After dealing with the hassle and unreliability of print-on-demand tees for a few years, we’ve shifted gears big time. We figured it’d only be right to sell tees that reflect our values just as much as our chore coats, vests, hats and bandanas. That meant good materials and responsible domestic manufacturing.
Our new short-sleeve tees are a thick, tough 6.1-ounce jersey, tube-knit in the USA from domestically grown cotton. That’s about 50 percent heavier than your typical cheapo tee, and the tubular knit means no side seams to chafe and/or fall apart.
The tees are proudly Union-sewn in California. Our friend Mike does the printing at his farm in Oregon, and the quality of his work is exceptional – it’s a true discharge print, which means it’s flat to the fabric, rather than the plastic-y junk that sits proud (and eventually flakes off). These cost us a lot more than a conventional cheep tee, but we couldn’t be more proud of their quality and origin. We even added our own label to the neck.
Just one color and logo, for now. It’s a dark, dark navy with a very subtle charcoal logo. It seems to be damn near impossible to photograph, like all things in the black-on-black vein, but it sure looks perfect in person.
The fit is just ever-so-slightly slimmer than, say, a Hanes Beefy-T. Order your usual size, or a size up if you’re on the fence. Don’t worry, it’s not a slim hipster fit like American Apparel. Like most tees, these shrink a fair bit on the first wash. There’s a size chart on the product page that shows their measurements after a warm wash/warm dry – have a look if you’re still not sure.
— Tom Bonamici
Editor’s note: I have been wearing the living snot out of this T-shirt since we received our first samples. This shirt gets better and better with every wash. And it breathes nicely, even when I’m working hard at the bench. Kudos to Tom for finding the right shirt and the right people to make it. — Chris
On Saturday, I sprayed two coats of lacquer on a small Dutch tool chest and its lower chest, then reinstalled the hardware. With that, I am done with the building and picture-taking thereof…I think.
I have a table of contents with chapters that cover the order of operations, and image folders tagged to each of those chapters. The images within each folder serve as a visual outline of what I need to cover in the text, and many of my pictures are simply visual notes – reminders of what I want to write – that won’t make it into the book.
By the end, I’ll have taught readers how to build two sizes of Dutch tools chest (with a choice of three lids), plus a lower chest on which to rest the small one (or the large one, if you’re tall), to make it easy to access the tools (as well as hold more). I’m offering several approaches to each operation when practical, so that no matter what the tool kit or skill set, readers should be able to find a method that appeals.
I’ve outfitted the interiors of both chests to hold chisels, marking knives and other pointy tools on the back wall. One has a saw till on the chest floor, the other has it behind the hanging rack. Both chests have cubbies for a jointer, jack and smooth plane (and suggestions for ways to tuck a block plane on the wall).
But as I wrote months ago, I’ve seen many clever modifications, drawers, racks, lift-out tills and more in similar chests over the years. And because I can’t possibly construct every possibility myself, I plan to feature some of those in a gallery (with credit, of course!) in the book. Many of you who’ve already built Dutch tool chests responded to my initial request for pictures, and I’ll be in touch with you soon (and thanks again!).
But I’d love to have more photos for the book. I’m looking for clever solutions to storing tools – digital images that are at least 300 dpi at 5×7. (Chris has a helpful post on photography here.) In short, I need in-focus pictures that show the relevant features without clutter or visual distractions. I realize not everyone can shoot these kinds of photos, so if quick phone snaps* are the best you can do, I’ll feature some of those in blog posts when the book comes out, which I hope is before the winter holidays. The deadline for photos is June 30, to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ll have this book written, designed and to my editor (that would be Chris) by July 30. So I’m signing off now to start writing far too many words, then excising as many adverbs and gerunds as possible.
* Note: If you have a late-model phone, it might be able to take pictures of a quality suitable for print.
I first read about the Welsh Nannau Oak (also called the Strangling Oak; Derwen Ceubren Yr Ellyll, the Hollow Oak, Haunt of Demons; and the Skeleton Tree) while working on Honest Labour: The Charles H. Hayward Years. I was intrigued.
After months of thinking about it and doing a bit of research, I sent an email to Chris about the tree. Stories surrounding the oak involve murder. Ghosts. Witch hangings. Cursed objects.
I gave him some background on the tree and asked if there was any merit in doing more research for something unusual given the nature of the oak: an illustrated children’s book. My long email was followed by his short answer.
“Hell yes, this is cool.”
Fast forward to today.
After months of research, countless drafts and help from many fine people (all of which I’ll write about more in the weeks to come) I have finished the manuscript and am working on the storyboard. And now I am thrilled to say that Welsh illustrator Elin Manon Cooper has agreed to illustrate the book.
Elin grew up in Cardiff, Wales, and currently travels between homes in Wales and Cornwall. She has a first-class BA Hons Degree in illustration from Falmouth University. Elin’s work “is often inspired by the natural world, folklore and folk traditions, particularly those Welsh and Cornish.” She has a passion for storytelling and she “aims to bring a sense of magic to the everyday, reflecting stories of the landscape, in a world that is often focused on the modern and material.”
Our long-form illustrated children’s book is about Cadi, the daughter of a Welsh chairmaker – plus the Nannau oak and an acorn-shaped cup filled with spirits’ stories. Unlike Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree,” this oak fights back. But at its heart it’s about storytelling and the importance of truth, even when the truth seems scary.
Caller: “Hi, uh, this is going to sound kind of weird. But I was digging in the dumpster at Barnes & Noble in my town, and I found about 20 copies of your magazine there – all with the covers ripped off.”
Caller: “I like your magazine, and I thought I’d let you know in case something fishy was going on. Like they were cheating you or something.”
Editor: “Nope. That’s perfectly normal.”
Caller: “That’s crazy.”
Editor: “Yup. When we send copies of our magazine to a bookstore or a newsstand, they sell what they can. Then they rip off the covers, mail those back to us and we credit their account for the unsold copies.”
Caller: “And then they throw away the rest?”
Editor: “Well, we wish they would recycle them, but yes.”
Caller: “And so if they threw away 20 copies, how many did they sell?”
Editor: “Well that’s the real crime. They sold maybe five or six copies. That’s typical for the industry. About 25 percent get sold, and the rest get thrown away or pulped.”
Caller: “That seems so wasteful.”
Editor: “Ha! That’s nothing. You should hear how we get new subscribers.”
As in a lot of other Shaker furniture, the distinctive features of a Shaker workbench are not always immediately obvious. As a utilitarian piece of equipment, the Shaker bench has to meet many of the same requirements as a worldly workbench. There is only so much room for variation and development before such a basic tool becomes over-specialized. Though the Shakers, like their contemporaries, distinguished between joiners or carpenters, who made architectural elements, and cabinetmakers, who made furniture and small goods, the workbenches of these craftsmen were probably quite similar. Chairmaking and boxmaking were separate industries with different workholding requirements. Shaker chairs were a production item, mainly comprised of interchangeable turned parts. Thus the lathe was the primary tool and workholding device. Chairs were clamped in a vise like the one shown below while their seats were woven. Shaker boxes were also mass-produced, and they were assembled on benches that were much smaller and less refined than the workbenches used for furnituremaking or joinery.
The Shaker workbench, like others in the world, has many standard components: a tail vise and dogholes, a front vise, and room for tool storage beneath the top. Likewise, most of the same materials, hand tools and machinery available to the Shakers for workbench making were the same as those used by their worldly counterparts. As a result, similar woods may be found in both Shaker and non-Shaker benches, joined with the same mortise-and-tenon or dovetail joints.
It is unclear exactly when the Shakers began building workbenches. Perhaps a few were brought along when woodworkers joined the fold. (Gideon Turner, an early convert, became a member of New Lebanon in 1788 with “1 Set Carpenters tools & 1 Set Joiners Tools” valued at eight pounds.) Or, more likely, makeshift arrangements may have been employed until permanent workshops could be built and proper benches installed. In any case, journal entries and a couple of dated benches indicate that Shakers were building benches by the first or second quarter of the 19th century. This coincides with the period during which most Shaker furniture was built and the stylistic features that distinguish it today were firmly entrenched. Although Shaker life and work became increasingly codified at the same time, no precise description of the ‘proper’ workbench or its appropriate usage has yet been discovered. (The idea that such a description might exist is not as farfetched as it sounds, considering that the Millennial Laws mandated: “Floors in dwelling houses, if stained at all, should be of a reddish yellow, and shop floors should be of a yellowish red.”)
Since my first introduction to those two Shaker benches, I have looked at a dozen benches in other Shaker museums – Fruitlands in Harvard, Massachusetts, and the Shaker Musemn in Old Chatham, New York – as well as a few in private collections. While these represent only a fraction of the total number of Shaker workbenches that must have been made (every Shaker family had a woodworking shop, and the large families, such as the New Lebanon Church Family, had both a joiner’s and a cabinetmaker’s shop), certain patterns begin to emerge.
I chose to focus my attention on the Shaker workbench at Hancock Shaker Village, shown on p. 32 [and on the cover, above], for several reasons. It is well made and in good condition and does not appear to have been materially altered. In its dimensions and construction, it is as fine an example of a Shaker bench as any I have seen. And it is the only such bench I am aware of that remains in everyday use in a working, Shaker-style cabinet shop, albeit in an interpretive museum. I will describe details of other Shaker benches I have seen as they differ from the Hancock bench or further an understanding of it.
As my first impression suggested, Shaker benches tend to be massive. The Hancock benchtop is 11 ft. 9 in. long and 38 in. wide. The main body of the top is 3-3/4 in. thick. The smallest Shaker bench I found (at Fruitlands) is only 8 ft. 1 in. long. The largest (at Old Chatham) is 16 ft. 7 in. Most of the others are between 12 ft. and 15 ft. long. Indeed, it would seem that a small Shaker bench would be anything under 10 ft. long-several feet longer than what would be considered a large workbench today. (This may not have been unusual at the time, given the 18th-century Dominy workbenches [p. 13] and the French workbenches described by Roubo [p. 21].)
The top of the Hancock bench is comprised of three separate sections (as shown in the drawing on the facing page), built stoutly and purposefully. The front section is 16 in. wide and laminated from four pieces of 3-3/4-in.-wide maple or birch and a 1-in. strip of pine, glued and bolted together with four handforged bolts. (The 3-3/4-in.-square laminates would have been convenient to work with.) This area houses the dogholes and vises, and functions as the primary worksurface; maple or birch was used on this part of the bench, as it was on all the others I’ve seen. (Due to the age and patina of the bench, it is often difficult to determine the exact species of wood used; the woods I describe should be considered ‘educated guesses.’)
The midsection of the top is a single chunk of 9-1/4-in.-wide chestnut or oak. Although hard and dense, the open-grained wood provides a rougher benchtop texture than that of the front portion, and was presumably acceptable for a secondary worksurface. The 12-3/4-in.-wide back section of the top is made of knotty, hard pine. Both the middle and back sections are 1-3/4 in. thick, supported by spacers that rest on the base frame. Both ends are covered by simple, bolt-on end caps with captured nuts fed from the underside of the top. No tongue-and-groove or splined joints were used to attach the end caps. They were merely intended to conceal the end grain on the benchtop and, in the case of the end cap on the right end of the bench, to serve as the nut for the tail-vise benchscrew.
The very size of the enormous top offers some interesting clues to Shaker woodworking. “It’s never big enough,” according to Joel Seaman, the cabinetmaker who has been making restoration Shaker furniture on the Hancock bench for over ten years. Seaman could lay out all the parts of a cabinet on the top and still have room to use the vises.
The order and cleanliness of the Shakers is legendary, however, and it’s unlikely that the benches were built large to accommodate such expansive work habits. (Even the woodshed and tool room of a Shaker brother in Union Village, Ohio, was impeccably organized: ” … every stick of wood was exact in its place …. His little work shop exhibited the same care.”) In part, bench size may be explained by the institutional nature of the Shaker dwellings and the size of the joinery and furnishings required for them. In every community these buildings are imposing structures, with high ceilings and wide hallways. As shown in the photo below, some of the most remarkable case pieces stand over 8 ft. tall; built-in cupboards, housing dozens of drawers and cabinets, may run floor-to-ceiling and the length of a long hallway. All this work, plus the miles of pegboard circumnavigating the rooms, would have been more easily hand-planed and joined on a long bench. While there was some specialization among Shaker woodworkers, records indicate that a typical woodworker’s week would have been spent in a wide variety of pursuits. As the communities stabilized and eventually began to shrink, there would have been less new furniture (apart from chairs for sale) to build. At the same time, fewer craftsmen would have had to perform an even more varied range of tasks.
There is also reason to believe that more than one person worked at the bench at a time. Entries from the journals of Freegift Wells, an Elder and woodworker of considerable stature from Watervliet, New Yorrk, depict what was probably a typical relationship between a cabinetmaker and his apprentice. In these notes…Wells tells us that he installed a vise at the opposite end of his own workbench for his apprentice, Thomas Almond. There are also frequent references in other Shaker letters and journals to projects undertaken by two or more craftsmen working together.
Without exception, all the Shaker benches I’ve seen have an enclosed base, which contributes substantial mass and storage space, while it restricts any clamping to the ends or the narrow overhang along the front edge of the top. One thing I have never seen on a Shaker bench, but which is common on other benches out in the world, is an open tool tray. This tray, whether built into the top or between the stretchers of the base, collects debris and allows tools to knock about, damaging their edges. To an early Shaker, an open tray would have seemed like an open sewer-seductively convenient, perhaps, but unsanitary and hazardous.
Mother Ann could have been lecturing her woodworking followers when she said: ” … take good care of what you have. Provide places for your things, so that you may know where to find them at any time, day or by night …. “,Just as the walls of the Shakers’ dormitories are lined with built-in cupboards, so their workbenches are equipped with substantial cabinets that fully occupy the area between the legs and beneath the top. They are also unique in that the drawers and cabinets are usually built into the base framework, a tedious and exacting process. It would have been much easier to support the top with a basic four-leg structure and to install an independent tool-cabinet carcase between them. … In the case of the Shaker workbenches I have seen, the members of the carcase itself-posts, drawer dividers and the frame-and-panel ends-generally function as the legs and stretchers of the workbench. This may have been preferred for aesthetic reasons, or simply to lend continuous support to such a large worksurface.
On the Hancock bench, like most of the others, the base is divided into a succession of drawers that progress in size from the smallest on the top to the largest on the bottom. A portion of the base consists of open shelves, which are reserved for storage of items that won’t fit in the drawers (large tools or specially prepared stock, perhaps). These areas are always enclosed by doors. The insides of the door panels on the Hancock bench display remnants of different-color paint, indicating that they were borrowed from some other project and reincarnated in the workbench.
The order and cleanliness provided by the enclosed base cabinet had many practical dividends for the workbench. The problems of racking and sliding, which are inherent in an open-frame base, are automatically resolved by the rigidity of the casework and the sheer weight of the structure. Loaded with tools, as it presumably was, the cabinet anchored the whole bench to the floor and to move it would have taken a small army. Workbench storage would have made it easier to keep track of tools in a large community. “No one should take tools, belonging in charge of others, without obtaining liberty for the same … ,” the Millennial Laws decreed. “The wicked borrow and never return.”