Some thoughts on Chris Schwarz’s new book “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest”
I pre-ordered “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” quite a while ago because I love almost everything that Chris writes. This book was no exception. Chris writes in a style that is entertaining and readable in addition to being informative. It seems that he could write about home dental surgery and I would find it interesting.
I read the book cover-to-cover in two sittings, spurred on by the breaking news that Chris was leaving the editor’s chair at Popular Woodworking Magazine to write and to operate “Lost Art Press” full time. This news was distressing to me, as his leadership has made PW what it is today…my favorite woodworking magazine by far…but I think that Chris’ new role could open up a world of fascinating possibilities.
The new book is very thought provoking and mingles Chris’ philosophy on craft, economics and society into the usual mix of sawdust and projects. I find myself in agreement with much or most of his philosophy, but in this book I also find that he is moving more quickly away from the “blended woodworking” style that I have always felt that he represented and that he virtually created over the past decade. In this book, it seems to me that Chris has moved significantly toward the more pure hand-tool only (or nearly so) world of Roy Underhill. I love Roy’s work also, but always appreciated Chris’ more balanced approach as the path that I have wanted to take in wood.
In my simplistic world, Roy Underhill (all power tools are evil) and Norm Abram (if it doesn’t have a cord its useless) represented the two radical limits of the craft, and Chris carefully navigated the middle ground. Power had its place and hand tools would refine and elevate the work. With this book, I think that Chris is now cleaving far more aggressively into the Underhill camp. I certainly respect his path, but I’m not sure that I’m ready to follow him there yet.
Now, I’m a confirmed history nut….I love it, but I’ve always felt that the trick is to use the best tool for the job, regardless of whether it is powered or not. Someone once said that if our 18th century ancestors had seen some of our power tools, they would have used them if for no other reason than to save time. Time was money even back then. I agree. So, unless I become more of a woodworking reenactor, I am likely to continue to use a very blended approach given my very limited time in the shop. While I am not woodworking for money, I still have very tight time constraints on my workshop time and a little bit of power now and then can make me much more productive….and then the surfaces can be hand-planed, etc to elevate the result.
Plus, while I admire and agree with Chris’ statement that “you can build almost anything with a kit of less than 50 high-quality tools”….I’m also a confirmed tool-a-holic. Without some kind of rehab program, every new tool, whether it burns electrons or not, is likely to make me drool. Do I need them all? no. Will I buy them all? no. But I like to admire them and am more than willing to try them out and give my antique tools a run for their money. The old tool may very well be better, but given my day-job, finding new innovations is in my blood too.
My comments above not withstanding, I enjoyed this new book immensely and its really caused me to think more deeply about the relationship of craft and physical objects to 21st Century Americans. Buy the book. Maybe I’ll move more toward Chris’ philosophy as my traditional skills improve…we’ll see.