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Lost Art Press: Chris Schwarz
We’ve just received word from the bindery that the deluxe edition of “With All the Precision Possible: Roubo on Furniture Making” will leave New Mexico on Monday morning and should arrive in our warehouse on Tuesday.
Once it arrives, we still have to manufacture a custom shipping box for the book, which should take only a few days, and then start boxing up all the pre-ordered copies. As soon as we have a shipping date, I will announce it here.
I know this has been a long wait for everyone who plunked down the serious wad of cash for the book. We are deeply grateful for your support – your faith in us is what allows us to bring mad projects like this into the world. This press run cost more than our storefront and more than my house.
Personally, I cannot wait to see it. We haven’t released a book in many months. And even though we are all working hard on multiple titles (more on that in a moment), nothing feels like progress more than cracking open a new book.
So what’s in the works right now? Plenty. Here’s a quick list of the books in our immediate orbit (all other titles are still in the hands of the authors so you’ll have to ask them where they are).
“Carving the Acanthus Leaf” by Mary May. The book is edited and designed. We’re just waiting for Mary’s final corrections. This book is not only a spectacular brain dump on carving, it also is enormous.
“Hands Employed Aright” by Joshua Klein. The editing is complete. We are just waiting for Joshua to sign off on our changes so we can begin designing the book.
“Sloyd in Wood” by Jogge Sundqvist. The translation is complete. We are just waiting for Jogge and his editorial assistant to approve it so we can move forward on the design.
“Joiner’s Work” by Peter Follansbee. Megan Fitzpatrick has finished her initial edit of the book and Peter is working on writing captions and tidying things up before we select a designer.
“Trees, Wood & Woodworking” (tentative title) by Richard Jones. This is a book we haven’t had any time to write about. This book is an incredibly detailed look at trees and how their structure affects the furniture maker. It is written by a craftsman for woodworkers. No scientific background required. Kara is getting this book ready for the designer.
“The Difference Makers: The Fourth Generation” by Marc Adams. This is another new book we haven’t discussed. Marc is profiling the 30 or so best craftsmen he’s worked with during the last 25 years. It’s an impressive work. I am editing the book now.
“Roman Workbenches: Expanded Edition” by me. I’m still writing and building. I hope to be done by the end of 2017.
I think that’s a complete list of current projects. Whew.
— Christopher Schwarz, christophermschwarz.com
Filed under: Roubo Translation
During the day, I hold a pair of our Crucible dividers and rub them like a worry stone or a rosary as I write, think or ponder my path forward at my workbench or my laptop.
The curves and chamfers of my dividers – I own only one pair – are as familiar to me as my wife’s hands or the tote of my Lie-Nielsen No. 3. The weight is reassuring. The stiffness of its hinge is something I measure every time I pick them up.
And when my mind runs out of ideas, I look down at the dividers in my hand and marvel at how difficult it has been for us to get these five pieces of steel to fit together and move deliberately.
During the last two years Raney, John and I have had to learn a lot about metal, casting, machining, laser-cutting and a host of other allied skills to keep Crucible Tool afloat, making tools and growing. Despite all this effort (and sometime anguish), these dividers remain a true wonder to me.
Raney began his design with an Art Deco pair my mother found in an antique stall. That vintage pair was an interesting design, and Raney and I stared at them for a long time, knowing they contained the kernel of a good idea.
But the tension in its hinge wasn’t adjustable. It was difficult to pull the legs apart. They had unnecessary bulk.
After weeks (months?) in his lab, Raney emerged with this tool. And it has replaced my pocketknife as “the thing” that is always in my hand.
Truth: They are a total b&^%h to manufacture. The fit between the sex nuts and the two legs has to be within a half of a thousandth of an inch. If we miss that specification, the legs have a bit of slop in them that we consider unacceptable. Many dividers have this slop, which can make your layouts a bit cattywumpus (though not disastrous).
John, who does our quality control, puts it this way: “That slop would be fine if these dividers were $50. But for $187? They have to be better than that.”
They are. Thanks to Raney and John, these are the best pair of dividers I’ve ever owned. I know this sounds like bullcrap coming from someone who is part of Crucible, but so be it. I am unashamed at my love for this tool. It is the result of hundreds of hours of grief and inspiration.
Every day, dozens of times I day, I test them. They open smoothly. They close the same (and without slipping). And so I test them again and stare at the work on my bench.
— Christopher Schwarz
P.S. We have 30 dividers in stock today with another 30 about to go to the warehouse and another 100 in the CNC mill. You can order a pair here.
Filed under: Crucible Tool, Uncategorized
This is an excerpt from “The Woodworker: The Charles H. Hayward Years: Volume II” published by Lost Art Press.
Runners. Generally the remedy is fairly obvious for worn runners—they are just replaced. It is merely a matter of removing the old ones, cleaning off any dried glue, and fitting fresh ones. There is one snag to look out for when there is no groove into which they fit. This absence of groove means that the exact position has to be measured, and there is the danger that the runners may be in winding.
The best plan is to use parallel strips as in Fig. 6. Cut a piece of wood A to a length exactly equal to the distance between the drawer rails. Place it at the rear and fix the runner with nails or screws as the case may be. Put the one strip on the front rail, and the other on a waste piece reaching between the runners.
Obviously the sides of the waste piece must be parallel. It need not be used of course when the strips are long enough to reach to the runners. Sighting across the strips ensures the runners being free from winding (it is clear that the drawer could not run properly if the runners were in winding).
To make good any wear at the front drawer rails the best plan is that in Fig. 7. A small notch or groove is cut right across and a new piece of hardwood let in.
The Drawers. It is clear that it is impossible to add new strips to the bottom edges of the drawer sides as they are. They would be too rounded over and out of shape to make a joint. The only plan is to cut them back to form a straight edge and glue in new pieces. It may be necessary to vary the method slightly in accordance with the construction. For instance, most Victorian and later furniture will be found to be fitted with drawer slips as at A, Fig. 8, whereas older pieces were made as at B.
Generally, however, it is a case of cutting back the old wood as given in Fig. 8. Little need be removed at the back; it is at the front that most attention is needed. Mark a straight line along the side in pencil and ease away the wood with the chisel. When practically down and smooth as far as possible with the smoothing or block plane, finish off close up to the corner at the front with the bullnose.
Test the new piece to see that it beds down everywhere and glue down. There is no harm in using nails to hold the strip in position whilst the glue sets, providing they are pulled out later. Allow them to stand up for the purpose. The new strip should be full all round to allow for fitting. Test the drawer in position and trim where necessary. Do not lubricate the edges until after the new piece has been stained to match the surrounding wood.
Drawer Bottoms. These often need attention, especially if in solid wood rather than ply. In most cases the grain runs from side to side, and, since in a deep drawer the shrinkage may be considerable, it is usual to allow the bottom to project at the back 1∕4 in. to 1∕2 in. This enables it to be pushed forwards into the front groove and be screwed again as in Fig. 9. A in this same illustration shows how the bottom is liable to sag at the front owing to its having pulled out of its groove. It is an annoying fault leading to papers and small items being lost. In bad cases it may sag so that it scrapes the drawer rail beneath.
In older pieces of the 18th century the grain of drawer bottoms frequently ran from back to front, and the whole was jointed up to width and fixed in rebates worked in the sides (see B, Fig. 8). Being held rigidly they invariably split in course of time, especially along joints. In really bad cases the only remedy is to remove the whole, reshoot the joints, make up to width, and replace. In a slight opening, however, the simplest plan is to glue strips of fine canvas over the joints at the underside. Sometimes slivers can be inserted in the openings from above. These are levelled down after the glue has set and strengthened with canvas beneath as before. This is shown in Fig. 10.
It sometimes happens that in these front-to-back drawer bottoms all the pieces can be removed except the two side ones which are glued and nailed in rebates and have bearing fillets below (B, Fig. 8). If the joints are good you can replace the parts straightway, gluing and nailing as you go. When you come to the last piece there will necessarily be a large gap, possibly 1∕2 in. wide. This will require filling. An excellent plan is to plane the edge so that the gap is about 1∕2 in. wider at back than at front. Then, when the last piece has been fixed, a tapered filling can be slid in from the rear. This is shown in Fig. 11.
If the main dovetails of the drawer are loose, the only plan is to knock the whole thing apart and re-glue. Mark the parts so that they can be replaced in the same positions, and scrape away all dried-up glue. Don’t drive nails into the joints, they look dreadful.
— Meghan Bates
Filed under: Uncategorized
Lie-Nielsen Toolworks has just posted its fall schedule of Hand Tool Events – eight free events held all over the country where you can learn to sharpen any woodworking tool from people who are eager to teach you.
The Lie-Nielsen crew won’t try to sell you anything – this is not like going for a test drive at a car dealership. Instead, they will take as much time as necessary to show you the basic principles of sharpening and coach you on the process.
All you have to do is show up and admit to yourself that you could use the help. I promise that one free lesson it will make a huge difference in your woodworking.
Also, if you are in the Midwest, feel free to come get a free sharpening lesson at our Lost Art Press storefront in Covington, Ky., during our open days this fall. We’re open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sept. 9, Oct. 14, Nov. 11 and Dec. 9.
Again, I won’t try to sell you anything (I don’t sell sharpening equipment and we don’t publish a book on sharpening). But I’ll be happy to give you a personal lesson for free.
— Christopher Schwarz
Want to read my “Sharpen This” series? Check it out here.
Filed under: Uncategorized
Before I can complete the expanded edition of “Roman Workbenches,” I have to build a reproduction of the bench I saw at Saalburg this summer – the oldest surviving workbench I know of (about 187 A.D.).
I took complete measurements of the intact bench during my visit and I will reproduce the bench as best I can, right down to the unusual dovetail-shaped recesses in one edge of the benchtop.
What I won’t be reproducing, however, is the bench’s waterlogged, black and shriveled appearance. When wooden objects were pulled from the wells at Saalburg, Rudiger Schwarz says they were well-preserved. But as they dried out, the objects distorted a bit.
The original bench was oak and was perhaps rived from a trunk, according to Peter Galbert, who studied my collection of photos of the Saalburg bench this July.
My bench will be red oak from a slab cut by Lesley Caudle in North Carolina, who supplies wood for slab workbenches (read all about that here). Will Myers dried the wood and has roughed out the slab to its final dimensions.
I’ll pick up the slab next week and begin building the bench – the remainder of the work will all be by hand. I’m juggling two other projects currently – a walnut backstool commission and a dugout chair – so my progress will be slow at first. Despite this, the work should go fast. One of the great virtues of Roman workbenches is they take only a couple days of work to build.
So unless something goes haywire, this revised book should be done by the end of 2017.
— Christopher Schwarz
P.S. We still have a 28 copies of the letterpress edition of “Roman Workbenches” available. Once these are gone, they are gone forever.
Filed under: Roman Workbenches, Uncategorized
Tune-up your think melons and caption this painting.
The painting is 17th-century and by an unknown Italian artist. The companion painting featured unclad blacksmiths.
Filed under: Historical Images, Personal Favorites
While Katy’s soft wax is great for furniture surfaces – especially interiors – she has a new devoted customer: Crucible Tool. Unbeknownst to me, Raney and John have been using the soft wax on our improved-pattern dividers as the final finishing step.
In fact, Raney asked me to make a big batch for him so we didn’t waste so many little 4 oz. tins.
If you’d like to give soft wax a try, Katy has a batch in her etsy store that is ready for shipment. The wax is $12 per 4 oz. tin. I use it on drawers, turnings, chairs and even as a final topcoat on oil finishes.
— Christopher Schwarz
P.S. We hope to have a new black soft wax soon. Oh, and about the photo of the cat: The wax had nothing to do with the hair loss.
Filed under: Uncategorized
One of the ideas that’s been crashing around in my head for years is that vernacular furniture – what I call the “furniture of necessity” – is divorced, separate and independent from the high styles of furniture that crowd the books in my office.
This idea is not commonly held.
The conventional wisdom is this: Chippenton Sheradale invents a style of furniture that is Neo-Classical Chinese. So he publishes a pattern book to illustrate his new pieces, and the style becomes all the rage. All of the rich people want pieces in Neo-Classical Chinese to replace all the pieces in their houses that were Neo-Chinese Classical.
So the local cabinetmakers oblige and (as a result) can all afford new chrome rims for their carriages.
Rich rural farmers see the pieces in the new style and return home with the crazy idea that they should also have pieces in the latest Neo-Classical Chinese style. So they get Festus, the local cabinetmaker, to build them a Neo-Classical Chinese chair. But Festus uses Redneck Maple (Holdimus beericus) because Festus can’t get New Money Mahogany (Stickusis inbutticus).
Oh, and Festus takes some liberties with the new furniture style to please his rural customers, who want a series of cupholders in the arms that can accommodate a Bigus Gulpus.
Then the poor farmers see the Redneck Maple Neo-Classical Chairs owned by the rich farmers and ask their local carpenters to make copies, who also make changes to the design (a gun rack on the back). And then the dirt farmers see that chair. And so on.
Meanwhile, back in the city, a furniture designer draws up a pattern book for Neo-Gothic Romanian furniture. The cycle begins again.
All this sounds plausible because it has been written down in almost every book of furniture history ever published. The rich make something fashionable, and the poor imitate it until the rich become annoyed or bored. So then the rich find a new style, which the poor imitate again.
The only problem with this theory of degenerate furniture forms is that the furniture record doesn’t always go along with the theory.
I think there’s furniture that is divorced from the gentry. Furniture that is divorced from architecture. Instead of beginning with a pattern book, it begins with these questions: What do I need? What materials do I have? What can I make that will take little time to build but will endure (so I don’t have to frickin’ build it again)?
For several months now I have been plowing through “Welsh Furniture 1250-1950” (Saer Books) by Richard Bebb and have been thrilled to find someone who thinks the same way. Bebb has done the research on the matter when it comes to Welsh furniture. And he has convinced me that I’m not nuts.
In the first section of Vol. I, Bebb deftly eviscerates these ideas like a fishmonger filleting a brook trout. It’s an amazing thing to read. I’ll be writing more about Bebb’s research in future entries, but if you want to get right to the source, I recommend you snag your own copy of this impressive work.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: The Anarchist's Design Book, Uncategorized
In 1559 Richard Dale, a local carpenter, completed an addition to Little Moreton Hall that included a large bay window to light the new dining room. The estate owner was apparently very pleased with the job and allowed Dale to sign his work. Although a bit garish, his signature adds to the history and character of this fine old house.
In combination with construction methods, woods used, a signature and a date we can learn a lot about the maker and the communities in which he or she worked. For the owner, the signature of the maker extends a hand into the future and forms a connection.
Between 1510 and 1530 Robert Daye carved 79 bench ends in the Church of St. Nonna on Bodmin Moor in Altarnun, England.
I think he deserved to make one bench end to commemorate his efforts.
Phillip D. Zimmerman’s article, ‘Early American Furniture Maker’s Marks’ (Chipstone) provides many good examples of signatures and where they have been found (undersides of drawers, the top, etc).
On the back of this high chest both makers signed their work. Top: ‘Made by Josha Morss/Jany 1748/9.’ Bottom: ‘Made by Moses Bayley Newbury February AD 1748/9. Just to make sure they both put two signatures on the chest. They worked in what is now Newburyport, Massachusetts.
In another example the signature at the top of this chest was deciphered as ‘Walter Edge’ in the 1940s. Who was Walter Edge? No telling, because decades later Walter Edge turned out to be ‘Upper Edge’ a shipping mark!
Zimmerman also made note of signatures that provide other details about the maker. Although he didn’t provide a photo (and I couldn’t find one), somewhere out there is a Philadelphia-made table with the following written on the underside: ‘Made by Elias Reed in the year 1831 this table caused me to give Black Eye to a frenchman.’
Although he knew few people would see his work, a bell framer left his mark high up in the bell tower of St. Botolph’s Church in Slapton, Northamptonshire.
The tower is too fragile to bear the weight of the two bells it previously held, but the bell frame and its plaque are still there. It reads, ‘Be it knowen unto all that see this same. That Thomas Cowper of Woodend made this frame. 1634.’
Earlier this year a mahogany bow-front Charleston-made chest was aquired by the Charleston Museum. The chest is from the workshop of the well-known and prolific Robert Walker and is on display at the Joseph Manigault House.
Prior to going to auction the previous owner thought the chest might be a Robert Walker Charleston piece. He disassembled the chest to inspect it and found written on the top support rail under the chest top the following: ‘Boston, October the 18th, 1805.’
Boston was once a slave and freed by 1790 or 1795. Even though the signature was hidden, some articles have termed the act of a 19th-century freed black craftsmen signing his name to something he made as ‘audaciously indiscreet.’ To me, it was a determined affirmation of, ‘I made this’ and also, ‘I exist.’
Filed under: Personal Favorites
We weren’t happy with the paper thickness of our H.O. Studley posters that went up for sale in May. So we found a new printer that would work with thicker paper. We reprinted the entire run and have sent replacements to everyone who ordered posters through the Lost Art Press website.
Almost everyone should have received their replacement posters by now. If you haven’t, give it until Monday’s mail arrives and then send a message to email@example.com and we’ll check your order. If you bought one of the posters at Handworks, please send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll send you a replacement immediately.
The Studley posters now in the store (click here) are printed on the new, thicker paper by a company a few blocks from our storefront in Covington, Ky. The posters are significantly heavier (they were a bit of a struggle to roll to get into tubes) and still $20, which includes domestic shipping.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Uncategorized
This is an excerpt from “Mouldings in Practice” by Matthew Sheldon Bickford.
When I first became aware of hollows and rounds I read about the heralded “half set.” A half set of hollows and rounds is 18 planes, nine pairs, that incrementally increase in radius from 1/8″ at the low end to 1-1/2″ at the high end. The half set of planes is generally the even numbered pairs in the previously referenced chart. (A full set is 36 planes, and also includes the odd numbers.)
A half set of hollows and rounds is an extraordinarily comprehensive grouping of planes that allows the owner to produce a range of moulding profiles that exist in the smallest spice box and largest secretary. Centuries ago, the half set was often acquired over time.
For many users, myself included, the half set covers an unnecessarily broad range of work, and represents an undue expense. Many woodworkers narrow their plane choice down to match the scale of work that catches their fancy. For example, if you work only with 4/4 stock, then sizes above No. 8 may go unused. Starting with just a single pair of hollows and rounds – and an efficient method to accurately establish rabbets and chamfers – allows the production of dozens of different profiles.
The simplicity of combining only one convex and one concave arc might seem limiting. There are, however, scores of profiles you will be able to produce with just a single pair of hollows and rounds. These profiles will often contain minute differences – adding a vertical or horizontal fillet, or flat, adjusting the size of that fillet, increasing the curvature or changing the general angle of the profile. These small differences are important and are often glossed over or neglected on a router table.
Adding a second pair of hollows and rounds to your tool chest, a step I always encourage, increases the number of possible profiles far more than two-fold. Not only will you be able to create the 41 profiles shown above in two different sizes, you will also be able to mix the concave with the convex to form various cove and ovolo combinations and ogees. Additionally, you can mix concave with the concave and convex with the convex to form elliptical shapes. It is at this stage that you will unlock the true versatility of these planes.
— Meghan Bates
Filed under: Mouldings in Practice
The video we’ve recently released, “Roubo Workbench: By Hand & Power Video,” is intended to be a brain dump from me and Will Myers on building slab workbenches. Not only do we show the techniques we’ve developed to make it doable for the home woodworker, we also seek to dispel a lot of the myths and misdirection encountered by the bench builder.
We take the following topics head-on:
- You can use (very) wet wood for the benchtop.
- The finish can be simple (or non-existent).
- The species you use isn’t all that important.
- Moving big slabs doesn’t require a forklift or Roman garrison.
- You might not need a tail vise.
- The lower stretchers are not very important.
This last detail always makes my bench-building students crazy. They go to great lengths to make the mortise-and-tenon joints between the stretchers and legs massive and tight. While I’ll never bad-mouth a good joint, the stretcher joints are not as important as the joints that join the benchtop and the legs.
Early workbenches didn’t use these stretchers (check out the Stent panel for one good example). In fact, I think the biggest job of the lower stretchers is to make it easier to install a shelf below the benchtop for your bench planes and appliances.
As a result, I don’t think the joints for the stretchers have to be massive. To prove the point we used a Domino XL to make one of the stretcher joints on our bench. I probably wouldn’t use a pocket screw or a biscuit for this joint, but loose tenons are an excellent choice, whether you use a router, drill or Domino.
In fact, some Roman boats were built using loose-tenon joinery, and those seemed to do OK.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Workbenches
The glaring disparity between my skills and those of most of my fellow students in the vocational school’s furniture making classes just magnified my sense of incompetence. So I felt a certain schadenfreude when the bench room, normally quiet, rang with an unfortunate reproach at some unfortunate fellow: “Pirtle! What are you doing to that plane iron?” Or “Spratt! Stop! You’re about to cut off your finger!” At least I wasn’t completely alone.
It was only my determination to make my stepfather eat his words that got me through the year-long training. During the first week I spent two whole days trying over and over to cut a simple lap joint with a saw, chisel, and mallet. Overwhelmed by frustration, I felt my face flush as tears filled my eyes. I hid behind my workbench, pretending to look for a tool on the lower shelf. I was clearly not cut out for this kind of work; I belonged in the world of writing and books. I should forget about learning to make furniture. But as I squatted behind my bench contemplating my options, it occurred to me that the prospect of admitting defeat to Joe was even worse than that of persevering in my effort to cut a straight line. By the end of the day I had made my first well-fitted lap joint.
The City & Guilds curriculum of the time focused heavily on traditional handwork skills. Even before the lap joint, we had learned to use hand tools to transform a rough plank into a workable piece of lumber with two flat faces and edges that were straight, square, and parallel, the kind of board commonly identified as “S4S” (square on four sides) that you might find shrink-wrapped at an indoor lumberyard today.
The main room was laid out with 10 or so workbenches, each long enough to accommodate two benchmates. A pair of doors separated the bench room from a larger room filled with industrial machinery, most of it manufactured in Great Britain. Only after we had learned to flatten and square up a board by hand were we allowed to use the machines to perform the equivalent labor. When the machine room was in use it was deafeningly loud, with a daunting atmosphere of purposeful activity. I made a paint of visualizing my fingers running into the blade every time I prepared to press an on switch to remember to keep my hands away from those areas.
Each weekday I rode my bike to and from the college. Between November and May there was no escape from the cold. I wore two pairs of socks covered by plastic bags inside my work boots, imagining the bags would provide insulation. Instead, I later learned, they hastened tissue damage by trapping moisture. Invariably, when I got to school my toes were throbbing, and my fingers shot with pain as the flesh revived in the warmth of the woodshop. Despite this daily revival, my toes turned purple and my fingers took on a reddish cast that lasted all year. I discovered that this precursor to frostbite had a name: chilblains. To this day, my fingertips tingle at the first hint of fall’s approach.
— Nancy R. Hiller, from “Making Things Work: Tales from a Cabinetmaker’s Life”
Nancy will read from her new book at the Lost Art Press storefront at 7 p.m. Saturday at 837 Willard St., Covington, KY 41011. We still have a few spots left; get your free tickets here.
Filed under: Making Things Work, Uncategorized
We just ordered the third printing of “The Anarchist’s Design Book” and decided to omit the black staining of the book block for this and future printings.
Though we love the look, it is incredibly expensive, tricky to do and time-consuming – adding weeks to the process. So if you want one with the black stain, I recommend you order one soon. We had 637 in stock as of last week.
The book will remain the same price as always: $47 with free shipping to Canada and the United States. You can order a copy here.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: The Anarchist's Design Book
Today’s New York Times has a nice article about the Wandergesellen, the journeymen tradition, that continues in parts of Europe. There are loads of photos and you can read it here.
It also confirms that bell-bottoms never go out of style.
Filed under: Uncategorized
A few years ago I met one of our town’s most respected figures: a husband and father who has held several elected public offices and devoted his career to the cause of social justice. As we shook hands he said, “I understand that your work is very good, but not very cheap.”
“But?” I wondered, biting my tongue.
— Nancy R. Hiller from “Making Things Work: Tales from a Cabinetmaker’s Life”
Nancy will read from her new book at the Lost Art Press storefront at 7 p.m. Saturday at 837 Willard St., Covington, KY 41011. We still have about 15 spots left; get your free tickets here.
Filed under: Making Things Work, Uncategorized
A few years ago, a new neighbor stopped me while I was on a run.
“Hey, I know you. You’re Christopher Schwarz,” he said. “What are you doing here, visiting?”
No, I told him, I live here. Then he looked confused.
“I thought you lived in New England, what with the way you write, look and talk,” he said. And that’s when I looked confused.
Despite 11 years of writing blogs and 21 years of writing for woodworking magazines, I’m always amused by people who think they know me but have it mostly wrong. So to mark the launch of my personal website for my furniture work (check it out here), I offer you this concise summation of me.
Though I was born in St. Louis, Mo., I grew up in Arkansas on Wildcat Mountain and did all the things that redneck kids do: fishing every day after school, hunting, hiking, camping, blowing stuff up (we made our own napalm) and cruising in souped-up crappy cars. If I had my way, every meal would feature a combination of the following foods: grits, barbecue, brisket, fried chicken, biscuits, sausage gravy, cornbread, greens, smoked ham and anything from the other allied Southern cuisines – Cajun, Creole or lowcountry.
I don’t have an accent; my three sisters do. But I am Southern to the marrow and have spent the majority of my life below the Mason-Dixon line. I am comfortable with Southern politeness (false as it may be), Southern insecurities and our hyperbole.
I attended segregated public schools. The mascot for my high school was a morbidly obese Confederate soldier; our school song was “Dixie.” I refused to sing it at pep rallies or convocations and, like most Southerners I know, am disgusted by our shameful history of racism and slavery.
I left the South to attend college outside Chicago, thinking I’d find a more enlightened place. I was wrong, and the day after graduation I moved to Greenville, S.C. I don’t fit in up North.
I’m a redneck. I have a master’s degree, but I lack the Southern accent. I drive a pickup truck, but it’s a Toyota. I love the South, but I am at odds with the backward ideas sometimes peddled down here.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Yellow Pine Journalism
In Part II includes more benches and angels, a new painting style, a mystery and a few other things. Get your snacks and drinks ready.
Peru starts in Cuzco, capital city of the Incas, and with the Quecha painter Diego Quisepe Tito. Tito is considered the most important painter of the Cuzco School, and his work includes at least four scenes of Saint Joseph engaged in woodworking. Although the painting above is dark with age we can see a simple bench without a vise. The background is too dark to see a tool rack, but there are a few tools on the ground.
When Joseph is in the background we usually can’t see much detail about his bench. In this painting it is easy to see there is a face vise with hurricane-shaped nuts on a staked bench. And Joseph is wearing a hat not usually seen on a member of the Holy Family.
A staked bench with a planing stop. Look a little closer and on the left side of the bench there is a board held upright by a face vise. A saw hangs on the wall, and I am happy to see a basket of tools.
Last night I tried to find a color photo of this painting and what I found instead was the sad news that the painting was one of 24 lost in a fire at Iglesia de San Sebastian last year.
Both of these paintings are a copy of a Flemish engraving by the Wierix brothers. On the left, the artist was faithful to the original engraving keeping the toolbox (behind Joseph) and tools on the ground. The artist on the right changed the saw, perhaps copying a saw seen in use at the construction of a new building. He also left out the tool box and most of the tools on the ground. You might have noticed a whole new look to previous paintings. Brighter colors, intricate patterns (with matching birds on the left), gold leaf, native flowers and landscapes.
At the time the above paintings were done the Spanish had been colonizing the Americas for well over a century. A style of painting evolved in Cuzco when, in the late 17th century, Spanish-born and mestizo artists split away from the Amerindian artists of the painting guild. This freed the indigenous painters to incorporate colors and patterns from their cultures into copies of European art. It is thought Diego Quisepe Tito helped lead this effort that is now known as the Cusquena-style of painting.
A nice sturdy bench with stout legs. Only the axe is left on the ground. The chisels are nicely arranged in a basket with the divider used as a…divider! I think the artist may have given the bench such a great length in order to fill the lunette.
A staked bench with somewhat wonky legs, a parrot and Jesus at sawyer duty. Another trait of the Cusquena style you may have noticed is a lack of perspective.
If some, or many, of the colonial paintings seem familiar it is because of the use of a large set of engravings the Jesuits brought to the Americas to use in converting the indigenous peoples to Christianity. In the mid-16th century the founder of the Jesuits commissioned a series of engravings on the life of Christ from the Wierix brothers, well-known and prolific Flemish engravers. The commission was given in the mid-16th century by the founder of the Jesuits. The engravings were used in Jesuit conversions in their missions in the Americas and Asia.
The next three paintings are copies of Wierix engravings and show other woodworking scenes.
Joseph’s low staked bench sits at the bottom of a substantial gangway-type ladder.
Joseph, Jesus and the angels are building a lattice for the garden. The usual assortment of tools are tossed about.
Joseph is driving trennels into the boat.
The gallery has one more Wierix-related painting, two vistas and a map.
During the colonial era Bolivia was known as Alto Peru.
The silver mines of Potosi helped drive the trade with Asia and filled the coffers of Spain. During the height of its mining production Potosi was the wealthiest city in the Americas.
Melchor Perez de Holguin was a mestizo and the dominant painter in Potosi into the 1720s. Although the Cusquana style of painting was found in Alto Peru, de Holguin’s work falls into the Potosi school and was heavily influenced by the Spanish artist Zurbaran.
Joseph’s bench is much like those seen in other paintings from Peru and representative of all the benches I’ve found for Bolivia.
Although his workshop is in the background the painter did not stint on detail. The bench is staked with tapered legs. The plane is put aside while Joseph uses a chisel. His adze sits on the near end of the workbench. On the wall is a tool rack and on the floor another full set of tools.
I almost left out the next painting but something must have held me back.
It was the curvy legs (with stretchers!) and ornate plane. They were just too good to pass up.
This work is from La Paz. The bench is staked, has a planing stop and a face vise. There is a nice collection of tools even if they are all over the floor. OK, OK, if they were piled into a basket we wouldn’t be able to see them in such nice detail.
Because the painting is so dark the Brooklyn Museum provides a black and white copy to better see this frenetic workshop.
With non-winged personnel this may be a good representation of a colonial workshop cranking out furniture, doors and fittings for the non-stop construction of churches, private residences and governments buildings. There are two workbenches, both with face vises and a mystery.
Close-up shot of the bench in the middle of the painting. The white squares may be the vise screws (only this bench has these). But what are those mysterious things at each end of the vise? After much deep thought Chris surmised “rocks on strings.”
Despite the camera flash there is a staked bench with a face vise.
Isolating the bench shows, unlike others, the face vise does not extend the length of the bench.
This painting is spectacular in its detail: the wood grain on the board held by Joseph, Mary’s sewing cushion with thimbles in one pocket and thread in the other, the cat under the table playing with a spool of thread and the scissors in the basket at Mary’s feet. Joseph works on a staked bench and behind him tools are arranged neatly on a rack.
You may have seen this image on Chris’ other blog. When I sent the image to him a few weeks ago he got a little crazy over the “doe’s foot” planing stop. Readers of this blog will recognize the planing stop as, ahem, the palm or ban qi, which originated in China. You can read the origin story of the palm here. The blog about the modern version of palm or ban qi can be found here.
The palm can hold a wide flat board in place on the bench or a board held on edge, and both without leaving a mark. So how did a bench appliance of Chinese origin get to 17th-century Alto Peru? The same way Asian workers and goods arrived: the Manila Galleons which sailed between Acapulco and Manila from 1565 to 1815. The palm is just one example of the early arrival of Asian techniques in the Americas.
You might be wondering who is that woman in the doorway, the one who has drawn the attention of the Holy Family. She holds a basin containing the Arma Christ, symbols of the Passion of Christ. In a European painting the woman might be Saint Ann, the mother of Mary. In this painting I believe she is Mama Ocllo, a mother figure from Inca legend who gave women the knowledge of spinning thread and weaving textiles. This is another example of Amerindian painters integrating their culture into Christian religious works.
The illustration is from “El primer nueva cronica y buen gobierno,” a publication from 1615 in the collection of the Royal Danish Library.
I found only one workbench-related painting from Argentina.
The painting is from Cordoba and titled ‘El Hogar de Nazaret’ from 1609 by Juan Bautista Daniel (1585-1662). The bench is staked with a try plane resting at the far end. Most of the tools hang in a rack or on the wall.
The painting has long been in a private collection and this seems to be the only photograph available. The odd thing about it is Daniel is identified as a Dane in a plaque at the center-right edge of the painting. It turns out he was from Norway and arrived in the territory now known as Argentina in 1606. He made his way to Cordoba where he was granted permission to live and work.
The last stop on this Latin American tour is at Santa Rosa, one of the Jesuit missions in Paraguay known as “reducciones de indios.” It is also my favorite of all the Latin American paintings.
The fresco is by an unknown artist and is in a corner of the Chapel of Our Lady of Loreto at the former Santa Rosa mission. The mission was founded in 1698 and populated by the indigenous Guarani people. When the Jesuits were forced out in 1767 the missions were deserted and most fell into ruin.
The fresco frames the Holy Family with two columns. Joseph is using a chisel and maul to make cuts on a panel for eight-point star inlays. The middle figure is Jesus sawing (ignore the splotch that looks like a wing), and on the end is Mary. In all the other paintings where we see Joseph with a chisel his action in generic. Is he chopping a mortise or carving? We don’t know. Here, we can see what Joseph is making.
The fresco is first of all an important document in the history of the Guarani. Second, it illustrates a craft that is an important element of colonial design.
Geometric designs were not new to the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Pre-conquest, geometric shapes were used in stonework, metal, textiles and pottery.
The stars, sun and moon were observed and recorded by many indigenous groups. Stars as a symbol, particularly eight-point stars, are found in many cultures. It is part of the Moorish influence in Spanish art and architecture, and in Christianity it is a symbol of redemption or baptism and is also a symbol of Jerusalem. For a sailor an eight-point star is a compass rose or wind rose.
On the left is part of a folio from the 8th century ‘Beato de Liebano’ and on the right Mary’s gown in a Cuzco School painting.
The eight-point star was used extensively as wood, mother of pearl and metal inlays in furniture during the colonial era. The examples above are from chests, armoires and tables made in various parts of the colonial territories. The black ceiling with red stars is the ceiling of the fresco chapel (in some grand European cathedrals the ceilings are painted blue with gold stars).
So, from a humble fresco in a small chapel that somehow survived for over 300 years we learn quite a lot.
To wrap-up this survey of workbenches I think the staked bench (high or low) with a planing stop and maybe a face vise is the type of bench that was most often used in the colonial era. The painters were not working in a vacuum and only copying scenes from European engravings and paintings. They observed carpenters that arrived from Spain and the benches they built and used, benches that could be adapted for different construction needs. Also, some of the first secular paintings, the Casta paintings from Mexico, were not copies of European paintings and show this type of staked bench.
A Quick Tour of Tool Storage
You have seen tools on the ground, on the floor, in racks and shelves on the wall and stowed in baskets. All of these methods, or non-storage in the case of floor/ground, can be seen in European paintings. How did the woodworkers in the colonial era store there tools? Spanish-born carpenters probably brought their tools in small chests or wrapped in bags. Using baskets would also be a familiar method of storage.
Making baskets was a well-known craft in the New World. In the wedding scene above from the Codex Mendoza, an Aztec document from 1535, there are woven mats and a basket.
This lidded basket is from the pre-Inca Chancay society and dated 12th to 14th century (British Museum). It holds yarns and tools used by a weaver.
If you had a small collection of tools and needed a tough but lightweight storage and carrying solution, a basket would certainly fit the bill.
There is one other solution and possible only with the help of the angels: the sky rack.
— Suzanne Ellison
Filed under: Workbenches
Editor’s Note: In seven days Nancy R. Hiller will read a selection from her fantastic book “Making Things Work” at our Covington, Ky., storefront. After that, there will be the usual post-reading activities: bashing a pinata shaped like a biscuit joiner, playing a game with blindfolds and sinking nails into a tree stump.
Did I mention there will be free drinks?
We still have a few spots left in the free event before the local fire department will get grumpy. If you are interested, sign up here. And feel free to bring a date or a spouse (but not both).
This week, I will feature some of my favorite passages from “Making Things Work,” which is hands-down the funniest, gut-punchingest book I’ve read in years.
In this scene, Nancy is writing a list of her business’s expenses on a series of napkins to explain to a wine-and-cheese poser that her business is legit.
“And yes, my shop is behind my house. But I no longer live in the house. I had to move out during the recession, which absolutely gutted my business. During the worst year, my gross sales (i.e. including materials) were $17,000. I slashed the overhead and everything else to the bone. I relied on my credit card to pay lots of bills, a debt that took the following two years to pay off. I’m incredibly lucky that my boyfriend at the time – now my husband – invited me to move in with him; at least that way I no longer had to pay for all of my living expenses on one decimated income.
“That year from hell, I obviously could not even pay myself minimum wage after covering the overheads. You’re probably wondering why I didn’t just go out and get a couple of jobs – you know, bagging groceries, cleaning toilets at the office supply store…. Believe me, I thought about it.”
— Nancy R. Hiller
Filed under: Making Things Work, Uncategorized