Registration Opens Friday for Welsh Stick Chair Class

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Photo courtesy of Tim Bowen Antiques.

Chris Williams and I have decided to hold this Welsh stick chair class on May 21-25, 2018, at our Covington, Ky., shop. Registration will open at noon Eastern time on Friday, Oct. 13. You can read more about the class and the shop environment here. Here are the particulars of registration:

  1. Registration will be electronic. We will post a link at noon on Friday to sign up. Once the six spots in the class are filled, there will be a waiting list. I strongly encourage you to sign up for the waiting list if you want to attend this class. People’s lives change.
  2. After registering, the six in the class will be sent an invoice for a $500 deposit. The remainder of the fee ($1,000) will be due April 1. Until April 1, your deposit is refundable. After April 1, there are no refunds. I know this is strict, but there are a few students who play a juggling game with classes and deposits. We do not want to play this game.
  3. Attendees will receive a tool list and details on booking accommodations in the Covington area. Don’t worry – there are lots of rooms here.
  4. A small materials fee will be due on the day the class begins. I’m trying to source as much of the material from tree services, so I don’t yet know what the fee will be. Likely about $100.
  5. As mentioned before, we strongly encourage attendees to have some chairmaking experience or a good deal of experience with handwork. The class will be challenging. Chris works to a very high level, and we will do everything to bring you up there as well.
  6. This will be an intense and gratifying week. All your senses will be involved. As Chris’s assistant and ambassador for Covington, I’ll make sure everyone eats and drinks well and gets a good taste of what this area has to offer. Unless you are a devoted hermit, I think you’ll find the evenings as enlightening and stimulating as the classroom time.

Finally, as I mentioned before, this is not a money-making venture for Lost Art Press or myself. I’ll be handling all the particulars myself, and I’m not a professional secretary or university registrar. So please be patient with me as I put together this special event.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in John Brown Book, Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Review: ‘Carving the Acanthus Leaf’ by Mary May

CTA_mockup_for_webMary May probably didn’t realize the unintended consequences of one of her chapter titles: “A Rite of Passage for the Classical Carver.” She doesn’t yet know how often she will have to don ministerial robes and confer rites of passage on those who learn to carve acanthus leaves, severely disrupting her woodcarving life.

A “Rite of Passage” is usually something that marks a significant milestone in one’s life. Yet, with Mary’s teaching techniques, passing that milestone just became significantly easier. Besides, most everyone who has attended one of Mary’s in-person classes has already passed the “acanthus milestone.” A simple Acanthus leaf, similar to the first project in this book, is a frequent staple of her classes. Even as a klutzy beginning woodcarver, I brought home an acanthus carving from my first class with her. She makes acanthus carving accessible and achievable.

This book will certainly increase the number of acanthus carvers in this world.

Mary’s step-by-step descriptions and illustrations take you by the hand and lead you on a wonderful journey that includes 13 different acanthus leaf variations. Don’t worry, this is not a journey of increasing difficulty, but one of exploring different uses and different styles. All of them are achievable. Mary guides us through: the basic leaf carving, on mouldings, on cabriole legs, on a turning, on a bracket. And she offers us different styles: the simple leaf, Italian renaissance, Scandinavian, Greek, French Rococo, Baroque.

One might expect this to be simply a how-to book about carving acanthus leaves. It is, but very much more. Yes, we learn to both draw and carve leaves. But Mary also offers a richly illustrated and detailed discussion of the history of the acanthus. Mary leads us through centuries of cultural and stylistic variations. Once we become aware, we’ll start seeing acanthus leaves everywhere.

Interspersed among the carving lessons are short stories from her life. Some of the themes are: miles of mouldings, never too old to carve, display a carving and catch a husband, “opportunities” not mistakes, the atypical jack-o’-lantern, and the young bride in a bed full of wood chips. These are simply delightful insights to how Mary May has become the masterful carver she is today.

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On the Technical Side
Mary includes a wholesome “Getting Started with Woodcarving” chapter that is actually a mini-course in beginning woodcarving. She highlights tools and equipment, safety, the all important grain-following techniques, layout tips and tool sharpening techniques.

Yet another “Getting Started” chapter dives into the acanthus itself, with a detailed lesson in leaf anatomy followed by instruction on how to draw and carve a typical leaf. Here we see the beginning of Mary’s step-by-step illustrations. Hundreds of these illustrations and photographs are effective substitutes for when Mary can’t be standing beside the workbench helping us learn.

Drawing instructions? Do we really need to learn to draw to be able to carve effectively? Mary suggests that learning to draw is helpful, that it builds confidence in understanding the design before committing tools to wood.

I agree, from experience…. A little personal diversion: I once undertook a lengthy stay at a place where it was inconvenient to drag along carving tools, my workbench and all the other comforts of carving. Instead, I took a copy of someone else’s book about acanthus leaves, a few pencils, a pad of paper and a big eraser. I spent many hours drawing from photos in that book. I learned that the best looking acanthus leaves are dependent on the constantly changing curves being just right. It was time well spent. Subsequent carving was much easier.

These drawing lessons, one general lesson and one for each leaf, actually double the value of this book. Drawing, for me, is a gateway to understanding carving. When I get a good feeling for the object with the low-cost investment of paper and pencil, the actual carving is enjoyable and stress free. Maybe you will find the same benefit. For those who want to skip drawing, there are drawings provided for each chapter.

By the way, as an “enginerd,” my day job has always been precise and used concise tools. The engineering mindset told me that one can’t make a curve of constantly changing radius, such as a natural spiral, with a fixed-radius tool such as a compass. Mary’s drawing lesson changed that mindset. She shows very clever ways to use fixed-radius drawing tools to get very close to the constantly changing curves we need for the spiral forms of acanthus leaves.

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Mary goes on to entertain us with short stories and 13 spectacular carving lessons. Every lesson includes a description of the leaf and photos of how carvings are used in real situations, typically on furniture, or architectural pieces. Then comes a section about drawing, and a section about carving that particular leaf, all abundantly illustrated with step-by-step drawings and photos.

Stock up on paper, pencils and basswood. Prepare for many hours of thoroughly enjoyable carving, and get ready for your rapidly approaching “Rite of Passage.”

Order the book from the Lost Art Press website here. The book ships in late November. You can download a free sample chapter via this link.

This review is based on the digital PDF that one can receive with early ordering. I have not yet held the actual book. It is 8-1/2” x 11”, 336 pages. Christopher Schwarz has promised it to be a durable book that can lie flat on the carving bench, and he always delivers what he promises.

— Bob Easton

About Bob Easton: After 40 years in the Information Technology industry, many as a software engineer, Bob turned to woodworking about 10 years ago. He entered through the door marked “small boats,” built a couple of rudderless boats and then slowly drifted over to woodcarving. He was blessed to meet Mary May many years ago and helped her establish the website for her online Woodcarving School (https://www.marymaycarving.com/carvingschool/). Bob occasionally adds drivel to his own blog at https://bob-easton.com/blog/

Posted in Carve the Acanthus with Mary May, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

What to Touch with a 10′ Pole

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Once upon a time, 10′ poles were a tool common to a number of trades including linemen and cemetery workers. What they touched with their 10′ poles – high-voltage power lines and corpses respectively – is not something most people would want to touch, not even with an 11′ pole.

Carpenters, however, were quite happy with the 10′, or as the drawing suggests, any length of stick divided into 10 equal segments. For in their hands lay a tool critical to the efficiency and accuracy of their layout work.  As we discuss in our book “From Truths to Tools” a right angle can be formed by a triangle composed of three whole-number leg lengths. In the simplest triplet, the leg lengths are three, four and five “whatevers.” The 10′ pole simply employs a doubling of those numbers: six, eight and 10, which are measured in this case with the imperial feet of some long-dead king. (If you think feet stink, you could measure out the pole in the cubits {forearm lengths} of some even longer-dead pharaoh.)

As demonstrated below – lifted from the book – we can construct a “proof” of this particular triplet using a straightedge and dividers. Be aware that there are many more whole-number triplet combinations – perhaps an infinite amount.

Triplet Proof

The sketch below shows the pole in use aligning a post square (and therefore plumb) to a level floor:

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It’s a simple enough procedure: After fixing the base of the post to the desired location on the floor system, you use the pole to lay out a mark 6′ up from the bottom of the post. Next, you lay out a mark 8′ away from the post on the floor. When the full 10′ length of the pole fits exactly between the mark on the floor and on the post face, your post will be exactly square to the floor. Turns out that this layout problem (among many others as you’ll discover in the book) can be beat with a stick!

— Jim Tolpin, byhandandeye.com

Posted in From Truths to Tools, Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Caption Challenge with an Elephant!

The image is from 1634 and needs a caption. ‘Nusquam tuta fides’ translates as ‘no trust is ever sure’ but don’t let that get in your way.

Suzanne Ellison

Posted in Historical Images, Personal Favorites | 40 Comments

The City Workshop

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After 21 years of working in shops in the suburbs or (worse) sprawling edge cities, I was thrilled to move to a storefront on Willard Street in Covington, Ky. It has exceeded every expectation, and I have forged a lot of great relationships with nearby woodworkers, metalworkers, carpenters and glass artists.

On top of that, the architecture is an endless source of inspiration, offering pattern, shadow, ornament and form. And my store’s plate-glass windows are like a high-definition television tuned to the human dramas on the sidewalks. Here are my three favorite tales from the last two years.

Sprinting in the City
While my daughter Katy and I were walking back to the store from lunch, I challenged her to a foot race down Ninth Street. She declined. But as we turned onto Ninth, she changed her mind and took off running. I pursued her – sprinting at top speed.

It was a spring day, and all the cars lined up at the stoplight on Ninth Street had their windows open. And the drivers and passengers started yelling at us.

“Hey! You leave her alone!” one driver yelled.

“Stop chasing her!” another screamed. “I’ll call the cops!”

I started laughing so hard I lost the race.

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Money Doesn’t Buy Good Taste
It’s pretty common for local residents to stop by the shop to see what I’m building. They also like to look at the completed pieces of furniture waiting to go to customers.

One day a woman stopped by who was looking for work cleaning bathrooms (sorry, I clean my own toilets). After walking in she rushed to the back of the room, dropped to her knees and started examining the fretwork on the staked dining table we use as a desk. She spent a few minutes examining that table, then moved to the aumbry to examine the carving. Then one of my chairs.

She went on a rant about store-bought furniture that any woodworker would recognize. This woman, who you might think is homeless, had really good taste in furniture. (Better taste than my suburban neighbors on the whole.)

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If it Looks Like a Crime Scene…
Last winter when I was building the 1505 Loffelholz workbench I was having a heck of a time getting the tail vise working properly. After a frustrating day of adjusting it and failing, I gave up and decided to go home.

I locked the shop’s door and walked to my truck. I had a sudden idea on adjusting the vise that stopped me dead in my tracks. I turned around, unlocked the shop door and immediately slid under the bench, lying on my back. I was so excited I forgot to close the shop’s door.

After 10 minutes of working on my back, I heard someone running toward me.

“I’m calling 911! Are you OK? Are you hurt? Did they rob you?”

A guy was standing in the open doorway, out of breath, with a cellphone.

Again, I started laughing. Except for a pool of blood it looked like a crime scene. I was flat on my back, staring straight up. The door was wide open.

I know a lot of woodworkers fantasize about a cozy workshop out in the woods somewhere where they can be surrounded by nature. And be free from distractions of human society. But for me, a city workshop is best shop I’ve ever had.

— Christopher Schwarz, editor, Lost Art Press
Personal site: christophermschwarz.com

Posted in Lost Art Press Storefront, Uncategorized | 23 Comments

Evolution of the Crucible Dividers

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I’ve just posted a blog entry that shows the evolution of the Crucible Improved Pattern Dividers (and explained why they have that name. Check it out here.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Crucible Tool, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Some of our Defences

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From “Cot With Drop Side,” The Woodworker magazine, April 1942

“ … For the comfort and seemliness of our furniture will decide the background of our home; whether it is to be a place we can truly rejoice in and be proud of, or whether it is to be a shoddy sort of place, a mean, vulgar sort of place. And these things do not depend upon whether a man is rich or poor. A rich man’s house can be innately vulgar, and a poor man’s house have real charm. It all depends upon what we are trying to do and how we set about doing it.

It is all part of the last defence, which is honesty of workmanship and purpose, qualities that were by no means the hallmark of the mass-produced furniture that flooded the market before the war, much of which had for its only purpose to tempt people to buy meretricious stuff which they did not really need and to push good, honest workmanship into the background. The man who has sufficient skill to make his own furniture need never succumb to this kind of temptation. For he at least knows how things ought to be done, he understands good construction and should have a keen eye for all the paltry makeshifts by which weaknesses and defects are hidden in the shoddy article. It is one of the evils of our time that so many men do not know how things are done. The nature of their work has been divorced from making; and it is from making, something, anything, soundly and well, that we get our main training of eye as well as hand.

Allied with this last defence comes beauty a shy quality in which good taste must combine with good workmanship and which even then refuses to be exactly defined. So many things in the home contribute to it; comfort, order, colour, charm, all reflecting something of the personality of the man and woman about whom the home centres, so that in thinking of “home” we think of a unity into which all are gathered—father, mother, children, background. And beauty becomes the first defence of the home as well as the last when it helps to keep boys or girls poised and steady when they are away from it, seeing it with new eyes just because they are away and are no longer blinded by familiarity, and giving them a standard by which to judge the outer world. The man who is honest with himself, honest with his work, and anxious to make good, honest things, is laying the foundation of such a standard. And beauty will not be far behind, indeed must follow, if he will put the best of his mind and will to it:

‘ … look where our dizziest spires are saying
What the hands of a man did up in the sky;
Drenched before you have heard the thunder,
White before you have felt the snow;
For the giants lift up their hands to wonder
How high the hands of a man could go.’ 

—Charles Hayward, The Woodworker magazine, 1942; the poem Hayward references at the end is by G. K. Chesterton, titled “For Four Guilds: III. The Stone-Masons,” from the book “The Ballad of St. Barbara: And Other Verses”

Posted in Honest Labour, Uncategorized | Leave a comment