I am not easily surprised or struck speechless. But this morning at 8:55 I was both.
This was the final day of class for “By Hammer & Hand” at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking in Manchester, Conn. The students have been working like dogs building three projects, including the dovetailed schoolbox from “The Joiner and Cabinet Maker.”
As I walked into the school I was struck by the fact that almost all 13 students were wearing “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” T-shirts (yes, we will soon have more of these in stock). This wasn’t too surprising — many times students buy my T-shirts because they don’t have anything clean to wear for the next day.
Because of this interesting fact, we will start carrying Lost Art Press thong underwear next year.
Anyway, the other odd thing was they were all wearing name tags again, just like the first day of class. Whatever — I was behind schedule and it was time to start class.
Before I could open my mouth much, they handed me a wrapped present. That has never happened in all my years of teaching. Usually they just give me grief.
I opened it. It was a copy of “The Joiner and Cabinet Maker.”
“Thanks guys,” I said. “I hate to tell you this, but I own THOUSANDS of these.”
They told me to look inside. They had all signed their names on the inside with their first name listed at “Thomas” – the apprentice hero of the book. Then I looked closer at someone’s name tag. It read “Thomas.” But his name was David. Rick’s name tag? Thomas. They all were wearing “Thomas” name tags.
That was pretty cool. So I went over to the bowl filled with name tags and made one for myself. Mine said “Sam” — the doofus of the novel.
The second printing of “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” has arrived at our capacious climate-controlled warehouse shed. This delivery went much smoother than first delivery, which involved rain, an angry teamster and a throbbing groin muscle.
Still, this delivery was 6,000 pounds of books that I had to move box-by-box into our storage shed before the inevitable afternoon rain. But I am happy to report that no groins were injured during the loading procedure.
Of course, the only reason you have read this far – past two mentions of my “groin” nonetheless – is because you are wondering when the second printing will start shipping out to customers.
The answer: soon. We have about 100 copies of the first printing left. Once those are exhausted, we’ll start shipping the second printing. When that occurs, I’ll post a short note here on the blog.
Also, some news on the leather-bound editions: We have some customers who have been a little slow to pay on the leather-bound editions of the first printing, so we are also a little slow in sorting out the waiting list for that book. We will get it figured out in short order. If you are on the waiting list, you will hear from us – one way or another.
And more leather-bound news: The second printing is now at Ohio Book for binding. We chose a pebbled black leather with silver lettering – just like the second leather edition of “The Joiner and Cabinet Maker.”
We have lots of new projects in the works at Lost Art Press that we cannot talk about just yet. But I am quite pleased to announce a new book for 2012 by George Walker and Jim Tolpin that is tentatively titled “Divide & Conquer.”
Usually we wouldn’t announce a book this far in advance. But there’s a way you can help with the development of this book. More on that in a minute.
“Divide & Conquer” will explore the world of furniture design through the eyes of the pre-Industrial artisan. Design furniture without using measurements. Using simple tools – such as dividers and a straightedge – Tolpin and Walker contend that you can create furniture that pleases the eye and is sympathetic to the human form.
Many of the current books on design seek to explore the limits of the materials, or to play with our conceptions of what furniture should be or could be. That is not the aim of this book. “Divide & Conquer” seeks to ignite the pilot light inside your head that will allow you to create pleasing forms – no matter what style of furniture you build.
The authors are an interesting pair. Walker is the host of two DVDs on design produced by Lie-Nielsen Toolworks and is the author of the “Design Matters” column in Popular Woodworking Magazine. Jim Tolpin is one of the bestselling woodworking authors alive and helps run a woodworking school.
How can you help? Well Walker and Tolpin are working on the book right now and are trying out their ideas on students. This August, Walker will will teach a class at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking and the students will be guinea pigs for many of the book’s ideas.
Walker informs me there are a few spots still open in the class. You can read all the details here.
We will have more details on the book, including a release date and price, as they become available.
When I embark on a writing project I try to begin with a ridiculous premise. During the revisions and the re-writes, the absurdity begins to mellow or even drain out of the manuscript altogether.
Take “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” for example. When I began writing the book, the nutty, never-happen-but-it-would-be-cool premise was to sell most of my tools, write a book, then quit my cushy corporate job… aw crap.
When Roy Underhill asked me to be a guest on a couple episodes of “The Woodwright’s Shop” for the upcoming season we decided to do a show on planes and a show about the English Layout Square that graces the cover of “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest.”
So I began thinking about new ways to talk about handplanes. Stupid and perhaps insensitive ways to talk about handplanes. Stuff that would generate angry letters.
Here’s the set-up: What if smoothing plane use were an addiction? And there were support groups?
The following unedited script was completely discarded. We probably used only one line on the show. And yes, I know that addiction is a serious problem – ask me about my family’s struggles with it over a beer sometimes.
— Christopher Schwarz
Smoothing Plane Recovery Program
Chris: My name is Chris Schwarz, and I am a recovering smoothing plane addict.
Roy: An addict? Really? Strong words. Well let’s see … there are basically six steps to recovering from some sort of addiction. Let’s check the list:
“Step one: Admitting that one cannot control one’s addiction or compulsion.”
Chris: At one time I had more than a dozen smoothing planes. I was trying out all the angles, all the mouth apertures, infills, vintage, new, bevel-up, bevel down, woodies, different sizes, you name it.
shows different planes
I had a micrometer to measure whether I was making shavings that were .0005″ thick. I was watching Japanese planing contests – where they measure the shaving thickness in MICRONS.
shows wispy shavings
My wife even caught me down in the shop making shavings… and I wasn’t even building anything. Just… smoothing.
Roy: That is serious stuff. What made you finally quit?
Chris: The good book.
Roy: You mean…
Chris holds up and opens book
Chris: Yup. Joseph Moxon’s “Mechanick Exercises; or the Doctrine of Handy-works Applied to the Arts of Smithing, Joinery, Carpentry, Turning, Bricklaying.” The first English-language book on woodworking.
Roy: That’s the second step – recognizing a higher power can give you strength. So you found strength through a 17th-century printer and hygrometer to the king?
Chris: Yes I did. Moxon showed me the error of my ways.
Roy: How’s that?
Chris: When I first read Mechanick Exercises I was struck – nay – blown away by how much Moxon wrote about the “fore plane” and how little he wrote about the “smoothing plane.” It was incredible. More than 1,800 words on the fore plane. And on the smoothing plane: just 33.
shows fore plane.
Roy: Dang. Well I hope they were strong words about the smoothing plane – about how it is the end-all plane, end of story.
Chris: Hardly. Here’s all he said:
“S. 6. The Ufe of the Smoothing-Plane.
The Smoothing-plane marked B 4. muft have its Iron fet very fine, becaufe its Office is to fmoothen the work from thofe Irregularities the Fore-plane made.”
Roy: That’s it? Nothing about finding your power animal or opening your heart chakra or adjusting your aura with sub-thou shavings?
Chris: Nope. That’s it. So I started diving deep into Moxon’s text on fore planes and I found that this plane (holds up plane) is the most powerful bench plane in the world.
Roy: You don’t say.
Chris: With this plane I could correct all the things I was doing wrong with my smoothing plane, and that’s ….
Roy: …the third step.
Chris: Indeed. The secret is inside the mouth of the tool. The iron (shows iron) is a convex arc – this one is an 8″ radius. And this radius can give you superpowers.
Roy: Like making paper-thin shavings?
Chris: Like making shavings the thickness of an old Groat! (makes massive pass with plane, pulls off thick shaving). This is what gets the work done, not the mamby-pamby lacy doily shavings where each one is unique like a snowflake!
This is what flattens boards (continues to work). Every shaving from a fore plane equals 10 from a smoother. You can do 10-times less work.
Roy: But won’t thick shavings tear up the work?
Chris: Ahhhh. That’s where Moxon helps us again. He tells us to traverse.
Chris: Yes. Don’t push your plane with the grain (shows) or against the grain (shows). Instead go ACROSS the grain.
Roy: Won’t you go to a dark and very warm place for doing that?
Chris: Hardly (demonstrates). By going across the grain we can take a much thicker chip with much less effort. And because we aren’t levering up the wood fibers, the tearing is minimal. This also allows us to get boards really flat – something a puny smoothing plane can’t do.
(discussion and demonstration of flattening a board by traversing bark side, then heart side. showing the different sounds and how to determine flat – just wink!)
Roy: That’s pretty remarkable, but the tool seems rather coarse; aren’t you going to make a lot of clean-up work for the other tools?
Chris: Hardly. Moxon says we can reduce the cut of the fore plane and clean up our dawks before moving on. (demonstrates; discussion of dawks ensues).
Roy: It seems like you really got true religion here. As I understand it, you are supposed to “make amends for your errors” in cases like this. Did you. Did you really?
Chris: I did. I sold almost all of my smoothing planes or gave them away to friends. I’m now down to – two smoothing planes, which is probably still one too many. And I’m trying to live my life with a new code of behavior – working as much with a coarse tool before I switch to a fine tool. That’s the core message in Moxon.
Use a hatchet more than a fine file. Use a rough plane more than a fine one. Chop. Don’t pare. Pit saw. Not coping saw.
Roy: And then there’s the last step, right? Helping others who suffer from an addiction to smoothing planes?
Chris: Yup. Wherever there is a woodworker using a Norris A13, I want to be there. A Holtey No. 98? I’m there to take your hands off the $5,000 tool. I’ll be there to trade you a moldy Scioto Works fore plane and show you the way: Across the grain, to get thick shavings, to actually accomplish something.
Perhaps the best way to design nice furniture is to first look at thousands of examples of it.
That’s the path I take, and I always recommend woodworkers visit museums and galleries, or pore over books crammed with photos of pleasing forms. But it never occurred to me that looking at furniture could have the opposite effect – it can ruin you.
During my last week in Germany I spent a lot of time with Ute Kaiser, who is in charge of public relations and the class program for Dictum GmbH, the company that runs the classes where I teach.
Ute is a former newspaper reporter like myself, so we get along just great. And usually before or after I teach at Dictum, she and her boyfriend take me sightseeing somewhere in Bavaria. This time we went to Regensburg and ended up ducking some spotty weather in a cafe that looked like something transplanted from Paris.
As the three of us chatted about what we had seen that day, the conversation turned to furniture, both old and new. That’s when Ute told me a story about a Bavarian furniture factory and the time she had interviewed the owner while she was a reporter.
The man had made a lot of money selling factory-made furniture all over Germany, though the furniture wasn’t particularly well-made or beautiful. During the interview, he explained his business model.
As a long-time maker, he knew that his furniture wasn’t the best. But he also knew something about human nature.
So he bought regular advertising in the local paper that showed photos of his furniture. The more the readers saw the ugly forms, the more they became used to them – the stuff became comfortable and familiar. And after becoming used to it, they bought it.
As much as I hate to admit, this makes sense. We accept the familiar and reject the different, especially when it comes to filling our homes.
It’s just that the world is upside down now. The ugly is familiar and the beautiful is rare.
— Christopher Schwarz
For more design resources….
• If you are interested in furniture design, you definitely should check out George Walker’s blog. Walker, the author of the “Design Matters” column in Popular Woodworking Magazine, has been on a one-man crusade to help improve the design vocabulary of woodworkers.
• If you like period furniture, one of the best and cheapest sources of beautiful forms is Wallace Nutting’s “Furniture Treasury.” Volumes one and two can be had for a song at used book stores.
• The other place to find lots of forms to look at is at web pages for auction houses that specialize in fine furniture. Christie’s and Sotheby’s are always good sources. But there are other houses that specialize in other forms, such as this great site for Southern furniture, Neal Auction house.