The following is excerpted from “Mechanic’s Companion,” by Peter Nicholson, one of the foundational English-language texts in woodworking and the building trades. First published in 1812, “Mechanic’s Companion” is an invaluable and thorough treatment of techniques, with 40 plates that provide an excellent and detailed look at the tools of the time, along with a straightforward chapter on the geometry instruction necessary to the building trades.
If you work with hand tools, you will find useful primary-source information on how to use the tools at the bench. That’s because Nicholson – unlike other technical writers of the time – was a trained cabinetmaker, who later became an architect, prolific author and teacher. So he writes (and writes well) with the authority of experience and clarity on all things carpentry and joinery. For the other trades covered – bricklaying, masonry, slating, plastering, painting, smithing and turning – he relies on masters for solid information and relays it in easy-to-understand prose.
A B the treadle or foot-board.
a the manner of fixing the treadle to the floor.
C the crank hook, hooked into a staple, and the end of the piece A.
D the crank for turning the fly with the upper part of the crank hook formed into a collar for embracing the crank.
E the fly. heel with several angular grooves cut in its circumference, in order to hold the band and keep it from sliding.
F the pillar for supporting the end of the mandrel.
G the puppet supporting the end of the mandrel, which holds the chuck.
H the right hand puppet, containing the fore centre, which is tightened by means of a screw.
I, K the legs, the fly being supported by that of I, the other end is supported by an upright between the legs.
L the mandrel, showing the end of the spindle projecting over the puppet G, in order to receive the chuck.
M the rest, tightened below by means of a screw, and made so as to be fixed in any position to the chuck.
N a foot-board.
O several of the most useful tools employed in turning.
Since we started this company 15 years ago, customers have asked us to start waiting lists for products, especially when they go out of stock.
Maintaining waiting lists is a lot of work, and we would rather plow our time into making new books, tools and workwear. But after much research we have added a function to our store that is the next best thing.
When a product goes out of stock, our store’s software now adds a button that says: Notify Me. Click on the button, enter your email and you are done. The minute that we restock that product, you will receive an email notification.
Some good things to know.
You will not get any follow-up, nagging emails. We hate that crap.
Your email will not go on a marketing list or be sold or given away. We hate that crap even more.
Your email will not even go into our database of customers. After the email is sent, your address is deleted. Gone.
This function is expensive for us to use. Let’s hope it makes everyone happy. Or at least not grumpy.
If we can make this function work financially, my hope is that we can use it to notify customers when a new book or tool comes out. Say we announce on the blog that “The Stick Chair Journal” has gone to press. We plan to set up a page with a “Notify Me” button. So as soon as the book is released, you will get an email about it.
That will, I hope, reduce the number of blog entries I write about restocking.
— Christopher Schwarz
P.S. We are working hard to get those chair templates back in stock. We can’t get 1/8” Baltic ply to save our lives. But we have a solution in the works.
People come to furniture making via many different paths, but Leslie Webb is the first furniture maker I know who got into the field through a gig as a nanny.
“I had gone off to college [at Bowdoin in Brunswick, Maine] and was completely lost in terms of direction,” she began, by way of explanation. “I found everything at college interesting. But when I thought about ‘do you want to do this for the rest of your life,’ it wasn’t THAT interesting.” She worried she might not have any direction at all.
So Leslie decided to take a break. Everyone she knew thought she was throwing her life away, and she remembers how scary it was to make her way forward against that disapproval.
It was around 2000, and she had to get a job to support herself. “I was looking through the newspaper at help wanted ads. I saw this ad; it said ‘childcare in exchange for an apartment.’” It was a start; at least she’d have a roof over her head, even if the job didn’t come with income. She wrote a letter of introduction, explaining that she’d babysat in high school, even if she understood that didn’t amount to much experience. It turned out that Julie, the mother, had family members from Texas, Leslie’s home state; she was born in Georgetown in 1978. Leslie thinks this seemingly tenuous connection may have been helpful. They hit it off at the interview, especially after realizing that Julie’s grandmother was at a nursing home in a small town called McGregor; Leslie’s mother was working with elderly patients as a physical therapist, and as it happened, she knew Julie’s grandmother. “It was such a weird thing!”
After a series of interviews Leslie got the job. She got along well with the family, who treated her well. She still keeps in touch with the boy she was caring for, who is now a young adult.
One day Leslie spotted a Moser catalog on the kitchen counter with a pile of mail. “At breakfast I was randomly flipping through and thought, ‘Oh, it would be so cool to build furniture, because it’s beautiful, but it’s useful too.’” Robert, the father of her charge, told her he knew basic carpentry and would be happy to teach her.
Robert was a fine arts painter who did massive paintings – 8’ long x 4’ high – for which he made his own frames and shipping crates. So she started helping him build crates in his Brunswick studio.
“I was cutting a 2×4 for a crate,” Leslie recalls. “I remember using a chop saw and seeing the blade sinking into the wood and I knew ‘this is it.’”
She worked as the family’s nanny for about three years. In her spare time, she tried to build some pieces of furniture but got stuck because she knew the quality she wanted to produce but didn’t know how to get there. There were no woodworkers in her family to ask for advice. YouTube videos were not yet a thing; the only resource she knew about was Fine Woodworking, which she read but found largely over her head.
Leslie concluded she was going to have to train through a program. She’d been in Maine long enough to know about the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship, so she checked out its website and found the nine-month program was soon launching. The deadline was just around the corner, so she submitted an application and was delighted to learn she’d been accepted. Her mom was worried about Leslie’s ability to support herself as a furniture maker. Her dad, a doctor, was “not supportive at all.” As the youngest of her parents’ four children, she thinks she was his last hope for one of them to go to medical school.
“I so enjoyed the entire process,” she says of her training at CFC. “I really enjoyed being able to design my own pieces. The first two projects are teacher-designed, to build hand and machine skills, respectively. The rest you design yourself, up to a point. I enjoyed the process of having an idea and figuring out whether it would work or not. And I still do enjoy that process, so much.”
For joinery, she focuses on traditional mortises and tenons, dovetails and miters with reinforcement. “Nothing too out of the box. I gravitate aesthetically toward contemporary stuff – pretty stripped-back designs that don’t have a ton of adornment. Sometimes integral tenons, sometimes floating.” She usually makes her own floating tenons. “I don’t always let the tool dictate. Sometimes I modify what the tool can do so it’s not dictating.”
Today Leslie works in a small shop, a converted two-car garage in Georgetown, Texas, where she returned to live around 2011. Some of her work is commissioned, some done in small batches and some on spec. Outside of Instagram, I first became aware of Leslie’s work when I saw a few pieces on exhibit at the Grovewood Gallery in Asheville, N.C. They were flawless – beautifully made and elegantly designed. She is also one of the women and woman-identifying makers whose work was juried into the Making a Seat at the Table exhibition in Philadelphia from October 2019 through January 2020. She has done lots of shows over the years, among them the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show, Architectural Digest Home Design Show, International Contemporary Furniture Fair/ICFF, and Wanted Design.
Furniture making is an economically precarious field, especially for those whose livelihood depends on their own income alone, without help from a partner. By the time she moved home to Texas, Leslie had already weathered the Great Recession. “I went through the crash in 2008 with my furniture business and it was awful,” she says. So she’d been thinking vaguely about how she might add another income-producing dimension to her work. “One day the idea popped into my head: I wonder whether I could sell HNT Gordon tools over here.” There was no retail outlet in the States; the company is based in Australia. “I realized it would be a whole other thing,” but she reminded herself that furniture making has its own stresses. The idea stayed in the back of her head; it wouldn’t go away.
Over the years she’d bought some HNT Gordon tools for her own use. After pondering for two or three years, she decided to start with those. As part of her research she gauged interest among her woodworking friends. “People were hesitant [to buy HNT Gordon tools] because [the company] was overseas.” Some told her that the ordering process was unclear to them; others worried that there might be hidden fees for international orders and so on. Finally, she contacted the company to inquire. Terry, the head of the business, was on board. So she decided to try.
In late 2019 Leslie started Heartwood Tools, which specializes in high-quality woodworking tools. “It’s going really well!” she says. In fact, “it has temporarily taken over. If I had known that the pandemic was coming when I launched it, I probably would not have done it. But it has exploded – I think in large part people are spending more time at home and doing more furniture making.”
Do You Deserve a Good Caning?
Caning – for stools, chair seats and small tables – is another corner of the furniture-making world in which Leslie is making her mark. Over the years she has used pre-made sheets for caned work, but then she learned how to do it herself. “I’ve always liked caning,” she says. “We had dining chairs with caned seats when I was little. I remember being fascinated that they could hold people, child or adult. It didn’t seem like that should be possible.” She likes being able to introduce color into her work but hates to dye or stain wood. Caning (seat weaving?) offered a way to combine natural wood with eye-popping colors. “I don’t dye the caning. I have experimented with that, but was not happy with the results. That led me to look elsewhere for color, which led to cotton rope and paracord as weaving materials.”
She taught herself how to weave. “Once you know how to do Danish cord, it’s not that intimidating.” She’d taught herself to use Danish cord using “The Caner’s Handbook”. A couple of people on Instagram also let her “pick their brains.”
Why Furniture Making?
“I have spent an inordinate amount of time contemplating ‘why furniture making?’, says Leslie, “mostly because it still seems like such an ‘out of left field’ passion when I look at my life. I have never encountered another subject which so thoroughly engages all parts of my brain, creative and analytical. Dreaming up new designs while also agonizing over 32nds [of an inch] and adding fractions in my head? Sign me up. Time in the shop also forces me to be completely present in the moment. Drifting off in thought for even a brief moment can result in ruining a piece or worse, a shop accident. Grabbing a hand tool or turning on a machine is the fastest way to leave my worries behind. I think the thing that keeps me coming back for more, though, is the continual chase for improvement – and not compared to others, but to what I have accomplished previously,” she says. “Even after 20 years, I don’t feel like I have mastered anything, and I kind of like that. There is always a new specialized niche skill to learn or a mistake to be fixed. It is a humbling pursuit; there is nothing like messing up a process I’ve done hundreds of time to keep my feet planted firmly on the ground. I could come up with a multi-page list of why I love woodworking, but the truth is I am not sure how much logic controls the things we love; we simply do.”
The latest issue of Quercus magazine features a drawing of me on the cover and a photo of Megan on the back cover. Put together we are almost a centerfold (and nearly a professional publishing company).
This cover was a bit unexpected. Nick Gibbs asked me for a photo showing me at work for his John Brown tribute in issue 11. Then he asked Lee John Phillips to turn that photo into an illustration. Nick put it on the cover of issue 12 to promote an excerpt from “The Stick Chair Book.”
I was a bit grumpy about it at first. I have spent the last 11 years avoiding magazines, podcasts, seminars and classes. Why? I needed a psychological break from media because… well… this will sound weird but I found it difficult to grow as a designer and builder when people were asking me to do the same things over and over (workbenches, tool chests, hand tools….).
There’s more. Even though I never intended it, this cover symbolizes a small return to the periodical life for me. This week, Megan and I are finishing up the first issue of The Stick Chair Journal. Plus I have just agreed to write two more articles for Fine Woodworking and work with the fantastic Anissa Kapsales. Weirdly, it all feels good.
So thanks to Nick for the privilege (even though my boobs are *much* bigger in real life).
Note: We have sold out of our allocation of this title.
Hardbound special edition with a slipcase. Signed, stamped and numbered by the author. Only 500 copies available. With upgraded paper, binding, cloth cover and endsheets.
One of the most important woodworking books published in the 20th century, “Japanese Woodworking Tools: Their Tradition, Spirit & Use” introduced Japanese woodworking tools and methods to the English-speaking woodworking world.
The book remains, in our opinion, the best treatise on Japanese tools for any woodworker seeking to explore this great woodworking tradition. First printed in 1984, “Japanese Woodworking Tools” electrified the English-speaking woodworking world and helped introduce Japanese chisels, sharpening stones, saws and planes to the West.
Now the publisher, Linden Publishing, has created a special edition of this worthy book. Printed in the United States using high-quality paper and a sewn binding, this new edition comes in a beautifully printed slipcase. The book features nice endsheets, each signed, stamped and numbered by Odate.
The publisher has printed 500 copies of this special edition. Once they are gone, they will be gone forever. Lost Art Press has been allocated 100 copies of this book to sell. (The book will not be available through Amazon or other mass-market retailers.)
We are pleased to carry this book, as it has been one of our favorites for decades.
If you have ever wanted a durable and permanent copy of this standard woodworking book, or know someone whose life has been changed by Odate’s work, we think you will be quite pleased with this special edition.