Our Old Privacy Policy

LAP_logoLike you, I’ve been bombarded with new privacy policies from Internet companies seeking to comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which went into effect on May 25.

We didn’t have to update our privacy policy because here’s what we do with your data: Exactly nothing.

We do not mine our lists to market things to you. We don’t sell, rent or give out your data to anyone. Heck, we don’t even have the technical capacity to see your credit card number. The only time you’ll hear from us is if there is a problem with your order.

If you subscribe to our blog via e-mail, you can unsubscribe with a click using the link at the bottom of every post (including this one). I’m sure we could make a lot more money if we did some of the things in the previous paragraph, but we couldn’t live with ourselves.

— Christopher Schwarz

 

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An Excellent Countersink

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My favorite countersink for wood has always been the square-drive ones used with a bit brace. They are easy to control and, when sharp, are quite fast.

I forgot to bring a countersink for a project I was working on today, and the only thing I had on hand were two that were made to cut metal. I have had them for a couple of years and use them to countersink the screws in the metal spiders on the candle stands I make, but I had not tried them on wood. Come to find out they work great in wood, too.

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These are available from McMaster-Carr for less than $20 each. The two I have are part numbers 2724A122 (cuts up to 7/16″) and 2724A132 (cuts up to 9/16″). These cut the cleanest countersink I have ever seen in both soft and hard woods. They also work well powered by a simple hand drill.

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— Will Myers

 

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“You get to work in such cool places.”

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A friend recently saw a picture of one of my kitchen jobs and remarked “You get to work in such cool places.” It’s true. I do, some of the time — though let’s acknowledge that one person’s cool is another person’s yawn (or worse).

In the process of collecting images for the book I’m writing for Lost Art Press, I recently received photos of a kitchen I did in Washington D.C. that certainly qualifies as cool in my view, and its coolness has everything to do with the client’s interest in her home’s history. You can read about the job and see more pictures here.

But I imagine many readers would be just as interested in how I came to get such a job in the first place. I don’t live some charmed existence where cool gigs just drop out of the sky into my lap. I’ve spent years cultivating my niche in the kitchen and furniture worlds.

In this case the client, Lauri Hafvenstein, attended a talk I gave on designing period kitchens at a trade show and conference in the D.C. area in 2009. For years I’d seen notices about the Traditional Building Show (formerly called the Restoration and Renovation Conference) in Old-House Interiors and Old-House Journal, which I’ve subscribed to since the mid-1990s. About 20 years ago I decided to apply as a presenter.

I can’t speak about how the event operates today because I haven’t taken part in several years, but in the past, most speakers were not paid to present their work, nor were our travel and accommodation expenses covered. You wrote a proposal and submitted it, knowing that if you were accepted as a speaker you would make the trip on your own dime. Why bother? you ask. This kind of event can be a great way to make professional connections with people in your field. That’s why I presented at three or four of these events over the years.

It can be hard to gauge the return on such investment if you don’t get jobs directly from them. Lauri’s job, the most hardcore period kitchen on which I’ve worked, is the single one I can attribute directly to any of my presentations.* And even if I hadn’t developed other friendships and professional connections over the years through my participation in these events, this kitchen would have made the writing, the travel expenses, and the shop time lost while out of town worthwhile.

— Nancy Hiller, author of Making Things Work 

*Full disclosure: If I recall correctly, she had also purchased and read my book The Hoosier Cabinet in Kitchen History, which made her notice my name in the conference schedule.

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Welsh Stick Chair Class Complete

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After five long days in the shop, Chris Williams has sent six new Welsh stick chairs into the wilds of America. My hope is that these chairs work like seeds, and an appreciation for this form will take root and flourish in the United States.

Like with many chairs, it’s difficult to capture its graciousness in photographs. And yet it was photographs that inspired most of the six students to take the class here.

One night after dinner this week, several of the students confessed that they knew little of John Brown when they signed up for the class. Instead, it was the photos of Chris’s chairs that inspired them to sign up (beating out 56 other students now on our waiting list) to be here.

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That means we have a lot of work ahead with Chris’s upcoming book (written with Kieran Binnie) tentatively titled “The Life & Work of John Brown.” John Brown, who died 10 years ago this June, was more than just a chair. He was a set of ideas and philosophies that both inspired and angered people in the United Kingdom, plus a few people in the States who caught wind of his writing.

I think the story of John Brown’s woodworking life plus Chris’s instructions on building his Welsh stick chair will inspire a new generation. It worked with the six students here this week, who were treated to hours of evening conversations about John Brown, woodworking and life in Wales. So let’s hope this approach works on several thousand more people as well.

As to future classes, Chris has agreed to come back to Covington, Ky., next year to teach another six students. We’ll post details on the class as soon as we settle on dates for the class.

— Christopher Schwarz

P.S. For more of of Chris’s work, follow him on Instagram (@welshchairmaker) or use the hashtag #WilliamsWelshChair to see more examples of his design.

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Welsh Stick Chair Class Day 3: The Full Welshman

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When John Brown taught chair classes in the United States in the 1990s, he famously threw a student’s machinist calipers into a lake to make a point about how his chairs should be built.

Then, while teaching at John Wilson’s shop in Michigan, John Brown lost his temper with Wilson after class one evening. Wilson was hosting the class and was also making one of the chairs. In the evenings, Wilson had to work to keep up with the students because he was busy during the day.

John Brown caught Wilson using machines to quicken the work and lit into him.

Despite his outbursts of temper and strong opinion, every student of John Brown who I’ve met adored or revered him.

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Chris Williams, who worked with John Brown for more than a decade, also has very strong opinions, much like John Brown. But Chris doesn’t have the temper. Every sermon on saddling the seat, building the armbow or rounding the sticks ends with this:

“That’s how I do it. You might do it differently. It doesn’t matter, really,” Chris says. (As I’m typing this, Chris is saying those exact words to his students sizing their tenons.)

Which approach is better – fury or flexibility? I can’t say. The students in Chris’s class seem to really like Chris’s gruff but gentle approach.

Me, I’m just glad Chris hasn’t (yet) thrown my dial calipers into the Ohio River.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Welsh Stick Chair Class Day 2: Think Round

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With many woodworking classes, the goal is for every student to end up with identical chairs, tool chests or side tables.

But that approach is opposite to the spirit of a Welsh stick chair.

Welsh stick chairs weren’t manufactured (and I hope they never are). Instead, they were usually built as a side business for the undertaker, farmer or wheelwright. Or they were made by the person who wanted a chair to sit on.

As a result, no two chairs are ever alike. Add to that the fact that many of these chairs are made using branches from the local forest, and it’s impossible for two chairs to be alike.

During Chris Williams’s class this week, every demonstration begins and ends with the admonition: Do it this way, but if you don’t end up doing it this way that’s OK because it’s your chair.

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Additionally, Chris repeats some of the Zen-like phrases John Brown used as he worked. When making the front edge of the saddled seat, one should “think flat” over and over to avoid scooping it out too much. To make the tenons, “think round, think round, think round” as you make the tenon with a block plane.

There aren’t a lot of jigs to save you with this chair. And the toolkit is the smallest I’ve ever seen in a chair class.

So the chair isn’t in the jigs. It’s not in the tools. It’s in your head. Your job is to push those thoughts through your fingers and into the wood.

So step one: Think of a chair.

— Christopher Schwarz

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A respectful response to comments on “Follow up or forget it”

If there’s one thing I can say about readers of the Lost Art Press blog it’s that you’re a thoughtful lot. Thank you for your comments on my last post. In an effort to stanch* the misunderstanding, I decided it would be better to reply this way instead of writing detailed responses to individual comments.

As I reflected on the first remarks I saw (during a bathroom break) this afternoon, I realized that I should ask the following question:

Would you have responded differently to the post if I told you it was not based on a single individual but a distillation of many email exchanges, phone calls, meetings in person etc. — in other words, to make a general point? Here is how the post was intended:

1. as insight into the reality experienced by many of us who make our living as makers of furniture, cabinetry, and similar wares while also teaching classes and writing about our work

2. as a bit of advice to those hoping to get started in the field.

The point of the piece was certainly not to air dirty laundry or blast anyone in public. To the writer of that comment: I appreciate your concern that the general tone here remain constructive. The point of my post was constructive. Please do me the favor of reading on.

Another comment writer suggested that maybe the young man in question was just too busy to respond promptly. I appreciate — very much — your interest in seeing the other person’s side. A few people have written me off over the years because they grew tired of my own insistence on doing the same. In this particular case, the person who contacted me was a recent college graduate (in Making Things Work, I altered all identifying information, places and dates included) looking for direction in summer. He did not yet have a job.

But since we’re on the topic of being busy, I am running a one-person business on which a significant portion of my family’s livelihood depends. Punctual responses may be about manners for some people (they are to me, as well), but the need for punctuality has a grittier source in my world. If I don’t respond punctually to an email such as the one I quoted in that last post, or a voicemail/whatever, it will almost certainly fall off my radar due to the pile of other crap, literal and figurative, I am juggling. My patience with a lack of reciprocity from someone who is requesting my help is limited.

The following and more are currently on that radar screen: Building a set of kitchen cabinets with a mid-June deadline. Designing a sideboard for a house that defies any architectural characterization beyond “eclectic.” Coming up with an estimate for a dining table like nothing you or I have ever seen – an estimate that requires input from specialist suppliers, not just from me. (Can you say “herding cats”?) Proofing PDFs of several forthcoming magazine articles. Planning a trip to a few northeastern states during a limited window of available time in late July/early August to promote my book on English Arts and Crafts furniture. (Note: promotion is not about ego. It’s about developing real relationships and doing my part for the publisher.) Plans for a long weekend visit to my parents and sister in mid-July. Working out contractual and logistical details for a work-related video this summer. Collecting, shooting, and organizing images for (in addition to writing) a book about kitchens for Lost Art Press. Working with design clients in various states (and in various states of progress on their respective jobs). Writing a weekly blog post for Popular Woodworking and a series of posts for the Pros’ Corner at Fine Woodworking. (Interviews with Michael Fortune and Darrell Peart are coming up.) Writing class descriptions, communicating with past and prospective students, etc. In other words, the stuff of everyday life in my line of work.

There’s also the day to day reality of home life – a life I’m blessed to have.

And weeding the garden.

Responding to a missive such as the one in my previous post is not a matter of simply typing letters on a keyboard. It involves thinking strategically about what I might realistically be able to do for the person who is making the request. I don’t take that lightly. As I wrote in that post, I made a very generous offer to this person in the past; his response indicated that he was less seriously interested in learning about this line of work than he thought himself to be. Second time around? Barring catalepsy or some equivalent scenario, the lack of a prompt reply to my message (which I sent via the same medium as the one through which I received it; I recognize that some people no longer check email regularly) indicates that the claimed interest may be more dilettantish than the inquirer may be aware. “Jacob” is not alone in this. (Heck, I probably did the same thing myself at some point in my teens, though this person is beyond that age.) There was also Caitlin (not her real name), who insisted she was dead-serious about being my apprentice and lasted…one full day. (“My boyfriend is going to be in town tomorrow on the spur of the moment so I won’t be able to work. I knew you’d understand!” Huh?) Or Ike (ditto; not his real name), who contacted me during his last semester in college and came highly recommended by his adviser, whom I respect enormously. I rearranged my schedule around Ike’s impending arrival, taking on one job in particular that I could only handle with another pair of hands. Minor problem: He didn’t show up. “Oh, sorry. I guess I should have told you I had a better offer.” Fortunately I was able to hire an experienced tradesperson to take Ike’s place, though doing so cost me a couple hundred dollars. These are just two of the numerous other characters behind today’s noon-hour post.

In other words, that post was about the cumulative effect that such less-than-fully-considered queries tend to have on a businessperson’s willingness to entertain future requests from others. (Note: I am talking about a micro-enterprise businessperson, not a person with “staff.”) Every individual who does not follow through makes it less likely that the next one’s going to be taken seriously. Because lack of time.

Finally, the real-life young man mentioned in my last post is a wonderful, intelligent person with a huge heart and many admirable talents. He has so much going for him and has benefited from some good connections. When I write an email message such as the one I quoted in that post, it’s intended not as negative, unprofessional, or mean-spirited, but precisely the opposite: a piece of educational truth-sharing about one of the rarely-discussed (because AWKWARD) aspects of what it really means to make one’s living as a woodworker in today’s world. And that is exactly why I wrote Making Things Work.

*It’s correct. Look it up.

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