You Have to Believe Your Own BS

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We ripped out our kitchen on March 1 and have spent the last 10 weeks waiting for a safe time (with procedures sanctioned by state health officials) to resume the work. This week the cabinets arrived, and so I recruited Megan Fitzpatrick to help me make the maple countertops.

I haven’t written about this project because it is deeply personal. I do almost all the cooking in our house, and my ideas about kitchens are not in line with the mainstream. Frankly, I suspect I am a little off base, and I didn’t have the stomach for the criticism.

But there is one funny exchange I’d like to mention.

Today Megan and I built the 11’ section of countertop that has to be installed in pieces for a variety of reasons. I’d surfaced and glued up the maple and had gone into total “machine production” mode, like when I worked at a door factory.

So after cutting the components to size, I got out the sanders to dress the panels. After 5 minutes of sanding, Megan stopped her buzzing machine.

“I think a handplane would be faster,” she said.

I laughed. She was completely correct. I grabbed my jack plane and dressed both faces of the two countertops in less than 30 minutes. After I planed the first countertop, Megan began sanding the countertop to a higher grit.

I walked over to her bench with a card scraper and began dressing the surface.

We put the sanders away and spent the rest of the day blasting Jason Isbell’s new album, “Reunions,” and getting the job done faster, with crisper results.

“Haha,” I said. “Hand tools are faster.”

“Haha,” she said. “Who ever said that?”

— Christopher Schwarz

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About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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64 Responses to You Have to Believe Your Own BS

  1. I think I speak for everybody when I say I am looking forward to seeing the finished kitchen.

  2. I think I speak for everybody when I say I would very much like to see the finished kitchen

  3. Lou Carreras says:

    I used to carve a lot of lettering. I was always asked why I didn’t use a router. My reply was that by the time the router was all set up for the job I was almost finished carving the lettering. Of course, in those days I did do a lot of lettering for quarter boards, transoms and stuff like that.

  4. aaronkessman says:

    Those are beautiful. breadboarded? a nice touch.

    How are you going to finish them? We used to have wooden countertops that had been finished with poly and it had flaked and blistered in the most predictable/horrible way. If we’d stayed at the house longer I would have eventually scraped them down and done them over with oil… But only after the kids had grown. What are your plans?

  5. aaronkessman says:

    Those are beautiful. breadboarded? a nice touch.

    How are you going to finish them? We used to have wooden countertops that had been finished with poly and it had flaked and blistered in the most predictable/horrible way. If we’d stayed at the house longer I would have eventually scraped them down and done them over with oil… But only after the kids had grown. What are your plans?

    • Organic linseed oil and wax. I want them to patinate and not flake.

      • fedster9 says:

        When you say linseed oil, you mean ‘raw’? I understand that ‘boiled’ linseed is not boiled but has added stuff that might not make it food safe.

        • Once the finish fully cures, it’s food-safe. But it will off-gas VOCs while it’s curing and those aren’t good to have in an enclosed environment. And you need to make sure it is fully cured before you use it. Unfortunately, patience is often not a virtue of woodworkers or clients. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

          Once they are fully cured, almost all finishes are food-safe. If you really want to understand finishing, you should absolutely check out Bob Flexner’s book Understanding Wood Finishing. If you can’t do that, at least look for an article he wrote called The Folly of Food-Safe Finishes. It’s an inexpensive download from the magazine that published it if you don’t want to soil your eyes on a woodworking forum that has it copied and posted in a “compilation” of information.

          Ugh. I need to go take a shower.

          By the by, there are a few good finishes out on the market now that don’t have any VOCs in them and provide you with a very good finish for almost any project you could ever make. The one I use smells great, is easy to apply, almost impossible to mess up, and is safer than going outside (I don’t have to wear a mask and gloves). I can apply it in the basement shop and have 0% worry about it negatively impacting me or my son or my cat.
          There is a woodworking paste wax made in the UK that smells so fantastic I use it on my beard as beard wax. Daily. It’s a damn good time to be a woodworker.

  6. Dublin says:

    Ok… seriously? You’re not going to show us?
    But on a serious note you said the cabinets arrived today. I’m surprise you didn’t build the boxes yourself. Maybe just not worth the effort and time I don’t know. But if there’s ever a guy that could it’s you

    • Making a bunch of plywood boxes sounds horrible. HORRIBLE!! I’d much, much rather spend more of my time making things I love to make and sell and have to wait longer to save up for cabinets than spend the time, energy, and effort it would take to make a whole set of kitchen cabinets.

      My brother works in a cabinet shop and does that all day long (albeit custom and high end cabinets for expensive houses most of the time) and he enjoys it. That’s great. It sounds like a terrible chore to me. Certainly I can’t speak for Chris, but…

      ughh.

      I need to go take another shower…

    • Apologies, Dublin… This is the response I should have provided.

      http://greystonegreen.blogspot.com/2008/04/but-i-thought-you-were-woodworker.html

      (my words, but from my old blog)

  7. Alex says:

    And now I’m super curious about your idiosyncratic kitchen ideas. Especially since I’ve been redesigning my own.

  8. Dublin says:

    As an aside I got intimidated to do the countertops at a small rental house we own and we ended up purchasing a maple blank that was finger jointed end to end. Horrible. Every time I look at it I think what the heck was I thinking. All these tools and you can’t build a countertop? Huge mistake

  9. Robert Geddes says:

    Actually: I would be curious to hear your thoughts on kitchens and cooking… there must be more than a little crossover between the design of a kitchen and a wood workshop and between the processes of creation of something from raw ingredients and wood. For efficiency and ease of use and good results, both rely on having bench space, storage space, utensils or tools conveniently to hand, thoughtful positioning of equipment like stoves, basins, vises etc… I imagine both could learn something from each other.

  10. eahiggins121 says:

    Sounds like it was more a case of remembering, rather than believing, your own message. We all need friends like Megan to remind of us of the important stuff we already know. Beautiful countertops: maple is one of my favorite woods.

  11. marcus c davis says:

    Those counter-tops are pretty sweet.

    What’s the story on that stool with the reflex angled seat? Is it more comfortable? Will it help my dovetails?

  12. john kunstman says:

    My wife and I have spent the last 2 weeks restoring our kitchen. We recently bought our home a 1930’s farm house thst had a 1990’s kitchen. Walls stripped back to the original T&G. All upper cabinets removed. Debating on using some 28 inch wide oak planks for the counters.

    I would love to hear your kitchen opinions. And see yours after you are finished and we are anxious to get Nancy’s new kitchen book too!

  13. John Koenig says:

    Our designer, who I really respect (maybe not in this particular case!) , said shouldn’t do walnut butcher block countertops. But it’s like $10 Sq ft versus quartz at 60-100. And it’s walnut!

  14. I fall into job-paradigms. Carpentry and home renovation fall into the power tool category, whether it’s actually faster and more productive, or not.

    Ruts are counter-productive. Heh heh.

  15. woodworkerme says:

    As a trained chef I love wood counter tops and a few trash cans in the kitchen. I want gas cook top, elec oven , large sink and no doors on the cabinet’s. so it’s your kitchen build it the way you want.

  16. Simon Stark says:

    I’m impressed. I’ve appreciated your iconoclasm on so many topics but I never thought it included the philosophy of kitchens. My bad. I’m guessing your ideas go beyond the question of why the people who seem to cook the least have the most expensive appliances. Any good arguments against Hoosier cabinets you could share?

  17. Jeremy D says:

    So you’re going to create a secret room where grownups can talk about the kitchen design, right?
    I am intrigued, sir.

  18. teslabolt77 says:

    So you’re going to set up a secret chat room where grownups can discuss the kitchen plans, right?
    I am intrigued, sir.

  19. Derrick says:

    Like many of the others above I expect, I so wish we lived in a world where you could share your “non-mainstream” kitchen ideas without the expected criticizing. I am genuinely interested in hearing and possibly learning something new/alternative from your perspective. We should learn and grow from difference not seek to suppress.

    Sigh. You have to love impact of the internet trolls.

  20. Curtis Lee Zeitelhack says:

    “…my ideas about kitchens are not in line with the mainstream.” Really? Since when are any of your ideas in line with the mainstream? You are never “mainstream”.We read and value your stuff for precisely that reason. Mainstream? Mainstream? We don’t need no flippin’ mainstream.

    • Joe W says:

      Next question: since when do you care?

      I might not like or agree with everything you write, but in general it is thought through and you have good arguments. In general it is worth listening to others, one might learn something, even if it is what you don’t want to do.

      • Joe w says:

        Ok, I should have read the whole thread: good argument, Chris, and great you could point to another comment saying “yeah, what he said”.

        (sorry)

  21. Bryan Moir says:

    Can’t wait to see it!

  22. Ron Hogan says:

    Add me to the growing roster of people who want to read your kitchen philosophy.

  23. woodspinner says:

    Props for your taste in music. Your deity status is affirmed.

  24. James Watriss says:

    Do you have to believe your own BS?

    Or believe that it’s not actually BS?

    Point to ponder.

  25. I noticed that that crucial phase of passing the raw material through a planer / jointer is often overlooked, or not even mentioned, like it is taken for granted. I’ve done my share of planning raw material by hand – it is not too bad when using soft woods but for hardwoods that’s just insanity.
    I guess we are talking about working with jointed / planned material – in that case, I agree, well-sharpened planes and scrapers are quite fast.

  26. Jim Littiken says:

    I did not know Reunions had came out already. I need to go on Amazon and get it. Was there another point to this Blog dam A.D.D.?

  27. Ron Stephen says:

    Kitchens are kind of a personal space. While I might like to steal ideas to use in my farmhouse I understand if you want to preserve someplace that is just yours without having to defend your choices or listen to people tell you “Why didn’t you just. . .”.

  28. One Big Marine says:

    I too am re-doing our kitchen.
    Upper units are in place (no doors yet)
    Lower units are almost all complete.
    The one portion completed has a Cherry top on it. Oil and wax was my choice for finish as well.
    All goes well until my bride comes in and says, “Honey, I just had a thought”

  29. This is a reply to the commenters who would like to hear my thoughts on kitchens.

    It’s not fair for me to sound off on kitchen design here because I am absolutely not an expert. I haven’t studied it. I haven’t worked in all sorts of kitchens with different layouts. I’ve just cooked every day in home kitchens. I suspect my opinions, complaints and ideas would be easily debunked or dismissed by anyone who knew slightly more about kitchens.

    I suspect this is true because in explaining what I wanted to the general contractor and the cabinetshop, they both looked at me like I had two heads. I listened to their input. Thought about it. And told them to do it my way anyway.

    I don’t want to make the world a more confusing place just because I own a megaphone.

    So if you want to hear my theories on kitchens, let’s go out for a beer someday and I’ll be happy to tell you how stupid I am.

    Chris

    • Eddy says:

      Fair, but I’ve been unhappy with the experts, and I’m impatient to get this done, and I already resonate with your ideas and methods…
      … and I live in Colorado. Zoom beer?

    • Now I’m dying to hear about your ideas on bathroom design.

    • toolnut says:

      Maybe you could post a couple of pics of the completed kitchen and turn off comments. I’m going to gut my kitchen this summer and I’m always looking for ideas. That’s why I’m looking forward to Nancy’s new book. I’m the main cook in my kitchen and have a very good idea of how I want it to work but I’m always looking for new ideas that I may or may not incorporate into the layout.

  30. Woodworkertrainee says:

    I am also in the process of re-doing our kitchen. It is on hold because my wife is working from home and her “office” is our kitchen table. I built the cabinets to fit what I wanted because I do most of the cooking. If the next owners of the house don’t like it they can have the pleasure of re-doing it their way.

  31. mike says:

    As someone who regularly cooks in two kitchens (my primary home and my vacation condo), I will give you some of my unsolicited thoughts. My primary home was a professionally designed open kitchen and my vacation condo is just a standard generic type L-shaped layout (and much much much smaller) in a closed kitchen. I much prefer to smaller kitchen.
    1) Open kitchens are great for entertaining and suck for cooking, because inevitably non-kitchen related stuff migrates into the workspace (TV remotes, homework, mail, you get my drift).
    2) Small kitchens are better. Being able to reach your sink, stove, and fridge from a single spot is without having to move your feet is awesome, but doesn’t work in an open kitchen because open kitchens invite people and then you need to always be shooing them way.
    3) Sinks in an island suck. An island is a like a workbench and a sink is the tool well. Cooktops in an island also suck. You want your island top (or primary workspace) to be uninterrupted.
    4) personally I prefer single sink to divided sinks. Usually the divided kind don’t have enough space to hold a large pot.
    5) Personally I prefer a range (stove top with oven below) rather than the more typical (in suburban housing) cook top with separate wall ovens. Because in the heat of the moment, its great to stick a hot pot in the oven to stay warm while you free up a burner. Also (another tip), once your sauce or whatever or meat or whatever is cooking, stick the whole pot/pan in the oven at 300F, it will cook more evenly and probably more efficiently.

    • Eddy says:

      Really helpful, thanks.

    • We could be friends.

      • Right? I like mike. I’d drink a beer with mike.

        (You, too, Chris, obv…)

        Also, I f***ing hate having to shoo people out of my way when I’m cooking. Please, if you want me to cook the damned food then get. out. of. my. way.

        • Mike says:

          When we have parties I make sure there is a tray of snacks and a full bar as far away from the kitchen as possible. But people still like to come tell me I am slicing garlic wrong because Rachel Ray smashes it and that is better.

      • Dumont69 says:

        Dang Mike….spot on! This is my kitchen. Now if only I could get a real range…..

    • SSteve says:

      When we bought our house 20 years ago we gutted and rebuilt the kitchen. I had a friend who was a third-generation cabinetmaker come over and look at the space after it was stripped down to the studs. It took him about five minutes to sketch out the new kitchen. I love my small kitchen. My wife and I have the kitchen ballet perfectly choreographed so that we can cook at the same time without being in each other’s way. There’s a counter with a couple stools on the outside of the kitchen where people can sit while we’re cooking and keeps them from coming in. The only regret I have is that I got a divided sink. At least I didn’t get one of those sinks with the third micro-sink in it. I just remembered I posted photos. Enjoy the turn-of-the-century web “design”. And please don’t judge me too harshly on the melamine interiors.

    • Ted P. says:

      Great comments Mike. Most kitchens are designed for people who don’t cook. The buyer thinks that if they have a “gourmet” kitchen, they might start cooking. Kind of like someone who knows little about woodworking designing a wood shop in hopes that they might start. The one thing I disagree with is I love to have two sinks, separated by a few feet, so that one person can be, say, peeling carrots, while the other is, say, washing dishes, and for this reason, it is OK if sink #2 is on the island.

    • Derrick says:

      Wow. Seems like we have quite a few similar opinions. I thought that is just how people cooked. My only difference would be the double ovens. That said, I only say that because I have never had those and have always thought they would be nice. I have always had a range (gas not electric).

      Given how close the rest of what you pointed out aligns with my views in the kitchen, it makes me wonder if I would change my opinion of a cooktop/wall oven and regret getting my wish in that case.

      • Mike says:

        Both would be ideal. There are times we need more ovens. But if I had to choose one, I’d go with a range.

    • John D says:

      When we bought this house – 22 years ago – we were so stretched we had to decline all the fancy kitchen appliances – basic GE gas range, nothing on the island. Best (non) choice we ever had. Now redoing things, but keeping the same layout.

    • pete says:

      I have studied kitchen design and have even designed a few, I don’t think anything you say would be that controversial in design land. The kitchen triangle is a useful and mainstream concept and relates to your preference for easy access to everything.

      I’m not American though, maybe you’d like our kitchens?

    • Michael Mavodones says:

      I agree with you except regarding sinks. Double (or triple) full size sinks is what I became accustomed to in the four commercial kitchens I’ve worked in. I’m not trying to pull rank here – design of all of those kitchens was bad to sucks, with the worst being the one I owned. Double sinks and double ovens for me!

  32. Kenneth Kilby says:

    About the only thing I do particularly like about our kitchen is the single big ass enameled cast iron sink. I agree with the above about having a range with an oven below but another wall mounted oven would be awfully nice I think.

  33. Jesse Griggs says:

    Did you follow up the jack with a try plane and smoother before grabbing the card scraper?

  34. BLZeebub says:

    Ahh, by not using power tools you could even think out loud and be heard. Music is always a great accompaniment to leveling and scraping. Only the scant white noise of blades against a yielding material. Bravo!

  35. BLZeebub says:

    BTW, I designed our new kitchen and used the services of a kitchen designer to “anoint” my efforts and used her “boys” to install the boxes. I did all of the moldings and mods to the drawers and the like. The only problem I had was with the cabinet company. They had just been bought from the family that started and ran the company for seventy five years by a investment group who immediately started cutting corners in the quality department. What should have been an in and out in thirty days turned into six months of haranguing before we got what we paid for. Having the designer in our corner made all of the frustrations bearable. She no longer uses nor recommends that cabinet company.

  36. August West says:

    Anarchist’s Cookbook? Please

  37. Sam Okerlund says:

    Yes!

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