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.

About mattsanf

Matt Sanfilippo is the Chief Partnership Officer (CPO) for the College of Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and Co-Director of its Engineering Research Accelerator. In this role, Matt coordinates and enables strategic and sponsored research opportunities across the college, and stewards the development of proposals for major research opportunities along strategic themes. Additionally, he enables collaboration among the college's research institute/center executive directors, and industrial and government relations personnel in the pursuit of opportunities with industry, federal and state governments. Before becoming CPO for the College, Matt was the Senior Executive Director for Research Initiatives, the Executive Director of CMU's SII (Smart Infrastructure Institute) and ICES (Institute for Complex Engineered Systems), and Associate Director of PITA (Pennsylvania Infrastructure Technology Alliance) and RAMP (Research for Advanced Manufacturing in Pennsylvania). Before CMU, Matt was Managing Director of Applied Technology for Michael Baker Corporation, an engineering and energy services firm. Matt managed Baker's technology division including Geographic Information System (GIS), software and web development, multimedia, virtual reality, visualization, Global Positioning System (GPS), mapping and surveying services. Before joining Baker, Matt was an Innovation Director for Redleaf Group, a Venture Capital/Operating Company focused on information security, supply chain and mobility solutions. While at Redleaf, Matt managed technical due diligence for seed-stage investments and coordinated relationships between Redleaf and their partner companies. Prior to Redleaf, Matt was CIO of GZA GeoEnvironmental Technologies, an infrastructure engineering firm, and operations manager for their Internet start-up that focused on web-technologies for health and safety and manufacturing metrics. Matt is on the board of Larson Design Group (LDG), past Chairman of the Board for the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden, current board member of the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation (PHLF), current Vice President of the Sewickley Heights Gun Club (SHGC) and former member of the Information Sciences and Technology Advisory Board for the Pennsylvania State University Beaver. Matt is also former Vice President of the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Association of Internet Professionals and former Vice President of the Board of Trustees for Baker Combined Charity of Pennsylvania.

Posted on June 3, 2011, in Books and Magazines, Woodworking. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Yes; I agree wholeheartedly with your analysis and conclusions. The fine finish sometimes (and I do mean sometimes) available by using good, sharp, hand tools in no way negates the precision cutting and time-saving characteristics of good, sharp, power tools. The middle path gets the best of both worlds, I think; and realises the benefits and drawbacks of both kinds of tool. Actually, I don’t believe there really are two kinds of tools. I view them all as tools, but recognise that powered tools tend to have particular characteristics while hand tools have some others. Both share a substantially similar core set of characteristics and virtues. The key thing is not what tools you use, but what you accomplish.


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