of beautiful items, including stick chairs.

These chairs don’t thrill me like the Welsh varieties, but there are some great examples.

“Scottish Vernacular Furniture” is completely different than Cotton’s other famous book, “The English Regional Chair.” That massive book is like a field guide to spotting chairs and their tiny differences in the wild. While there’s some great information in the book – especially about construction techniques – the chairs themselves do little to inspire me.

“Scottish Vernacular Furniture” is delightful. I imagine I’ll read most of it tonight, as well as complete my editing of Peter Follansbee’s new book.

And then tomorrow I’ll head to the lumberyard – right after selling some plasma.

— Christopher Schwarz


About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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17 Responses to Ash Monday

  1. Ken says:

    That sucks. I usually drink cheap bourbon to excess when my day is frustrating. It looks like somebody could make a small (maybe starting with a large one, har har) fortune selling the wood, per the cut lists, of some of these classes.


  2. Marc Stonestreet says:

    Does it help that you’re not alone?


  3. johncashman73 says:

    That is a remarkable book.


  4. tomdengler says:

    Found a copy a few months back from my dealer. Great book. Don’t ask me what I paid … it was very reasonable and no shipping.


  5. Richard Mahler says:

    Compost happens!
    Did not inow about the Scottish Vernacular book. I ordered the two-book set of the Welsh furniture book you recommended. I will need to have this book also. Thanks a lot! Actually, I do mean thanks a lot.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Tom Lux says:

    Chris, I’ve been reading your blog for awhile. Just curious where in Indiana you’re heading? I normally go to Wilhelm’s in St. Leon.

    Get Outlook for Android



  7. grizg says:

    I’d venture that the ash was from a standing dead tree that had been dead too long… They look OK when you fell and buck them with a chainsaw but they’re beyond their usable point as lumber. My rule of thumb is the ash tree has to have some life left in it when I fell it or it is firewood as they deteriorate quickly.


  8. tsstahl says:

    Yup, ash holes in the mix will ruin the day nearly every time. Sigh.


  9. Terry Suton says:

    Occurred to me that I’ve likely never commented here. I will change this now: I love this blog. I love coming here (almost daily) and reading all of what’s being said about all manner of topic. I appreciate the time, care and personality that goes into it. Thank you.


  10. Anthony says:

    Even the “Master” is fallible, though rarely.


  11. Matthew Holbrook says:


    I am sorry to hear about your experience with the ash from lumberyard #1. I wish you well with obtaining good ash stock at lumberyard #2.

    I would still encourage,you to speak your concerns with the management of lumberyard #1 and discuss why you were not satisfied with what they sold you.

    It’s called speaking the truth.

    I wish you well with the,class.


  12. I just had the same experience with an ash board intended for a vice chop and workbench stretchers. Really wrecks the budget.


  13. Salko Safic says:

    I’ve had the same issue for my current article.


  14. Craigb says:

    Lethenty Mill have good traditional Scottish furniture plans


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