I don’t always build a chest alongside with my Anarchist’s Tool Chest classes – after all, I already have two full-size tool chests (one at the Lost Art Press shop and one at home), and there are only so many I can sell. But during my early December class, I decided to make one…partially at least. I always end up having to cede my bench and/or tools to students. Plus once the skirts are on, I spend a lot more time walking around than cutting my own joints. I’m terrified someone is going to send a flesh-cut flush-cut saw into a hand as they trim off protruding pins on the angled bits of the skirts. (The joints are cut before the bevel, so once the skirts are glued on, the “ears” get cut off.) I’ve cut into my own thenar eminence (that fleshy mound at the base of the thumb) more than once during this very operation. (I don’t mind my own blood, but I certainly don’t want to see student blood!)
So, I have sitting on my bench right now a glued-up carcase with the rest of the bits stacked on top. Once I finish the chest exterior (hopefully this week), we’re going to film kitting out the interior with what we consider the standard tills and racks:
• three dovetailed tills and their runners • hole-y rack for thin pointy tools (chisels, screwdrivers and the like) – both with and without a rack behind it for hanging backsaws • saw till on the floor for panel saws and longer handsaws • moulding plane cubby
We might also show installing the hardware…if time allows and if I can stomach being on screen for that much longer.
I expect we’ll have the video available sometime in February.
Also, I’ll have a full-sized ATC for sale soon-ish – shoot me an email if you’re interested. (I’m thinking of painting it blue.)
For almost 200 years, simple and sturdy pieces of campaign furniture were used by people all over the globe, yet this remarkable furniture style is now almost unknown to most woodworkers and furniture designers.
“Campaign Furniture” seeks to restore this style to its proper place by introducing woodworkers to the simple lines, robust joinery and ingenious hardware that characterize campaign pieces. With more than 400 photos and drawings to explain the foundations of the style, the book provides plans for nine pieces of classic campaign furniture, from the classic stackable chests of drawers to folding Roorkee chairs and collapsible bookcases.
Few things separate a piece of campaign furniture from ordinary furniture as much as the hardware.
In fact, antique dealers (and the clueless) will pretty much call anything that has brass corner guards a “campaign” piece. You see this especially with writing slopes, a common piece of furniture for a couple centuries that every literate citizen used – not just military officers and colonists.
I consider this a minor mistake and gladly overlook it. After all, most of these writing slopes (which some people call lap desks) were built as tough as a campaign piece, using nice woods, hardware and leather. So they were designed to be taken on “campaign,” even if that was just to the park.
What is less forgivable is when an unscrupulous dealer calls screwed-together plywood pieces “campaign furniture” because someone has tacked on some corner guards or rectangular brass pulls. The truth is that the campaign style has had some minor revivals over the years. So you can find “campaign chests” (and end tables, coffee tables and entertainment units) from the 1970s.
So while authentic campaign furniture is something that goes far beyond its hardware, the brasses are a critical part of evaluating a piece. And for a maker, the brasses are one of the major expenses when building a piece. When you shop for hardware, it’s tempting to buy pulls that look OK from 10′, but feel like tin foil in the hand.
This short chapter is designed to introduce you to the different kinds of hardware and the ways they are made – cast, extruded, bent, welded and die-cast. And to teach you a bit about the strategies for installing inset pulls, corner guards and the other inset plates common on campaign pieces.
How Hardware is Made Like your tools, the brasses for your furniture can be made in many different ways. The process affects how the hardware looks, feels in the hand and costs.
A lot of campaign brasses I’ve studied have been cast. There are several ways to cast metal; the three most common methods for making hardware are sand casting, die-casting and investment casting (and their variants).
While all these casting processes are different in their details, they are the same in their basic idea: There is a mold made in the shape of the hardware and it is filled with molten metal. When the metal cools, the casting is finished and assembled.
All three types of casting have advantages and disadvantages for you, the furniture maker, and I’ll be covering them in some detail here. Most woodworkers are woefully uneducated about the way hardware is made and as a result make bad decisions. As you are about to see, a little education about metal casting can go a long way toward improving the quality of your projects. Let’s start with sand casting.
Sand Casting Many handplane bodies (and woodworking machines) are made using sand casting. It allows a maker to produce castings in an economical way. The downside to sand casting furniture hardware is that the surface finish is never nice enough to use as-is. The manufacturer usually needs to finish the visible surfaces and touch points. This can be labor- or time-intensive.
But what is more important for a furniture maker is that the finishing process can make the parts non-interchangeable, especially if the pieces are finished by hand. The upside is that hand-finished hardware with small variations can be beautiful.
Hardware made this way is called “sand cast” because a sand that is moistened with oil or chemicals is used in the casting process The casting begins with a “pattern,” which was traditionally wood, but is now typically aluminum for pieces of hardware. Then either the pattern or a matchplate or some other representation of the finished object is used to make depressions in two boxes of sand – one is called the cope and the other is called the drag. These two bits of sand are put together and the cavity is filled with molten metal via tubes called “sprues” in casting parlance. Gates are put into the matchplate or simply cut into the sand itself to allow the metal to flow completely through the part and out the other side. This helps the metal completely fill the cavity and helps prevent shrinkage (which is a cause of surface pitting).
After the metal hardens, the sand is removed (and reused) and the resulting metal shape is finished – by grinding, filing, polishing, machining or some combination of these processes. After grinding and/or filing, all cast parts are put into vibratory tumblers filled with a variety of different medias to get the surface finish smooth. The tumbling is the key process that turns a very rough casting into a smooth finished part. Machining typically takes place after tumbling.
Sand casting produces hardware that typically has a substantial feel. Its components are fairly thick. The unfinished faces of the hardware will typically be a bit coarse – like sand. (Proper tumbling eliminates this rough surface.)
These qualities are the nice things about sand-cast objects, but there are some downsides with sand-cast hardware. The level of detail isn’t as good as with other casting methods. So a sand-cast lion’s face will look a bit “blurrier” than one cast by other methods.
Also, the sand-casting process can result in some variance in dimensions. This is not a big deal at all if you install your hardware piece by piece. But if you want to have one router template for all your inset sand-cast pulls, you might want to closely examine the pulls first and see how close in size they are to one another.
Believe it or not, sand casting (the oldest form of casting, by far) can be done at home or even on the beach. Peter Follansbee once showed me ring pulls that he and other researchers at Plimoth Plantation made on the beach. And Thomas Lie-Nielsen fondly recalls how his father – a boatbuilder – would cast the keels of his boats on the beach.
Investment (Lost Wax) Casting Investment casting is a more complex process than sand casting, but it is suited for small objects and short runs, and results in some fine details that might not require additional finishing.
The process is complex (and can be more expensive than sand casting), but it starts with a pattern that goes through several stages of production involving creating a wax mold of the object that is then covered in a ceramic material.
Investment-cast pieces of hardware have few downsides, other than the fact that they are typically more expensive than a similar sand-cast object. They allow much finer detail than a sand-cast piece, can have a much thinner cross-section and have the presence of a sand-cast piece.
Orion Henderson, the owner of Horton Brasses, says that investment casting can be pretty economical for very small parts. He says the downside to investment casting is that the metal suffers from greater “shrink” – when the metal cools it gets smaller, leaving pitting; the part gets so small that sometimes the part is not usable. The molds need to be oversized to account for this. Because of this shrinkage, Henderson says, investment casting is fine for small parts but not as suitable for big pieces – a bed wrench for tightening bed bolts, for example.
Die-cast Hardware Die-cast objects get a bad rap. And that’s because die-casting has been used with lightweight raw materials to produce lightweight (sometimes featherweight) pieces of furniture hardware. They are inexpensive and look good from across the room. But once you grab the hardware, it can feel insubstantial.
Like all casting processes, die-casting has a mold – in this case a two-part metal mold called a die that is machined with hollow areas. Molten metal is injected under pressure to fill the hollow areas in the die. Then the two pieces of the die are mechanically separated and the finished part is ejected.
Die-casting produces parts that require little or no finishing. The parts are remarkably consistent. You can make many of them in a minute, and the individual units are inexpensive as a result. So why do some people dislike the process?
Like all technology, die-casting isn’t the problem. It’s how it is employed.
You can use copper (or even lead) in die-casting to make a nice and heavy piece of hardware. (In fact, die-casting was invented in the early 19th century to make movable lead type for printing presses.) But in many instances, the manufacturer will use lightweight metals, such as aluminum, tin, zinc or Zamak, an alloy of lightweight metals.
To be honest, these lightweight metals are fine for some pieces of hardware. A drawer knob, for example, can be just fine when it is die-cast. But when you get into pieces of hardware that have movable parts that you grab, such as a drawer pull, the whole thing can feel chintzy.
You can identify die-cast pieces of hardware easily, even if its catalog description doesn’t mention the process. The finished casting is pushed out of the die by ejector pins – movable rods inside the die. These pins leave telltale round marks on the hardware. Look for them on the back of the hardware, and you’ll start to see them everywhere.
Bent Plate When it comes to the corner guards that are prevalent in campaign furniture, many modern manufacturers will use thin brass plate that is bent and sometimes welded at the corners.
This might sound like a cheap shortcut. It indeed is a shortcut compared to cast-brass corner guards, but it can be a good shortcut.
The plate is more consistent in thickness than any piece of sand-cast hardware. So installing it is easier because you can use one depth setting on your router plane or electric router.
The downside to using brass plate is that the corners of the hardware – both the inside corners and outside corners – are rounded because of the bending process. The cast corner guards can have sharp inside and outside corners. It’s a subtle difference, but it is noticeable once you are sensitive to it.
If you do use hardware made from bent plate (and I do), look for welds at the corners when the hardware covers three surfaces, such as when you have a brass guard designed for the top corners of a chest. A quality guard will be bent then welded. Some of the less expensive guards are simply bent with no weld. This looks just weird and wrong to my eye.
Extruded Hardware Some of the hardware you’ll see in catalogs will indicate it is “extruded.” Extruding hardware parts is analogous to making macaroni or using the Fuzzy Pumper Barbershop with Play-Doh. Metal (cold or hot) is pushed through a die to make a finished shape that is then cut up to finished lengths.
Many quality hinges are made with extrusion. The leaf and barrel are extruded. Then they are cut to length and machined to accept screws. The only downside to extruded hardware is its price.
Choosing Hardware So why is all this talk about hardware manufacturing important? I think that hardware can make or break a piece of campaign furniture. A zinc die-cast drawer pull on a teak chest is like a nugget ring on a millionaire’s hand.
When I am shopping for hardware for a piece of campaign furniture, I like to purchase a sample pull, hinge or corner guard to inspect the quality before dropping hundreds of dollars on a suite for a chest or trunk.
The samples also help me ensure that the color and finish on the hardware will work. And the color of the brass is another can of worms we need to open.
If you buy your hardware from several sources for one piece of furniture, the chance of them matching in color is tiny. And the last thing I want to do after spending $700 on pulls is to open a chemistry set to strip the hardware pieces and color them.
If you like dabbling in solvents and other noxious fumes, you can easily find information on how to strip the lacquer from your hardware and color it with ammonia fumes. Me, I have enough volatile organic compounds in my life. I’d rather leave that to other people.
That’s why I take one of two strategies when buying hardware: Either I buy all the pieces from one maker to ensure they have a consistent color, or I ask (nicely) if the hardware seller can color the pieces. The better hardware merchants are happy to do this for you. In fact, some will even bring in hardware from other sources and color your entire suite so everything looks the same. It might cost a little more to go this route, but the results are worth it.
One last note about buying hardware and I’ll shut up: I think slotted screws are really the only kind of screw that looks good on a campaign piece. Phillips screws are a 1930s invention that were intended for assembling cars – not fine furniture.
Once you get your hardware in hand, you can build the piece and install the pulls, knobs and corner guards. There are several strategies for creating the recesses for the hardware, ranging from a chisel and a mallet all the way up to templates for the electric router and pattern-cutting bits.
Almost every time I post a photo of one of my chair seats in progress, I get this question: “Do you use an angle grinder and (insert spinning tooling name here) to rough out your seats?”
I answer: “No, I use a scorp.” But I don’t really talk about why.
I think this sort of spinny, toothy tooling is inherently dangerous. It is difficult to make operations “safe” with it. And if someone ever hurt themselves after seeing me use the tool, I would be crushed.
I own one. I bought it years ago to experiment with after seeing several chairmakers use them in videos. I followed all the rules. Watched videos from the manufacturers. I practiced on scraps for a few weeks during my down time.
Then I used one – cautiously – to make the dugout chair that everyone in the world seems to think is ugly. Working that stump for hours and hours got me comfortable with the tool. After that, I practiced saddling a few scrap seats from the burn pile.
Then I put the thing away and haven’t touched it until I took these photos.
I think it’s too dangerous for my tastes (your attitude might differ). I am perfectly happy with the speed and accuracy I get from a scorp. If I needed to go into production mode with chair seats, I’d buy a CNC router instead of an angle grinder and knee-biter.
I believe safety is the responsibility of the individual. And this individual won’t use that sort of tool.
I’m not looking for an argument. This is simply a public service announcement, so I’m keeping the comments closed. Feel free to skewer me on your own blog.
Publisher’s Note: Please excuse or ignore the choices of pronouns and male-centric language. We are all products of our time, and Charles Hayward (born in 1898) was no exception. It’s interesting to note that as the magazine entered the 1960s, the language and pronouns began to modernize as well. (I’m sure my own writing will be interpreted as specist in 2243 by our squid overlords.) Hayward’s insight and inspiration are legitimate, honest and important – no matter which pronouns are attached to the ideas.
There was that unforgettable incident at the beginning of the 1914 war, when on Christmas Eve in a spontaneous movement of goodwill the British and the German soldiers clambered out of their trenches and exchanged greetings and carols. According to a writer in The times at the time: “Not once or twice but again and again we hear of this sudden change upon the night of Christmas Eve, how there was singing upon one side answered by the others, and how the men rose and advanced to meet each other as if they had been released from a spell. Everyone who tells of it speaks also of his own wonder as if he had seen a miracle; and some say that the darkness became strange and beautiful with light as well as music, as if the armies had been gathered together there not for war but for the Christmas feast.” If only that spirit of goodwill had been allowed to develop instead of being, as it was, quelled by army orders, the history of Europe might have taken a very different turn and we should not now be living under the shadow of the atom-bomb.
Most men want peace, although we do not appear to be progressing in the right direction for it, not only because of the constant talk of war but because men are losing their interior peace. There are doctors to-day who believe that the modern advance in material benefits is not bringing with it all the blessings of health and happiness that were once anticipated. While diseases that were recognized as the scourges of mankind are gradually being eliminated, their place is being taken by the “stress diseases,” which have their roots in men’s own inner conflict and are far more difficult to treat. Life is getting altogether too bewildering and complex. We need the simple life lines of faith and belief and good work to our hands to help us steer a course through it.
We have only to look at the serene face of some old craftsman who has found his life’s work in the exercise of his skill to realise that here is one way in which a man can find peace. If by responding to the natural urge for creation that is within him his hands have learned to follow the behests of his mind and his whole being is working in unison, he knows the absorbed, integrated peace that to-day is found by few. The world is so busy pandering to our human nature that the very memory of the hidden depths it contains becomes overlaid. No wonder so many men are bewildered and frustrated, seeking their pleasures in eternal things, while the sheer satisfaction that could be theirs of finding and cultivating their own powers in some creative skill of mind and body remains hidden from them. It is not until something happens, some need or enthusiasm which touches off a spark, that the possibilities begin to dawn. Most people nowadays have sufficient time in their leisure to enable them to do the things they really want to do. Every man in his own way can become a craftsman. There are good tools, good materials, good instructors to be had where needed, and anyone who is willing to make the effort and be a little patient with himself can learn. The woodworker has the additional advantage of dealing with one of the very foundation materials of man’s existence, from the time long centuries ago when he first kindled a fire from the boughs of the forest trees right down to the present when timber from the world over provides the material to make his home a gracious and friendly place. And with the feast of Christmas upon us we know that it can be a sanctuary as well, but this is something more than craftsmanship, resting upon the living truth behind it all.
With the unsettled economy and fears of inflation, consumer spending on stuff such as woodworking tools and books has been flat, and we’ve had one of the shortest holiday selling seasons since we launched Lost Art Press in 2007.
At the urging of our social media manager, we hired a freelance “brand consultant” to help us find areas of the business that we hadn’t yet monetized. After a few weeks of work he presented us with a report, and we thought we’d share some of his recommendations.
First and foremost, Lost Art Press isn’t taking enough advantage of my good name, Christopher Schwarz. After analyzing my Q Score vs. those of other woodworking celebrities, he recommended we make some adjustments to our product lineup and how we relate to our customers. Plus, appending my name to many of the things we make and write and say to each other in our videos will help expand our customer base into the subset of people who know my name but not necessarily Lost Art Press.
This, according to the report, could be handled in a fun way by taking advantage of the “sch” at the beginning of my surname.
So when we reprint the following books, we should alter their titles slightly:
“The Schtick Chair Book”
“The Anarchist’s Schtool Chest.” My response to that was, “Have you said that one out loud?”
“Schaker Inspirations.” To which I said, “But I didn’t write that book!” His response: “Oh Chris Becksvoort, Chris Schwarz – close enough.”
“Schlöjd in Wood.” Nope… just nope.
Some slight changes to names of the Crucible tools could also reinforce this brand knowledge of the “sch.”
Crucible Sch-lump Hammer
Change our “Super woobie” product to “Sch-oil in a Rag” that will “Make your tools Sch-iney.”
And our forthcoming glue heater should be named the “Schticky Pot.”
Finally, we needed to incorporate the “sch” into our craft language, both in the blog and our videos. So…
When I cut a piece of wood, I need to say it’s “Too Schwort” or “Too Schlong.”
Or when a board is the correct length – or a joint goes together well – it’s, “Schrite on!”
When I agree with something, I should say, “Yes, that’s Schit!”
When I prove a point, “You’ve Been Sch-ooled!”
Also, the report said I needed a “catchphrase” to end all my articles and videos. Like Tommy Mac’s “Who’s better than me?” or Glen Huey’s “Make something great!”
The report had a lot of good recommendations, but my favorite was: “Make your furniture a work of Sch-art.”