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Lost Art Press: Chris Schwarz

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Updated: 55 min 54 sec ago

Alter the Tips of Your Dividers

Tue, 10/17/2017 - 5:47am


Note: This is crossposted from Crucible Tool.

Dividers work better if the tips match the job you’re doing. For layout chores, such as scribing arcs or setting out your joinery, the dividers’ tips need to match the wood you are using. Sharper tips will prevent the tips from skating on hard woods. And dull tips are needed in soft woods to prevent from marking the work too deeply.

In this video, Raney demonstrates how to make the tips sharper or duller using fine sandpaper stuck to a flat surface (a granite block in this instance). Changing the tips from dull to sharp takes only about two minutes (I timed him). And the results are worth the extra effort.

These techniques work on almost all dividers, not just our Improved Pattern Dividers.

— Christopher Schwarz

Filed under: Crucible Tool, Uncategorized
Categories: Hand Tools

New Book from Nancy Hiller & Lost Art Press

Sun, 10/15/2017 - 5:26pm

Editor’s note: Aside from my family, my three deepest passions in life are woodworking, food and music. Almost every night I cook a meal while listening to music and surrounded by the things I’ve built. I have deep-seated philosophies about kitchens and kitchen tools that parallel my writings on shops, tools and workbenches. So after talking to Nancy Hiller about her approach to kitchens and cabinets, I knew we had to do a book together on this topic.

It will be a book that seeks to overturn the decades of “rip it out” advice you get from television, magazines, books and the Internet. It will be a be a book for people who would rather build than buy. And who want their kitchen to be in harmony with their house, their families and their lives. And so let me turn things over to Nancy.

— Christopher Schwarz

Kitchen cabinets are the poor step-sister of the furniture making world. You know – the homely one with a sixth-grade education who processes fish for a living and always seems to have that smell.

“He builds cabinets,” sniffed one of my woodworking friends a few years back, referring to an acquaintance. The statement was nowhere near as straightforward as those three simple words might suggest. He spoke with a pained expression, lowering his voice to a near-whisper when he got to “cabinets.” Clearly this was some kind of shameful secret; building cabinets made the acquaintance…well, you know, not a real woodworker. He might as well have been telling me the guy’d been caught in flagrante with a blow-up doll.

“Why would I want to build plywood boxes when I could be building 18th-century highboys?” remarked another woodworking friend. The question was rhetorical, more a way of announcing that he’d broken into the East Coast market for period Americana and so escaped the obscurity of the rural workshop where he’d spent years building cabinets, millwork and furniture for the local market.

You get the picture. Among woodworkers, kitchen cabinets are the Zero Bar to the highboys’ Lindt truffle: a species of work beneath those with refined taste and higher skills.


One wall of the kitchen Daniel and I did in Washington, D.C., in 2006, described in the story “Daniel” in Making Things Work.

Most woodworkers who build cabinets do so for the same reason as our furniture-making forebears built coffins in addition to tables and chairs: because they offer a source of income that helps even out the road between freestanding furniture commissions. It’s easy to look down on built-ins when your livelihood doesn’t depend on woodworking, or when you are:

• Retired
• Your woodworking venture is subsidized by a spouse’s income
• You’ve tapped into a rich vein of market popularity
• Etc.

Not everyone is so fortunate.

How did the lowly kitchen cabinet become a friend to many who trained as furniture makers, imagining we’d spend our days hand cutting dovetails and French polishing meticulously inlaid cutlery canteens? The answer has as much to do with publishing, advertising and banking as with wood and tools. Ultimately it boils down to the commodification of the home.

We’re talking real estate. Home ownership today is light years away from that of 200, 100 or even 70 years ago, when the people who owned what’s now my acre of semi-rural land cut down some trees, dug up some rocks and built themselves a simple board-and-batten-sided cabin worthy of Snuffy Smith. Today a massive industry surrounds home ownership, from Realtors (yes, that term is trademarked and officially requires an upper-case “R”) and appraisers to title companies, banks and building inspectors. There has been a serious shift during the past century in how many of us think of our homes: They no longer simply represent shelter and a central base for family, but are the largest financial investment most of us will ever make – one that, with luck, may increase our wealth at a rate that leaves inflation panting breathlessly in the dust.

As with any investment, we’re urged to put ourselves in the hands of expert advisers. And there’s an army of them out there. Take the wildly popular hosts of home improvement shows on HGTV (please, take them) – that cast of smiling, perfectly groomed characters eager to instruct you in the magical art of transforming a hovel into an “urban oasis” or liberating yourself from the corporate rat race by hitching a ride on the house-flipping bandwagon. Take the legions of salespeople at home stores across the nation, who will gladly guide you through one cabinet display after another until you’re dizzy from over-exposure to CNC-routed fretwork, dedicated mixer cabinets with lift-up stands and decorative wine racks. Take the web-based magazines with their daily examples of designer ideas to “steal” and big-name-brand “hacks.” Or that modern means to keep yourself forever in debt, the home equity loan, advertisements for which have long encouraged us to treat our houses as ATMs.

To be a contemporary homeowner is to feel an almost moral obligation to spend money on your house. Never mind how your friends may judge your taste on seeing you still have that Laura Ashley “Dandelion” wallpaper from circa 1983; there’s a sense that if you’re not religiously “updating,” you may be losing financial ground.


I hung this Laura Ashley “Dandelion” wallpaper in the kitchen of the first house my husband and I bought, a skinny terrace (row) house in a working-class neighborhood of the English city Reading. How I loved that wallpaper.

One result of this topsy-turvy mindset is that customers are generally more willing to shell out tens of thousands of dollars on something they believe will increase the value of their house than on a piece of freestanding furniture. Built-in cabinets even fall into a different category in the world of sales tax: They are “improvements to real estate.” People rationalize them as an investment. That artisan-made dining table? Arguably a frivolous buy in comparison.

Of course, you can only get the value of a kitchen remodel out of a house so many times. Property values in most regions don’t increase at anything like the rate that would be necessary to cover the tens (sometimes hundreds) of thousands spent on kitchens. And then there’s the troublesome fact that new cabinets installed as part of a kitchen update undertaken to help sell a house are routinely ripped out by the new homeowners, only to be replaced by something more in line with their own taste. Never mind the so-called “green design” professional who encourages you to tear out your laminate counters and replace them with a “sustainable” composite incorporating recycled glass. The preoccupation with updating results in a mind-boggling amount of waste. These are real-world caveats that some of us point out to prospective clients as we urge them to think about what they really want and need, as distinct from what other experts (and friends, and relatives) are telling them they should want. Despite being urged repeatedly by contractors to blow out the walls of their 1910s kitchens per the dictates of “open concept” design, I have found clients almost giddy with relief at encountering a professional who appreciates the value of rooms.

That said, I understand the desire for a change of scene, a shift in tone. There are ways to rework your kitchen without spending a fortune or increasing the elevation of your local landfill. The first requirement is simply to think. In this process, context is your friend. I’m talking about context broadly understood: where you are in life; what resources you have access to in terms of money, unusual materials or time; the architectural style of your home; and so forth. For the past 20 years I have made my living largely by working with clients to respond creatively to a variety of realities many designers and cabinetmakers consider limitations. The book I’m writing for Lost Art Press will be full of these and other ways to approach kitchen design, build cabinets and devise creative solutions to problems.

— Nancy Hiller, the author of “Making Things Work.”

Filed under: Uncategorized
Categories: Hand Tools

Lay Out a Chair’s Pommel

Sun, 10/15/2017 - 11:57am


There’s a quick tutorial on laying out a traditional pommel on a seat with a French curve and only two points. Check it out on the Crucible Tool site here.

— Christopher Schwarz

Filed under: Crucible Tool, Uncategorized
Categories: Hand Tools

Two More Upcoming Classes at our Storefront

Sun, 10/15/2017 - 6:03am


Megan Fitzpatrick and Brendan Gaffney will each teach a weekend class in April at our storefront in Covington, Ky. Registration will open at noon on Friday, Oct. 20.

Just like with the Welsh stick chair class with Chris Williams, these will be small classes with only six attendees. Also, these are not money-making enterprises for me or Lost Art Press. All proceeds go directly to the instructor.

I’m allowing them to use the space for free because they are my friends, I think they each have something valuable to teach and the classes build the local woodworking community in Covington. Here are the details.


Build a Shaker Silverware Tray with Megan Fitzpatrick
April 7-8, 2018
Cost: $250, plus a small materials fee for wood & cut brads (likely around $30)

Make a classic Shaker silverware tray in this introduction to hand-cut dovetails. In this two-day class, you’ll learn:

  • Dovetail layout using dividers
  • How to use a backsaw to saw to a line
  • How to wield a coping or fret saw
  • How to pare and chop to a line with a chisel
  •  Several strategies for transferring the tails to the pin board
  • Techniques for fitting the joint
  • Why dovetails work – and we’ll look at some examples of long-lasting period dovetails that look as if they were gnawed out by a beaver – “perfection” is overrated when it comes to the efficacy of this joint. (That said, you’ll also learn some “tricks” for fixing less-than-stellar dovetails.)
  • How to lay out then cut and fair the handles (both the hand holds and the curved top edge)
  • How to smooth-plane your surfaces
  • How to use cut nails (to install cleats for the bottom board)
  • And of course, how to put it all together (and why I recommend liquid hide glue).



Build the Cabinetmaker’s Sector with Brendan Gaffney
April 21-22, 2018
Cost: $300, which includes all raw materials

In this two-day class, students will build their own Cabinetmaker’s Sector, my modernized design for the ancient geometer’s tool, used for drawing, drafting and (in my shop) the layout of dimensions and joinery on woodwork. The class will revolve around the skills of modern hand-tool makers, including careful marking and measuring, mixing metal and wood, hand shaping, finishing and (of course) how to use the tool.

Each student will be provided the wood and the necessary brass hinges and pins, everything needed to produce the sector. The first day will revolve around affixing the brass and wooden tabs into the tools, riveting the leaves together, flattening and lapping the tools and reviewing the principles behind the geometry of the sector. The second day will revolve around shaping the sectors, stamping and inking the sector marks, finishing the sectors and learning to use them in the shop. Every student will leave with a completed sector, plus the knowledge of how it works and how to use it.

Filed under: Lost Art Press Storefront, Uncategorized
Categories: Hand Tools

Its OK to Think Inside the Box

Sun, 10/15/2017 - 5:44am

Box making department of the T.B. Williams Tobacco Company late 1800’s (Wiki Commons)










Yes it’s fine to think inside the box for a change, especially when there’s no need to think at all! At least not if your goal is to divide the box into any number of divisions. Thanks to the geometry of diagonal lines that occur inherently within a square, you need only a straightedge to reveal these fractions. This truth/tool allows you to lay out the baffles that will keep the bottles of spirits from rattling or worse. Of course there are easier ways to come up with these fractions (the sector springs to mind), but this is still a great way to construct by hand and observe by eye these geometric patterns as they spring to life.

See if you can follow the steps below which I’ve sketched on a sheet of graph paper. Why don’t you grab some paper and follow along too? Bet your kid can (and would like to) help you out! Get out a pair of dividers so you can confirm that the intersections do indeed produce perfectly spaced segments along a line.


Now isolate the first square…


…and continue by drawing a pair of diagonal lines as shown in green in the next sketch:


Next draw a horizontal line through the points that have been given to you where the (green) diagonals cross the first set. If you set your dividers to the intersections along this new horizontal line, you’ll find there are exactly/precisely/perfectly three equal-length segments. Now let’s draw another set of diagonals and connect their intersections with the original diagonals with a horizontal line:


As your dividers will reveal to you, that line is now automagically broken into four equal segments. Let’s continue the process with two more sets of lines (I really do highly recommend that you stop right now and grab a sheet of graph paper and watch this happen in real time through your own hands and eyes).


You’ll discover the red lines produces fifth segments while the yellow produce sevenths along their horizontals. Add another set (in blue here) of diagonals and horizontal and you come up with ninths:


Keep going if you like:


You’ll get ninths, elevenths and thirteenths – and on to infinity I suppose. What if you want an even number of divisions along a horizontal line, say tenths along the line of fifths? Well they are there waiting for you to discover with your dividers!

— Jim Tolpin, one of the co-authors of “From Truths to Tools

Filed under: From Truths to Tools
Categories: Hand Tools

Posers need not apply

Fri, 10/13/2017 - 3:30pm

The following is a short excerpt from Making Things Work.


It was a spacious shop, well lit and outfitted with a tidy mix of old and new equipment. “I’m working on a dining table and chairs for a client in Miami,” [my host] told me. “Quite a famous bloke, actually. To tell the truth, he’s got such a big name that I’m not allowed to say it. Not that that’s anything out of the ordinary in my world. These days it’s rare for me to work for anyone who’s not routinely written up in Esquire or Vanity Fair, that sort of thing.”

“Which part of London are you from?” I asked, curious as to the origin of his accent.

Ignoring my question, he turned his head to the right, saying “Come an’ take a look at this table and chairs” as he strode toward his workbench. The dining set was inspired by the work of French Art Deco designer Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann. The table, made of rosewood, was stunning. A cross between Deco and neoclassical, it had an extending top that could seat an intimate foursome or expand to accommodate 10. It was waiting to be finished, as soon as the chairs were ready.

“Double tenons hidden in those miters around the seat,” he remarked. “Ever use those darlin’s? I’m telling you, they are quite the challenge to pull off. But what a sturdy bit of join’ry they are. Those chairs will last forever. On the other hand, so will everything I make. That’s one of the reasons my clients are willing to wait years for an opening in my schedule.”

“I took a look at your website,” he went on. “Nice enough work, but really….’Period-authentic furniture and built-ins?’ It’s all been done before, ‘ain’t it? You couldn’t pay me to do that type of guff for common punters. On the other ‘and, someone’s got to do it, so I daresay it might as well be you.”

Now that he’d established I didn’t even rank high enough to engage in a pissing match (not that I am ever inclined to take part in such b.s.) I thought he might answer my question. “Which part of London are you from?” I asked again.

You can read the scintillating remainder of this tale and learn the origin of my host’s accent in Making Things Work.

Filed under: Uncategorized
Categories: Hand Tools

Saddling the Dugout Chair (and a Cologne Request)

Fri, 10/13/2017 - 1:21pm


I tried to finish the seat of the dugout chair today in preparation for our open day tomorrow (10 a.m. to 5 p.m. – lots to do and see). But I was only able to squeeze in about 30 minutes of work as I was dealing with heavy construction out back with the Lost Art Press Horse Garage.

In any case, I’m trying not to make this seat too refined or precious. I want it to match the ruggedness of the chair. But I don’t want it to look sloppy. So I’m shooting for “done quickly and with purpose.”

This seat is made from the last significant chunk of Eastern white pine from Midwest Woodworking I own. I’m going to miss this stuff.

I don’t wear cologne (heck, I barely wear deodorant). But if someone could make a cologne that smells like Eastern white pine when it’s being cut, I would actually wear that scent. Of course, the scent would only really attract beavers and some bark-eating grubs. But oh well.

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

Filed under: Yellow Pine Journalism
Categories: Hand Tools

Registration for Welsh Stick Chair With Chris Williams

Fri, 10/13/2017 - 9:00am

You can now register for the chairbuilding class with Chris Williams via this link.

Note: Registering for the class or the waiting list is free – they won’t ask you for a credit card to register. After the dust settles, we will invoice the six attendees, as discussed here.

If the six slots are filled, please consider signing up for the waiting list. People’s lives will change in the next seven months.

See you in May!

— Christopher Schwarz

Filed under: John Brown Book, Uncategorized
Categories: Hand Tools

Using French Curves

Fri, 10/13/2017 - 6:27am


This morning I posted an entry on our Crucible Tool site about how to use the continuously changing radius on French Curves to join three points. This is a huge help when creating irregular or organic shapes.

Read the entry here.

— Christopher Schwarz

Filed under: Crucible Tool, Uncategorized
Categories: Hand Tools

Sharpening Dividers

Thu, 10/12/2017 - 7:20pm

Today Raney and I shot this short video on how to sharpen dividers with an all-purpose tip. These instructions work with any dividers, including our own. Next up: How to modify the tips to do interesting things.

— Christopher Schwarz

Filed under: Crucible Tool, Uncategorized
Categories: Hand Tools

The Lost Art Press Horse Garage

Wed, 10/11/2017 - 4:18pm

Horse Garage Overall COA

Once you grab a sledgehammer, it’s hard to put it down.

What began as a mild demolition of the interior of the Horse Garage at our storefront blossomed/became infected. Now I am neck-deep in a major construction project that requires all my skills, most of my time and nearly everything in my bank account.

The reward, however, will be that I’ll have a place for the few machines I own, and they’ll be steps away from my bench room. Also, the butt-end of our property will look a lot more like it did the day in 1906 that they constructed the garage behind the store.

In addition to time, money and muscle, this project requires the cooperation of the City of Covington. We’re in an historical overlay district. Luckily, city officials here are helpful and supportive. I’ve yet to encounter an unreasonable roadblock. But you do have to submit paperwork. Lots of it. And I don’t like paperwork.

Horse Garage DoorsToday we proposed our changes and backed them up with archaeological evidence, drawings and a fully signed and dated form. If this gets approved, then I will be on a fast track to build four huge doors, assist in installing a new membrane roof and weatherproof the building before winter arrives.

I’m optimistic. Not only because of the huge carrot dangling in front of me – a nice room for machines – but because of the help of the local Latin American community. The restoration of Covington is being built with the backs of the immigrant laborers, and my building is no different. While I’m on the roof and lifting concrete blocks every dang day, this job would be a nightmare without the help of Manuel, Hugo and a number of other strong backs.


I am not trying to be political here, just honest. They work as hard as I do. They push me to take on as much as I can manage. And they do it all with a laugh and a smile.

As we lift these 50-lb. blocks up into place I can think only of my great-grandparents on the Schwarz side. According to my grandfather, they arrived in the Dakotas from Germany in the early part of the 20th century and were put to work making bricks. They saved enough to move to St. Louis and buy a boarding house. My grandfather was a paper salesman and freelance photographer. My father was the first Schwarz to go to college and became a physician.

And now I’m back to the bricks.

Circular irony aside, it feels damn good.

— Christopher Schwarz

Filed under: Lost Art Press Storefront, Uncategorized
Categories: Hand Tools

I am a Tool Abuser

Wed, 10/11/2017 - 9:56am


And I do it for you. Details on the Crucible blog here.

— Christopher Schwarz

Filed under: Crucible Tool, Uncategorized
Categories: Hand Tools

This Weekend: Don Williams at our Storefront

Tue, 10/10/2017 - 6:03pm


Here’s a last-minute surprise: Don Williams will be at our storefront this Saturday (Oct. 14) to sign books and talk about all things A.J. Roubo, H.O. Studley and historical finishing.

If you’d like to chat with Don and ask him to sign a book, be sure to stop by between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. (I don’t want to force him to stay in one place all day.) Don is the author (or co-author) of some of our most intense and rewarding books, including:

With All the Precision Possible: Roubo on Furniture
To Make as Perfectly as Possible: Roubo on Marquetry
Virtuoso: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of Henry O. Studley

Don is a wellspring of information on historical finishing techniques (he is the only person I know with a shellac collection?). And is a remarkably generous person with his time and his hard-won information. So this visit is a very pleasant surprise.

As I mentioned before, we’ll have lots to see this weekend, including my completed Saalburg workbench (a replica of a surviving 1,800-year-old workbench) and the Horse Garage, which will become our machine room. Plus Megan Fitzpatrick and Brendan Gaffney from Popular Woodworking Magazine will be hanging around. It should be a fun day.

The storefront is located at 837 Willard St. in Covington, Ky. We’re open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

— Christopher Schwarz

Filed under: Lost Art Press Storefront, Uncategorized
Categories: Hand Tools

A Holdfast Rant

Mon, 10/09/2017 - 7:23pm


This evening I posted a rant at Crucible Tool about our holdfasts. I’m not very good at rants and need to take some lessons from Raney. Still, here is is.

— Christopher Schwarz

Filed under: Crucible Tool, Uncategorized
Categories: Hand Tools

Registration Opens Friday for Welsh Stick Chair Class

Mon, 10/09/2017 - 4:37pm

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

Filed under: John Brown Book, Uncategorized
Categories: Hand Tools

Review: ‘Carving the Acanthus Leaf’ by Mary May

Mon, 10/09/2017 - 7:05am

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.


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.


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/

Filed under: Carve the Acanthus with Mary May, Uncategorized
Categories: Hand Tools

What to Touch with a 10′ Pole

Sun, 10/08/2017 - 12:10pm

ten foot 3

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:

Scan 3

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

Filed under: From Truths to Tools, Uncategorized
Categories: Hand Tools

Caption Challenge with an Elephant!

Sat, 10/07/2017 - 2:00am

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

Filed under: Historical Images, Personal Favorites
Categories: Hand Tools

The City Workshop

Fri, 10/06/2017 - 3:00am


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.


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.)


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

Filed under: Lost Art Press Storefront, Uncategorized
Categories: Hand Tools

Evolution of the Crucible Dividers

Thu, 10/05/2017 - 5:40pm


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

Filed under: Crucible Tool, Uncategorized
Categories: Hand Tools