Category Archives: Books and Magazines

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.

“Woodwork” Magazine Discontinued

Apparently, our hobby lost a great magazine this month.

Woodwork” magazine, had been sold during 2008 to a new owner, and issued an excellent just-like-old-times “new” issue under its new owner a few months ago…but , NOW it is fully dead.  A letter from the publisher indicates that unforeseen problems have occurred, and that the recently restarted publication has been permanently discontinued.

The letter further stated that my paid-up subscription to “Woodwork” has been converted to “American Woodworker” , a sister publication of the parent company.  Yuck…

Woodwork had personality and depth of content.  It was unique and worthwhile, and had content for woodworkers of all levels and styles.  American Woodworker is an also-ran at best, and clearly targeted at beginning woodworkers.  Not at all an equal substitution. Oh well, my subscription will run out soon. I’ll give it an issue or two to see if it improves or is influenced by the old Woodwork.

Over the years, I have subscribed to basically all of the major woodworking magazines and I have developed definite favorites.

Hands down, my favorite is Woodworking Magazine.  No advertising, great content. Worth every penny.

Woodworking Magazine’s sister publication “Popular Woodworking“, is my second favorite.  By far the best of the “general” woodworking magazines.

A distant third is “Fine Woodworking“…it is a very good publication, but seems to me to have lost its personality in recent years.  It is a bit too polished, a bit too Martha-Stewart-perfect.  It seems almost formulaic to me.  But, I still like it, and learn from it.

All of the rest of the mainstream woodworking magazines, are only OK at best.  I still get several of them, but usually can read them cover to cover in under an hour.




“Workbenches” by Christopher Schwarz

Chris Schwarz has done it again…inspired me to build a new workbench that is better suited to the "blended" style of  hand tool and power tool woodworking that I do these days.

My original bench has served me well, and will be passed on to my son, who needs to graduate from the very small bench that we made him when he was about 4 (he is 8 now).  My son’s very small bench will be passed on to my daughter (now 4), who also loves to spend time in the shop. 

My slave labor woodworking gang is growing.  Plus,  its more justification for me to build myself an honest-to-goodness woodworking bench.

This project started when I bought Chris Schwarz’s new book:

Workbenches: From Design & Theory to Construction & Use

Click here to buy it from Lost Art Press (Chris’ own store) and Chris will send a signed copy of the book and a CD containing an electronic copy.

Don’t buy this book  if you don’t want to build a new bench!!!! I guarantee that buying this book will force you to build a new bench, whether you want to or not.  It is that well researched and written, but that is what I have come to expect from Chris.

Right now, I am looking to build a blend of the French Roubo bench and the Dominy bench  at Winterthur.    I am still  working on my design.   

I am likely to go with some sort of twin-screw front vise and a metal tail vice.  I’m shooting for at least a 3.5" thick top.    I also want a sliding deadman.  Likely, I will not include a tool tray in the top, although I have been tempted to add one.

Darrell Peart’s new Greene & Greene book arrives!!

I received Darrell Peart’s new book called "Greene & Greene : Design Elements for the Workshop" yesterday, hot off of the press and signed by Darrell.

Darrell does my favorite interpretation of the Greene & Greene furniture style (see his website at and now he offers both the book and his plans on-line for woodworkers.

The book is not a book of Green & Greene woodworking plans (although there are some good drawings in the back of the book), but rather a book of instructions and tips to allow the intermediate or advanced woodworker to build furniture in the style of Greene & Greene.  The book provides tips, scale and dimensions for how to make the cloud-lift details, the ebony pegs, the inlet-leg details, etc that define the style of Greene & Greene.

The photos are very good and Darrell provides information on building jigs, etc to make the job easier.  If you are building Greene & Greene furniture, don’t go without this book!

Last night I also put the fourth coat of finish on the band saw box.  A final sanding and final coat tonight, and then hopefully flocking tomorrow.

Make Magazine

I’ve found a new magazine that I really like.  Its called "Make."  Make
is hard to describe, but basically its "Popular Mechanics" for techno-geeks or gizmo DIYers.  It comes out four times a year in almost
book-like form (similar to a National Geographic magazine in size and
print quality), and is filled with mostly for-fun articles about
gadgets and gizmos that can be built in your workshop if you have the
time, patience and talent to do it.

Now, these are NOT "how to install a new sink in your bathroom" DIY
articles, these are "how to build an RC lawnmower with a hybrid
gas-electric motor" type articles…yikes!  I love it.  These people make my CNC-driven Etch-a-Sketch machine look normal.

Mike Burton’s book “Veneering: A Foundation Course”

I read Mike Burton’s book "Veneering: A Foundation Course" (ISBN 0806928557) last night after buying it used from (it is out of print).   Excellent book of practical knowledge on veneering.  I don’t agree with his concepts of safety as presented in the Introduction of the book (says he doesn’t use safety glasses and holds breathe against dust), but everyone is free to take whatever risks that they think are acceptable!

I can’t wait to try some of his veneering methods.  Hightly recommended.

Switching to Veneer for the Greene and Greene desk tops

Merry Christmas! I cleaned the shop yesterday to get ready to begin working on the Greene and Greene desks again.   I have decided to switch from the solid wood breadboard tops that I had planned to veneer tops so that I can do the cloud-lift details on the solid wood breadboard ends without fear of future cracking when the wood top expands and contracts.  This is the way that the original was made (I think)…so I guess I don’t feel too badly about switching to Mahogany veneer.  I really wanted to do the cloud-lift detail.  I bought the veneer sheet yesterday at Woodcraft, and will try and pick up the substrate material today.

I also preordered Darrell Peart’s new Greene and Greene woodworking book from Amazon.   Amazon says that it won’t ship till April. I can’t wait!  I have based my desk design on one of Darrell’s originals.  Too bad this book won’t be ready in time to help with this project.

“Memories of a Sheffield Tool Maker” by Ashley Iles

I just read "Memories of a Sheffield Tool Maker" by Ashley Iles on the recommendation of Chris Schwatz on his "Woodworking Magazine" blog.  Great book.

It is only available from the Tools for Working Wood website as it is now out of print.

I love history, woodworking and tools and this book weaves all three together into a fascinating portrait of life in Sheffield England in the first half of the twentieth-century.  Ashley Iles started his tool business in what was the cradle of the tool world at that time, and the names of his associates and competitors have become legendary tool-makers and companies that you will still recognize today.  As a Pittsburgher I have seen this city in the U.S. lose its steel-working industry much as Sheffield lost the majority of its tool making industry as the century moved on. 

The environment in Pittsburgh may be cleaner, but we have also lost a lot of skill and knowledge as a society that these people knew better than could ever be preserved in print.

We need more books like this one to keep this history of the skilled trades alive.


Woodworking Magazine and Blog

I have really enjoyed the four issues of the new Woodworking Magazine produced so far.  It is not sold by subscription and is not on a regular publishing schedule…yet.  It accepts no ads, similar to "Cook’s Illustrated" magazine which is my wife’s favorite magazine (and I like it too).  It blends power-tool woodworking with traditional hand tool methods just like I like to do.

Even better, I enjoy Chris Schwarz’s new blog that is hosted on the magazine’s website.

Click here for  Woodworking Magazine‘s site for the blog.