Be Fox Mulder, Not Cotton Mather


My favorite T-shirt. I used to wear this to the first day of class when I taught at woodworking schools.

The best thing I can say about graduate school is that it taught me to think.

When someone presents an idea to you that is the opposite of everything you’ve read before and everything you believe is true, how do you react? Most people reject the new information like a kidney grafted to the place where the liver should be.

I used to be like that until I started reading Noam Chomsky’s criticisms of how mass media works.

Here’s the dime-store paperback version: Look for information that doesn’t match the conventional wisdom. This new information may not be correct either, but you should examine it closely because it will teach you something.

Here’s how this plays out in the workshop.

In 2007, we re-published Joseph Moxon’s “The Art of Joinery” – the first English language book on woodworking – with some commentary from me. In the book, Moxon discusses “traversing” a board with a fore plane to clean it up and remove twist. I demonstrated this operation in the book and readers on the discussion forums howled.

Sadly, posts on the forums expire, so digging up the discussion is difficult. But here’s the gist:

  1. “Traversing” doesn’t really mean working across the grain.
  2. You never work across the grain with a plane. You work “with the grain,” that’s why we have this expression in our language.
  3. Moxon wasn’t a woodworker so he’s wrong.
  4. You interpreted Moxon wrong.
  5. You are wrong.
  6. Please die.

Ten years later, it seems funny that this conversation ever happened. That’s because enough people (the Fox Mulders of the world) tried Moxon’s techniques and were able to discredit the Cotton Mathers.

After 20 years in this business, I’ve seen this happen time and again.

  1. A.J. Roubo’s workbench from Plate 11 is for carpentry. Not furniture making.
  2. The bark side of a board cups and the heart side bows? Ridiculous.
  3. You have to finish both faces of a board or it will warp.
  4. You have to alternate growth rings in a panel glue-up or the panel will warp.
  5. Hide glue is outdated.
  6. Paint is for covering poor workmanship only.
  7. Nails are for carpentry, not fine furniture.
  8. Workbenches need a tail vise.

I could go on and on. And it would soon sound like I’m giving you a list of things to believe, or not to believe. All I really want to say is my favorite Russian paradox: “Disobey me.” And I’d like add one more bit of information to that: There is a way out of the paradox, but you have to find it for yourself.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Personal Favorites, Uncategorized, Yellow Pine Journalism | 34 Comments

Yup, This is How You Clamp It


I’ve gotten some questions (and derision) about a photo we posted on Instagram from “The Anarchist’s Design Book,” that shows assembling a six-board chest with rosehead nails.

In the photo I have the clamps oriented to prevent splits. And that’s where the questioning begins.

Question: Why aren’t the clamps oriented across the width of the top board? That would seem to prevent splits.

Answer: I’m not trying to prevent the top board from a splitting. A properly sized pilot hole will do that. I’m trying to prevent the bottom board from splitting.

When you use cut or wrought nails, the depth of the pilot hole should be only half or two-thirds the length of the nail. This makes the nail do some of the work and is what gives these nails their excellent holding power.

However, in soft woods (such as this white pine) you can sometimes rupture the fibers because – and this is important – the fibers can do one of two things: They can compress or they can split.

If I apply a clamp across the bottom part of this joint, the fibers will compress when I drive the nail in. If I don’t, they are likely to rupture.

After I remove the clamps, the fibers remain intact. The fibers around the nails are compressed and the bonds between the fibers remain.

Compression is your friend, not only in nailing, but in dovetailing, drawboring and in making joints for stick chairs.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in The Anarchist's Design Book, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Download an Excerpt from ‘Woodworking in Estonia’


FIG. 125. Traveling chest (reisikast), Pöide, ERM 16601.

I’ve prepared a 56-page excerpt from “Woodworking in Estonia” that you can download and (I hope) enjoy. The excerpt includes Peter Follansbee’s introduction to the book, plus a section on axes and a chapter on making containers from multiple boards (it’s like cooperage, but also not like it).

Here’s the pdf download: Woodworking_in_Estonia_excerpt

The book is available for pre-publication order for $29 in our store – copies should start shipping the first week of August (though factory schedules, inclement weather and postal delays can always delay us).

Don’t forget that we are now shipping to Canadians from our Canadian warehouse (details on that here). And that all prices include shipping.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Downloads, Uncategorized, Woodworking in Estonia | 9 Comments

Forum Update 7/18


Good Morning and Happy Monday! It’s that time of the week for a forum update. Remember, if you have a question about our products, procedures in our books or anything related to Lost Art Press, the fastest way to get an answer is our forum. Check it out here.

Making a Wider Bookshelf
Thomas needed a bookshelf to fit a 6 foot space in his home, so he modified the bookshelf from “The Anarchist’s Design Book.” (shown above) Now he is trying to decide on a paint color. See his modifications and put in your vote for a paint color here.

1770 French Bench Doe’s Foot
Ever wonder how one would plane the edge of a board that was too short to reach the hold fast holes on the right hand leg on the vise-less French benches? Or wonder why the doe’s feet shown on most plates are so wide and short? Chris had. And then he saw the recent posts on the Lost Art Press blog. See his thought process here.


The Campaign Worktable of Necessity
How do you guarantee yourself a great workspace if your job moves you around to different offices on a regular basis with no promise of a decent desk at the next location? Build yourself a campaign worktable of course. And not just any table, one with style. Above it is shown disassembled and ready to be moved. See the table assembled here.


Why do cut nails rotate when driven?
John has noticed a rotation when driving cut nails and was wondering if there is a way to avoid it. A few suggestions have been provided to him as to how to prevent this. Have your own solution or the same problem? Here is the place to comment.

A Boarded Campaign Chest
Joshua’s Campaign Chest that he was looking for some feedback on a couple weeks ago is coming along really well. (shown at right) The hardware is a great touch. Now for some feet and it will be set to go!

Parallel Guides
Jeremy has been working on a split top Ruobo and has a couple questions on parallel guides. Check out the specifics of his build and see if you can offer some advice here.


First Ever Chair
Let’s end with a shout out to John for finishing his first ever chair. It is the design from “The Anarchist’s Design Book.” Looks awesome! Congratulations!

Keep up the good work everyone! Cheers and see you next week.

Meghan Bates

Posted in Campaign Furniture, Forum, The Anarchist's Design Book | 1 Comment

A 1572 Workbench from the Netherlands


I have a theory, which I’ll delve into in my next book, called “Roman Workbenches,” that the transition from the old-style Roman workbench to the more formally joined French or modern bench occurred in the 16th century.

So I was thrilled when the above engraving showed up today from researcher Suzanne Ellison. The engraving was made by Johannes of Lucas van Doetechum after a work by Hans Vredeman de Vries in 1572. The work is part of a series of four prints that depict carpenters’ tools in an artistic way – bunches of chisels are depicted as flowers and so forth.


There is, as always, a lot to see and process. Because we are on a workbench kick this week, the bench is of particular interest. It is firmly in the Roubo camp of modern benches with its stretchers and rectilinear construction. Also worth noting are the crochet, holdfast and peg holes in the legs.

In real life, this engraving is about 7-1/4” tall , but I wish it were 7’ tall.

— Christopher Schwarz


Posted in Uncategorized, Workbenches | 9 Comments

A 1770 French Bench, and a Translation


Jeff Burks pointed out that the bench shown in this entry is indeed French and was copied in reverse for the German encyclopedia. But even more important, Burks offered this translation of the description of the bench from the French source: “L’ Art Des Expériences” (Volume 1), Jean-Antoine Nollet, 1770.

Tools and Processes of the Joiner

The Joiner can not do without a workbench; it must be sturdy & such that we can turn (lathe) upon it: take for it a slab of beech or female elm, which is six to seven feet in length, eighteen to twenty inches wide and at least three and a half inches thick; raise it from twenty-seven to twenty-eight inches, on four oak legs (feet) of four inches squared, joined with a forked top end, with four rails from below, beneath which you form a bottom with boards for placing the tools; See Plate 1, Fig. 1.

At one end of the bench there must be an iron toothed claw A, pressed into a square wooden shank, that goes through the thickness of the bench & that we raise and lower with the mallet. This claw or hook serves to hold and support the flat parts, which we draw up to plane the faces.

At the same end of the workbench & on the edge which is to the right hand of the worker, you will attach a flange or wooden hook (crochet) B, to similarly stop the boards you wish to dress on the edge. It is a flat piece of wood five to six inches in length and as wide as the bench is thick. The end is cut on a slope to form an angle with the edge of the bench in which we place the end of the board; & if it is sufficiently long it is supported at the other end by a movable peg that we put into one of the holes that are drilled in the post C,  otherwise it is held by a piece of board D, notched to form an angle, and held to the bench by a holdfast.

As we will need the holdfast in different places on the workbench, there must be several holes, not on the same line, but on two, which include between them nearly one third the width of the workbench & those that are made on one of these two lines meet in the middle of the spaces left between those of the other line; these holes should be larger than is necessary to fit only the shank of the holdfast, for it must take a forward slanting position, that is to say, it must touch the right upper edge of the hole & the left lower edge when it is struck with the mallet.

On the opposite edge, and always at the same end of the workbench, you will attach two small cleats and a stick (rule) fifteen inches or so in length E e, leaving between it and the workbench an interval of seven to eight lines to place the tools we most often need, such as firmer chisels, bench chisels, mortising chisels, compass, &c. You can do so at the other end of the same edge, to have at hand brace bits, some marking gauges, a couple of rasps, many large files, &c. Add in one end of the bench a small drawer with compartments F, which contains grease for the brace bits, chalk, black stone, pieces of dogfish skin, some more worn than the others because in many cases it is too coarse when new.

Your bench will offer you a great convenience if it is garnished with a press, Fig 2. which can be removed when not needed. It should have two wood screws, each of which is fifteen or sixteen inches in length and about twenty or twenty two lines in diameter, with two nuts an inch and a half thick formed in an S shape. About five or six inches in length: You tap two holes G H, four inches deep into the thickness of the workbench, two feet apart from each other, there you will enter the two screws, and on their protruding parts you slide a bar that is not less than eighteen lines thick and three inches wide, and from over this the nuts will squeeze what you put between the bar and the workbench.

Make a third threaded hole h, between the first two and get a second bar pierced to conform to the distance H h;  you will thereby have two presses of various lengths to choose from according to the dimensions of the pieces that you will contain or clamp.

The screws and holes must be made of very firm wood that will not break. The cormier (quickbeam) and l’alizier (beam-tree) make the best of all for this usage. Failing them you will take the wild pear, or elm if you can not find better. I will say below how it is done with the screws and wood nuts; about the press bar, it should be stiff wood such as ash, for Example.

The translation confirms that the press was indeed inserted into the holes on front edge of the benchtop. And that you could even have two different-size vises for larger or smaller work. Also interesting: Nollet points out the doe’s foot is used for restraining boards that you are edge-planing in the the crochet. I’ve not tried this technique (but will today).

As this bench is from 1770, I still think there is an earlier bench out there that Joseph Moxon or his engraver were looking at when they added the double-screw to the bench in “Mechanick Exercises.”

— Christopher Schwarz


Posted in Uncategorized, Workbenches | 3 Comments

A 1781 Workbench and Many Questions


The workbench shown above is featured in Johann Georg Krünitz’s “Oekonomische Encyklopädie,” a remarkable work of 242 volumes. I don’t have the translated text that accompanies this plate, so I’m going to make some educated guesses about this workbench. (In other words, you get what you paid for with this blog entry.)

This 1781 plate looks like a French workbench, not just in its form but also based on the handplanes shown on the floor (that tote is tres French). Also, this bench is shown on a page of “Oekonomische Encyklopädie” with other benches that are quite obviously Germanic, perhaps as a contrast between the forms.

My best guess is the engraver copied it from another work, which is why the bench is shown in reverse – the crochet and planing stop are on the right side of the bench.

Several things are notable about this bench. Briefly:

  1. It shows a “doe’s foot” in use on the benchtop, secured under the pad of a holdfast.
  2. And look: A fathom leaning against the wall to the left of the bench.
  3. The most titillating part of the plate is the double-screw device shown on the floor at bottom left. It looks like half of a Moxon-style vise that is missing its back chop. My best guess is that the screws thread into the holes shown on the left side of the benchtop. This is what Moxon’s engraver seemed to be showing in his 17th-century plate. I measured the distance between the two screws on this plate from Krünitz, and it matches the distance between the two holes on the left end of the benchtop. And this is exactly where I would put such a device.

For me this plate raises a lot of questions about the original source material. I have always assumed that Joseph Moxon copied his bench from André Félibien and modified the engraving to add a double screw vise and some other bits and pieces. This plate makes me want to search a little harder for French drawings of benches in the 17th century in addition to André Félibien’s. I know this sounds like a grassy knoll theory. That’s because it is.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Uncategorized, Workbenches, Yellow Pine Journalism | 10 Comments