My First Time

During the last 30 years, I’ve heard hundreds of “I first encountered Fine Woodworking” stories that have an impressive ending. The person becomes a lifetime woodworker or quits their job to build furniture. Or collects every issue since the magazine began publishing in 1975.

I’ll never forget my time, because it was just so random. 

In 1991 I was a general assignment reporter for The Greenville News in South Carolina and had been invited to have a drink at the house of Jim DuPlessis, one of the business reporters. He lived in a tidy Craftsman bungalow on a leafy street, and on his coffee table was a copy of Fine Woodworking.

I grabbed it and started leafing through it. I honestly didn’t realize that magazines about woodworking and building furniture existed. I had graduated college the year before, and I was feeling drawn back into working with my hands after leaving Arkansas and our farm behind. But I didn’t know how to act on that desire.

I clutched the magazine (I’m almost certain it was the August 1991 issue) like a prize from the fair as Jim and a few other reporters wandered onto the front porch of his house to enjoy the air. 

That’s when Jim’s dog started streaking toward the street, directly at a passing car. As a newspaper reporter you see a lot of horrible things, and you learn not to look away. 

Jim’s dog ran right at the front tire of the car, like it was trying to put its head under the front tire. 

When the car and dog collided it made the worst noise. I won’t even try to describe it. The car stopped. Jim screamed and ran out to the street while the rest of us just gaped.

I don’t know how, but the dog was unhurt. Completely fine. Jim hugged the dog like a teddy bear as he walked back to the porch. Everyone at the party spent the rest of the evening doting over the clueless thing, like it was a miracle sent from heaven.

I spent the rest of the evening reading Fine Woodworking.

This week marks another strange turn of events. And again, no animals were harmed. I now have my first article in Fine Woodworking, almost 30 years after first encountering the magazine. After leaving Popular Woodworking as an editor (1996-2011) and then as a contributor (in 2018), I had resisted getting in bed with another woodworking magazine. It felt like getting married to a new spouse on the way home from the funeral of my first.

But after getting to know the current crop of editors at Fine, I decided I was being stupid and to give it a chance.

My article is deep in issue 283, the August 2020 issue. It is about, surprise, workbenches. It was a bizarre experience being on the other side of the fence as a writer, not an editor. But the entire staff I’ve dealt with – Betsy Engel, Anissa Kapsales, Barry Dima, Tom McKenna and Ben Strano (who I will remind you that FWW “stole” from us) – were a delight to work with.

With any luck, I hope you’ll see more of my writing in Fine, if they’ll have it.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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37 Responses to My First Time

  1. roorod4 says:

    They are lucky to have you. I love the magazine and have my own ongoing story but I have learned more from your books, just saying.

    • roorod4 says:

      Adding to that, the project that caused the unstopple rabbit hole I call woodworking was building your bookshelf. Im hooked and its your fault.

  2. eahiggins121 says:

    Congratulations. I’m eagerly awaiting delivery of my copy of the magazine so I read your contribution.

  3. I sincerely hope they’ll drag you into their excellent podcast!

  4. Tom says:

    I am looking forward to reading the article. I spend more time reading about woodworking than doing it, sorry to say.

  5. Joe Hornor says:

    Just don’t bite the tires!

  6. John Smitj says:

    Too bad i cant go to a bookstore to buy it

  7. Bill Johnston says:

    Glad to see you writing in FW. About time.

  8. Vic Tesolin says:

    Welcome to the club my friend! I’m looking forward to reading it.

  9. Jay Simmons says:

    My first encounter with FWW was in 1977. Was on vacation on Lake Erie and needed some bolts to repair my pull golf cart. The local hardware store was a classic. On the counter was a cardboard display with issues of FWW. Had never seen a magazine dedicated to woodworking, so along with my fifty cents of nuts, bolts and washers I carried away a copy. Flashing forward to the late 1990’s, I finally subscribed. In the interim I would buy when I found it at a newsstand or bookstore. Due to having an excellent used bookstore which also accepted magazines I began to accumulate back issues. Then the motherlode arrived. A gentleman whose estate contained the complete set of issues to date had the sense to turn his library over to this bookstore. I purchased the entire set of back issues for approximately $0.05/issue. Had to build a dedicated bookshelf for the issues plus leave space for growth.

  10. Tommy Reese says:

    FWW is lucky to have you and Fitz writing for them.

  11. Perry Chappano says:

    Splendid on all counts.

  12. Peter Marshall says:

    My bookshelf has many LAP titles and as noted by others this is where I have learned so much about working with wood . My Covid Reading list has been 99 % LAP ( thanks again Mr Wearing , Mr Schwarz and Ms Hillier ) . I do love a well written and illustrated / photographed magazine article . Its short nature forces an economy in writing and provides immediate engagement . I am delighted you are again writing magazine articles and this could be a reason to renew my subscription to Fine Woodworking .

  13. Paul Rupple says:

    Fine company with Becksvoort on the cover! Looking forward to the issue.

  14. So much going on here.

    I can’t wrap my head around the fact that you never saw an issue of Fine Woodworking until 1991. Inconceivable.

    Ben Strano was at PWW? I didn’t recall that.

    Every issue of PWW was a joy. I just looked up a great article on drawer slips, and boom, there was Jameel Abraham’s amazing inlaid tool chest. I looked for an article from Mario Rodriguez and right next to it was Megan’s Shaker stepback, Don Weber’s hayrake table, and your piece on D.L. Barrett and Sons. What an incredible run the had with you and Megan.

    I look forward to your upcoming article, but I’m going to flip to Becksvoort’s first. I hope you and Megan write many, many more for FWW. I’ll buy them all.

    I’m still looking forward to your articles in the SAPFM journal.

  15. Pascal Teste says:

    Congratulations! Looking forward to reading your article.

  16. Robert White says:

    Great to see you in FWW. I hope you can do hand tool articles for them. It seems like “woodworking” is coming to mean “woodmachining.” Resist!

  17. jeff simpson says:

    Congratulations! I read it as soon as it went up on the website, and immediately went out to the shop and fixed my wobbly bench with some plywood. Thank you!

  18. Tom Erbaugh says:

    Your timing is great! Sadly I did not renew my subscription ot PWW.

    Different subject – I learned of the Adjustable Clamp Company closure from you blog back on 5/30/16. (novicetom) What do you know about what has happened since. I see they are back in the market, but have not bought any (more). Would really like to know what happened.

    Thanks

  19. Steve P says:

    Kind of ironic that the article is titled “Don’t build a new bench”, when the first books of your I read were a couple books on benches. I look forward to this, i was actually going to subscribe instead of randomly grabbing copies at the lumberyard when the cover looks interesting.

  20. Tom Lawler says:

    Having just finished law school and awaiting licensure, not yet fully employed, I built from wood some simple Christmas gifts for my parents. As to be expected these were not grand nor well done but seemed to stir a longing to work in wood, something I had hitherto not done except for a chicken coup that lacked the ability to hold chickens that I built in a junior high shop class. At this time, 1972, there was little information available in rural Iowa about woodworking, particularly as it related to using hand tools. Somewhere, as with many memories of my early journeys, the place remains not in my recollection, I saw an ad for Fine Woodworking and became a charter member. The magazine has helped greatly in developing my hobby of woodworking. The workbench I use was built from a plan in an early edition of FW, about 1977 or 1978. I have enjoyed your guiding voice as Editor of Popular Woodworking and now as propeitor of Lost Art Press. I look forward to you continuing to bring light to my limited skills.

  21. Richard Garrow says:

    Hey Chris, I was presently surprised to see your article in FWW, I glad you decided to be a part of the magazine. When I first got started in woodworking in Australia I was paying twice the price as in the U.S., but was worth it. When I returned to the U.S. i signed up for just about every magazine out there. After reading through them all I only subscribe to two now. FWW and PWW. And when this subscription runs out it will be down to one FWW and of course LAP books. I have quite the library of books now thanks to LAP. Look forward to reading some more of your writings. I do enjoy reading your thoughts and words, you have gift for writing thanks.

    • Steve P says:

      Richard, have you seen Mortise & Tenon Magazine? Its also a great magazine, but only twice a year. Still worth checking out IMO

  22. Keith Klickstein says:

    Congratulations. I think you belong in the pages of FWW. I have loved the magazine for 25 years. Hope to see you as a regular contributor.

  23. Matthew Holbrook says:

    Chris:

    Congratulations ! I look forward to reading your article.

  24. Just a Bill says:

    I do like Fine Woodworking Magazine. But, my favorite all time woodworking magazine was “Woodworking Magazine”. It was some type of off-shoot magazine put out by Popular Woodworking from 2004-2009. Chris was the Editor of the magazine. 16 issues total before it was absorbed into Popular Woodworking. The great things about Woodworking Magazine was there were no ads, black and white photos, and excellent info in every issue. I own them all and find myself going back to them weekly for one technique or another. Just did drawboring for the first time last week and pulled out Chris’ article on it. For a while, there was a book in print containing all of the issues, I believe. If you have never seen this magazine and you can ever get your hands on a copy of an issue or the book with all the issues, it is worth its wait in gold.

    • Actually, I believe there were two hardbound books, eight issues in each volume. Pretty sure they don’t sell them anymore, but you can still get it all digitally: https://www.popularwoodworking.com/product/digd-ww-magazine-comp-coll-pdf/

      I have all of the original issues and the two bound volumes and, like you, regularly reference them still to this day.

      One of the best things I learned in the first woodworking class I ever took (how to cut dovetails by hand) was that a new magazine called “Woodworking Magazine” was coming out. I got the first issue a few weeks later and it was all down hill from there.

  25. Eric R says:

    “if they’ll have it.”…..yeah…maybe…

  26. Got my FWW yesterday, in the mail, and read your article today. Great info as usual.

  27. BLZeebub says:

    They will indeed, mon ami! I’ve been a constant subscriber to FWW since returning home to FL in 1989. Being a bit of a magazine snob, [don’t ask] they have only let me down once when they succumbed to the reality of their original format not being able to be produced at another printer. Oh well, the content didn’t change and I got over it. I have subscribed to just about every wood butcher’s rag at one time or another and most fell by the wayside. PWW came along with this guy Chris Schwarz without the T along with this hot Shakespearean redhead cat lady and a supporting cast of other like minded woodworkers and voila! I added that mag to my then singular subscription. When you left and the others winnowed away, I am once again a singular woodworking mag subscriber. You sir, and the cat lady are most welcome and am sure you’ll be represented in their pages from now on. Welcome, man and you too Fitz, I raise my single barrel bourbon glass to you both. Cheers mates!

  28. Aaron Robichaud says:

    That’s funny. I finally subscribed yesterday and am reading this today. I must be good luck. Although 2 years after subscribing to Popwood they went under. Congrats!

  29. Gene ORourke says:

    I finally let my PW subscription lapse this year (I had renewed just before Megan was shown the door.) I used to subscribe to Fine Woodworking, but had let that go when PW was in its heyday.

    I actually bought the recent issue of FW with articles by both Megan and Nancy. If you’re also going to start writing for FW, I may need to start a new subscription.

  30. Heh. I swear, Chris, I just now read this post for the first time.

    In my defense, my blog post from last night was really just a rework of my 5/27/20 IG post. But its funny they both have stories about dogs chasing cars.

    I don’t remember the first time I saw a woodworking magazine, but I do remember the first time I found a collection of about 50 of the earliest FW magazines. I was at an estate sale, watching people fight over mediocre tools while I was snooping around for NOS slotted screws. I saw four old magazine boxes wedged up between two floor joists and pulled them down. Unfortunately, it started with Issue No2, but I loaded them up into my arms and brought them up to the front table, thinking even at $1 each, I was still going to have to shell out $50 but it was likely worth it. $5 later (they only wanted $0.10/issue – hahahahahaha), I was on my way, along with a few baby food jars of old steel slotted screws.

    And speaking of firsts…

    https://pocketmags.com/quercus-magazine

    … there’s a bit of that going around these days.

  31. Ian McNemar says:

    I’ll be honest. I was about to give up on the magazine if I saw another table saw jig (being a hand tool and green woodworker). Now that you’re going to contribute, I may not cancel the subscription early.

  32. I just read your article in FWW. Nice job Chris! I wish I had been the recipient of this sage advise some years earlier. Better late that never I guess. I’m glad to see you working with FWW. They need your brand of wit, insight and well researched knowledge. I look forward to future articles with them, until then “let the shavings fly”

  33. John Verreault says:

    I’ve already read the article online yesterday. Congratulations on an excellent article and, like clamps, one can never have enough articles on workbenches. I also noticed that your other ex-alumni, Megan F., was on their most recent podcast.

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