The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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Am I the Only Woodworker part trois…


Once again I’ve found myself embroiled in controversy, conspiracy, and confusion. Why? I don’t know; you would have to ask the woodworking Gestapo that question and maybe you will get an answer. But it once again leaves me wondering if I am the only sane woodworker in a woodworking world gone mad…

Am I the only woodworker that read the Anarchist Tool Chest and didn’t want to rebuild Jonestown in Guyana?

Here is a short list of some things I like: Baseball, Football(American style), American History, Robert E Howard books, and pasta. There may be people out in the world that truly hate all of those things, and to them I say: ‘Whatever makes you happy’. I’m going to say something quite controversial now…I enjoyed the Anarchists Tool Chest. I thought the tool selections were very good and that the chest itself was beautiful. I didn’t care for some of the “philosophy” of the book, though that didn’t stop me from enjoying it. But, it seems that if you are a person who really did love everything about the Anarchists Tool Chest, it has somehow become your duty to tell every woodworker who will listen that didn’t like the book how very wrong they are. I know the definition of the word ‘Anarchy’. I know Christopher Schwarz’s definition of ‘Anarchy’. If it spoke to you and made you happy, or realize something you missed, then good for you; I don’t care one way or the other. It’s a very unfortunate thing, but I learned to think for myself a long time ago, and I don’t need anybody to explain to me why I should like a book. The Anarchists Tool Chest was published in 2011 I believe, and if history serves correctly, I seem to remember woodworking surviving for a few thousand years or so before the publishing; that’s enough for me. If you enjoyed the Anarchists Tool Chest, GREAT! If you enjoyed The Anarchists Tool Chest and hate everybody who didn’t…I highly recommend Mein Kampf; I think they sell it on Amazon.

Am I the only woodworker that realizes that not all old furniture was great?

We’ve all seen photos of the Colosseum in Rome, or the great Cathedrals, or the Pyramids, and the Great Wall of China. We’ve all probably seen or read the teachings and Wisdom of Socrates and Confucius. We’ve all probably read the exploits of the great warriors of old. We’ve all seen the wonderful pieces of furniture held in museums and fine antique collections. It’s easy to see and read about some of those things and feel inspired, and even to wonder how they were made, or even feel that everybody back then must have been much smarter and braver and skilled than anybody who exists today. Well, for every Colosseum there was a building that collapsed in a few years, for every Socrates there was a guy who couldn’t strap his sandals, for every Leonidas there was a soldier who tripped and impaled himself on his own spear, and for every lovely piece of antique furniture we see, there were probably a hundred pieces that didn’t survive. Just like today, the people of yesterday had “throw away” furniture. They had benches that were held together with nails and glue; they had tables that buckled after a few years; they had chairs that were destined to be firewood. The reason we don’t see any of that furniture today is quite obvious: it didn’t survive. If the furniture of old was all so great, the world would be overflowing with it and there would be an antique shop on every other corner. We as woodworkers strive to make the stuff that will survive and rightly don’t copy the stuff that made it into the fireplace. That’s smart. But nobody is going to tell me that every woodworker in the 18th century was Sam Maloof.

Am I the only woodworker that actually bought furniture from a furniture maker?

Okay, maybe I am taking this one a little far, but after reading thousands of heartfelt pleas from the anarchists of the woodworking world to “save the craft” and thousands more lamenting Ikea as “the destruction of craftsmanship” I’m wondering if anybody out there did anything about it? For the record, I purchased our kitchen cabinets and my dining room table and chairs from a local shop. I know that what I did is nothing more than a drop in the bucket, but they were made on sight by local woodworkers. I even looked into a living room set but I couldn’t afford it. At the same time, all of these woodworkers out there who are saving craftsmanship, and ensuring the survival of woodworking, maybe you could also help by purchasing a piece of two from a private craftsman. I don’t like telling people what to do, and it’s not my place, and maybe they all do and I just don’t know about it. However, I would think that if they were supporting “the craft” I would be reading about it, and they would be doing that small time builder a favor and giving his or her shop a little publicity and a good word or two. Funny, but NOT ONCE, have I seen anything like that on one of these high and mighty blog posts. If you’re so worried about craftsmanship and the survival of woodworking, put your money where your mouth is and purchase some furniture from a fine craftsman. Otherwise, you might just want to shut up.

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8 Comments

  1. bloksav says:

    Hi Bill
    By a coincidence I happened to check in on a recent blog entry where a blogger highly praised the ATC book, I also saw the answer you got to your comment…
    I don’t want to rebuild Jonestown, but I happen to get an urge to build a meeting house or a barn every time I look in a book on Shaker furniture. Nothing fancy, just a huge timber framed building.

    Most of the old furniture that still survives is undoubtedly high end, because just like today, most ordinary people can’t / won’t spend a years wages for one chair or one table. I also suspect that some of the really high end furniture doesn’t see the same amount of use as a normal set of furniture.
    E.g: a Fletcher table will probably outlast most tables, because I believe that it won’t be used every day for breakfast, dinner, doing homework at, in the weekends lunch, family gatherings etc. I think the table is beautiful and most likely very well made, but it just won’t see the same amount of use.
    Another thing to think about is the fact that the average height of people has changed as well, so maybe some old furniture was scrapped because it no longer fit anybody.

    I must admit that the only new piece of furniture I have ever bought was a high stool for our daughter when she was born. and that was bought in a baby outfitting shop (probably not the correct English term).
    So I haven’t supported any local furniture makers. We do have quite some Danish produced furniture, but it was bought second hand, so I am not sure if it counts.

    Brgds
    Jonas

    • billlattpa says:

      I happened to click on that same blog because I was interested in the title , and only replied to it because I’m pretty sure it was directed at me, though I am only guessing at that part. I liked the Anarchist Tool Chest; that’s that. Some people read it and didn’t like it, and some people read it and it changed their woodworking lives. I’ve read thousands of books in my life time; some I liked and some I didn’t care for, and I would bet that my taste was similar to some and the polar opposite of others. For example, you mentioned that you don’t like Hemingway. I’m a pretty big Hemingway fan, yet the fact that you don’t like his writing is not some sort of character flaw in my eyes; it is just a matter of different tastes.
      I know what anarchy is and I know what Christopher Schwarz’s anarchy is and I don’t care one way or the other. Like I said, I’ve been thinking for myself for a long time and I don’t need Christopher Schwarz to do it for me. I don’t need him to tell me why I make furniture, because I already know that answer. Some woodworkers may have needed Schwarz to tell them and that is fine, but I don’t need them to tell me. If I want to read Christopher Schwarz’s philosophy I will go on his blog, I don’t need to hear it repeated half-assed from somebody else. I feel if you want to have a blog and tell people what to think then you should at least do it with your own thoughts and ideas and not somebody else’s, that is just redundant nonsense.
      As far as old furniture is concerned, the good stuff lasted and the less good stuff just didn’t make it. Like you said, the very high-end furniture was often in high-end homes which were well protected from the elements and day to day use. The cheaper stuff which was more common and often was in the average person’s home got used and abused until it was worn out and no longer serviceable. I can’t take credit for this discovery, I’ve read it many, many times. I’m just repeating it for the benefit of those who don’t know any better.
      As far as buying furniture is concerned, it is none of my business who buys what and where. But it seems that some people take real offense on where people shop, in particular Ikea, which is another favorite target of a certain group and again spouted off by everybody who read a Christopher Schwarz post. I already know that Christopher Schwarz doesn’t like Ikea, I don’t need to read it on everybody else’s blog. Anyway, my point is that if you are so worried that places like Ikea are killing the small time woodworking shop, do something about it and purchase some furniture from the little guy. That would be a good idea for all of those so concerned, but I’ve never seen any of the saviors of craftsman ship mention how they shop at the small furniture maker shop. Maybe they all do, but it would be nice of them to prove it considering they love to tell everybody else how to think and where to shop.
      Thanks.
      Bill

  2. Hi Bill

    I think that Christopher Schwarz is a guy with such a skill to convince the reader about his ideas, sometimes I think he can convince anyone that in this moment is the morning knowing that IN THIS MOMENT, IT’S 9:44 pm, otherwise, how does has he got such amount of followers Schwarz-idians? ha ha!
    I also consider that he has taught us a lot things for free, for instance, in his blog you can read how to do this, how to do that, this tool is good, etc, he even answers our e-mails.

    On the other hand, I also have what you guys in USA call “hard feelings”, that is, I lost US $34 trying to purchase a digital download in his Lost Art Press website, neither my bank nor LAP took responsibility for my money, it simply dissapeared, but it’s OK.

    Having said this, I think I see two contradictions in CS anarchic behaviour:

    1. Writing “The Anarchist Tool Chest” and then buying a US $500 dollar, yes, a $500 shooting plane is contradictory, to say the least.

    2. In an interview with Marc Spagnuolo, CS said “I’m a simple man”, but at the same time he paid a good amount of money to decorate his famous STANLEY Jack Plane, that is, those baroque style engravings, so, it doesn’t make sense.

    I know I will be bashed for this, but at the same time, I see you are a person one can have a discussion with without entering in an aggressive attitude.

    Tks

    • billlattpa says:

      Personally, I have a great deal of respect for Christopher Schwarz. I enjoy his books, and I think he is a very good writer and woodworker, and I think he has done a lot of good things to advance the hobby of woodworking. He is one of those people that some people can relate to very easily I’m guessing, and I believe that a lot of his fans think he is their “buddy”. With that being said, those fans of his that think he is their “buddy” just love to tell everybody else what Christopher Schwarz is saying and thinking. Maybe he doesn’t know about it and maybe he does, I really don’t care. But, on an open forum anybody should be allowed to present an opinion that is well thought out and civil without being attacked for it. Some of Christopher Schwarz’s fans feel the need to speak for him. For those reasons I stopped reading the Lost Art Press blog, and very rarely do I even read the Popular Woodworking magazine blog.
      As far as the Anarchists Tool Chest is concerned, I enjoyed the book, but it didn’t change my life like it supposedly did for some people. For the record, if it did change your life that is fine with me and not my place to question it, but at the same time, it’s nobody else’s place to tell me why I’m so wrong. The David Savage blog post where he praised the book was fine with me, again, it’s not my place one way or the other to tell people what to think, but I thought he came off as a jerk. Secondly, I was more offended at Schwarz referring to Savage as a highly talented writer in the company of Ernest Hemingway. I’ve read much of Hemingway’s works, and I’ve read several of Savage’s articles and I can tell you that in my opinion Savage is no where near the level of Hemingway, and quite honestly, I don’t think he is very good writer period. While some people may disagree with me that Savage is a good woodworking writer, I don’t think that anybody should compare Savage to one of the great writers in history; he is not even in the same ballpark as we say.
      As you said, Schwarz has at times contradicted some of his own philosophies. I can’t fault him for that because we all change. However, I do not believe that Christopher Schwarz uses only the tools he recommends in the Anarchists Tool Chest and I think his set has many more tools than everybody thinks. He is a professional woodworker, though he builds furniture more to write about than to sell, and I don’t think a professional woodworker could operate very efficiently with just the tools in the set he recommends in the book. Just from the tools he’s mentioned purchasing since the book has been published his set would have increased dramatically in the past few years, and he has openly said that he still uses several machines such as a table saw, planer, and drill press. Again, I don’t care what he uses and it’s none of my business. I only bring it up because many of his fans will tell people that using a tool such as a table saw is not “good for woodworking” That is a phrase I am just tired of hearing.
      Thanks.
      Bill

  3. I wasn’t going to reply, but what the heck. I don’t have much to disagree with in your post, but I’ll note that I loathe Hemingway’s writing, so I found the comparison to be apt. David Savage appears to be a very skilled woodworker, and has built up his own cult of personality (as others have done), and periodically makes outrageous-sounding statements that generate traffic. I’ll look at his pictures and filter out his bullshit, just like everyone else.

    Schwarz is a more articulate writer than most, which makes his work more enjoyable; it’s easier to focus on arguments over substance when you’re not distracted by grammatical atrocities. I enjoyed his ATC book too, but think the title was a mistake for most of the reasons you’ve already pointed out. It’s needlessly polarized the online woodworking community and distracted us from things that really matter, such as why oilstones are better than waterstones and you can only get good results with a 17.256˚ back bevel on your plane irons.

    I was half joking for part of this, but I’m not sure I recall which half.

  4. billlattpa says:

    Funny, because I did the same thing with Savage when I first heard of him, and that was look at his pictures and after reading a few posts, ignore the written aspect. There are a lot of people that don’t care for Hemingway, we’re all different, but I think Schwarz was paying him a compliment. I’ve read enough of Savage’s writing to know that I think it’s fairly awful, incoherent babble which is supposed to be witty and profound. Keep in mind, I’m not saying that as some type of insult. He’s a great woodworker and not a great writer, or even a good one, and that’s just the way it is.

    I think that Christopher Schwarz is a very talented writer as far as the world of written woodworking. I hate to say this, but most professional woodworking writers aren’t very good, and quite a few of them are downright awful. I felt that the ATC was nothing more than a catchy title. I won’t get into the definitions of Anarchy that everybody is so up in arms about. I don’t think they fit the bill no matter how much it is spun one way or the other. The definition resonated with some people. Whatever makes you happy. I just got tired of people telling me why I should love the book. I did like the book, but like I said, I already know the reasons why I woodwork, and I don’t need Christopher Schwarz, or anybody else, to explain it to me. If you think that making furniture in your garage is fighting back against the man then so be it. I don’t. If it weren’t for the man I wouldn’t have a house, and I wouldn’t be able to woodwork, and I certainly wouldn’t be able to buy books from Lost Art Press. Thanks.
    Bill

    • Forgot to mention that I absolutely do not see making furniture as fighting back against The Man. It’s a way to get a piece that I want, while being cheaper than paying a real woodworker. It’s also fun for me, which is a win all around as far as I’m concerned. However, custom furniture is a luxury to me, whether I build it or buy it, and is prioritized accordingly.

      If I lose my job or take a pay cut, it’s back to being thankful that modern production allows for low-end furniture, so I don’t have to starve my 4 kids to buy a bookshelf. I’m pretty sure that a single hardwood board costs more than I paid for one of those particle board shelf units, and they’ve lasted 12+ years at this point.

      Anyone who takes food off the table or turns the heat off in order to satisfy some anti-corporate-furniture ethos is a jackass. I don’t think many people are doing that, but that’s the way they come across at times, and it’s super annoying.

      • billlattpa says:

        The American/Industrialized society is a consumer driven society, no doubt about that. There certainly is a lot of waste, and basic furniture is not nearly well made as the basic furniture of the past. That being said, the plywood/veneer/held together with screws computer desk I’m typing on this very moment was purchase nearly 20 years ago when I was just out of the military, working at a crumby job, and going to school at night. Know what? It’s not the best looking desk on Earth, but it’s not ugly, and when I purchased it along with the chair for just under $100 it was what I could afford, and, it’s still here to this day. I’ve paid roughly 5 dollars per year to own this desk and chair. Not bad, and certainly not wasteful considering the use I got out of it, and I will probably have it for years to come. Were I to build this desk, I would triple my investment in the material alone. On the other hand, I would be proud of my garage made desk, and the point of owning woodworking tools is to make things with them. But to say that furniture like this desk does not fit a need and have value is a ridiculous and uninformed opinion, and really shows nothing but a huge amount of ignorance of the world around us. As I’ve said before, the “recommended” set of tools for building furniture costs enough to furnish a modest house or apartment with furniture from dreaded places such as Ikea. I would love to see the high and mighty, including Christopher Schwarz I hate to say, tell some working class person/family that the bed their kid is sleeping on, or the table where they had dinner that night, was shit because they purchased it at Ikea. Just as a person who owns a nice set of woodworking tools may have “earned” the right to own them and make his own nearly perfect furniture with them, so too has the person whose house is furnished with Ikea earned the right to shop there because that is what they can afford.
        This is the stuff that gets me all fired up. I don’t care who has $20,000 dollars worth of tools; I swear to God. If that’s what you want and that’s what makes you happy there are certainly worse things you can do with your money, because I would have a set such as that myself. But when the guy with that tool set starts telling people where to shop?????? And then tells them that they are what’s wrong with modern society? Where does he get the balls??? Honestly, think of the self righteous arrogance to say something like that? It is truly mind-blowing. I could go on but I think I said enough. Thanks.
        Bill

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