When Christopher Schwarz and John Hoffman started Lost Art Press in 2007, they had a bit of difficultly in convincing authors to write for them. It was an unproven press with a weird business model: share all profits and costs 50/50 with authors, no Amazon or other mass-market outlet sales, books shipped out of their homes (gotta put the kids to work somehow!), no employees…
But at a woodworking show in Albany, N.Y., Chris met Matt Bickford for the first time, and hung out in his booth for a while, talking furniture, woodworking and handplanes. Matt, too, had just started his business, making traditional hollows and rounds and other moulding planes, out of cherry (if you have a cherry M.S. Bickford plane, it’s almost a collector’s item at this point!).
Peter Follansbee was also at the show, so Chris treated Peter and Matt to pizza, and over dinner, cajoled them both into writing books for Lost Art Press. They were the first two outside authors to sign contracts with Chris and John. (I’ll share an excerpt from one of Peter’s book in October).
Matt’s book, “Mouldings in Practice,” is divided into two parts. The first half discusses moulding planes and the principles of how they’re used. Matt shows you how a great variety of mouldings can be stuck with a limited number of hollows and rounds (you don’t need a full set – or even a half set) to get started. Plus he discusses the roles of snipes bill and side rounds, and teaches you how to draw accurate profiles – one of the keys to success.
But what I found most mind-blowing is the use of rabbets in the “workbook” section (the second half of the book). Remove most of the waste with a rabbet plane (or dado stack), and you’re well on your way toward a finished moulding. Not only is there less wear-and-tear on harder-to-sharpen planes, the arrises function as guides for your hollows and rounds. This section includes many common profiles, and how to layout the rabbets to make the work easier. They’re broken down into basic steps that even a novice moulding plane user (me, when this book came out) can follow. What’s below is just the intro.
When I first became aware of hollows and rounds I read about the heralded “half set.” A half set of hollows and rounds is 18 planes, nine pairs, that incrementally increase in radius from 1/8″ at the low end to 11/2″ at the high end. The half set of planes is generally the even-numbered pairs in the previously referenced chart. (A full set is 36 planes, and also includes the odd numbers.)
A half set of hollows and rounds is an extraordinarily comprehensive grouping of planes that allows the owner to produce a range of moulding profiles that exist in the smallest spice box and largest secretary. Centuries ago, the half set was often acquired over time. For many users, myself included, the half set covers an unnecessarily broad range of work, and represents an undue expense. Many woodworkers narrow their plane choice down to match the scale of work that catches their fancy. For example, if you work only with 4/4 stock, then sizes above No. 8 may go unused. Starting with just a single pair of hollows and rounds – and an efficient method to accurately establish rabbets and chamfers – allows the production of dozens of different profiles.
The simplicity of combining only one convex and one concave arc might seem limiting. There are, however, scores of profiles you will be able to produce with just a single pair of hollows and rounds. These profiles will often contain minute differences – adding a vertical or horizontal fillet, or flat, adjusting the size of that fillet, increasing the curvature or changing the general angle of the profile. These small differences are important and are often glossed over or neglected on a router table.
Adding a second pair of hollows and rounds to your tool chest, a step I always encourage, increases the number of possible profiles far more than two-fold. Not only will you be able to create the 41 profiles shown above in two different sizes, you will also be able to mix the concave with the convex to form various cove and ovolo combinations and ogees. Additionally, you can mix concave with the concave and convex with the convex to form elliptical shapes. It is at this stage that you will unlock the true versatility of these planes.
The following are stepped examples of profiles that are primarily made with one pair of No. 6 planes. (A No. 6 was defined as cutting a radius of 6/16″ or 3/8″.) These profiles are a sampling that include the basic shapes, with a few basic modifications. You can combine and scale these to build large, intricate profiles that line and accent a piece of casework or a room.
A cavetto, or cove, begins with a rabbet, which acts as both a guide and depth stop for the work with the round plane. The layout and execution of the rabbet will be the focus of much of this book and is discussed in great detail beginning in chapter 4.
An ovolo, like all instances when you use a hollow, begins with a chamfer. The chamfer, like the rabbet above, serves as both guide and depth gauge for subsequent work with the hollow plane. Again, the precise placement and execution of this chamfer will be discussed in greater detail beginning in chapter 4.
When laid out in this way, two rabbets, two chamfers, and a No. 6 hollow create a bullnose.
Ogee (Cyma Recta).
An ogee, or cyma recta, is achieved by combining the procedures for a cove and ovolo.
Reverse Ogee (Cyma Reversa).
Minor changes to the rabbets can result in major changes to the profile.
Ovolo & Cove.
A side bead starts with a snipes-bill plane that follows a gauge line, and it ends with a hollow.
With all the new books we’ve released in 2020 (five new titles, with two more about to go through the publishing baby-hole), I haven’t done a good job of discussing the other tools and apparel we are working on. Some will be released soon. Like, next month. Which is October, I am told.
Apparel aka Clothing
First, I’d like to mention that we have the chore coat available in all sizes. If you have been waiting for cool weather and for us to carry your size, today is your day. You can order one here. I wore mine today for the first time this fall, and it was like pulling on my second skin. Un-molting as it were.
With vests, we are switching colors this year to a nice brown moleskin from the same British factory. I’ll publish some photos when they are available. But these are being sewn and will be ready in October. Like our green vests, these are being made by hand in Cincinnati by SewValley.
The big project that designer Tom Bonamici has been working on is our workshirt (shown above). This shirt is based on an old Swedish army shirt that Tom wears when woodworking.
These shirts are made from a 5.5 oz. Japanese solid indigo chambray. Like the chore coat, we had special buttons made that are embossed with “Lost Art Press.” I suspect the shirts will be $165, and we will begin selling them by the end of October. Again, these are being made one at a time in Cincinnati by SewValley.
Also on down the line, Tom is working on our third bandanna design. We came up with some crazy ideas after a couple beers. We’ll see where they lead (which will probably be not crazy).
Until recently, most of my effort with Crucible has been keeping our current tools in stock during material shortages and labor shut-downs. We’re also moving production of the Bevel Monkey and Big Protractor to the United States from Great Britain.
Recently I found a little oxygen, and we have been working on two new tools. One I hope to release by the end of the year.
Ed Sutton of (FirstLightWorks) and I have been working on a simple calculator that will calculate sightline and resultant angles for the rake and splay of almost any chair. It’s devilishly clever and will eliminate the need for you to perform a trig function or consult a table. We hope to show you the prototype next month.
In the metalworking department, we are prototyping a cast planing stop for a workbench. This will look like a blacksmith-made stop, but it will be made from ductile iron, so it will be less expensive than a hand-forged one but function just as well.
Also, I have spent a lot of time trying to simplify installing the planing stop into a block of wood. Traditional stops require you to drill a stepped hole in two different sizes. Or to torch the shaft and burn the stop into the block of wood.
I’ve done it both ways. But I always thought there must be a simpler way to do it. The solution came to me in the shower. This planing stop will be easier to install than any other commercial stop I know of.
We are in our second round of prototyping right now. And there is a long road ahead of making the wooden pattern and/or matchplate. But it should be ready in the first half of 2021.
I’m sure you have questions about pricing and 100 other things I didn’t mention, but above is everything I can say right now.
“Highland Woodworking is unlike any other woodworking store I’ve ever been in on the whole planet,” Chris Schwarz told me, explaining why he thought the business and the family behind it would make an ideal contribution to this series. “It’s this wonderful, family, homey…” here he trailed off, as though in a happy dream, before resuming the narration of his reverie. “It’s just kind of overwhelming, like a candy store. If every town had a Highland, woodworking would be as popular as golf.”
Having seen pictures of the store’s façade, a drool-worthy architectural confection in century-old brick, a clay tile roof overhang supported by curly corbels, tall divided-light windows spanning nearly its entire front, I found his description almost compelling enough to plan a drive to Atlanta. Then I remembered we’re in the middle of a pandemic.
Chris discovered the place in the 1990s through the company’s black and white catalog, which they mail to a list that has grown to more than 100,000 addresses. If you know anything about Chris, you won’t be surprised to learn that he was attracted to the catalog not just by its promise of great tools, but by the warmth of its hand-drawn illustrations, a striking anachronism in the digital age. “They were one of the few people that had a full range of hand tools,” he says. “In the ’90s it was hard to find anybody who had more than one or two brands.” In fact, he adds, they had pretty much “EVERYTHING. And they were always supporting small makers, such as Independence Tool.”
It was Highland Woodworking that introduced Chris to Lie-Nielsen Toolworks, before the internet, when he called in his orders by phone. Though he still hadn’t seen the place in person, it felt familiar, largely thanks to the employee bios in the catalog. One year, Popular Woodworking assigned him to cover the International Woodworking Fair (IWF), which takes place in Atlanta. He played hooky one afternoon and made the pilgrimage. “I was speechless,” he says. “There was a suitcase on the floor; Roy Underhill was there, demonstrating. “I just couldn’t believe it. It exceeded my every expectation.”
Charmed by everything he’d seen, he got to know the owners, Chris and Sharon Bagby, and their daughters, Kelley and Molly. Their zaniness appeals to him – their willingness to do stuff “that’s off the beaten path,” as he says, proceeding to invoke a SawStop demonstration video in which Roy Underhill uses fried chicken, a good Southern staple, instead of the classic hot dog to trigger the stop. “They’re solid fried-gold people. It’s a funky neighborhood. They’re the bedrock there. The neighborhood has grown up around them.”
How could the Bagbys be so good at running a hardware store for specialty tools when neither of them was a woodworker? Jimmy Carter has taken classes at Highland Woodworking; Sam Maloof taught there. Here’s a glimpse into the business that should provide at least some clues.
Chris Bagby provided the following introduction:
“In 1974 Chris and Sharon Bagby, then recent Georgia Tech graduates, became managers of a King Hardware branch store on Piedmont Avenue in Atlanta. By coincidence, this particular King Hardware store happened to be the lone southeastern dealership for the Shopsmith combination woodworking machine. As the Bagbys worked to find ways to dramatically increase Shopsmith sales at the store, including introducing the sale of hardwood lumber, the store began to attract a growing community of woodworkers.
“In 1977 the Bagbys and their staff published a four-page woodworking newsletter they called “Wood News.” Response to it was enthusiastic. They published two more issues before deciding in the spring of 1978 to resign from King Hardware and start their own hardware store, Highland Hardware. Chris was 28. Sharon was 26.”
“At that time Shopsmith had begun opening its own retail stores nationwide and told the Bagbys they were not interested in making Highland Hardware a Shopsmith dealer. However, the couple soon connected with the Garrett Wade Company of New York, the U.S. importer of Swiss-made Inca Tools, and in 1978 began selling Inca tablesaws, bandsaws and planer-jointers. Highland Hardware became a local Atlanta retail source for Record and ECE hand planes, Marples chisels, Tyzack handsaws and many other fine woodworking tools purchased wholesale from Garrett Wade. They also continued to sell hardwood lumber and established a small millwork shop in the basement of the store.”
I spoke with Molly, 34, the younger daughter, who provided most of what follows. Both she and Kelley, who’s 10 years older, work for the business – Molly in Atlanta; Kelley, from her home in Massachusetts.
The business started out as an old-fashioned mom and pop hardware store selling the kind of stuff you need to fix a washing machine or plant flowers in a barrel – screwdrivers, nails, plumbing supplies, gardening tools. As time went on, they had more and more requests from woodworkers looking for specialized tools, so they brought in hand saws of higher quality, along with chisels, planes and more – now, as Chris Schwarz can attest, much more. Along with a full range of tools by Lie-Nielsen and some 400 distinct manufacturers, they also sell products by Festool and SawStop. Early on, when Home Depot, Lowe’s and Ace Hardware branches were proliferating across the country, selling really good woodworking tools was especially critical in setting the small, friendly store apart and giving them a competitive edge.
They moved the business to its present location (across the street from the original one) in 1984, more than doubling the store’s square footage. This time they set down roots, buying the property instead of paying rent. In 1995, just over a decade later, they did a large-scale renovation, adding 8,000 square feet of space, including a large classroom where seminars and hands-on woodworking classes are now taught. Also included in the renovation was a new shipping and receiving department, complete with loading dock and office space for management. The following year they launched their website; before long, the online business was hard to keep up with. They increased their shipping department and added more warehouse storage.
“Before long,” Chris Bagby continues,
“Highland Hardware published its own small tool catalog as the company evolved to become an importer of fine tools in its own right, and began to develop a wide following nationwide with a reputation as a leader in woodworking education, offering weekend classes throughout the year. In 1992, the company decided to merge the newsletter into the catalog and thereafter began publishing three catalogs a year. “Wood News” as a separate entity was no more, until 2005 when it was resurrected on the web as Wood News Online , where it continues to be published monthly.”
(You can read the 1981-82 catalog here, thanks to John Cashman, who sent me this document.)
Molly shared one of Sharon’s memories of working at the cash register. “She looks up and sees a man with an earpiece and sunglasses and gets a little worried. And then she looks to the left of him and sees it’s Jimmy Carter!”
Chris adds another Carter story:
“Back in the early ‘80s when we were still hand applying labels to our annual tool catalog mailings ourselves, Kelley [who was only about 6 or 7 at the time] came to the one with President Carter’s name and address on it. On a whim she wrote him a little note and stuck it in the catalog. A few days later she received a personally handwritten reply from Mr. Carter, thanking her for the note. We framed it and I think it is still hanging on the wall at Sharon’s house.”
President Carter first visited the store in March 1981, a couple of months after he left office, adds Chris.
“He arrived with a dozen Secret Service agents and shopped for some glue, a book and a few other things. While touring our store, he saw where we taught woodworking classes in the basement. He told me that if we were ever able to host Tage Frid for a seminar, he would like to attend.
“The next day I wrote to Mr. Frid (whom I did not know personally) and told him that President Carter would like to come to Highland to attend a class taught by him. Mr. Frid was interested, and indeed came to Atlanta to teach a weekend seminar that Mr. Carter attended on both days. As part of the event we arranged for us all to have dinner together at a nearby restaurant.
“Tage Frid went on to teach a seminar at Highland every year for 11 years. He and President Carter remained friends until Frid’s death in 2004.”
Today, Highland Woodworking employs about 20 people, most of whom live in Atlanta or the greater metro area. Three work in shipping. Sharon, says her daughter, is a “jack of all trades”; she dabbles in almost every aspect of operating the business, including purchasing, receiving, accounting and answering the phones. Several managers run all aspects of the website, SEO, catalog production, marketing and social media. A products manager searches out new stuff at conferences and tool shows, and orders stock from vendors. A dozen or so, most of them part-time, work the sales floor helping customers, showing them how to use tools, answering the phone, taking orders and providing technical support.
That’s a lot of employees for a mom and pop business. I asked Molly why they stay. “It’s a very laid-back work environment,” she answers. “My parents kind of just run the store in their own management style, and I think that has helped [with] employee retention, because it’s not super-corporate, not super-reliant on ‘human resources’ and a strict schedule with meetings and everything.” They provide full-time employees with health insurance.
Chris, Kelley and Molly share the marketing. All work remotely much of the time. Though Molly now lives in Atlanta, she used to work from Queens in New York City. Chris dials in from wherever he happens to be. (It might well be a spot along the Appalachian Trail, which he has hiked three times.)
Highland Woodworking holds tent sales and promotional events to celebrate anniversaries; these sound more like giant parties than the usual stuffy corporate affair. The most recent was in 2018, when they toasted their 40th year in business. Molly produced the event, bringing in Nick Offerman and Tom Lie-Nielsen to join Roy Underhill, who’s based closer by. The trio proved a big draw. “We weren’t expecting as big of a crowd as we got with Nick Offerman,” she says. Nick was there to sign copies of his latest book “Good Clean Fun.” “It was a very steady crowd to come meet him, the whole day, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.”
One of the company’s strengths since its inception has been classes in a variety of woodworking skills. “Part of the reason we have so many staff on the sales floor is we want to be able to answer your woodworking questions,” Molly notes. “Our staff have the knowledge to be able to answer whatever question you ask about.” She mentions Phil Colson as an example; he started working for them in 1985 (he’s also Molly’s godfather, which says something about how close this family is with its employees) and teaches woodturning in addition to his other work at the store.
Sharon and Chris tried to retire – she in 1994, he in 1998. They also got divorced in 1994. But when the economy crashed in 2008 and the store took a hit, both came out of retirement to get the place running again. Says Molly: “they haven’t had time to retire since.” They’re great friends and work well together.
With the onset of the pandemic, they closed the retail storefront. Most of the business, even before, came from online sales, which have only increased, rivaling the pace during most years’ holiday rush. To save local customers the delay and cost of shipping, they offer curbside pickup. Unable to run classes in-store, they’re moving at least temporarily to an online model. (You can learn more here.)
“We’re blessed to have attracted a core group of longtime employees who know their stuff and enjoy sharing what they know about any of the tools we sell, in person during normal times and otherwise by phone,” adds Chris.
Of our 18 current staff members, 12 have been with us for over 20 years each. Phil and Sidney have both worked here since 1985. Only one of our current employees has been here less than 5 years. For all that they faithfully contribute, our employees are the main reason we have been fortunate enough to attract generations of loyal customers from all over the country since 1978. We are very grateful.”
The longer I work on a book, the more difficult it is to keep it in focus. Ideas that first seemed obvious, easy, and compact become messy, sprawling and a bottomless pit of research and despair.
For me, it’s helpful to devise a melody, incantation or psalm that’s the underpinning of the entire book. Then, if a thread of my research doesn’t align with the psalm or amplify it, I set it aside for another book or article.
Example: With “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest,” the melody was: “If it doesn’t fit in the chest, you probably don’t need it.” In other words, the chest is more than a box; it is a limit to the ridiculous tool purchases that beginners (and experts) make and regret. So though I love Millers Falls miter boxes, they were off-key notes for that book. You don’t need a miter box to build furniture. So I didn’t waste a lot of time trying to quantify what makes a great miter box.
For “The Stick Chair Book,” my recitation is “To build a stick chair, use whatever you’ve got.”
I wish someone had said that to me when I got interested in chairs in the 1990s. Instead, I heard: “To build a chair you need green wood, a froe, a steambox, a drawknife, a shavehorse, axe, hatchet, a travisher, an adze, lots of steambending forms, a lathe….”
The longer I build chairs, the fewer tools I use. Things that I used to do with chair devils or specialized shaves I now do with a block plane. I haven’t used a shavehorse in almost two years. Instead of a drawknife, I use a jack plane.
For wood, I use whatever I can get my hands on easily and cheaply. If that’s kiln-dried red oak, that’s fine. If it’s bug-eaten ash that has been standing dead, I will somehow make that work, too. Bent branches from the river? Yup. I’ll use those.
It turns out that you can do a lot of wood bending with a heat gun. Or you can skip it and saw curves from solid chunks, and the chair will still last 100 years.
“To build a stick chair, use whatever you’ve got” came from studying old vernacular chairs. I’d look at them and ask, “Why did that nutter use that knotty piece of ash for the seat?” The answer that came back over and over: “Because that is what was at hand.”
Don’t get me wrong, I love good material. But you don’t need perfect stock to build a serviceable chair. Millions of chairs were made with wood that most of us would burn without a second thought.
The same recitation applies to tools. It’s easy to despair at the typical tool list for a chairmaking class. When I started building chairs, I didn’t have a scorp or travisher. How did I saddle seats? With a Red Devil paint scraper equipped with a blade I had ground to a curve. Chairmaker Chris Williams didn’t own a travisher until recently. He saddled his seats with a curved-bottom spokeshave.
This morning I started building a lowback chair using a trashy piece of ash. Knotty, split in one end and filled with bug holes (the bugs were killed in the kiln). After dressing the seat with a jack plane, it was uglier than when it was in the rough.
“I should throw this in the firewood pile,” I said.
Then my head replied: “Use what you got.”
By the end of the day, the base of the chair was together, and I realized how fond I was of this ugly-ash piece of ash.
We’ve had a couple people place inadvertent double orders: one when a book is first available (right when we send it to the printer), then again six weeks or so later when we post that the book is now in stock. (I get it…given my bourbon intake since March, it’s a miracle that I haven’t placed a double order!)
So, if you think it’s possible you’ve placed an order but cannot remember (or if you simply wish to check the status of an order), here’s how, in pictures (and captions).
And if you’re wondering why Chris ordered “The Anarchist’s Workbench” – a book he wrote and that is not only free to download but for which the design files are available to him on the very computer at which I type this – it’s because Lost Art Press likes to replicate your order experience from time to time, just to make sure everything is working as it should – from placing the order to the packing and shipping to delivery.