Making Things Work

This is the fifth in a series of posts related to the tales in Making Things Work. These posts are not excerpts from the book. This one relates most closely to the tale entitled “No.” Due to operator error, the previous post in this series, “Beggars Can Be Choosers,” did not appear on the Lost Art Press site. You can find it here.


On 06/07/2018 12:23 AM, Mr. X wrote:


A few years ago I was looking for an Arts & Crafts bookcase to build for my den.  I am a retired draftsman, so I was able to pick and choose components from different designs and combine them into one.  But even after looking at so many different designs I still couldn’t find one that really made me happy.  And I looked at a lot.  Then one day I received my copy of Popular Woodworking and there…

View original post 167 more words

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A World Without Split Ends


One of the great advantages of working with riven material is that the grain direction of your boards becomes much less of a problem. With most riven pieces (that aren’t radically tapered), you can cut both ways on the piece with zero tear-out because the grain is dead straight.

I call this the “American Advantage” – this continent still has the big, straight trees that allow parts to be riven for chairs and even casework. And not only does the raw material affect the process, it also affects the tools. When you have dead-straight material, you can shave all your parts with a drawknife or a bevel-up spokeshave.

So what happens when you step out of the American chair tradition?

The process and the tools change. When I build American Welsh Stick Chairs I don’t use riven material – I use whatever I can find that is naturally twisted or straight to suit the chair parts I have in my mind. This stuff can be from the lumberyard – or your backyard hedge. It’s perfectly suitable material for a chair, but it doesn’t like a drawknife or a bevel-up spokeshave. And that’s because grain direction is a big problem when you use sawn or found material.

Personally, I fall back on cabinetmaking tools and techniques to deal with grain direction on my chair parts. When I use my bench planes for a finishing cut, I set the cap iron (aka chipbreaker or back iron) so it is only a hair away from the cutting edge. And I mean a hair – maybe .006”. That allows me to deal with arms, seats, legs and doublers that have gnarly grain.


When I use a block plane, that means I need to set the mouth so it’s as fine as possible. For me, that means setting it so that the shaving gets wedged between the mouth and iron. And the next shaving pushes it out. That is tight.


Using these techniques – a close-set breaker or a fine mouth – allow me to plane my parts without thinking about grain direction as much, if at all. So I can taper all my legs by planing from the foot to the tenon; I don’t have to every turn the leg around to plane the other way.

Yes, it takes some practice to get the breaker and the mouth in the right spot. But it’s no more work than learning to sharpen or wield a drawknife. It’s just a different approach.

— Christopher Schwarz

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A Tour of John Hill’s Workshop

‘Interior of the Carpenter’s Shop at Forty Hill, Enfield’ by John Hill, collection of the Tate.

In “The Tate Gallery Illustrated Biennial Report 1983-1984” two of the recently acquired works were paintings of carpentry shops. The articles that discuss the history and importance of the acquired works are usually written by curators and museum department heads. In the case of the two carpentry shops the Tate Gallery (now Tate Britain) asked Jack Warans, a member of the Tate carpentry staff, to write the article for the Biennial Report. Warans’ article, “Inside Two Carpenter’s Shops” discusses “The Carpenter’s Shop at Forty Hill, Enfield” by John Hill and “Christ in the House of his Parents (The Carpenter’s Shop)” by John Everett Millais.

Although John Hill’s painting is greatly admired in the woodworking world and has been used in numerous publications it is also a source of frustration. The lack of a strong light source and the deep shadows keep much of the painting’s incredible detail just out of reach. The viewer can see “the corners but not the heart” of the shop. Jack Warans had the opportunity to make a close study of the painting, and I think his description of Hill’s shop (and a few enlargements) will help you see the details that make this a special work of art. And, he has something to say about the axe on the floor.

‘The Carpenter’s Shop at Forty Hill, Enfield’

“‘The Carpenter’s Shop at Forty Hill, Enfield’ by John Hill, an almost forgotten artist, was acquired for the Tate Gallery chiefly because its subject matter is unusual and the picture very convincingly painted. Hill was self-taught as an artist, but there is nothing naive about the fresh and direct style which he displays here. This picture was in fact probably exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1813 under the title ‘Interior of a Carpenter’s Shop’.


“John Hill was himself a carpenter and builder at Forty Hill. This scene probably represents his own workshop, and the figure of the master of the shop (seen at its farther end), whose moleskin hat and dark jacket distinguish him from his assistants in their white caps and shirtsleeves, may be a self-portrait. But although this picture depicts a particular carpenter’s shop early in the nineteenth century any modern spectator who has experienced the traditional techniques and customs of a carpenter’s training will recognise every detail of the scene. And the closer you look at this painting, the more detail you will see in it. None of these details are picturesque props; all of them are painted from first-hand knowledge of the carpenter’s trade.

“The three men at work in this interior are not posing for the artist. Each of them is absorbed in his work and in command of the task to which he is putting his skills. Every one of them is evidently a fully qualified carpenter, for each has his own tool-box close at hand. These tool-boxes were (and still are) usually begun in the last years of a carpenter’s apprenticeship, and might take several years to finish. On the outside these tool-boxes look plain and serviceable; they were usually painted green, as these are. When opened they revealed the finest workmanship of which the craftsman was capable; they usually consisted of twelve drawers, the whole elaborately inlaid and veneered. Tool-boxes served two chief purposes; they enabled a carpenter to keep his own personal tools safely and tidily, and they could be shown to a prospective employer as evidence of a carpenter’s skill. Within a workshop they also served an everyday practical purpose in giving the carpenter somewhere to sit and eat his midday meal.

By John Tenniel, 1872. Collection of the V&A, London.

“The white caps worn by the master carpenter’s two assistants were traditional for several centuries, and were worn by tradesmen such as plasterers and house-painters. They were made of stout paper, folded into a box-like shape. A similar cap is worn by the Walrus’ friend the Carpenter in Tenniel’s illustrations to Alice: Through the Looking-Glass.

“For those who would like to know more about the picture but are not familiar with the carpenter’s trade, it may be a help to state just what we can see in it. We are looking into the interior of a small joinery shop, made chiefly of timber but with one brick wall. The floor is made of flagstones, which in winter would probably have been covered with wooden pallets.

“The windows on either side of the shop are glazed with small panes of bottle-glass; broken panes have been stopped by the time-honored custom of stuffing bundles of wood-shavings into the cracks. At the farthest end of the shop is a large unglazed opening, big enough for large pieces of work to go through; this opening gives ventilation and maximum light (and, incidentally, a charming view of the countryside outside), and it is at this vantage point the master of the shop has chosen to station himself. This opening could be closed by outside shutters.

“In the centre of the foreground, an axe and a cross-cut log lie on the flagstones, probably to symbolise the first and most basic step in carpentry; this is the only slightly unrealistic note in the picture, for no carpenter would leave an axe on the floor like that.

“On the left is a wicker basket used for carrying tools between the shop and work outside it; from it protrude a hand-saw, an adze, a gauge and what is either an unfinished staircase baluster or the template for it. Behind the basket is a sash-cramp, used (still) in the making of sash windows to glue or ‘cramp up’ their frames. Between the windows on the left hang hand-saws, a bow-saw and various templates; beneath the furthest window [on the sill] is a metal-working vice; which would extend the sort of work this workshop can undertake.

“The carpenter on the left, with his back to the spectator, is working at a carpenter’s bench, the basic design of which remained unchanged for centuries; on it lie several planes,

a wooden mallet, various dividers and pincers, a bradawl and a gimlet. This man is using a square to mark out a piece of timber for cutting; two pieces of wood which he has already stripped, planed and squared lie on the bench to the right. His fellow-assistant, on the right of the picture, is sawing a piece of marked-out timber on a wooden trestle or saw-horse.

“At the far end of the shop the master is planing timber. The wood beams of the wall in front of him are hung with various tools, including several brass-backed tenon saws and a coffin-maker’s saw (used, not only in coffin-making, for sawing long joints) and with various templates, mostly for making heavy mouldings. One or two objects on this wall specifically refer to work carried out in this particular shop: for instance, a picture frame made of dark wood, or stained dark, perhaps made for one of Hill’s own paintings, and a carved eagle, perhaps a small version of a carving made for a church pulpit. Chalked numbers on the wall on the master’s right [to the right of the shelf] are presumably calculations for the work at hand.

“The array of tools continues across the brick wall on the right, and includes several spare vices, boxes of pegs and nails and, at the extreme end [to the right of the boards], a mitre-block for cutting corners. The only indispensable items missing from this view are glue-pots; they must have been kept at the end of the workshop which is (as it were) occupied by the spectator and which probably gave approximately one-third more space to the workshop. Everything else which should be here is here; everything in this workshop has a practical function and is accurately depicted.”

Jack Warans also commented on Millais’ “Christ in the House of his Parents (The Carpenter’s Shop).” He noted “Millais included only such details as he wanted. His carpenter’s shop is not so much a place of work as a stage for a few carefully selected props. The most realistic detail is the carpenter’s bench, which is the same timeless design as the bench in Hill’s shop, as well as my own in the Tates’s carpenter’s workshop today…the tools on the wall at the back of this workshop include a bow-saw of the type peculiar to the cooper’s trade…and a hammer of the type used by upholsterers. There is no plane, yet that is of course indispensable in a carpenter’s shop.”

Jack Warans sums up the difference between the two paintings, on the one hand a carpenter’s shop painted by a carpenter, on the other hand a carpenter’s shop used as a backdrop for religious symbolism: “Millais’ picture is a semblance of reality rather than reality itself. In his carpenter’s shop, a set-square is not so much a set-square as a symbol of the Trinity. There are no symbolic overtones in Hill’s picture. Its realism is, literally, almost artless; but there is, and should be, room for Hill’s picture as well as Millais’ in the national gallery of British Art.”

A Little Bit About John Hill

John Hill’s approximate birth year is 1780, and he died in November 1841. His father, Thomas (died 1814), was a carpenter. According to the Tate, John was listed in an 1839 census as a carpenter and as a builder in an 1841 census. John was also a self-taught artist and six of his paintings survive. His painting of the carpenter’s shop is believed to be the same work exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1813. A label on the back of the painting (dated circa 1900) indicates the carpentry shop was Hill’s first completed painting and was done in 1800. If this early date is correct the master in the background of the shop could very well be his father.

‘Worcester Lodge, Forty Hill, Enfield’ by John Hill. Photo by Enfield Museum Service.

Besides the painting of the carpenter’s shop he also painted Worcester Lodge where he probably lived. Landscapes around Forty Hill were another subject of Hill’s paintings.

His training as a carpenter seems to have given him a good eye for scale, perspective and detail.

Compare the ‘bottle-glass’ windows in the painting on the left with some real windows on the right. The glass is watery causing the light to be muted and the pontil in each pane distorts the view to the outside.

It is one thing to paint the human body standing straight and it is quite another to paint the body at work in a carpenter’s shop.

In the 1858 edition of “Historical, Topographical and Statistical Notices of Enfield in the County of Middlesex, Containing Also Brief Biographical Notices of Distinguished Persons Who Formerly Resided in the Parish” compiled by J. Tuff, Chemist, we find this note about John Hill:

Finally, here is what is thought to be a self-portrait of John Hill.

Enfield Museum Service.

A couple notes on British English to Other English translations: a cramp is a clamp, a vice is a vise and mouldings are mouldings or sometimes moldings.

If seeing those square paper hats has got you fired up and you want to have one of your own (and one for your cat) you can read about the hats and get construction details here.

In the gallery below are a map showing the location of Enfield and Forty Hill, two landscapes by John Hill and the Millais painting.

Suzanne Ellison

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About That Class Registration Fee…


If you read the post about our upcoming classes, you know that for 2020, we’re charging a small non-refundable registration fee of $12 a day per class. You might wonder why, and if it’s worth it.

In short, it’s because the entirety of your class tuition goes to the instructor. And during the past 18 months, we’ve found that the classes require lots of glue, gallons of drinking water (and dang-good coffee), ample toilet paper, and to keep the HVAC at a comfortable level for seven people. The small registration fee will help pay for that. Plus, the class registration site costs money – so part of each fee goes to pay for it, too.

Why is the registration fee non-refundable? Again, because all the tuition goes to the instructor, we have to have some way to pay for all the administration when people drop out of classes, require help with shipping tools or need assistance with housing, meals or activities for their families. We’re happy to help, but we do need to eat.

We do our best to make sure classes here are worth the investment in money and time. Lost Art Press operates differently than most publishing companies, and the classes here are different, too. With only six students in all but a few classes, you get plenty of personal attention from the instructor (whether you want it or not!). And, you’ve the opportunity to try out a bunch of different bench styles in our working shop (handy, if you’re thinking about building one). Plus, you have access to the Covington Mechanical Library – our large collection of woodworking books (including a three-volume set of the original 18th-century “l’art du Menuisier”).

You also get to spend time in the Covington Main Strasse area, which is aces (it’s possible we’re biased). There are scads of good and inexpensive restaurants within easy walking distance, and plenty of hotels and Air BnB rentals available at shockingly low rates. And we’re right across the Ohio River from downtown Cincinnati, where you’ll find even more great restaurants, and plenty for your family to do while you’re in class, should they visit with you.

We love offering classes, and think you’ll have a great time here (and learn a lot, of course!) – so we hope this small fee won’t stop you from registering for a class.

— Fitz

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Jan.-June 2020 Classes at the Storefront

As we’ve mentioned a few times, we’re reducing the number of classes for 2020. Despite almost every class selling out, and though we love having folks visit, we are not (sing it with me!) a school, and the many classes have cut into our shop time and editorial work (and my sanity, because I handle all the backend stuff for visiting instructors). But Christopher Schwarz and Brendan Gaffney handle their own backends <insert joke>, and I handle my own <please don’t insert joke>. So we three will be offering a smattering of educational opportunities at the Lost Art Press storefront, as well as a very few from outside instructors.

Do Not Skip the Paragraph Below
Before you read about the January-June 2020 classes below, here’s some important information about our new ticketing policy: We have added a NON-REFUNDABLE registration fee when you sign up. These cover the ticketing system costs, and to go toward such shop and class necessaries as glue, electricity, shop rags and toilet paper (the last two of which are not interchangeable). That fee is $12 per day per student – so for two-day classes it’s $24, for a week-long class it’s $60. Again: It is NON-REFUNDABLE. So please make sure the class dates work for you before you register. (There is a cancellation policy at the bottom of each class description. For most classes, the instructor offers a full refund – minus that non-refundable fee – up to four weeks before a class.)

Also note that each class description on the ticketing site includes a link to “Where to Stay; What to Do,” a page that will help you find accommodations and learn a bit more about why your family might enjoy visiting Greater Cincinnati while you’re busy in the shop.

The classes listed below will go live on Friday, Aug. 30 at 10 a.m. You can look at our “box office” right now on the Ticket Tailor site (and from there click through to each class) – but if you click one of the “Register Now” buttons, it will trick you into thinking you can register today. You cannot. Once a class is sold out (again, tickets go on sale Aug. 30 at 10 a.m. Eastern, and a non-refundable registration fee will be collected at check-out), I will turn on the waitlist function (there is no fee to sign up for the waitlist).

Here are the classes we have planned for the first half of 2020 (note that we might add one or two more – if so, we’ll blog about it and add them to our Ticket Tailor listings).

Intro to Staked Furniture – Design & Construction, with Christopher Schwarz, Jan. 18-19.
Build the ‘Anarchist’s Tool Chest’ with Megan Fitzpatrick, Feb. 17-21
The Greenwood Høj Footstool with Brendan Gaffney, Feb. 29-March 1
Build an American Welsh Stick Chair with Christopher Schwarz, March 9-13
4 Corner Joints & a Dado, with Megan Fitzpatrick, March 21-22
One-slat Ladderback Chair with Brendan Gaffney, March 27-29
Intro to Staked Furniture – Design & Construction, with Christopher Schwarz, April 4-5
One-slat Ladderback Chair with Brendan Gaffney, May 1-3
Build a Sawbench with Megan Fitzpatrick, May 16-17
Make a Post-and-rung Ladderback Chair with Brendan Gaffney, May 25-29
Intro to Staked Furniture – Design & Construction, with Christopher Schwarz, June 6-7
Build a Dutch Tool Chest with Megan Fitzpatrick, June 26-28

As always, if you have a question, please email me (Megan Fitzpatrick) at


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‘The Joiner and Cabinet-Maker’ Historical Reprint Ships Next Week


After fighting printing plant delays for the last eight months, we received good news on Friday. Our historical reprint of “The Joiner and Cabinet-Maker” was complete and being trucked to our warehouse in Indiana – weeks ahead of schedule.

It should arrive Monday or Tuesday. Then the warehouse will start shipping out the pre-publication orders shortly after.

After the book arrives in the warehouse, we’ll also begin selling a special bundle of the historical reprint of the book plus the edition we originally published in 2009 with historical essays and expanded construction information. Look for details and special pricing on that some time next week.

— Christopher Schwarz

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New Chapter: Boarded Low Bench


I’ve completed the last new project chapter for the expanded edition of “The Anarchist’s Design Book.” Now, I need to clean up the new chapters that are related to design and shop mentality and the writing will be complete.

Briony Morrow-Cribbs is working on the copperplate etchings, and I am now figuring out how to stitch the new book together so it flows well and makes sense. We are on track to have the revised edition out by the end of the year.

In the meantime, here is a new chapter that owners of the first edition may download for free. It’s a chapter on a low boarded bench.

I Greco-Roman wrestled with myself over whether to include this chapter. The project is beyond simple – the only joints are the nails. The bench itself is the opposite of fine furniture. But after building five or six of these benches, I concluded that they have some important lessons to teach – lessons that some of us skip.

You can download the new chapter here:

ADB-Low Boarded Bench

And what would a blog post be without caveats? Here they are:

  • This is a rough draft. It might contain typos or small factual errors. If you see one, please point it out in the comments. If you want to edit my “tone,” then you must first build a time machine, travel back to 1981 Arkansas and stop Mrs. Hatfield from teaching me to write.
  • The drawing is a CAD rendering. Briony’s will be gorgeous and handmade.
  • And yes, the chapter’s comment on farts is true.

I am thrilled to be done building the six new projects for this book (though I really wanted to include an additional four that would have spawned a trilogy).

— Christopher Schwarz

Here are links to the other new chapters:

Boarded Settle Chair

Staked Armchair   

Staked High Stool

Mule Chest

The Island of Misfit Designs

Staked Low Stool

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