Just in time for the holidays, we have received our first shipment of our USA-made canvas tool rolls, which are available for immediate shipment. The tool rolls are made by the same factory that makes our workshop waist apron, so the build quality and stitching is immaculate.
The price is $39 plus domestic shipping. Also, I’ve been meaning to mention that we now offer free shipping on orders more than $100. (Maybe you need three tool rolls?)
These tool rolls are based on one that I used many years ago to schlep my tools all over the world. Most tool rolls are not designed for small hand tools; they are instead designed for a huge graduated set of wrenches or auger bits. This tool roll is designed for smaller tools: chisels, knives, marking tools, rulers, awls, cutting gauges, screwdrivers and the like.
The tool roll has 18 pockets, so it will hold a lot of stuff. The longest tool it will hold is about 11” long – plenty long enough for most tools.
The tool roll also has two foldable flaps that cover the handles of your tools and prevent them from falling out during traveling. The whole thing cinches together with a webbed cotton strap and two nickel O-rings. Once cinched, your tools are protected.
This tool roll is great for travel. Or for protecting your tools in a tool chest. We are thrilled to offer this tool roll as part of our line of canvas gear. We have two more canvas products coming next year that will be great for owners of a tool chest or tool cabinet.
James Krenov, the well-known furniture maker born in Russia, author of the hugely influential “A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook,” for 21 years the lead instructor of what is now the Krenov School in Fort Bragg, Calif., and who died at 88 in 2009, was not always revered. When my late wife, Carolyn Grew-Sheridan, and I met with him in 1974, in a suburb outside Stockholm, Sweden, he had been rejected for a teaching position at the School for American Crafts at the Rochester Institute of Technology and thought himself to be in exile. His wife, a native of Sweden, was supporting them as a high school teacher of economics. His professional world was a tiny basement with small machines and a bench where he made his signature handplanes.
While cleaning out several old boxes, I recently found notes from our trip to Scandinavia. Carolyn and I had taken a six-week backpacking and youth hosteling trip to visit woodworkers, museums and schools there. We had just finished a 14-month apprenticeship with Karl Seemuller and Andy Willner at the Peters Valley School of Crafts in New Jersey. Arrangements for that placement, which saved us huge tuition bills, had been made by Dan Jackson, a creative genius who died far too early.
On May 15, 1974, I wrote the following short notes without the benefit of a tape recorder:
A four-and-a-half-hour visit to a meticulously maintained shop. A chance to hear master cabinetmaker, James Krenov, formerly of Seattle, talk about wood, furniture and, most importantly, people. We made the appointment on the recommendation of the editor of FORM magazine, Kirstin Wickman.
I wrote that “he lives in a pleasant house 25 minutes outside the city. Huge high-rise complexes built for the commuter rail line surround his detached house and others in the area, but the overall feeling in May is of light and sunshine. He met us at the train and immediately showed himself to be on the defensive. He asked me why I was wearing hiking boots, ‘those heavy things.’ Well, I didn’t want to tell him that I used to own a pair of shoes like his Wallabies, but they hurt my feet. So I just said that my boots were comfortable for our traveling.
“This short, strong, grey-haired man then led us toward his house while our attempts to make conversation failed. But that didn’t stop him from talking. It simply meant that there was no exchange, at least for a while, until things warmed up. We were offered the hospitality of cake and coffee and a tour of his workshop. We found his basement space to be immaculate, with perfectly sharpened tools and handmade planes. Everything was in its assigned place. He had a few of his pieces there, including a clock with one hand.
“Krenov appeared to Carolyn and me to be working on a delicate scale with discipline and consistency. He made only minimal, preliminary sketches and did not believe that woodworkers have to know how to draw.
His opinion was that “they can respond to the wood. Too many students get lost in their drawings and find themselves only able to think on paper.”
During our conversations he apologized for his being antagonistic, but said that he didn’t know how people felt about him, or his methods and style of work. He was tired of being a curiosity. He was defensive. We heard (and he confirmed) that in Scandinavia young people were not interested in training to be cabinetmakers. New companies like IKEA were being created. (We brought home as a souvenir the first IKEA catalog). He felt that he himself needed only simple tools and machinery. He loved and treasured his wood collection.
He was not accepted for a teaching position at the School for American Crafts at RIT after teaching and auditioning there. He came to the conclusion that the school drove out the sensitive students, was trying to be everything to everyone and, as a result, was not serving its purpose. The curriculum was not congruent with his philosophy and techniques.
He was critical of other prominent furniture makers and not content within his own work. Krenov singled out Art Espenet Carpenter, founder of the Baulines Guild in the California Bay Area. “Beauty doesn’t come by the pound,” he said. In addition, I noted that he called Carpenter’s work “amateur dabbling” and regretted that Carpenter had been such a big influence on the West Coast.
He felt that Wendell Castle, also teaching at Rochester and who was becoming a towering presence in sculpture and woodworking, was ignorant about wood as a material and a bad teacher. “Castle made too many Wendell Castles,” he said. He emphasized that when teaching at RIT he wouldn’t even grade some of the student projects that were Castle-influenced. He accepted Castle as a sculptor but he thought that he was not responsive to the wood itself and that he should be working in another medium. This was in reference to Castle’s stack-laminated and carved work. (Krenov was unaware that Castle received an MFA in cast bronze sculpture.)
He was fond of my informal mentor at the Philadelphia University of the Arts, Dan Jackson. He thought that Jackson had a lot of sensitivity and ability. At the same time he said that the school encouraged too much originality and “razzmatazz.”
When talking about his own work he mentioned the importance of achieving “the singing drawer” in a cabinet. The fit of the drawer in the finished cabinet. He thought this was a crucial quality that needed be discussed and understood. For him a completed piece has to be good from every side and should not contain plywood. For a woodworker the “joy is in taking a piece completely through each step,” in contrast to industrial line production where the employee has to do the same thing over and over.
He thought that the quality of tools in Europe and the United States was declining (this was in the early 1970s) so he recommended Japanese saws, which were then new to us. In addition, he had a collection of older tools and plane irons. The specialty tool makers that we know today did not exist then.
It was his experience after being in many shows that in Scandinavia those awarding commissions did not often think of ordering a cabinet for a specific space. Usually such work went to weavers or painters. However, Krenov felt that in the United States a buying public for works in wood could be developed if the buyer was able to appreciate the cost of the time in the work.
For someone whose worldwide fame was still in front of him, but very close, we noticed how worried he was about how much longer he would be able to work. He worried about his strength and alertness, even though he was only 53 when we met him.
Unfortunately, we took no pictures of our visit with James Krenov. In the months that followed we finished our second summer as assistants in the Peters Valley wood studio At the same time, Carolyn, who had worked for three years after college as a book editor, attempted to organize Krenov’s thoughts and notes into a publishable format. Eventually she sent her files back to Krenov, who found a publisher for his best-selling “A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook.” We started our Grew-Sheridan Studio in San Francisco. It seemed to us to be the cheapest city in the country in which to find working space. There was no “tech.”
Some notable Krenov quotes from the visit:
“Americans want to design a piece on Tuesday and have it ready on Saturday.”
“They want originality. There is none.”
“Craftsmanship has its own justification”.
“Craft must be able to offer something that factories cannot.”
“It is a fallacy to say that a craftsman can make a better joint than a factory.”
“There is a need to explore questions of value and aesthetics.”
“I enjoy teaching.”
“I don’t feel that the best craftsmen will survive but the most aggressive will.”
“I don’t like curves that are just part of a circle. Too boring.”
“Asymmetrical work should be subtle not forceful.”
“No tool is a magic key.”
We had been traveling to see “Scandinavian Design.” Krenov thought it was “living on its past laurels.” IKEA was just getting started. The future of studio furniture making was in the United States.
We’re so hard-core at Lost Art Press that our first question to accountant candidates was “are you a woodworker?” OK – not really. But it turns out our accountant really does spend a fair amount of time in the shop! That’s his work shown above, and he wrote the below.
The first question is always “how long did it take to make that?” I pondered the question for a few moments and answered “well, I started this bowl in 1977.” While it didn’t actually take me 45 years to make the Rainbow Bowl (from recycled skateboard decks), it’s certainly the result of an early life passion for everything skateboarding.
In 1977 I was 13 years old and my family had recently moved to a new neighborhood where hundreds of homes were to be built in the next several years. Where others saw a burgeoning neighborhood, I saw an unlimited supply of scrap construction lumber perfect for making skateboard ramps and jumps. This might where my lifelong woodworking hobby found me. It could have started out by simply nailing a piece of plywood to a 2×4 to make a basic skateboard ramp. I don’t really know for sure where it started, but I’ve been making things from wood since as long as I can remember.
Fast forward 45 years and I have a house full of personally handcrafted treasures, from a large kitchen table, to a dining room buffet, to lamps to shelves full of what a friend calls “dustables,” and of course a growing number of turned bowls.
As a woodworker, it wasn’t a secret to me that skateboard decks are made from high quality laminated maple hardwood ply, often with the layers dyed in random bright colors. And I’m most definitely not the first woodturner to use skateboard decks in their projects. YouTube has no shortage of videos with folks making all sorts of things out of skateboard wood. My first skateboard project was using old skate decks from a friend’s son to help her create a table and bowl. These were both gifted back to her son. I was pretty happy with how those projects turned out, so with the first pile of used skate decks I was able to acquire, I set my sights on making something unique and colorful.
One of the challenges in woodworking with skateboard decks is that, counter to what you might think, nowhere on the board is actually flat. The board’s ends curve up to serve up as kick tails and the center section is concave. This usually results in troubles gluing the layers together. While ripping a deck board into thinner strips, it occurred to me that regluing those thinner strips into a stack would be perfect working material for a segmented (or wedgies) style bowl. So that’s the direction I went, creating what is now known as the Rainbow Bowl. I filmed the video below that illustrates the process of making recycled old decks into a pretty cool decorative piece. I’m really proud of this piece, and as far as I can tell, it’s a unique take on using this very colorful raw material.
– Mike Sapper
P.S. Please visit my YouTube channel to leave questions/comments on this video – and subscribe to keep updated on future projects, which will include charity events and bowl giveaways.
Behind that is the far-too-nice-to-throw-away wee box that Chris’s “Unturned Pencil” came in (the maker would no doubt appreciate your noticing the Robertson screws).
Then it’s on to the IBEX violin plane that someone told Chris he couldn’t live without. Turns out he could – but it looks cute on the shelf. Not as cute, however, as the Bern Billsberry teensy coffin smoother (for which we unfortunately seem to have lost the wedge).
Behind the small planes we have a few cutaway views of joints. The round one is inherited from Jennie Alexander, and shows the interlocking rungs that are a hallmark of her chairs (you can learn all about them in “Make a Chair from a Tree“). The rectangular ones are to show students that drawboring a mortise-and-tenon joint really does work (so many skeptics about pre-industrial woodworking technology!).
Plus a few larger tools – a Wayne Anderson sliding bevel gauge (it’s a gorgeous tool – and worth a closer look).
And finally, we have a scrub plane made by John Wilson, of Shaker box supplies fame. I seem to have inadvertently, uh, permanently borrowed it circa early December 2017. Oops.
p.s. This is the sixth post in the Covington Mechanical Library tour. To see the earlier ones, click on “Categories” on the right rail, and drop down to “Mechanical Library.” Or click here.