The kit includes two surface-mount chest lifts (HF-46; 6″ wide x 3″ tall) with square-head bolts included, two hinges (HF-49; 1-1/2″ x 2″ x 1/8″; fits stock 3/4″ to 7/8″ thick) with matching black screws, two sets of small ring pulls (HF-51) for the top two tills and one set of large ring pulls (HF-52) for the larger bottom till. (All the components are also available separately.)
This is some beefy, beautiful stuff. I think its rugged handsomeness will look great on a traditional tool chest, and I hope to order a set to install on the almost-finished ATC that is awaiting my return to the Lost Art Press shop. (I’ll be selling that chest, so the hardware and other finishing touches will be up to the buyer, of course).
And you might be wondering why only two hinges instead of the usual three Horton Brasses PB-409 hinges I’ve been using on these chests: These are substantial enough that two ought to be plenty strong. Christopher Schwarz assures me this is so, and he has made a number of ATCs with but two Peter Ross hand-forged hinges of various designs, so he would know. (For the record, I still think Peter Ross’s chest hardware is the cat’s meow – but this nice set is a fraction of the cost.)
Horton is also offering a smaller version of the chest lift (HF-45; 3″ wide x 2″ tall) that I think would look great on a Dutch tool chest.
Editor’s note: Chris found this chair on an Amish mole porn site. With its relatively small seat and interesting seat shape, this chair warmed our hearts – despite the inability of the maker to drill his armbow holes spaced out correctly. Perhaps he was drunk, or maybe he was just lacking his boring buddy that day. We will never know. But what we do know is that none of us like silicone, whether it is in people or chairs.
As always, we don’t authenticate chairs, we just like to talk about them. Also, salty language lies ahead. So don’t click this if you are sensitive. Please.
Noted woodworker, teacher and author Robert Wearing (1921-2020) died peacefully on April 27 at age 99, according to his son, Dave Wearing.
Wearing was “interested in wood to the end,” Dave wrote in an email.
Wearing was the author of many important books on woodworking, including “The Resourceful Woodworker,” “Making Woodwork Aids & Devices” and “Hand Tools for Woodworkers.” Lost Art Press had the privilege of republishing Wearing’s “The Essential Woodworker” in 2010 and compiling a collection of his best hand-tool appliances for “The Solution at Hand” (2019).
Wearing’s career as a craftsman began after his service during World War II. He was formally trained at Loughborough College (now University) in Leicestershire, England. After graduating, he went on to teach for 50 more years and write countless articles on woodwork and several well-received books.
During our relationship with the Wearing family, we have published two short biographies you might like to read. One, from 2011, was written by Wearing. The other, from 2017, was written by Kara Gebhart Uhl.
“The Essential Woodworker,” originally released in 1988, was the third book Lost Art Press published. It was also our introduction to the rough-and-tumble world of book publishing. After Wearing readily agreed to have us republish the book, it was up to us to get the original materials back from a former publisher.
They were uncooperative, despite the fact that they didn’t own the rights. After a scuffle, they admitted they had lost all the original materials, including the drawings and photos. (This, we have found, is a common problem – or perhaps a tactic – employed by corporate publishers.)
So we recreated the book from scratch with the guidance and support of Wearing and his son David. We reset all the text and restaged all the photos to produce our edition.
“The Essential Woodworker” has always been a strong seller. As I write this, its seventh press run is at our Michigan plant. The only book that has sold better for us is “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest.”
John and I owe a huge debt to Wearing and his son Dave. They supported and encouraged us at every turn. They took a leap of faith in 2010 when they signed on with a tiny publisher that no one had heard of. Without a doubt, we owe a lot of our early success to “The Essential Woodworker,” which is still a strong seller – a testament to its excellence as a clear and concise path to enter handwork.
— Christopher Schwarz
P.S. We hope to continue our relationship with the Wearing estate for as long as it is willing for us to remain the publisher. It is entirely too soon for us to enter into negotiations, but we don’t expect to run out of stock on any of his titles in the near future.
This post is a continuation from a series of posts following a “read-along” or book club of sorts. This week, I’ll be discussing a second chunk of “A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook” by James Krenov, up to page 51. Next week, we’ll reading up to page 69, and you can leave comments and questions about pages 51-69 in the comments section below, which I’ll answer and incorporate into next week’s post. One note: a focus for next week’s posts will be the picture pieces in that section of the book, in particular the Oregon pine violin cabinet, the chess table and the music stand, so give those a good look!
The first essay in this second section, from pp. 24 to 27, is classically Krenovian writing – it weaves its way through a half-dozen topics, roughly orbiting a prompt about approaches to woodworking and education. I could have included it in last week’s writings. It has more in common with the first essays of the book in that it’s somewhere amongst critique, observation and a call to arms. But it is a great three-page bit of writing, if you don’t mind the jump-cuts in topics.
The most interesting part of that first essay is the discussion of the roles of schooling. There is a lot of personal experience there. By the time of this writing, Krenov had taught in a few schools, and he hadn’t been happy with the situation at any of them. One note jumps at me, in particular:
Education assumes (in order to justify itself to trustees and public) the role of being both selective and “democratic.” This is often disastrous, and results in work on a level of generalities.
The best is by its very nature selective: why not accept it as such? This doesn’t make crafts as nostalgia or entertainment or therapy less justifiable. It’s simply that as a dedication, as the center of one’s life, craft is one thing – and as anything else it is a different and separate matter.
Both are needed. Between them we should have an enticing dialogue. But force them together and you get gibberish.
Krenov would never fall on either side of the “democratic” or “selective” tug-of-war that he saw occurring. From this passage, you might think he would consider himself in a camp with “the best.” But later he refers to himself as an amateur – certainly more on the “democratic” side of things. But maybe he is an amateur that has taken his craft “as the center of one’s life?”
This isn’t a critique of his writing or reasoning – in fact, as Ryan Stadt noticed in last week’s comments, it’s one of the things I appreciate most in this book. It’s contradiction, or maybe something more like exploration, trying on different outfits or approaches and seeing what each one evokes. It leaves a lot to consider for its readers, and yet still forms a cohesive impression of Krenov, if not firm descriptors. “Dedicated amateur” is both a fitting title and nonsensical.
I also mentioned that you might want to look at the 1967 Craft Horizons article “Wood: The Friendly Mystery” last week, and I hinted it might be relevant here. That article, too, is typically Krenovian in structure – a bit rambling and stream-of-consciousness. But to my eyes it doesn’t stagger. It’s more like a quick jog between pointed thoughts.
To give you some insight into why I picked the Craft Horizons article to accompany this week’s passage – you may have noticed that in some cases they were one and the same. One of Krenov’s more poetic passages (I remember it was frequently present at the school) is the last paragraph on p. 32 of “Notebook,” beginning “I stand at my workbench.” You may have seen it on the second page of the Craft Horizons article, too.
But it isn’t just this one paragraph that repeats. In fact, according to Craig McArt, an early student and friend of Krenov’s, “A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook” was, in fact, just an elaboration and extension of the 1967 article for Craft Horizons.
McArt studied with Krenov during his “Scandinavian Seminar” from RIT in 1966. He had secured a Fulbright scholarship to study with European designers, and he began working with Krenov in the basement workshop in the Stockholm suburbs. When McArt returned from Sweden later that year, he carried with him a short essay by Krenov, which would be published a year later by Craft Horizons, titled “Wood: The Friendly Mystery.” It was Krenov’s first published writing on woodworking in the United States. McArt encouraged Jim over the next several years to write more, and eventually dictated passages began arriving at RIT in 1973, the tapes which became “A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook.”
So, this earlier article is a fascinating insight into the larger form of the book. There are paragraphs in that essay that become entire essays in “Notebook” – tales of uncovering fine hardwoods in the rough, visiting clients, all of it was expanded upon to form much of the independent passages in “Notebook.”
Scott (tsstahl), in his comments from this reading, picked up on a phrase that I, too, found really amusing in the Craft Horizons article – “calculated originality.” Krenov is discussing a series of traps that can decide one’s craft quality, aesthetic or output:
To turn dull tools, clumsiness, or lack of patience into that rustic touch. Or to make a curiosity of the craft by a brand of calculated originality. Or to be only practical, weighing costs against time against salability—and accepting all the consequences. All.
This quick list is one that jumps out at me – it touches on three compromises nearly every woodworker has made or has caught themselves considering. Laziness and dullness turned into an affect is everywhere – and everyone has had that frustrated moment of defeat where you decide to like the result of something because you know the other option is a lot more work. We’ve fallen into the first trap. We’ve all thought “wouldn’t it be cool, or so like me, to put a _____ on this piece?” And, then, we fall into the second trap. Or, we think “maybe I’ll just make these boxes with miters, not dovetails – for those people and that money…” The third trap closes around our foot.
And in one paragraph he gets into that, and further, more eloquently and in a way that feels more familiar. As Scott noted, “the guy has a knack for really nailing down something.” I’ll agree to that – he had a bandolier of these axioms that were always around at his lectures, when he taught or when he played tennis. While I’ve been interviewing people for the biography, more than once I have had two different folks, separated in their interactions with Jim by 30 years, remembered the same phrase used in similar settings. The connections between this essay and “Notebook” further indicate that Krenov was not above reusing or elaborating on prior thoughts.
After this first essay is Krenov’s romantic passage on his handplanes, starting on p. 30. It’s a beautiful passage that I won’t pick apart too much. I find some joy in reading it, and I love the image of the hand plane as “the cabinetmaker’s violin.” For many outside of Krenov’s school or the world of studio furniture-making, Krenov’s most tangible legacy after the books is the planes, which many now call “Krenov planes.” And, hearing Krenov describe them in this passage makes the tool sound like magic. A good portion of the letters and writings that Krenov received after the publication of “Notebook” ask for more details about these planes. And in “The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking,” Krenov devotes significant time to their construction (starting on p. 80 in that book!).
Following this essay on planes is an essay on knives on p. 38. Krenov had a life-long love of knives – he had gotten his first in an air drop of supplies to one of the remote Alaskan village he was raised in, and from an early age he carried a knife. The carved elements of his furniture, the pulls, latches and small details, are part of what is so compelling in his work, to my eye. While it’s tempting to attribute this penchant for carving to a slöjd influence, maybe through Malmsten, I believe it was present in him before he thought to make cabinets. That said, some of the forms of these details were influenced by Swedish culture. David Welter, a long time colleague at Krenov’s school, remembers that Krenov had found inspiration for some of these carved elements from carved parts on the Vasa ship, which was first restored and exhibited in 1961, just two years into Krenov’s independent practice as a cabinetmaker.
Looking at this already lengthy post, I won’t try a deep dive into the last two essays of the assigned section – but they, again, embody the wonderful meandering and compelling stream-of-consciousness writing that makes this book so much more than a straightforward treatise on craft. His essay on signing work, which begins with his considerations on “perfection,” seems, to be under the influence of Yanagi’s “Unknown Craftsman,” which was released in English in 1972 and was one of Krenov’s favorite books on craft alongside David Pye’s “The Nature and Art of Workmanship.” Whatever you think of those books, I enjoy Krenov’s digestion of what it means to sign work – in the end, he concedes that he owes a signature to the customers who bought his work. In that moment, Krenov concedes that some of the value of his work is in its provenance. That narrowly escapes the contradiction of his assertion that a craftsperson’s presence should be felt in the form and aesthetics of a piece, not in a placard or the attachment of a signature. But, again, he plays the realist – and I certainly appreciate his practice of signing the work, as it’s made my investigations that much easier.
The last essay, which starts with a prompt concerning setting up shop, is more of a list of pessimistic considerations of what it is to be a craftsperson. This writing starkly resembles the body of writing Krenov did for Form magazine in Sweden – but his pessimism for those who might succeed him in his particular approach to craft is one that changed significantly over the first three books he wrote. Here, he suspects there are few who might be able to eschew trends, conveniences or that same “calculated originality” from the Craft Horizons article. A favorite bit of Krenovian advice of mine begins at the end of p. 45:
Try to find the sort of people for whom there is another originality – that of the quiet object in unquiet times.
This single sentence is again a place where Krenov’s dexterous use of language brings about a rich set of images. Maybe something stunning, exciting, compulsive or loud can be remarkable and persuasive (Chester Cornett comes to mind), but when I look at the objects of craft that I prize most in our home, most of them are unassuming and compelling in their “quietness,” so to speak. One of Peter Follansbee’s carved spoons I have on a shelf in the kitchen comes to mind, as does a small white oak basket I found at a local antique mall for a pittance. Out in the world, many of Krenov’s pieces strike me this way – so, too, does Noguchi’s sculpture, or much of Jere Osgood’s furniture, or Shoji Hamada’s pottery. Don’t get me wrong – I love sensation. But what Krenov is warning against is the pursuit of sensation as a means of aesthetic inspiration, not an organic embodiment of the maker’s personality.
The quiet object in unquiet times, as a prompt for a beginning craft aesthetic, is as good a place to start as I can think of. Naturally, everyone develops from there. At times Krenov’s own work went far from a quiet aesthetic, but the context of his prompt is important. He was definitely reacting to the postmodern furniture and second wave of studio makers making their way to the stage in the 1960s and 1970s.
I’ll wrap up my own words on the passage here, and highlight a few notes from the comments and questions you all had about this passage – I could go on, but for brevity’s sake, I’d better not.
Steve Schuler (literaryworkshop) asked which languages Krenov spoke. I answered in the comments, but I’ll echo them here also because it’s a question I see quite a bit, amplified by the confusion as to his nationality. Krenov was born in Russia to Russian-speaking parents, but from a young age was bilingual in Russian and English. His mother, Julia, was a language tutor most of her life, and was educated in the Empress Dowager’s school in St. Petersburg, so she grew up fluent in Russian and French. She also spent quite a lot of time in England in her youth, so she was proficient in English, too, and her memoir was written in English with no sign of struggle. Krenov also had some amount of Italian and French vocabulary, absorbed in his childhood around his mother and in his trips around post-war Continental Europe. And, he was, after a few years living there, fluent in Swedish, and his wife and children were bilingual English and Swedish speakers. So, he spoke three languages fluently, and a few more conversationally – he had a gift for language, to be sure.
Commenter Michael Valentinas was off by a few years in his remembrance of Krenov’s coming to woodworking late, but it is true that Krenov started his craft much later than most – he enrolled at the Verkstadsskola in 1957, at the age of 37. It’s a remarkable fact, made more incredible that by 1964 he was being shown in the most influential exhibitions at the time in Sweden. That betrays the fact that Krenov had an undeniable knack for woodworking. While I’ve never thought of the “10,000 hours” idea as anything more than a myth, he blows it out of the water – some of his first pieces were already nearly fully developed, and one that comes to mind is pictured above, built in 1962, just three years after his schooling. If anything, Krenov’s story is more like a “find what you’re good at and love to do” flavor of encouragement, though he was certainly a late-bloomer in that department.
I’m enjoying this series of posts, and I hope you all are still enjoying these long posts! For next week’s post, I’ll be moving up to page 69 of “A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook,” though for next week, while I’ll be talking about the writing, I’d like to focus on the photographed pieces in that section. Three pieces are pictured here – his “Chess Table,” the Oregon pine “Violin Cabinet” and the “Music Stand,” the latter two of which can also be found in his fourth book for Van Nostrand Reinhold, “Worker in Wood,” published in 1981 (if you want some better photos). There is also some great writing here, too – if you want to join in and read along, please do, and use the comments section below to ask any questions, highlight a passage or make a comment on this next section of the book or the photographed works therein. I hope this quiet activity, a bit of light reading and careful thought, is something people are enjoying in these nutty times. Frankly, it’s one of the few things that’s helping me know when one week ends and the next begins!
“Chromosomes have nothing to do with your abilities or potential in a woodshop.” — Barbie, of Barbie Woodshop
Among the first questions posed to any woman in woodworking seems to be: “How did you get into this?” Followed by: “Was your father a woodworker? Your husband?”
In Megan Fitzpatrick’s case, anyone familiar with her whip-smart writing about her home restoration exploits might speculate that her involvement in woodworking began with her interest in restoring old houses. She’s lived in old houses her entire life — first an Arts & Crafts cottage; then, when she was 7 or 8, her family moved into an antebellum farmhouse in Louisville. Amazingly, that property still had its original smokehouse and summer kitchen. Because it was more than a century old, she says, “it always needed work.” But her father “wasn’t terribly handy.” So, no, she didn’t get started in woodworking because of her dad; nor was it really because of old houses. Rather, she arrived at wood through words.
“I was brought up to be an academic,” she says. “There was no question that I would have to go to college,” though she doesn’t recall being pressured to pursue any particular course of study. A longtime fan of Dave Barry and Richard Des Ruisseaux, humor columnists for the Miami Herald and Louisville’s The Courier-Journal respectively, Megan wanted to be a journalist. “When I got older,” she adds, “I realized humor was pretty much the hardest thing to write.” She enrolled in undergraduate studies at the University of Cincinnati, which had no journalism major. “So I got a degree in English Literature instead.”
Those who know Megan as an erudite and entertaining woodworking instructor, author and editor may be shocked to learn that she failed out of college. “I was so busy having so much fun working for the school paper, TheNews Record, that I never went to my classes — except for the few I liked. I was asked to leave.”
Needing income, she took the kinds of retail and service-industry jobs that gave many of us our start — selling clothes at Banana Republic, serving customers at a coffee shop. The first glimmerings of a break came in the early 1990s, when she was hired as a clerk at TheCincinnati Post, a position that involved “doing whatever you were told: go pick up donuts, go to the printing plant. We would get the papers when they came off the press and bring them back for the writers and editors. We ran things up and down stairs to the ‘morgue’” (where clippings were kept).
It wasn’t long before she realized she wanted to write, and her editor began giving her opportunities to do so — though she stresses it was “always as a guest reporter” and the assignments involved matters of such non-pressing local interest as recent goings-on at the Great Dane Rescue Society. Her first professional byline was covering a Kenny G concert, because, as she says, “no writers on staff wanted to do it.” She wanted to write more, but they wouldn’t hire her in that capacity without a degree.
With fresh motivation, Megan signed up for evening classes with a plan to complete her bachelor’s in English at the University of Cincinnati. By day she worked full-time at The Cincinnati Post, still mainly as a clerk but with the occasional chance to write. She graduated in 1996.
“I immediately realized I liked school again, so I applied to graduate programs for a master’s in English,” she says. She earned a scholarship from The Scripps Howard Foundation for newspaper employees that paid for her tuition and living expenses, and allowed her to complete her master’s in English in two years.
Megan was smitten early on by the works of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. When she was 11 or 12 (she can’t remember exactly) her family traveled to Greece after visiting an aunt and uncle stationed in Germany by the Air Force. As her parents drove their rental car through Greece’s ancient architectural wonders, Megan sat in the back seat with her brother, scarcely looking out the window, so focused was she on memorizing Mark Antony’s oration at Caesar’s funeral.
“Shakespeare’s language was lovely, as were the universal truths revealed in his plays,” says Megan on why she enjoyed Shakespeare then and still does, today. “Anything you want to read about, you can pretty much read about it in Shakespeare’s plays.”
Her favorite play, however, “The Knight of the Burning Pestle,” is not by the illustrious bard. Rather it’s written by Francis Beaumont. “It’s a joke about syphilis,” she says. “But few people know Francis Beaumont, so I say I studied Shakespeare.”
In 1998, when she was 30, Megan was hired by F+W Media, a few months after completing her M.A.
“I was a low-level copy writer, hired to write promotional material,” she says. “I dressed up for work every day — skirts and high heels. My immediate supervisor left and I was hired for her position — promotions manager. It would have been 2000 or 2001, so I was actually in charge of some titles and did all the marketing for them. One of those titles was Popular Woodworking. I would stomp down to the offices of Popular Woodworking in my high heels and short skirt and give the editor and publisher, Steve Shanesy, a piece of my mind, because he was always late returning materials.”
She made an impression. (Christopher Schwarz was promoted to editor just as Megan joined the staff; Steve stayed on as publisher.)
“When Kara [Uhl] was leaving Pop Wood to join the Writer’s Digest team, I had turned in my resignation at F+W to go back to school and get my Ph.D.,” Megan says. “It would have been August 2005. And both Chris and Steve said, ‘Hey, do you want the managing editor job at Pop Wood?'”
The job, she explains, was to be the traffic cop — “making sure people got their stuff in on time, copy editing, making sure people got paid. Basically it was back to my clerking job, but with a better title. But this time I was also working with the words. And there was nothing wrong with being a clerk! It was more intellectually rewarding than making coffee for people.”
At first Megan told Chris and Steve no. Undeterred, they offered her the opportunity to do the job while taking classes. So she changed her mind and stayed. And even though she still planned to leave the magazine eventually in exchange for college-level teaching, she took the opportunity to gain some serious woodworking skills with Chris’s encouragement and the use of the Pop Wood shop (and, she notes, “using Chris’s tools, which he kindly loaned me”). She had always made things, such as a simple bookcase in lumberyard pine held together with angle brackets. But now she was able to use high-quality tools in a well-equipped shop, with expert guidance just a request away. She took to furniture making like a duck to water and built pieces for project articles in the magazine, such as a wall cabinet, a plate rack and a workbench with an LVL top.
Megan tackled her doctoral coursework from 2005 to 2008, toggling back and forth between the University of Cincinnati campus and the offices at Pop Wood every day. She would leave work, take classes, then come back to the office to make sure everything was done as it should be. “They didn’t mind, as long as the work got done,” she says.
Meanwhile, instead of taking vacations out of town, or even the occasional week off, she was strategically banking paid leave. When it was time to take her comprehensive exams, Steve and Chris let her take off six consecutive weeks to study. To call her days focused would be an understatement. “I sat on the couch, had a cat on my lap, read my books,” she says. “It was really kind of them, and I don’t know if I thanked them enough.”
Megan took her exams in February 2009, and began working on her dissertation. Then, in 2011, she was promoted to executive editor of Popular WoodworkingMagazine. A mere nine months later she was promoted again, this time to content director (editor of the magazine, also with oversight of her publisher’s entire woodworking community).
At this point, she says, “I had to choose. I had no time left to work on my dissertation. ‘Am I going to stay with woodworking or finish my Ph.D. and go teach full time?’”
She considered switching to a creative dissertation, which was an option at the University of Cincinnati. “You would do a short critical paper and produce a creative work — a novel, a play — and that would be your dissertation,” she says. She envisioned a critical paper about the use of furniture in plays by Shakespeare and others, then building 10 or so of the pieces mentioned therein. But her dissertation directors weren’t keen on the idea. “It was too far outside the accepted paradigm,” she says. “I don’t think they knew how to evaluate such an approach.” She lost the drive to finish the dissertation, and even though she loves teaching, she says, “I chose woodworking.”
“As a woman editor of a woodworking magazine, I faced some sexual harassment,” Megan says. “I was often in situations where I was one of few women at a tool show, industry event or what have you, and it led to some uncomfortable situations. I thought that if we could see a broader swath of representation in the magazines and at events, that might help to address an imbalance — and cut down on that sort of crap. The people from whom we ran articles were (and still are) great woodworkers … but I knew there was room to expand into a more representative view of the world at large. There are more people than white men building wonderful things, many of whom have things to teach us. I did my best to level that field a little bit. There are black woodworkers, there are Hispanic woodworkers … there are women of all races who are woodworkers. Why shouldn’t they have a space, too?”
She made a point of inviting woodworkers from diverse demographic groups to speak and present workshops at Popular Woodworking’s biennial national event, Woodworking in America. She followed up with members of under-represented groups who’d submitted article proposals in years past. (That was how my first article for Popular Woodworking came to be published.) Then, in March 2017, she published her editor’s note for the magazine’s May-June issue online.
“Welcome, Gentles All” (a riff on a line from Shakespeare’s “Henry V”), invited “any excellent woodworker — women and men (cisgender, transgender, gay, straight, bi-sexual, asexual) of all ages, races, nationalities, religions and political persuasions” to pitch an idea for an article. While she received many emails of support after that editorial ran, Megan says she also received more negative responses than for anything she’s ever written — not that she let them bother her.
In short, Megan has made it her business to broaden the range of images that come to mind in response to the question, “What does a woodworker look like?”
“But after I threw down that gauntlet I was sort of shuffled off the stage,” she says. She’d spent nearly 20 years working for F+W when she was unceremoniously let go in early December 2017. “I would have liked to have more time to have done more, but if I did give a larger platform to people of non-binary sexuality, to women, to people of color, great. I’m glad to have had that platform to do whatever I could for however long I could do it.”
She notes that in hindsight, with F+W filing for bankruptcy about 14 months later, she was actually thankful she left when she did, but at the time, she was utterly shocked. She’d thought it was a fairly safe job. As one of those who got to know her during her last couple of years there, I can attest to her proficiency, professionalism and the unstinting dedication she gave to the operation, as well as to contributors and colleagues. She worked as many hours as it took, seven days a week. She put visiting speakers and authors up in her home when they couldn’t find a place to stay. She never missed a deadline. And through it all, she somehow managed to maintain her graciousness and composure.
“Most people love Megan for her cheerful and genuinely helpful nature,” Chris Schwarz says. “I became bonded to her because she can make grown men cry.”
“We were both hired at F+W in the late 1990s,” Chris continues. “She was in the promotions department (marketing, basically). I was in editorial. We crossed paths occasionally when she asked my fellow editors for help writing junk mail for our magazine. When they put her off or dismissed her, there was a specific hell to pay. She was always professional, but she did not suffer fools.
“When my managing editor left, I wanted to hire her. Megan was spending her free time in our workshop, building stuff and asking woodworking questions, plus she was supremely qualified in the language department. I, however, was afraid to recommend her as a candidate to my boss because she had ripped him in two on many occasions.
“The following is a credit to Megan: It was my boss’s idea to interview her for the job.
“She took the job under difficult conditions. She was taking courses to complete her doctorate. Her boss in the marketing department didn’t want to let her go and asked her to continue writing promotional material. And I was training her as managing editor (the most unforgiving job at a magazine).
“On her first day at the magazine, a technology guy came down to set up her computer station. It wasn’t simple. She needed a PC to do her marketing work and a Mac to do the magazine work — plus logins across the company’s many networks.
“The tech guy they sent generally required everyone to kiss his butt if you wanted the job done. I know this is true because I had chapped lips for about a decade because of him.
“At some point during the day, I heard the tech guy say there was a problem. He was going to leave and come back and finish the job some other day. (This would delay both her work for her old boss and her training at the magazine.)
“Then Megan spoke. It wasn’t loud or angry. I don’t know what she said. But when I walked past him a few minutes later the guy was at her keyboard, working and crying.
“By the end of the day her computers were (mostly) working.
“And the following is a credit to Megan: She and the crying tech guy got along just fine for years after that.
“She’s the best co-worker and employee I’ve ever had. Works like the devil. Holds herself to the highest standards possible. And she will not take shit from anyone.”
Back to Megan: “Of course it hurts,” she says. “It feels like you’re being let go because you weren’t doing a good job. In the last few years I was working 80 hours a week and giving everything to make the magazine and related publications as good as I could with the resources I was given, which were few.” She had given up her goal of teaching literature, a career plan in which she’d invested years of work and money, for the job.
“What the hell do I do now?” she wondered. “I was terrified. I thought that everything I had accomplished was gone.” She texted Chris immediately: “-30-” which, she explains, is “what you used to put at the bottom of the raw copy of a newspaper article to signify the end.”
Straightaway, he met her downtown — at a pub, where, she says, “I had a drink. And I went home and had many more. That was Dec. 5, 2017. On Dec. 6 I had the worst hangover I’ve had since I was an undergrad in college. I don’t recommend [getting drunk] as a coping mechanism.”
She and Chris had been talking for some time about what she might do if and when she left Popular Woodworking — maybe work on a book with him, do some more editing. She had copy edited almost every book Lost Art Press published, working on the fringes of her already-demanding job. After being laid off she didn’t spend any money for about six months. She was terrified. “How am I going to pay my bills?” she wondered.
And that’s how Lost Art Press’s “The Woodworking School That’s Not a School” got its start. Chris offered her the use of his storefront shop to teach classes. She taught her first class in February, just weeks after being let go. It filled up quickly, and she says that’s when she realized, “I think it’s going to be alright.” Chris encouraged her to teach more classes. (By now she has taught so many classes on the Anarchist’s Tool Chest and the Dutch Tool Chest that she could probably teach both in a blindfold.)
Here Megan pauses. “There have been two men in my life who helped to shape it more than any other,” she says. “Jonathan Kamholtz and Chris. Dr. Kamholtz encouraged me to go to grad school when I thought I wouldn’t amount to anything. I don’t think I would have gone without him. Hell — I’m not sure I would have finished my undergraduate work without his encouragement.” As for Chris, she says, “he has always made me think I could do something with woodworking, and helped me to do it. And he’s one of my best friends.”
Megan began doing more copy editing for Lost Art Press, more work with InDesign, more writing for the blog. Chris urged her to contact other schools about freelance teaching, and encouraged her to form her own publishing business, Rude Mechanicals Press. (She named the business after “rude mechanicals” (skilled laborers) in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Her Instagram handle, @1snugthejoiner, comes from the name of “rude mechanic” Snug the Joiner.) Chris also helped her publish a new edition of Peter Nicholson’s Mechanic’s Companion, sharing his advice and allowing her full access to the scanner in his home while he and his family were on vacation so she could scan the pages of an original copy.
“Chris and his business partner, John Hoffman, gave me all the resources to make my transition into small publishing easier so I didn’t have to spend much money doing it,” she says.
In addition to writing, editing, publishing and teaching, she copy edits Mortise &Tenon Magazine and is editor of The Chronicle, the journal of the Early American Industries Association. She’s also working on that book about furniture in the plays of Shakespeare and others that she had wanted to do for her dissertation, as well as a book on Shaker furniture.
Not long after Megan started working at Popular Woodworking, she built a small dovetailed box in a class with Kelly Mehler. She showed it to her grandfather, who said women don’t belong in the shop. “Oh, those are terrible dovetails,” she recalls him saying. “They shouldn’t have let you use good wood for a beginner project.”
I’ll show you, she thought. As hurt as she was by his remarks, she thinks he’d be proud of her now. “The way to get me to do something is to say ‘you can’t do that.’ I’m not going to let it beat me. I’m going to figure it out.”
That same resilience supports her now. As a freelancer, Megan feels fortunate in this time of enforced isolation to be able to so much of her work from home. Like most of those who teach woodworking, she has lost some income due to the coronavirus pandemic, but she’s upbeat in her outlook.
“I love teaching,” she says. “I went to school to teach. I absolutely miss teaching people; that’s been the worst thing for me. And I know I’ll be teaching people [again]. You can learn from books and magazines, but having someone there to help you and show you, there’s nothing like that. And there is little as satisfying as helping people get better at something they love to do.”