New Stickers Coming Soon

My daughter Madeline has settled into her new animal research job on the East coast and told me she is still interested in distributing stickers. I’ve created three new designs for her, and they should be available through her etsy store within a week.

These designs took some digging and some thought. If you don’t like them – or the ideas they embody – that’s cool. But please channel your criticism somewhere else during the holiday season. I just want to to think of hedgehogs and sparkle ponies this month.

Join the R. Michael Burns Troop of Woodworkers for Peace

Burns was one of the founding instructors of the College of the Redwoods (now the Krenov School) with James Krenov. This sticker is based on a flyer and has a nice story behind it. Brendan Gaffney is going to write that story up for us shortly.

Never Despair; Nothing Without Labour

This sticker is taken from a 1905 billhead of Bittner, Hunsicker & Co. The Allentown, Pa., company made hoisery, knit goods and overalls. Thanks to the power of ebay.com, I found two original billheads for sale and purchased them. It’s a delightful and detailed illustration. Plus, I love bees.

Lost Art Press Bandito

This sticker features original art from Indianapolis artist Shelby Kelley. John and I have been fans of Kelley’s work for many years. It’s also available on a T-shirt.

Full details on how to order the stickers through Madeline’s etsy.com store are coming soon. And thanks to everyone who has bought stickers from her – this is the seventh(!) set. Your support helped put her through college with zero debt. As a result, she is now eyeing a doctorate program. But she is insisting on getting a doctorate without any loans.

I am continually impressed with her attitude and drive. And you played a part, too.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

A Fairy Tale for the Frenzied Woodworker

The carpenters at the Heinzelmännchenbrunner in Köln.

While you work feverishly to finish a commission for a customer or gifts for family and friends do you sometimes find yourself giving the side eye to those acquiring gifts with the mere click of a button? Perhaps you are feeling a bit Heinzelmännchen-ish? Let me explain.

Although the full history of the Heinzelmännchen is lost in the mystery and mists of time the modern story of these gnome-like spirits was written almost 200 years ago. A popular version of the story is August Kopisch’s 1836 poem “Die Heinzelmännchen” with scheerenschnitt (scissor cuts) by Regina Gebhard.

Scheerenschnitt by Regina Gebhard.

As the story goes, the citizens of Cölln did not work. While they slept each night the little gnome-like Heinzelmännchen were the workers of the town. They cooked, baked, brewed and sewed. They were the butchers, sausage makers, masons and carpenters.

The townspeople woke each morning to clean homes and another day of leisure –  some would say laziness.

Here is an English translation of Kopisch’s verse about the carpenters:

From Stein Collectors International.

The easy life of the carpenters and other residents of the town did not last, and you can blame that on the tailor’s nosy wife. She could not contain her curiosity and was determined to see who was making the wonderful garments for the tailor’s shop.

By Regina Gebhard.

Her plan was to throw peas over the floor to cause the Heinzelmännchen to slip and fall, and in the morning she would be she be able to see the little spirits sprawled about the floor. Let’s assume she threw dried peas on the floor and not proper British mushy peas.

As with most malfeasance her plan did not go well. Yes, the Heinzelmännchen did trip and fall and land in vats. They also became enraged, yelled and cursed and…they left!

Illustration by F. Gareis for a 1935 edition of August Kopisch’s poem.

The Heinzelmännchen disappeared and were not seen again. And you know what happened next: the townspeople had to work for themselves and their dream-like existence was over.

Fairy tales are supposed to scare us and convince us to always check under the bed before going to sleep (and don’t forget to make sure the closet door is closed). So, what do we learn from the Heinzelmännchen? In Thomas Keighley’s “The Fairy Mythology” from 1833 he concludes his telling of the Heinzelmännchen with:

”…and since that time the Heinzelmännchen have totally disappeared, as has been every where the case, owing to the curiosity of people, which has at all times been the destruction of so much of what was beautiful in the world.”

Carry on woodworkers! Although you may not see it, your efforts to carve a spoon, turn a bowl, make a chair or a heart-shaped box will be rewarded! The handle of the spoon will fit perfectly in the hand stirring the soup, the bowl will hold apples picked from an orchard, the chair will be passed down to great-grandchildren and the heart-shaped box will hold the small treasures of a loved one.

Postcard of the Heinzelmännchenbrunner in Köln. The tailor’s nosy wife is the figure at the top.

One last note on the Heinzelmännchen concerns the town of their origin. There is some back-and-forth on Cölln on the Spree River (now part of Berlin) or Köln (Cologne) on the Rhine. The good people of Köln built a fountain for the Heinzelmännchen, and I think that might settle the question.

You can read “Die Heinzelmännchen” (in German) here. English versions are available, and because I’m not your fairy godmother you can be a Heinzelmännchenn and look it up for yourself.

Suzanne Ellison

Posted in Personal Favorites | 7 Comments

A Second Slice of Pye

Note: Oh dang, I promised myself I wouldn’t use any puns. Also, you’ll notice the comments are disabled for this post. This is not because I am averse to criticism (feel free to visit Sawmill Creek, where trashing me is a sanctioned sport with letter jackets and a leaderboard). Instead, I simply ask you to think about this for yourself, without the noise of comments. Decide for yourself if I’m full of crap.

My first blog entry (ever) on David Pye was purposely left half-finished, with no real conclusion. My hope was that readers would take the next steps themselves. Some did, some didn’t.

So to conclude, I think the amount of risk between things Pye describes as “risk” and those that are “certain” is so small in reality that they are useless distinctions. In general, making things involves risk. We try to control it at the workbench and on the factory floor. But ultimately – and this is important to me – hand processes and machine processes are ruled by the same narrow factors.

“Will I screw up this part with this operation?”

“What can I do to prevent that from happening?”

I ask myself these same questions at the router table and with a chisel in my hand. The answers are always the same:

“Keep your wits about you. Know your materials. Don’t rush. Pay attention to feedback.”

I find no significant continuum of risk that offers any help in understanding my work. Instead, where I do find meaning is in thinking about the difference between tacit and explicit knowledge – but I have no desire to open that can of worms on this blog today (or likely ever).

So why am I writing this? To dissuade you from using the expression the “workmanship of risk” when describing your work. Though Pye would be horrified by the following fact, it is an expression that (unintentionally) belittles the work of some and props up the work of others.

When I was the editor of Popular Woodworking, it had about 220,000 readers at the peak of its circulation. Our surveys indicated that about 99.8 percent of them owned machines. As someone who wrote about hand tools, I became quickly sensitized to phrases and language that would come off as elitist – or at the very least evangelical.

I know this because I made these mistakes myself. A lot. I heard from the readers. And I learned.

Quick example: When you say you love hand tools because they are quiet and allow contemplation – and you don’t have to hear the roar of machines and wear safety equipment – you are:

  1. Wrong. Real handwork is fricking loud and dangerous.
  2. Disparaging the things that bring joy to many machine woodworkers.

Confession: I love putting on my earmuffs and cranking up my 12” jointer. I enjoy the hum it makes as it spins up to speed, and the tactile feedback I receive from its cutting action.

So the “workmanship of risk” and “workmanship of certainty” distinction sounds – to a machine woodworker and to me – like “hand tools require skill; machine tools require you to push a button.”

Put another way, “risk” sounds cool and daring. “Certainty” sounds like owning a condo in suburban Wichita (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

I feel certain that most hand tool woodworkers aren’t elitist. But the language thing – it’s tricky.

And that’s why I’m not going to write about this aspect of our craft anymore. It’s back to animal idioms and thinly veiled poo jokes from here on out.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Yellow Pine Journalism

This Belongs to Everyone

At the beginning of every class I teach, I try to remember to make a little speech. It goes something like this:

You are welcome to take photos or videos of everything you learn here. And you can post these wherever you like. You can write in detail about the techniques you learn here and share them with others – I don’t even care if you credit me.

In fact, nothing would please me more than if you went home and ran this same class with some friends. You are welcome to use the plans and class materials I provided. This belongs to you now. In fact, this belongs to everyone.

Surprisingly, some people take me up on it. And today I received an email from one of my students, Klaus Skrudland of Norway (follow him on Instagram here). I’ll let Klaus tell the story.

I hope you and your family are doing well. I reckon you’re well into Lutefish preparations for Christmas! I’m home from work today with my youngest son who has a fever and a running nose, as well as a stitched cut in is forehead, which he got from being pushed down the stairs by his older sister. In other words, all is normal.

Anyway, yesterday was the last day of my Staked High Stool class. We’ve spent the last four Mondays, from 6 to 9 PM. I taught five people who had never before made a chair or a stool or anything besides flat work, and they all completed each their beautiful staked stool.

When I came back from Munich I managed to decipher my own scribblings and arranged them into a four page handwritten pamphlet with some sketches and measurements. I could’ve just handed them your text from the ADB expansion, but I wanted to add a personal touch to it. I was a bit nervous, but I figured it was good for me to teach the course as soon as possible to be sure that I remembered it all.

It all went pretty smooth. Each night, for good luck and spirit, we put up a vintage photo of Samantha Fox the wall over the benches. I’m sure that helped a lot. We ran into some issues here and there (a split leg, some wedges that broke even before entering the kerf, as well as some weird and unexpected leg angles), but we solved them together and the stools all came together just fine.

Perhaps the most rewarding outcome of this was that none of my friends had ever considered making a stool like this, and they LOVED it. It was really a bit moving for me to see how they engaged in this and how satisfied they were when they had a finished stool that they could actually sit on! I remember the feeling my self from your class earlier this year. It was kinda magic. It’s also very cool to see how newly acquired skills quickly manifest in people’s hands and eyes when they get to assist each other and explain the concepts to each other during the workshops. Myself included.

It’s Tuesday morning here. And thanks to Klaus and his email, I feel I can take off work for the rest of the week (I won’t – too many dovetails to chop). This stuff brings me more joy than a plate of grits and barbecue. So thanks to everyone who supports our work by buying furniture, books and taking classes. And an even greater thanks to those who pass the information on.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Personal Favorites | 45 Comments

Take Mike Dunbar’s Chair Course, Free

My dad at The Windsor Institute.

My father and I used to travel a lot together. We’d pick a city – St. Louis, Würzburg, Heidelberg, Charleston, Savannah – and spend several days eating our way through the city and visiting every museum and architecture wonder we could find.

One of the last big trips we took was to Hampton, N.H., to take a class at Mike Dunbar’s The Windsor Institute. When I attended the school in 2010, I had been making chairs for seven years and had already taken two chairmaking classes. But I was still trying to find my place as a chairmaker. I wanted to build Welsh stick chairs, but most of the first-class instruction was for Windsor chairs.

So I bought my dad a spot in the class and we headed there with John, my partner at Lost Art Press, to make a sackback chair.

It was the last time my dad and I got to work in the shop together, so my memories of the week are kinda wet with emotion. But I can say that the instruction from Mike and the staff at The Windsor Institute was top notch. The place, closed since 2016, ran like a well-oiled machine with no bumps or awkward moments. Lots of jokes and a relaxed pace.

The chair I built belongs to my wife, Lucy, who sits in it every night for dinner. My dad’s chair is still in his house in Charleston, S.C.

Recently, Mike began posting a series of videos on YouTube that outline how he makes a sackback chair. The videos are free – I believe he is hoping sponsors and eyeballs will help fund the project. They aren’t slick videos, and for that I am grateful. They are tightly edited (also grateful) and shot with an eye to instruct you more than dazzle.

Check out his YouTube channel here. And if you want the book that goes with the video, you … oops it is sold out at ShopWoodworking.com and Amazon.com at this moment. Maybe they’ll restock. The book’s title is “Make a Windsor Chair with Mike Dunbar,” which you can still find from some suppliers with a little searching. You can also follow Mike on Facebook here.

Anyway, if you are interested in making a Windsor chair, Mike’s instruction is first rate. And the chair, an original design by Mike, is very graceful.

— Christopher Schwarz

P.S. You can still read my blog entries from that week in Hampton. Here are the links:

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments

‘Hands Employed Aright’ Review in Fine Woodworking

I gasped a little bit this evening when I opened the latest issue of Fine Woodworking magazine and saw a full-page review of Joshua Klein’s “Hands Employed Aright.” The review is on page 20 of the February 2019 issue and is quite favorable.

The review is well-deserved. Joshua poured his heart into the project, and the book required many years of research, photography and writing.

Thanks to Barry Dima, the author of the review, and Josh.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Hands Employed Aright | 10 Comments

This Saturday: The Holiday Open Day

Inside the newly restored Cincinnati Museum Center

This Saturday – Dec. 8 – we’re opening our doors to the public between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. We’ll have all our books available for sale (credit cards, check or cash welcome) plus a big pile of blemished books at 50 percent off (cash only, please).

We have two cases of Christian Becksvoort’s new book, “Shaker Inspiration,” for you to check out.

And if you ask to “see the clock,” we’ll take you to the back room and give you a homemade Kentucky beverage. It’s sweet and takes four hours to make. Plus cookies!

The workshop is a manic zoo this week. I’m trying to finish up a Monticello bookcase in walnut and clear pine that has been held up by Crises Nos. 634 and 645 of 2018. I’m pushing to get all the boxes assembled by Saturday. There are six units, all dovetailed with a mitered dovetail on the front edge. Megan is processing almost 300 board feet of poplar for an upcoming Dutch tool chest class. And Brendan is building a stand for some glass bottles for a holiday bazaar.

So we are greatly looking forward to Saturday when we can put down our tools for a few hours and chat. Heck, we might even ask you to “see the clock” a few times.

The storefront is at 837 Willard St. in Covington, Ky. It’s a nice historic neighborhood filled with good restaurants and bars. And if you want to add a special stop on your visit, I recommend a visit to the newly reopened Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal. This gorgeous Art Deco structure (photo above) has been restored and just reopened.

Even if you don’t want to go to one of the museums inside, I recommend you tour the lobby and public spaces (there’s no admission to the public spaces). You can buy a local beer and walk around and enjoy the views.

They have a nice clock there as well (newly restored), but it’s not as sweet as ours.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments