Editor’s note: As promised, Christopher Schwarz and I are writing a series of blog entries that explain how we have improved the construction process for “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” during the last nine years (and several hundred chests). But the tool rack discussion isn’t an improvement; it’s an addition. And because the choices on saw storage can affect the tills, I’ve written a bit about them, too.
When Chris and I were discussing what to include in this series, I said, “What about the tool racks?” which he and I do differently. He replied, “The tool rack isn’t in the book.”
You’d think I’d remember that…having read the book a time or two!
So here are our tool racks – in each case, a piece of scrap stock with a series of 1/2″ holes drilled 1-1/8″ on center. They have a bead on the top edge because we’re fancy…and we like our beading planes. Both racks are simply screwed in place on the inside front wall of the chest, which makes them easy to remove if need be for repair or replacement.
But they are slightly different. Chris has a saw till in the bottom of his chest, because a) that’s traditional and b) he has more long handsaws than do I, and needs a place for them in his chest. I have but two panel saws, which are stored on the underside of the lid of my chest at home. (If I need a large handsaw at the Lost Art Press shop, Chris is kind enough to let me use his.) Note: Chris has improved/changed the way he now builds the floor saw till; you can read more about that here.
Chris uses the space between his longer saws to store his shorter backsaws, putting them toe down in between the longer saws. I store mine behind my tool rack, which is bumped out a little bit from the front wall of the chest with some scraps.
So while Chris’s tool rack is about 1″ thick x 1-1/4″ wide, mine’s closer to 1-1/4″ x 1-1/4″, because I need the extra width to catch one side of my saw handles, and have enough room for the holes and handles of the pokey tools that hang in them (chisels, screwdrivers and the like). The little scraps that bump it out from the wall are about 1/2″-5/8″ thick.
Mine is also a bit lower in the chest – at around 8″ – because I needed enough vertical space for the my saw handles. Chris based the location of his off his longest chisel handle (plus an inch or so). Yours should be located based on what you’re going to put in it – not our measurements (though 6-1/2″ to 8″ is a decent starting point).
In the detail shot of Chris’ chest above, you can see a similar setup on the front of his saw till – he added that rack a few years back to hold larger chisels and the like when his front rack got full. It’s a few blocks to hold the tools out from the till wall, with a 3/8″ thick (or so) scrap in front to catch the handles.
The front-to-back depth of the sliding tills is based off being able to fully slide them just past one another so that you can easily access stuff in the lower tills. Because I have no floor saw till for the sliding tills to run into, I was able to make my tills slightly wider than what’s in the book … but I must confess that on my first chest (the one in my basement), I made them about 1″ wider than is ideal. They’re 10″ … because the carcase interior is 20″ front to back. But of course the top one runs into the handles of the tools in my rack, and the middle ones runs into the rack itself. Oops. (Still, it’s not debilitating.) Now, I make the tills about 9-1/4″ front to back, which is only 1/4″ more than what’s in the book. I guess I do that just to be different; it doesn’t gain me much storage!
But as I noted above, Chris has changed the way he builds the saw till, so it now sits just below the runners for the bottom till, allowing him to bring that runner (and the one for the middle till) all the way to the front of the chest.
Both books are from the Special Collections of the University of Washington Library. Although the page count is low, only 9-12 pages each, the illustrations pack a punch and you don’t have to read Russian to understand the stories.
The first book, published in 1926, was written by Boris Zhitkov and is simply titled “Table.” Zhitkov had several different professions before becoming a writer and used his background to write children’s books about professions and travels around the country.
The illustrations are by Evgeniia Konstantinova Evenbahk and are in a style and palette pioneered by the illustrator of the next book.
The UW Library site allows for easy downloading or printing. You can find “Table” here.
The second book is a fairy tale about an old handplane realizing it is time to retire.
The title of this 1927 book translates as “How a Plane Made a Plane: A Fairytale.” The author is writer and poet, Samuil Marshak, considered to be the founder of Russian children’s literature. He was championed by Maxim Gorky. Marshak and the illustrator, Vladimir Lebedev, worked on several books together.
In the 1920s Lebedev became known as “the king of the children’s book.” He introduced bright colors and graphic design and changed how children’s literature was designed. He also brought his bold designs to agiprop posters he was commissioned to design.
The book is written as a poem. An old handplane rises early, begins his work and realizes he can no longer do his job very well. He asks his friends, the other tools, to help him make a new plane, his “grandson.”
You can find “How a Plane Made a Plane: A Fairytale” here.
Editor’s note: For the next several weeks, we will feature some of our favorite columns from “Honest Labour: The Charles H. Hayward” years, along with a few sentences about why these particular columns hit the mark.
If you know anything about me, my primary reason for selecting this 1937 column as a favorite will be readily apparent. But beyond the (perhaps) obvious, I find it’s important we be reminded from time to time to really look at what’s around us rather than just moving through it, and to be constantly learning.
Mind Upon Mind
“You can’t make bricks without straw” is an old adage which we have taken from the woes of the Israelites, groaning in bondage to the Egyptians. Every “maker” that is to say, every craftsman, artist, writer—learns it by sheer necessity. There is a material he needs just as much as the immediate timber or stone, paint and ink with which he works. It is a remoter thing which he has to glean from the world about him: ideas and knowledge garnered in to render the skill of his hands effective. It is no good being taught how to do a thing if he does not observe and extend his learning. A man may be taught how to make a perfect joint, but it takes knowledge and experience to learn when and where to use it; just as a man needs more than a technical knowledge of drawing and painting to become an artist, more than a knowledge of how to frame sentences to become a writer.
There is a commerce of ideas continually going on in the world. Nowadays beginners still have to learn the technique of their craft from older men, just as they did in the craft workshops of the past, and they learn by carrying out instructions as exactly as possible, copying their teachers as closely as possible. We are told by Vasari that, when Raphael was learning to paint in the workshop of Pietro Perugino, “he imitated him so exactly in everything that his portraits cannot be distinguished from those of his master, nor indeed can other things.” And later, when he had left the workshop and was working on his own in Florence, the centre of inspiration to all the great Renaissance painters, we still find him studying the works of other men. “This excellent artist studied the old paintings of Masaccio in Florence, and the works of Leonardo and Michelangelo which he saw induced him to study hard, and brought about an extraordinary improvement in his art and style.…It is well known that after his stay in Florence, Raphael greatly altered and improved his style, and he never reverted to his former manner, which looks like the work of a different and inferior hand.” So says Vasari, who was no mean judge.
The man who is going to be of any account will be the man who makes best use of his powers of observation to enlarge the equipment of his mind. As Professor Gilbert Murray says somewhere: “The great difference, intellectually speaking, between one man and another is simply the number of things they can see in a given cubic yard of world.” The other day I heard an intelligent youngster talking to another about some silver birch trees he had noticed down the road. “I didn’t see them,” his companion said. The first boy looked at him astonished. “D’you go about half dead?” he demanded. It is what we are all apt to do at times. We are occupied with our own thoughts and forget to look outside ourselves till very often necessity, which, like the Egyptians of old, is a stern taskmaster, forces us to it. For to the craftsman in any medium, ideas built upon observation of the work of other men as well as that of nature are a necessity, if they are to be creative workers in any sense of the word.
The influence of mind upon mind is extraordinary. In a law case lately in which a famous actress was involved the judge had once more to enunciate the old legal axiom that “there is no copyright in ideas.” Ideas are constantly being exchanged, seized upon and developed. They are the common currency of mankind, the means by which, consciously or unconsciously, we learn from one another. But to be of any value they have to be carefully submitted to the bar of our own judgment and reflected upon. Only by so doing can we extract the essential “straw” from them which will help us to make bricks of our own. The idea which is simply annexed becomes weakened in transit. But if it is absorbed, wrought upon by the individual mind, it gathers new elements. We can see the process at its best in Shakespeare—the man who took his plots from old plays and stories, and so wrought upon them with his mind that they became charged with greatness, suffering “a sea-change into something rich and strange.” A man who went about with open eyes and mind indeed for the passions and the foolishness of men, their dreams and futile longings, their littlenesses and greatnesses, observant of all the country sights and sounds which weave them-selves into the music of his verse: the “daffodils that come before the swallow dares, and take the winds of March with beauty.”
It may seem a far call from the ordinary man in a small workshop to Shakespeare. But the mystery of it is that the elements of the craft are the same, even though the results may be so different. Like Shakespeare we have to get our “straw” where we can find it, and the more we search for it the less likely are we to belong to the “half dead,” the men who neither see things nor do things but become as standardised as the window frames they put in houses. Shakespeare filled his mind with the rich material of the living world, pondered it and used it as the fuel of his genius. Raphael, for ever learning and studying even when he had fledged his wings, became one of the greatest masters of the Italian Renaissance. The quality of genius is not in every man, but there is a quality which is the very essence of himself, which is able to express itself in his work if he will give it the wherewithal to feed upon so that it may live. The trouble with us nowadays is that there is so much to distract us that we are apt to fritter our time away on nothing. But on the other hand we have opportunities for widening and enriching our knowledge with the old craftsmen might well have envied. And now that the holiday season is approaching, and those of us who would ordinarily be tied to office or workshop will be moving about the country more freely, we might well keep our eyes and ears open a little more. A friend who is a well-known artist once told me of a visit he had paid to Arundel Castle, talking in detail of the many beautiful pieces of furniture he had noticed on his way through the rooms. I, who had also visited Arundel Castle, remembered not a quarter of it, but I had such a lesson in observation from his eager descriptions that the next time I intend going with a pair of eyes in my head. For it is not only the looking but the way we look that counts.
During the Edo Period (1603-1868) urban centers of Japan expanded and merchants, relegated to the lower rungs of society, ran their own workshops and grew wealthy. As many shops had a similar appearance in crowded marketplaces, merchants used “kanban” (sign boards) to differentiate and advertise their shops. It has been said that advertising is the world’s second oldest profession.
By the mid-18th century, Edo had a population of more than 1 million, Osaka and Kyoto each had more than 400,000 residents. Edo became the center for the supply of food and urban consumer goods, while Osaka and Kyoto were busy as handcraft production and trading centers. Construction trades, banking and merchant associations flourished. In many Edo-period woodblock prints there are scenes of large crowds at markets and festivals. In the scene above it is easy to see how difficult it would be to find a particular shop without a sign pointing the way. Look closely and you will see several kanban. One example is just right of center: a large fan under its own small roof.
Kanban were made of wood, hand-painted paper and metal and designed to make it easy for the illiterate to find the goods they needed. A green grocer’s sign would have colorfully painted vegetables, a tobacco shop sign might have a pipe or a twist of tobacco. Although not a huge number of kanban survive we can find plenty of clues in the woodblock prints of the Edo, and later, the Meiji Period.
Brushes used for calligraphy were an important consumer product. In the woodblock print above, the shop’s kanban has a very short, fat brush. The two extant kanban give us a better idea of how kanban evolved from a sign board to the product becoming the sign. As you can see from the dimensions provided in the caption these brushes were large and would be easy to see from distance. Also note the convention of painting a brush as though it had been dipped in ink.
Kanban were placed at multiple points to direct customers to your shop. Multiple kanban were used to advertise more products or services. In the print at the top left, a tea shop (also serves udon) has a hanging sign and a ground-level kanban (bottom left). The ornately carved and painted kanban at the top-right was on a post high enough to be seen from all directions. In the bottom print a kanban is placed at the second story-level. At the end of the day kanban hanging at shopfronts and ground-level were taken in overnight. Kanban on posts and on the second story had small roofs and some (see the kanban on the post) had folding doors for protection from rain and snow.
Sign carvers and artists made and decorated kanban. The gaku hori carved kanban that could be hung on hooks at the shopfront, placed in a stand at ground level or on a post. The kanban-gaki was an itinerant artist hired to paint the needed wording on the ground-level kanban made of paper or wood. His ink pot is just to the right of his foot and his work box is next to the kanban.
The figure on a kanban might not appear to be tied directly to the product sold. A stylized tenuki, the mischievous racoon-dog of Japanese folklore, was often used on kanban outside a candy store.
Other kanban were visual puns – a type of advertisement that continues today. If it catches your eye and you enter the shop, then the kanban has done its job.
Toolmakers advertised in a more straightforward manner: their kanban showed exactly what they made and sold.
A saw maker’s kanban made of wood, ink and lacquer. At the top it reads “guaranteed,” and below the saw it reads “we buy and sell.”
Both of these kanban are for shops engaged in saw sharpening and setting (matate-ya).
This toolmaker’s kanban, like the one at the top of this post, is made of heavy hand-painted paper in a wood frame with iron fittings. As with most kanban it is double-sided with more tools on the other side (unfortunately an image of the other side isn’t available). Based on the kanban, this toolmaker (and the one at the top) made over 40 different tools including those used by woodworkers. Other metal objects made were shears, scissors, lock and flints.
A close-up of a section shows the fine detail of the hand painting and also shows writing on some of the sawblades. Some of the writing translates as “good quality” and other writing is thought to refer to well-known toolmakers. One name may be the owner of this particular shop.
The kanban on the right is for a hardware shop. The calligraphy on the kanban reads “assorted metal work for furniture” and “metal work for buildings.” The samples in the drawing and on the kanban are pretty much unchanged and in use today.
The bucket shop kanban has a visual (and somewhat twisted) pun. The characters on the two bottom buckets combine to form “taifu,” meaning “high wind” (also hurricane or gale). The symbol on the top bucket is “masu,” a standard measure, whereas the the character for masu means “increase.” Fires were a constant threat in cities and towns where the vast majority of buildings were made of wood, and “high winds” drove the spread of fire. Buckets were used to throw water on fires and with each fire the bucket merchant saw a “increase” in his prosperity.
The tradition of kanban continues in Japan. Many shops have hanging signs using traditional shapes and have the ground-level kanban welcoming customers.
The kanban on the left was used by a well-established stationary store, is made of wood and from the early-20th century (Collection of Mingei International Museum). The shape is an Edo-Period accounting book, the same kanban used in the Edo and Meiji Periods. On the right is the sign used by Itoya, a stationary store in the Ginza, Toyko. That big red paper clip lead me to eight floors of paper heaven.
The gallery includes an Edo-Period example of product placement (not a recent annoying invention).
My plan was to post these images at a later date, but what the hell, enjoy them now.
I came across this tool print while researching kanban and sent it to Wilbur Pan, Japanese tool maven and all-around nice guy. He posted it on his Giant Cypress blog this past Sunday night so yes, you are seeing double.
You can read about Japanese coopering and tools in a post from a few years ago here.
The next five images are from a scroll painted by Kuwagata Keisai (1764-1824) in the collection of the Tokyo National Museum. The scroll measures about 37′ long and 14″ wide and is known as a “shokunin zukushi-e,” a series depicting craftsmen at work, or all the professions. Portions of the scroll can be found all over the internet and in a wide variety of resolutions and color schemes. The scroll is available in high resolution on the museum website and you can find it here.
I clipped out the sections showing woodworkers and a blade maker and you can see those five scenes below.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
Drew Langsner, elder statesman of traditional woodworking, sent along this photo of a shelter at the pond on Drew’s property. Most of the carpentry was done by Carl Swensson and, with the help of a Japanese friend, “Shoji Shack” was written on a kanban for the shack. Osamu Shoji loved seeing it when he was at Drew’s to teach a class.
The single-point planing stop is one of my most useful bench workholding appliances (the other two are a holdfast and my leg vise). There are lots of commercial ones available, including those from Tools for Working Wood and Benchcrafted. I like blacksmith-made ones. Not because they function better (they don’t) but because I like the way they look.
Many woodworkers are terrified of cutting a huge mortise in their benchtop. Don’t be. It’s easy work and is worth the trouble. Here’s how I do it.
The wooden section of my planing stop is 3” x 3” x 12”, a historical size. So I lay out the location of the mortise with knife lines and blue tape. Then I chop the perimeter with a wide chisel to keep my opening crisp during the whole process.
I try to drill out as much waste as possible. Here I’m using a 3/4” WoodOwl bit. These chew through benchtops better than any bit I’ve used.
Then I use a jigsaw to remove the big chunks.
Then I nibble up to my chisel line all around the mortise. This is a key step. The saw kerfs break up the waste, allowing it to be easily pared away. And the kerfs serve as a guide to being 90°. When the kerfs disappear, the mortise wall is 90°.
Then I pare away the corduroy-like bits of wooden waste on the walls.
I don’t have any 3”-thick stock. So I glued up the planing stop from two pieces of 8/4 oak. Then I sawed and planed the blank until it was a tight fit in the mortise.
Fitting a blacksmith planing stop looks harder than it really is. The tapered shaft calls for a tapered hole (that is, if you cannot heat up the shaft in a forge and burn it into the block). Measure across the corners of the tapered shaft – that’s the largest dimension.
The biggest dimension is at the top of the planing stop. In my case it was 1”. So I first drilled a 1” hole that was about two-thirds the length of the shaft. Then I measured the shaft at the bottom, corner to corner. And I chose a bit that was about .01” smaller.
If you don’t have a bit that suits the shaft, grind down the corners to match an existing bit.
The goal is that the tapered shaft should wedge in the bottom of the hole. Yet it won’t split the wood. Too loose is better than too tight. That’s because “too loose” can be fixed with epoxy.
Hammer the planing stop into its hole. Then knock the whole thing into your benchtop.
If it gets loose over time, shim the mortise or planing stop with veneer. If it’s too tight, remove the stop (you might need a sledge) and plane it down. After a year or so, it will be tuned up and things won’t move too much.