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Interview With Chris Schwarz

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Blog entry by James posted 1013 days ago 1253 reads 0 times favorited 3 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I did an Interview with Chris Schwarz from Lost Art Press that I posted on my blog if anyone is interested. Next week I am going to do a review of the Anarchist Tool Chest.

Chris Schwarz is one of the founding members of Lost Art Press a small publishing company in Kentucky that focuses on teaching modern woodworkers traditional hand tool skills. Chris is the also the former editor of Popular Woodworking Magazine.

In the next week or so I will post an article about “The Anarchist Tool Chest“ but before I do, I wanted to do ask with “The Schwarz” some questions, so we did an email interview. I was going to include them with my ATC article but decided that the interview should be a separate post.

James,

OK, here we go:

I noticed in your book that you recommend your tool list as a good starting point for a new woodworker. I myself am relatively new woodworker and decided to go the all hand tool route last year. I found myself struggling to plane a board straight and flat, let alone build furniture that would be suitable for use and ultimately ended up adding a planer, then a jointer and finally a table saw. in all honesty is it practical for a new woodworker, who has a full time job, a family and various other obligations to build furniture using the tools from that list with acceptable results?

That is a tremendously good question. I have nothing against machines, as long as the woodworker is guiding the process. That said, I think you can build nice furniture with any tool set. It has been only in the last 50 years that machines became affordable for the home woodworker. Before that, there was a thriving community of home woodworkers who used hand tools. What was their secret? Starting with modest projects. Using wood that had been fully processed at the lumber yard. And perhaps they had more realistic goals about time.

Processing stock rough from the tree is hard work when done by hand. Thicknessing material is hard work. Long rips are hard work. But that’s about all the hard work there is in hand-tool woodworking in my experience. Eliminate those three chores with some help from a lumberyard (or a friend) and you will advance faster.

2) I noticed in one of your PW blog posts that you have ditched your chop saw about 6 months ago and are even thinking about getting rid of your table saw, is that something you are seriously considering and could you have lived without your table saw, say 5 or 6 years ago?

Though I am a home woodworker, all my work is deadline-driven by magazine deadlines and book deadlines. So I could not have lived without my table saw and met my deadlines while editor of Popular Woodworking. But when you build for yourself and the only deadlines are yours, then you are free of this shackle. As Tony Konovaloff once wrote: “The things I make may be for others, but how I make them is for me.”

I am seriously considering selling my table saw. But for now it is an excellent sharpening station.

3) What do you attribute to this latest resurgence in hand tools? Do you think it will last?

I think it’s pretty clear that more people are working with hand tools because of two reasons:

A) The Internet. When I was getting started in hand tools about 1993, I thought I was a freak and there was no one else like me. The Internet helps freaks find one another (see also, eHarmony.com).

B) The Internet. Small-scale hand-tool manufacturers can now find a customer base that would have been impossible to find in the 1980s, for example. And we can thank the Internet for that.

4) With online instruction gaining some serious ground in the woodworking community, do you see yourself at any point offering a premium service online?

If I had my way, my face and voice would never appear on a television or computer screen. I was impossibly shy as a kid and retreated into writing as a way to communicate with the outside world. I was deep into photography (had my own darkroom) so I was always behind the camera. Unfortunately for my psyche, modern media requires – actually demands – that you put yourself in every channel if you want to do this for a living. And this writing thing is the only thing I know how to do.

This is the long way of saying no, I don’t plan on a premium streaming video site, though I think it’s a tremendous idea for teaching the craft. I have been developing a different technology to teach woodworking via the Internet, and it uses tools we already have. I just haven’t had the time to develop it much.

5) Do you have any intention of opening your own school locally or do you prefer to continue to travel around the world and teach?

Probably not. Running a school is hard work and requires a lot of administration to do it well. My next goal is to buy a big old building in downtown Covington, Ky., with a shop and our publishing activities on the ground floor and our living quarters upstairs. If I teach there, it would be sporadic and probably small-scale. Something like: You want to build a workbench. So together you and I will build two custom workbenches during a week. When we are done, you will take yours home, and I’ll sell mine to someone.

6) It looks like you have a lot irons in the fire over at Lost Art Press, what project are you most excited about?

That’s like asking me which of two daughters I like the most. I’m always most energized about the book I have in the immediate works, and that’s Jennie Alexander and Peter Follansbee’s “Make a Joint Stool from a Tree.” It’s a great book that weaves history and intellectual investigation with practical hand-work practice. I’ve been through the manuscript three times now, and every time I finish it, I want to go pick up a hatchet.

7) Will there be a third workbench book?

There are no plans for one. My next book is on furniture designs that have remained unchanged for 300 years or more. It will share the same core idea in the workbench and too chest books – exploring historical designs and rebirthing them into the present day. I’ve been starting some spreadsheets and looking through thousands of pages of furniture books and auction catalogs.

8. I notice you eat a lot pizza and drink plenty of beer while on travel. Do you prefer deep dish or thin crust and what is your favorite beer style?

Again, this is like asking me to choose one daughter. Ugh. If I were stuck on a pizza parlor on a desert island, I would hope it would have a thin, almost cracker-like crust and have lots of IPAs on draft.

I hope you enjoyed this interview. It looks like there is some good stuff coming from LAP in the near future. I thought it was a pretty interesting idea about getting your lumber processed by your lumber yard. No doubt that it would make hand tool work a lot easier and more rewarding. Don’t forget to check back for the ATC article and your chance to win a signed copy of ATC simply by posting a comment. Please visit my blog!

James Maichel
jamscroll.com



3 comments so far

View JRL's profile

JRL

104 posts in 1142 days


#1 posted 1013 days ago

James,
Those were great questions—obviously well thought out.

I’ll be watching for your future posts.

Thanks

-- Jay in Changsha

View James 's profile

James

138 posts in 1529 days


#2 posted 1013 days ago

Thanks Jay!
I wanted to ask Chris questions I thought would benefit other woodworkers too. He is a great guy, very genuine and obviously knows a great deal about tools and woodworking in general. Thank you again for the nice comment!

Take care,
James

View KingArthur900's profile

KingArthur900

1 post in 867 days


#3 posted 867 days ago

James,
I came to your interview by searching the forum for Lost Art Press’ latest book, Make a Joint Stool from a Tree. I really appreciate your interview. Your questions addressed issues that I had been curious about too, and drew out answers that I don’t think really come out in his other writings (at least the ones I’ve read). They cleared up some mis-understandings I had about his philosophy. Thanks for making the effort to put this together (and thanks to Chris for taking the time to respond to the interview.)
Best regards,
King

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