Cover Logo for ‘The Anarchist’s Design Book’

ADB-EXPANDED-cover

Megan Fitzpatrick has finished up her edit of the expanded edition of “The Anarchist’s Design Book” and is now sitting 6’ away making her corrections to the book’s layout files.

Briony is working on the new images, and I have a few photos to take.

In the meantime, I’m pondering a new logo design for the cover of the book. I do like the marriage mark on the original version, and there’s a fair chance we’ll keep it for the expanded edition.

But I’m a tinkerer, especially with the books I’ve written. So I have tried out about five different new logos, including the rough sample you see above.

What is it? Like the marriage mark, it’s a cabinetmaking mark shown in A.J. Roubo’s “l’Art du menuisier.” Shown on Plate 5, our translation notes that the mark is used to designate where a crosscut should occur on a board. The common version of this mark doesn’t have the circle. The circle is added when there are several competing marks on the board. The circle indicates “this is definitely the place to cut.”

Also, I like that there are several letter “As” hidden in its structure.

The downsides? Megan says it looks like the symbol from “The Blair Witch Project” (the twanas). It also somewhat resembles a famous drawing in Kurt Vonnegut’s “Breakfast of Champions” that is about a rude part of the human body. You can read about it here.

So maybe we’ll stick with the marriage mark instead of a demonic sphincter (though some have likened my prose to just such an object…).

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in The Anarchist's Design Book, Uncategorized | 34 Comments

Free Oct. 12 Lecture: My Favorite Stick Chairs

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The Lost Art Press storefront will be open – as per usual – on Oct. 12, and the topic of the day’s free lecture will be a (hopefully inspirational) look at my favorite stick chairs – and not just Welsh ones.

For the last 16 years I’ve collected photos from auctions and old books that guided my understanding of staked chairs and assisted me in designing my own versions. This presentation will tour the highlights of my image collection and will be an open forum for you to ask questions about the designs as well.

(Before you ask, I cannot post this presentation on the internet. Many of these images are copyrighted; publishing them would violate those copyrights. So if you want to see the pretty pictures, you’ll have to visit.)

The presentation will begin at 2 p.m. and will last about an hour.

We open our storefront to the public on the second Saturday of every month, and it runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Yes, we will sell you a book or a tool during that time, but most of our energy on those days is devoted to answering woodworking questions, demonstrating techniques and drinking coffee. You are welcome (even encouraged) to bring your family, your dog or any bit of woodworking you are struggling with.

We are located at 837 Willard St. in Covington, KY 41011.

Our neighborhood is also an outstanding place to eat brunch on that day. We recommend Otto’s, Commonwealth, Coppin’s and Libby’s (to name a few). We also recommend you stop by the Covington Farmer’s Market (9 a.m. to noon) at the approach to the Roebling Bridge. Great baked goods, salsa and produce.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Lost Art Press Storefront, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Furniture for Losers

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In our competitive society, the winners get to name the things. This is true with battles, large social movements and even furniture styles.

I think there is value in trying to think of these issues from the perspective of others – the losers, if you will. When growing up in Arkansas, some teachers taught us about the Civil War. Others taught us about the War of Northern Aggression.

If you think divergent taxonomy couldn’t apply to furniture, I disagree. About 15 years ago I worked with a guy who studied Kentucky Style furniture. When I suggested that the pieces looked like Western Shaker furniture with some simple inlay, he became testy.

“The Shakers,” he said, “were a weird religious cult and shouldn’t be remembered or celebrated. It’s cult furniture.”

Ouch. But it made me think.

So while on a walk this morning I devised alternative names for popular historical furniture styles. I know that some sensitive readers will think this list is political. It’s not. Trying to see things from another person’s perspective is an intellectually honest way of examining your own beliefs.

See if you can recognize your favorite furniture style in this list:

Colonizer Furniture
Fundamentalist Furniture
Mall Stall Furniture
Zealot Furniture
Farmer Furniture
Industrialist furniture
Hopeless Idealist Furniture
Slave Owner Furniture
Poverty Furniture
Royal Excess Furniture
Marketing Department Furniture
Historical Revisionist Furniture
War Furniture
Table Saw Furniture
Patronage Furniture
Desperation Furniture
Social Climber Furniture
Price Point Furniture

These are probably not good book titles. (Though I’d buy the books. Peter Follansbee said this about my library: “It looks like you buy any book with the word ‘furniture’ in the title.”)

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Personal Favorites, Uncategorized | 33 Comments

Arthur Boon’s ‘Make Do’ Chairs

 

Collection of the Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Sydney, NSW, Australia.

Packing cases, weatherboards, fencing wire, garden stakes, picture frames and thread spools. Arthur Boon used all of these (and possibly more) to make his chairs.

Arthur Boon lived and made his chairs in Billy’s Creek near Dorrigo, New South Wales, Australia. His biography is largely dependent on his relative’s memories (not all of whom agree on the details). It is believed Boon was born in 1882 in Parramatta, as a young boy moved to Kangaroo Creek near Grafton and the family eventually settled at Billy’s Creek. According to Arthur Boon’s nephew, Stan Boon, Arthur was a life-long bachelor and not fond of extended visits by family or friends.

“He had an apple orchard and a vegetable garden. He kept a number of sheep. He read a lot and for a while worked for a sawmill. He was also a keen carpenter and built a second house for the family to live in…He built a carpentry shed, a barn, a sulky shed and a harness shed. He made some furniture and chairs, some photo frames which he elaborately carved…He died in the house he built and was buried in Dorrigo cemetery. He was 73-75 when he died in 1956-58…”

Circa 1910. Collection of the Museum of Arts & Sciences, Sydney, NSW, Australia.

The back is made of garden stakes separated by cotton reels (thread spools), the seat is a section of a wooden packing case and the legs and stretchers are more garden stakes and thread spools. The back and seat are connected with fencing wire. Green paint can still be seen on the legs and stretchers.

Circa 1920. Collection of the Museum of Arts & Sciences, Sydney, NSW, Australia.

The folding deck chair is made of tongue and groove weatherboards. The angled back is adjustable and the chair is unpainted.

Circa 1910. Collection of the Museum of Arts & Science, Sydney, NSW, Australia.

Except for the seat, this chair looks to be made of picture frames and frame parts.

This is the front view of the chair at the top of this post. The back and seat are made of tongue and groove boards. The legs and stretchers are alternating garden stakes and thread spools with thread spools forming ‘feet’ for the chair. Boon added two more spools under the front edge of the seat.

The underside. The museum noted remnants of red and blue paint on the back of the chair and the legs.

A few more details. On the left: an angled insert made of picture frame mounding between the back and seat, a few more thread spools and half-spools decorate the side. On the right: the garden stake running behind the seat back, the decorative half-spool is missing from the end.

‘Make do’ furniture was, as the term implies, furniture made until there was more time to spend, and materials were available, to make better-quality pieces. As quickly as they were able, families that were newly-arrived in the bush made plain and practical tables and chairs. There wasn’t a need for paint or any decoration. Do Arthur Boon’s chairs fit the description of plain and practical, or was he up to something else?

Unless he or she is making a production run, a chairmaker tinkers with every part and constantly pushes the strength, stability and comfort of a chair. Boon was between (approximately) 28 and 38 years old when he made the four chairs in this post. These wouldn’t have been the first chairs (the necessary plain and practical ones) he made. I think he was tinkering and experimenting.

There are decorative elements added to each chair. The folding deck chair has a peaked back and the back is adjustable. The back of the the second ‘thread-spool’ chair has a curved top and has spools added for embellishment. Two of the chairs were painted. Boon could have made chair legs without thread spools and he could have made all his chair backs of tongue and groove boards. He had two items that aren’t normally associated with chairs and he found a clever way to use them: thread spools and picture frames.

The thread-spool legs are certainly quirky. The legs have a glancing relationship to turned legs, perhaps the country cousin of the block and vase pattern. Maybe that was Boon’s aim and he improvised with garden stakes (the block) and spools (the vase).

The picture frame chair is impressive in its ingenuity. And I think this chair, in particular, sums up Boon’s ‘make do’ approach. He used available materials (he made and carved picture frames), each frame could be a chair part (the back, legs and stretcher combined) and he used parts of his frames to fill in the rest. I like to think he was chuckling to himself   as he made this chair.

Suzanne Ellison

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Really Good Tools (as Rated by the Haters)

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During my 23 years of working in group shops, I’ve seen a lot of oddball behavior. Most of it is run-of-the-mill laziness – never emptying the dust collector, putting your rotting food waste in the bench room garbage cans and never ever returning the router wrenches to their designated nail. (Honest, I once found the wrenches on the back of the toilet.)

The weirdest thing I’ve observed, however, is straight-up duplicity when it comes to tools.

Ever since I could afford good tools, I’ve bought them. And I make no apologies for spending more than $6.37 on a block plane. When you own nice tools and work in a group shop, however, people give you crap. They’ll sing the praises of the plastic-handled Greenlee chisels they bought in a dollar bin at a meat market in Tijuana. Or the paring chisel they made out of a bumper of a Ford F-150. Or the prybar made from the springs of the aforementioned F-150. Or the tack rags they cooked up themselves.

These are all true examples.

What I’m here to say is that most of these guys are blowing hot air. When they needed a bevel gauge that held its setting, they were the first to snitch my Vesper bevel from my tool chest.

And so today, as I was hanging up a new (actually very old) Plumb 16 oz. hammer for shop use, I thought about the most-borrowed tools in my chest. These are the tools that the cheapskates borrow constantly.

I can’t think of a higher endorsement.

  1. My Chris Vesper sliding bevels and squares. People rail against the prices but they greedily swipe all of my Vesper stuff. I am constantly returning his tools to my chest (and I’m now thinking about a lock).
  2. My Starrett 6” and 12” combination squares. Sorry that your plastic home center combo square sucks a trailer hitch.
  3. My Lie-Nielsen smoothing plane. Wait, I thought you said that all handplanes could be tuned to an equally high level?
  4. My Tite-Mark gauges. I guess you wanted a clean baseline for those dovetails.
  5. My 16 oz. hammer. You might as well borrow my underwear, you savage.
  6. My Lie-Nielsen dovetail saw. Is your Dozuki’s blade still bent?
  7. Sterling Toolworks Dovetail Marker. I thought you marked your dovetails by eye….
  8. Blue Spruce 16 oz. round mallet. Ah right, round-head mallets are for carvers.
  9. Veritas Shooting Plane. I thought it was too expensive and just a toy?
  10. My card scraper. Again with the underwear!

I could go on, but you get the point. Good tools cost money. And they are apparently worth the ridicule when you borrow them.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Young doctor, old patient

Or: Don’t knock the young-‘uns, Part 2

Isaiah 2

Here’s a man who takes pride in getting his hands dirty.

I’ve had my 12” Crescent jointer since the mid-1990s, when I bought the then-nonagenarian piece of equipment from a woman who had decided to quit furniture making. It’s a workhorse of a machine. At some point in the 1980s or ‘90s* it had been fitted with a hotbox for use in shops without three-phase power, but every so often the hotbox flakes out and I have to call for help because I am a coward when it comes to electricity. Blame it on the time I stupidly stuck a screwdriver in a 230-Volt outlet in England when I was 20. Let’s just say it was a bracing experience.

This week I had the Crescent checked out by Isaiah Merriman of Bloomington Heating, Cooling and Electrical. Isaiah is a son of the business owner, Kevin Merriman, my go-to electrician since he came to my (now-former) house to write up an estimate for electrical and HVAC work on the day of my real estate closing in the summer of 1995. Over the years, Kevin would come to work on the furnace or add a receptacle with a child or two in tow; I remember meeting Isaiah when he was a boy of 4 or 5 being scolded for lagging behind with a bucket of tools.

The last time I called, Isaiah was the electrician they sent out. I was surprised; I hadn’t even known he was part of the business, now that he’s an adult. He got straight to work and quickly diagnosed the problem. He was polite, professional and clearly knew what he was doing. It’s always gratifying to see competence, and especially so in members of a family business’s second generation.

What made Isaiah even more intriguing to me was the route he took to where he is today. After growing up working with his father, he studied finance at Indiana University’s Kelley School. From there he went to work in the Indianapolis office of Charles Schwab, where he became a senior manager over teams of stock brokers. He held that position for eight years.

With a growing family, Isaiah and his wife decided to move to Bloomington in 2018. He missed the town and knew it was a good place to raise kids. Although he could have applied for a job as a financial adviser at a branch of Charles Schwab, he chose to return to electrical work and became a partner in the family business. “Most clients have financial goals they are hoping to accomplish over many years (like saving for retirement),” he says. This “contrasts with the gratification that comes with the electrical trade,” in which he gets to experience the joy of seeing work come together every day. “You don’t have to imagine it. It’s right in front of you. To do this work or to do investment work, you have to have an analytical mind. You have to be able to see the little details and the big picture at the same time.”

It was especially sweet when he added “Amazon can’t deliver me.”

Once he’d diagnosed the problem, he called the office to order replacement parts. I surfaced a bunch of boards while he was on the phone, knowing he’d be able to resuscitate the motor if needed. I’m happy that my century-old jointer now has a Millennial caretaker.

Isaiah 1

*Isaiah’s estimate

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Feeling Gravity’s Pull

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I’ve built three chairs during the last three weeks and, in the words of “Sesame Street,” “one of these things is not like the other.”

The first two chairs are right out of the forthcoming “The Anarchist’s Design Book,” and are for customers and to show my students what a finished chair can look like. But when it came time to build this third chair last week, I didn’t have a plan for it.

I stared at my parts for a bit and then did what I tell all my students: Work with what you got.

I had a partial seat with some odd mortises bored into it from when I was demonstrating how to calculate compound angles without trigonometry. The armbow was a leftover – the lesser son of a batch of five oak arms I made when roughing out some parts. The legs had some defects that had to be removed by tapering the legs more than usual. And I didn’t have sticks or a crest.

If this were a cabinet, I’d draw up a careful plan in CAD to ensure that the oddball parts would fit into a cohesive whole. But when building an outlier of a chair, sketches don’t help me much. It’s all by feel. (And sometimes I get the feeling I should dump the parts in the grill.)

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The legs looked to me like they needed some stretchers – they were thinner than usual. But I didn’t feel it needed a full H-stretcher. So I used an old undercarriage design where you put stretchers between the front and back legs only. Nothing goes left to right.

I know: What the heck? Why would someone do this? Here’s my take. Stretchers that run front to back help brace the undercarriage when some naughty boy tips the chair onto its back legs.

So what does the medial stretcher (which runs left to right) do? I use that stretcher to put the whole undercarriage in tension so I can use legs with more rake and splay than usual. The legs of this experimental chair, however, don’t have as much splay as on my typical designs. So I omitted the medial stretcher.

On the sticks, I decided to put five long sticks in the back and omit two of the short sticks. It used exactly the same amount of raw material as a regular four-stick chair. Why did I do this? I like the negative space created by the gap between the short sticks and long sticks. I used to do this on chairs many years ago and felt like revisiting it.

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The five-stick back is just as comfortable as the four-stick back. No, the center stick doesn’t violate your spinal column.

The crest is also a step backward. I tried four different crest rails – they are like trying on chapeaux whilst at the haberdasher, said me, never. After some struggles I conjured up an old crest design that added to the hourglass shape of the chair.

After the whole thing was together I showed it to Megan Fitzpatrick and my wife, Lucy. I was afraid I’d made a dog’s dinner. They both said it was one of the nicest chairs I’ve made.

Today I finished it up with satin lacquer. This oak has a beautiful grey cast and the lacquer (which is more water white) will preserve that color. An oil and wax finish would obliterate the grey cast with their amber tendencies.

In all, I can say the chair is a wonderful sitter (for both tall and short people). I’m a bit bemused that I used long-discarded design elements to finish it up. But that is what these parts demanded, I guess.

The chair is now sold. This chair doesn’t have a home, and so I’m selling it as a prototype – $800 plus actual shipping costs. If you are interested in it, send me a note through my personal website.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

— Christopher Schwarz

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