Another Greenville

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One of the few places left in downtown Greenville I recognize – the ABC store behind the old pressroom. I parked here every day before work. I only went in there once – I was too poor to buy alcohol in quantities greater than one beer.

This week I returned to Greenville, S.C., where I had my first job at The Greenville News from 1990 to 1992. To be honest, I barely recognized the place, which has grown from a sleepy burg with a deserted downtown to a vibrant and bustling city with nice restaurants and an impressive arts scene.

To be fair, the city probably doesn’t recognize me, either. I wasn’t much of a woodworker (or a writer, for that matter) when I started work there in June 1990. But walking around its streets reminded me of a few important lessons the city taught me.

This is where I fell deeply in love with furniture. One of the newspaper’s photographers, Owen Riley, collected Arts & Crafts everything. His apartment, which was above mine on Atwood Street, was packed with original pieces that would make a modern-day collector freak the heck out. Owen spent hours telling me about every piece he owned. He explained the American Arts & Crafts movement to me in a way that cut deeply. He loved the furniture. But he also adored the textiles, the bookmaking, the ceramics, the philosophy – all the stuff that came before the movement became huge and flamed out.

He also took me on his sorties into the country to collect the stuff. And we peered in the darkness together at farmer’s markets and junk sales to look for spindles and the flash of medullary rays. This was the first step I took (without my father or grandfather) toward making furniture.

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The former site of the old Greenville News building, a brutalist structure that is now being replaced with “lovely” high rises.

The newspaper hardened me into a writer who loved (and still loves) the front lines of the profession. I saw my first shooting victims here, piled up in the back seat of a car in the city’s now-fashionable West End. I interviewed my first murderer. Smelled my first trailer fire (hot plastic). Was interrogated by the State Law Enforcement Division. And was generally threatened almost daily. And once I was shot at during a drive-by.

Though I didn’t know it, this prepared me for the internet.

Experiences such as those usually tumble reporters into the editing ranks. Not me. Once I got a taste of the writing life, I never left it. At Popular Woodworking Magazine I was encouraged on an almost-yearly basis to become a manager or a group publisher or worse. I refused. I build and write every dang day. That habit started in this town, and I am indebted to Greenville forever for that experience.

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My visit here this week has been surprisingly murder-free. I was invited by the Greenville Woodworkers Guild to offer a couple days of training and then speak to the club members. I don’t do many club events – I’d be on the road all year if I did. But during the last six years or so I’ve heard crazy rumors about the Greenville Guild. About its facility. And its members. I decided I needed to see for myself.

The Guild’s building is, honestly, like nothing I’ve ever seen. It features a shop that is cleaner and better equipped than most medium-sized commercial shops. There’s a bench room with 10 workbenches. An auditorium for 300. Lumber and project storage. A gallery. And lots of other areas of the building I didn’t get to explore.

New members pay a $200 initiation fee and then a $150 yearly fee and get to use the shop. That’s an incredible bargain. I’d join just for the access to the multiple wide belt sanders and 24” planer, but the commute would stink.

If you live in the Upstate of South Carolina, it’s an amazing resource and worth joining (as an anarchist, that statement is not easy to write). If every city had a place such as this, the craft of woodworking would be fundamentally transformed for the better.

— Christopher Schwarz

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New Column About Pricing your Work at Core 77

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Core77 has just published my latest column, which discusses when you should publicly disclose your prices and when you shouldn’t. You can read it – for free – via this link.

I have been wrestling with this problem since the 1990s when I sold my first Morris Chair to a couple. My price was so low that they gladly drove from Texas to Cincinnati to fetch it.

Since then I’ve made a lot more mistakes on pricing my work, and I likely will make more mistakes in the future. The Core77 column represents a bit of the scar tissue I’ve developed in the last 20 years.

The column also answers a question that customers ask: Why are Lost Art Press book prices the same at other retailers? Isn’t that racketeering? (It isn’t.)

Thanks, as always, to Core77 for allowing me to write about a wider range of topics than this blog will tolerate.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Why Our Holdfasts are Different

I like to think of our holdfasts as a “course correction” for this form of tool. During the last 25 years, holdfasts (when you could find them) became lighter, shorter and shrank in diameter. Other makers made them look quite nice, with crisp arrises and smooth pads.

The Crucible holdfast is a thing from an earlier time. It’s heavy, thick and with a coarse surface finish. We know it’s jarring to the eye and the modern mind. And that’s why I sat down yesterday and made this video. It was supposed to be about 2 minutes but ended up at 10. Apologies for that.

— Christopher Schwarz

 

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Woodpuckies

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As the wet oak is rived, I can smell my daddy’s neck. There was no other neck. Time and time again he would come upstairs out of the basement or come inside from the back yard with wood shavings (most likely white oak, his favorite) on his chamois shirt, or his beat-up boots.

I could get a bear hug like no other. And to this day, I know the scent of a Woodpucky.  The Woodpucky (a woodworker to most people) lives and breathes with wood. Always carries the scent of wood – dust probably hanging around them, on them or their clothes and hair. They understand time, growth, fit, math, structure, wet, dry – the whole gamut.

— Harper Burke, daughter of Jennie Alexander, at her father’s memorial

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Meet Roy Underhill at the April 13 LAP Open House

I have little clue what Roy Underhill is doing in the picture above; it’s from 2012 when I was in North Carolina with Christopher Schwarz assisting on a tool chest class at The Woodwright’s School. My best guess, however, is that Roy is poking fun at Chris’ overhand ripping technique by demonstrating his own underhand (Underhill?) ripping technique…while dropping sawdust into his eyes.

Roy is always funny, and a joy to be around – and shenanigans aside, he knows more about hand-tool woodworking than just about anyone I’ve met. You can meet him, too (and possibly get dragooned into shenanigans). He’ll be at the Lost Art Press open house (837 Willard St., Covington, Ky.) on April 13 from 10-11:30 a.m. and from 1:30-5 p.m. Stop in at any time during those hours to say hello, pick up a signed copy of “Calvin Cobb: Radio Woodworker,” and simply to hang out with Roy – always a delight!

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Crucible Scrapers (LOTS) Available Now

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Megan Fitzpatrick and I have spent the last couple days getting a huge batch of Crucible Card Scrapers finished and packaged up. And today we sent off nearly 700 of them to the warehouse.

I’d like to thank everyone in our supply chain – from the waterjet cutter to our machine shop to our magnet vendor – for busting hump to get these done. But mostly I’d like to thank Megan for helping me plow through QC, assembly and packaging today.

We think these scrapers are the cat’s pajamas. They are easy to sharpen and require little thumb pressure to produce beautiful shavings.

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Note that the logo applied to the scrapers is a repositionable magnet and not a sticker. Hence they are a little crooked and off-center. You can satisfy your OCD to the max as the magnets are a precisely shrunk shape from my CAD drawings of the scraper.

Anyway, they are available now for shipment – $20 plus domestic shipping. You can read all about them (and how to sharpen them) here.

— Christopher Schwarz

P.S. Brendan Gaffney is working on a huge batch of lump hammers that we hope to finish next week. Details, as always, on our Instagram account.

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A Glimpse of the Tree Circus

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Most woodworkers with a connection to the internet have stumbled on images from Axel Erlandson’s (1884-1964) famous The Tree Circus, a California roadside attraction that featured Erlandson’s amazing pruning and grafting abilities.

He made furniture and sculpture by grafting branches and tree together, coaxing them to create great geometric patterns and unusual structures.

The Tree Circus didn’t last long, but the photos crop up every few months on Facebook or Twitter. This weekend I got to see one of the great structures from the collection – “The Telephone Booth Tree” – which is in the permanent collection of the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Md.

As you can see from the photo, the tree is no longer alive, but it is still impressive. And it is much bigger than I imagined from the photos. I spent a good deal of time admiring the joinery and the form itself.

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And I thought: This guy had far more patience than your typical woodworker. Step one, graft branches. Step two, wait two years. Step three….

And, of course, I thought of the Welsh stick chairs from St Fagans that relied on branches that had been trained by the woodworker to produce the required shape for a chair while the tree was still alive.

You thought this wasn’t going to be a chairmaking post. Ha.

— Christopher Schwarz

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