Editor’s note: Monroe Robinson and I have been working through edits and securing a few final photos for his book about Dick Proenneke. This week Elin Price sent us her first batch of illustrations, and we were elated. Between Dick’s journal entries and photography; Monroe’s insights, writing and photography; and Elin’s illustrations, this is going to be a beautiful, beautiful book. Following is a journal entry from Dick, dated June 30, 1968.
— Kara Gebhart Uhl
June 30, 1968:
Last evening after supper I decided I would paddle down to the connecting stream and try for a couple trout.
A third of the way down a breeze met me and as time went by it got stronger. Opposite low pass creek it was a battle to keep headway so I headed for the right shore. I finally made Emerson creek… I found several uprooted trees that would make hinges but it would take some carving. Following the beach to the lower end I saw a few in the drift on the beach. I may get some and see what I can do. Steel hinges are better no doubt but it is interesting to see what one can do using only material from the forest.
I had no watch but it must have been midnight when I left the beach. It was a beautiful clear night and a good breeze to help me along. It was one thirty when I got the trout cleaned and already the northeastern sky was getting lighter… Not long till sun up so I sawed a few blocks of wood… Filed a couple handsaws.
Took a walk up the beach towards the base of Crag mountain. Finally Gold mountain caught the first rays of the sun and I turned in for a few hours.
When Nancy Hiller and I began discussions about what would become her new book, “Kitchen Think,” I was in the early stages of thinking about our kitchen above our storefront.
My nebulous thoughts were mostly about getting some decent appliances and getting rid of the blood-red countertops in the existing kitchen. I do almost all the cooking in our house, so I have strong ideas about how the room should function. But as far as what the kitchen should look like? I hadn’t given it much thought.
Just listening to Nancy lay out the ideas for “Kitchen Think” gave me the shove I needed. I had to think about the historical context of our building when designing the room. I had to look for clues around the original structure to generate the details for the cabinetry. And I didn’t have to throw everything out from the old kitchen and start from scratch.
I consider this kitchen to be directly inspired by her book (or at least its ideas).
Here were my goals and what I did to accomplish them.
1. Restrict access to the kitchen somewhat (when I’m cooking, I dislike shooing people away the whole time) while still keeping the room as part of the living area.
To do this, we closed up one giant opening between the house’s main hall and filled it with cabinets. This created one entrance to the kitchen. We also opened up a pass-through to a large opening at counter-top height that connected the kitchen to the main living area. This worked perfectly during a small birthday party we held for my mother-in-law.
2. Make it look like the kitchen belonged to a furniture maker.
I made the countertops and built the pantry, with the assistance of Megan Fitzpatrick. The countertops have breadboard ends. The pantry shelves are all handplaned white pine with a bead detail on the front edge. The pantry door is maple (it matches the countertops) with a piece of patterned glass in lieu of the door’s top panel. I’m now building a gateleg breakfast table and shelving unit for the area by the window.
3. Allow patina to develop. I want the kitchen to show wear in short order so it will look more in harmony with the rest of the house.
All the maple is finished with an oil/wax so it will patina fairly quickly. The brass hardware (from Horton) is unplated. It’s already starting to go dull. The kitchen faucet (still on order) will also be unplated brass. The faucet shown is a contractor-grade one.
4. Preserve what we can.
We kept the original floor, which had caught on fire while the previous owner was cooking up drugs (so I am told). We patched places with yellow pine and the floor is a bit of a mish-mash, like the rest of the building. Things we couldn’t keep were recycled and/or given away to locals for their own kitchens. We didn’t have to take anything to the dump for this job.
5. Though this building was a boarding house and didn’t have a kitchen on the second floor, I wanted it to look at least a little plausible that it had one.
With the help of the cabinetmaker we hired, I designed the cabinets to look more like 19th c furniture. Beaded face frames. Inset doors and drawers. No toe kicks. Slab-front drawers (instead of those odd-to-me-at-least five-piece fronts). Frame-and-panel cabinet ends. Painted interiors. Brass butt hinges. All the trim is based on original trim found in the structure.
Few kitchens are the result of one person. For this project Lucy and I have to thank Megan Fitzpatrick, a kitchen nerd, who helped me pick appliances (sorry I stole your dream stove) and acted as a sounding board for my ideas. Bill Kridler of B.K. Remodeling, the general contractor, who kept the project moving and done safely. Dan Shank of Mouser Cabinetry, who worked with my odd ideas to turn them into working drawings.
And Nancy, of course, who made me think.
— Christopher Schwarz
Coming soon: I’ve asked Nancy to take a look at this kitchen and sound off about what worked and what she might do differently. Stay tuned.
Megan Fitzpatrick and I have finished editing and designing “The Anarchist’s Workbench.” It’s now in Kara Gebhart Uhl’s capable hands for a final copy edit. So unless something goes awry, we’ll release it to the world within a couple weeks.
I’ve been asked several times – online and off – why I wrote the book and why we’re giving it away for free. Here is the briefest answer possible.
For me, this bench represents the culmination of everything I’ve learned since I built my first one in August 2000. From the outside, the bench looks a lot like the benches I started building about 2005, but I have learned so much since that time, that I wanted to write it down and be specific. And I didn’t want to do just a series of blog entries, which would be quickly drowned out by all the other noise about workbenches out there.
After building so many benches for my shop, my customers and alongside my students, I have found better ways to do almost everything, from laminating the tops to cutting the joinery to the final flattening. All of these techniques are simpler (sometimes far simpler) than how I worked at the beginning.
Also during the last 20 years, I have learned a lot about how benches fail. And they do fail. This book deals with how to avoid those problems – no matter what sort of bench you make.
I also get asked with regularity to compare and contrast the dozen different designs I’ve built in the last 20 years. What worked. What didn’t. This book explains the genesis of each design and how it has fared in use – the good stuff and the bad.
There also is a lot about how I think about wood and its mechanical properties. During the last few years I’ve come up with a new way to evaluate workbench woods that doesn’t have anything to do with the charts and formulas in “The Wood Handbook” or any other book. I hope this different way of looking at wood will open people’s minds about what species make for good benches.
Of course, there is some new thinking on the history of this form of bench. Suzanne Ellison and I have been tracing things farther back, and she turned up some misericords that made me say things such as “damn” and “wow.” We’ve also got a workbench timeline that traces the development of the different forms and their workholding from 79 A.D. to the 19th century. You know, nerdy stuff.
There’s an appendix about the three tools I find essential to building these benches: a certain kind of bar clamp, a 2” chisel and a tapered reamer.
And, of course, all this information is wrapped around personal narrative, from our homesteading in Arkansas to the day I got a phone call that caused me to quit my corporate job two days later.
So why is it free? Well it’s not a marketing stunt. You won’t have to register to get the free pdf. The pdf won’t have any DRM. It will be high-resolution. And you can do almost anything you want with it, as long as you don’t resell it (it’s covered by this creative commons license). I hope that people take it and build upon it.
So why? First, I can afford to give it away. Lucy and I have no debt, few expenses and we live low to the ground. So we’ll be fine if I never make a dollar from the book.
Second, I know there will be people who think this book bears similarities to previous books, articles and blog entries I’ve written. And they’re right. This bench and this book are not a revolutionary statement about workbenches – we haven’t had one of those since 1565 I’m afraid. So if you worry that the book is a rehash, download it for free and make up your own dang mind.
Finally, I want this information – my last book on benches – to be free and widely available to everyone today and in the future. By putting it out there for free, I hope people will be inspired to build a bench, even if it’s not the bench in this book.
The Physical Version
We finished the quoting process on Saturday (our printer works the same hours we do). We will make a nice book that fits in with the other two books in the series, but we are pulling a few manufacturing tricks I learned from corporate publishing to keep the price low. No we’re not going overseas. The trick deals with choosing a certain paper that we can run on a certain web press (you know, nerdy stuff). It’s going to be a hardbound book, 6″ x 9″, black and white, 344 pages, coated and very smooth paper, sewn signatures and crisp printing. The usual. Price: $27.
I’m looking forward to putting this book out there. To be done. And to start work on a little book about an intrepid snail.
A few weeks back my mother mentioned that she’d unearthed some old magazines while clearing out a bunch of long-unused stuff. She thought I might be especially interested in a copy of the Ladies’ Home Journal from 1960 that had a feature on kitchens, but she knew I’d also appreciate the March 1950 issue of Esquire for its insights into middle-class American culture 70 years ago (such as the eye-catching cover image of a naked Caucasian woman wearing nothing but a feathered headdress and a string of feathers around her waist, her braids strategically placed to hide her breasts — this, above a trio of feature article titles topped by “Have You A Mistress?”).
I said I’d love to have them.
Flipping through the issue of LHJ the night the package arrived, I found the article on kitchens.
The feature opens with a kitchen in reclaimed wood coupled with stainless appliances and counters. (Unforgettable indeed.)
Next up: a pair of kitchens in color, classic representatives of the campy mid-century style that furnished so many middle-class homes.
Nothing surprising here, though I always appreciate historical resources that offer perspective into how people lived – or aspired to live, based on images published in magazines.
But when I reached the last spread I was stunned. Here was a kitchen clearly designed by an artist who’d conceived a three-dimensional sculpture in which to live. A long block of wooden base cabinets with strong horizontal lines left free of hardware contrasted with geometric blocks of black, white and blue. Simple holes made minimalist pulls for sliding doors. Clever storage and prep tricks such as a pull-out work surface and integrated spice storage in the backsplash suggested that whoever planned this kitchen was really thinking, as well as having fun. Color-coordinated curtains in a Danish modern pattern enhanced the lively, artful design. This was a room where I would want to spend time.
Turning to the text for some background on this outstanding example of modern design, I was stunned to learn it was the work of Tage Frid. Yes, that Tage Frid – the one who was a contributing editor of Fine Woodworking since its inception in 1975 until his death in 2004; who headed the woodworking program at the School for American Craftsmen in Alfred, NY, and later at the Rochester Institute for Technology; and who then taught woodworking and furniture design at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) for more than two decades.
Furniture makers have long had a conflicted relationship with the kitchen. Are “cabinets” really furniture, some wonder? Many view the former as an inferior sub-species, at best. The good people at Fine Woodworking themselves have gone back and forth on this matter; in 2005 the magazine published my article about three kitchens titled “Built-Ins that Blend In” but today refer authors to Fine Homebuilding for pitches related to kitchens.
It’s undeniable that many still view the kitchen as a room of lower prestige than those more public spaces where Important Visitors have historically been invited to spend time. The kitchen – and by definition, the furniture within it – has long suffered diminished status thanks to its history as a place of labor done behind closed doors by servants (in the 19th century) or “maids” (in the 20th), the overwhelming majority of them women. Adding insult to injury is the contemporary view of home as real estate, a commodity that warrants regular updates to maintain its value, plus the construction industry’s view of kitchen remodels as potential goldmines, and you’re left with a question: Why would anyone put his or her best work in the kitchen if it’s destined to be torn out a few years later?
Fortunately, some of us are happy to challenge these views.
You can download a free pdf excerpt of our newest book, “Kitchen Think: A guide to design and construction, from refurbishing to renovation,” by Nancy R. Hiller, to get a taste of the writing and design. You don’t have to register or give us bourbon or anything. Just click this link:
…and the pdf will arrive in your computer’s downloads folder. The excerpt includes the Table of Contents, Introduction, Three Ways to Mount Drawers (and the shop-made jogs for installing Blum full-extension slides) and two Case Studies.
It was a challenge to pick parts of the book to excerpt because it covers so much on designing and furnishing the kitchen, from a down-to-the-studs renovation that includes building cabinets to refacing existing cabinets, from dealing with nooks to building islands. Plus 24 case studies and butt-saving advice that comes only from experience.
And a gentle reminder that if you order “Kitchen Think” before it ships (likely in early August), you will receive a complete download of the book at checkout. After the book ships, the pdf will cost extra.