Founded in 2007, Lost Art Press is a small Midwestern publishing company that seeks to help the modern woodworker learn traditional hand-tool skills. Since World War II, traditional and effective hand skills have disappeared from the home, professional and school woodshops in North America.
I spent this afternoon installing five hinges made by blacksmith Peter Ross on two tool chests. And though I’ve installed a lot of them, I involuntarily marveled at their beauty and utility. They are that gorgeous.
In fact, one the best parts of my life is getting to work with other artisans, whether it’s a woodworker writing a book for Lost Art Press, a blacksmith making a chest lock, a foundry worker pouring a casting or a bookbinder making a deluxe edition.
While this statement seems obvious – who wouldn’t want to work with these awesome people? – I don’t think it is. It’s a damn challenge to work with others. Every piece of blacksmith-made hardware is different and requires extraordinary individual attention. Every woodworker who writes a book is different and requires individual attention. And so forth.
In fact, my work would be a lot easier (and profitable) if I simply wrote books, published them and ignored the work of other people.
But my life would be much less rich. And I would be a lesser person for it.
That’s why I have great respect for publishers such as Marc Spagnuolo and Joshua Klein, who have reached out beyond their insular worlds (we all have insular worlds – we’re woodworkers) to bring the ideas of other people to the forefront.
Marc, as you might know, has been filming the work of people such as Anne Briggs and Darrell Peart for The Wood Whisperer Guild. Joshua has enlisted an entire host of writers and builders to create new knowledge through Mortise & Tenon magazine.
Both of these guys could easily do their own thing, ignore the rest of the world and live handsomely. They both have magnetic personalities that would allow them to be the epicenter of their own universes.
But they haven’t. And my hat is off to them.
Your work will be better if you listen to a variety of voices. Don’t just listen to me. Learn what you can from all the other people out there. And pay special attention to the people who are also willing to listen to others.
Learning this craft from 100 teachers (instead of just one) is more challenging for you, the student. At some point you will need to say: “Wait, this particular bit of gospel is total BS to me.” But you will be a more resilient, informed and balanced woodworker as a result.
You will see the overall patterns in our craft, not just methods of a single teacher. And maybe, when it comes time for you to teach others, your mind will be open, and you will glady promote the work of others, even if it challenges the work you do every day at the bench.
Until we can get our act together and get Lost Art Press T-shirts back in the store, feel free to make your own T-shirts using our logo.
We don’t make T-shirts to make money (unlike some rock bands). We make T-shirts because people ask for them, and because we need something to wear that doesn’t have holes in it.
You can use these logos at a print-on-demand service, or even on an existing favorite shirt using an inkjet printer and special paper. Note: If you put our logo on thong underwear or a tube top, please don’t send us a photo.
I’ve put two logos – our main logo and our beehive logo – into a compressed file you can download and unzip. They are sized for T-shirts at 300 dpi.
One of the other small design changes I’ve made to my tool chest design is to bevel the top edge of the lid’s panel. It’s a 30° bevel with a 1/16” flat at the edge.
On the original chest, I merely rounded the panel’s corner with a block plane. It looks OK, but this bevel looks much better. By the way, the bevel on the panel is an echo of the 30° bevel on the chest’s skirts.
It’s Friday, and so my head is full of cottage cheese. When the cheese clears, I’ll write up an explanation of how the lid works. I’ve probably had more questions about that aspect of the chest than any other.
Personal Note If you follow the comments on this blog, you might have noticed a little back-and-forth with a reader about some details of the chest. This entry is not to shame the reader – honest, Stan – but instead to explain how I deal with comments.
I don’t (and honestly cannot) answer every question that is lobbed at me on the blog, Facebook, Instagram or via vacuum tube. Here’s why:
Many questions are from the Google-impaired. Rather than shame them, I hope my silence encourages them to look for the answer on their own.
Sometimes answering a question will only encourage trolling, or will drag decent readers into a troll fight. I steer clear of those briar patches.
Sometimes I decline to answer questions directly and instead try to elucidate what I think is important about the question (and not the direct answer). I do this for a variety of reasons, including the fact that sometimes what I write gets taken out of context and spread around the Internet like cow dung.
And sometimes I don’t know the answer, so I just let the question be.
I don’t mean to be indirect or inscrutable, I simply took too many Zen Buddhism classes in college.
Traditionally, households needed to be self-sufficient and had to make all kinds of everyday objects. There were many kinds of hewn bowls and troughs for baking, meat preparation, milk production and fermented drinks. They were made from a green blank from a tree trunk. The trunk was cut and split lengthwise into a half, then hollowed out from the heartwood side. Because these containers are exposed to moisture, the design incorporates strength and durability. The walls at each end of the trough must be three times thicker than the wood along the sides. The handles are placed at the ends of the blank.
I have learned another way of doing this from the legendary woodworker Bengt Lidström, who made beautiful bird bowls. He worked from either the heartwood side or from the bark side. Both methods are described in this chapter.
Material. Straight-grained, knot-free deciduous wood such as aspen, alder or birch, wood glue, raw coldpressed linseed oil, and artist’s oil paint.
PREPARING THE BLANK Choose a straight-grained, knot-free piece. Trim to about 10cm (3-15/16″) longer than the bowl you want to make. When a tree is felled, the pith always has a crack that begins in the end grain. When you split the blank, line up the froe blade with this felling crack.
Hew away about 1cm (3/8″) of the juvenile wood nearest the pith. While hewing, sight along the edge of the blank’s end-grain face as a reference for a flat surface.
If you are hollowing from the bark side of the log, further flatten the heartwood side so the blank sits steady on the bench. Use either a plane at the workbench or a drawknife at the shaving horse. Remove the bark with a drawknife.
Lay out centerlines on the bowl face. Transfer the lines to all four faces. Now lay out the shape of the bowl using the centerlines to guide the shape. Make sure there is 2cm to 3cm (13/16″ to 1-3/16″) extra material on both ends to fasten the blank on the workbench.
You will use a lot of force during hollowing, so it is important to clamp the blank firmly to your workbench. Now hollow out the blank with an adze.
To quickly remove material on the bark side, you can first use a thin, straight-beveled axe to cut off the upper layer. You can also use a bowsaw to make multiple depth cuts to allow the waste to chip out more easily.
HOLLOWING OUT Use an adze for hollowing out the blank. The adze has a bevel on the outside, which in combination with the short handle creates an arc when you cut. Lock your elbows to the sides of your body. Place the other hand around your wrist for control and accuracy. Holding the adze at the farthest end of the handle, drive it into the wood vigorously to make depth cuts into the surface. Start from the middle of the hole and work toward the ends.
Like hewing with an axe, you now change the angle of the cut to clear away the waste.
Turn the piece and refasten it if it is difficult to cut from the other side. Use your body to change the cutting angle as you follow the shape.
You can also use a mallet and a long bent gouge (No. 8L, 35mm) to start cutting in the middle of the bowl. To begin hollowing, it is easiest to cut across the fibers. Keep in mind that cutting the fibers across the grain doesn’t leave as smooth a surface as cutting with the grain.
For controlled cuts, place your left hand on the gouge handle just above the tool edge and use your wrist as a brake as you press it against the blank.
With your right hand against the end of the handle and supported by your chest, push the gouge forward by leaning into the cut. Use steady pressure to get long, even and controlled cuts.
This technique is particularly useful in the bottom when you cut near the cross-grain wood, where the fibers meet each other. The left hand acts as a control for both speed and depth of cut.
The narrow ends of the bowl are thicker and angled toward the bottom, making the end-grain fibers longer and therefore stronger.
Smooth the rim along the top of the bowl. At this stage, it is necessary to refine the form by marking new lines.
Check the level of the sides of the bowl by laying a straight edge across the top.
Measure for even thickness along the bottom by using a ruler to compare the height of the sides versus the depth of the bowl.
The fibers rise a little after drying. Remember to clean-cut the bowl when it is dry for a smoother surface. For a bowl 40cm (15-3/4″) long, I suggest a final thickness of 8mm (5/16″) along the sides and bottom, and about 20mm (13/16″) in the end-grain wood. If there is tear-out in cross-grain wood, you will need to carefully make the final clean cut at a 90 degree angle to the fiber direction.
Last night I reached into the fridge while looking for a beer and found a Stone IPA. I used to love this beer, but I haven’t had one in years. Why? I always seem to chase something new. Weirder. More IBUs. Odd yeast. Whatever.
I poured the Stone beer into a glass, took a sip and became 30 years old again. What an amazing beer. Why have I eschewed this well-made staple in favor of temperamental exotics?
It’s human nature, I guess. We are easily excited by things that are new and novel in comparison to things that are familiar and tried. Not just for beer. But for workbenches and vises as well.
This fact was driven home during the last couple years as I built the workbenches and workholding devices for “Ingenious Mechanicks.” As I put these “obsolete” designs to work, I was pleasantly surprised by how robust, straightforward and easy they were to use. If you have a modicum of hand-eye coordination, you’ll find that these benches and appliances work like old friends.
They have some advantages to modern vises. Their simplicity is at the top of the list.
We have 10 workbenches in our shop in Covington, Ky. The earliest is from 79 A.D. and the latest is from about 1970. And the more modern the bench, the more maintenance it requires. Modern screw-driven vises can suffer from all manner of odd problems. The more parts a thing has, the more things that can go wrong.
Oh, and metal parts that move have special requirements. Rust is a problem. Beyond that, metal parts are typically fit so closely that almost anything can gum up the works, including pitch, sawdust and shavings.
Too-obvious Solutions For the first 1,500 years of the so-called “common era,” woodworkers used benches that were simple. They were mostly wood with very few metal bits. Instead of relying on brute mechanical force to hold the work steady, these benches relied on clever geometry, wedges and pegs.
As I folded these ideas into my work, they became second nature. And as I finished up work on “Ingenious Mechanicks” in 2017, I thought to myself: “This book is utterly stupid. All these things are obvious and not worth discussing.”
Good thing I have customers and friends. As I explained to them how these dirt-simple appliances functioned, I saw their surprise. It was the same surprise I felt when I first encountered the doe’s foot, the palm or the belly.
You Can Help To be sure, “Ingenious Mechanicks” is an incomplete work. Suzanne Ellison and I scoured every museum, painting and old book we could find to offer a new look at ancient benches. But what is missing is the complete and unabridged instruction manual for these benches.
I built a lot of furniture using these benches and appliances, but there is still much work to be done. Every time I sit down on these benches and get to work, my head is filled with new ideas about how these benches work. I crammed as many of these ideas into “Ingenious Mechanicks” as I could, but there is lots of work to be done.
If you pick up this book and put its ideas to use, you will be part of a group of experimental archaeologists who are exploring the past – the largest undiscovered country on earth. Woodworking (and workbenches) didn’t begin in the 17th century. That’s just when the written record begins.
Need a taste of this book before you commit? I don’t blame you. Here you go:
The moulding profile on the skirts surrounding the tool chest can be almost any profile – I’ve used everything from a chamfer to an ogee to a square ovolo.
After much fussing, I’ve settled on a 30° bevel that suits both contemporary and traditional tastes.
On my first few chests I used 7/8”-thick skirting material and cut a 45° chamfer on the corner and left a significant flat at the top edge – about 5/16”. That looks fine, and it’s the profile I have on my current chest.
After studying another 50 or so chests, I became fond of a second sort of profile: a 30° bevel with a 1/4” flat on top. In 7/8”-thick material, this bevel is about 1” tall. This 30° bevel makes the chest look a lot less blocky and it doesn’t take any additional time to create.
After more than 20 years of building tool chests, I try to avoid complex mouldings on the skirts. They are easily damaged and they date your chest (which is not necessarily a bad thing but is not my thing).
We get this question every week. Here’s the short version of the story:
We were using American Apparel shirts for the printing, and the company’s supply chain is frustrating. It would regularly (every week) run out of some color or some size and stop supplying it to our printer.
Also, our warehouse was having trouble integrating our T-shirts into some of its new inventory software. So we removed shirts from the site until we could get a new supplier and our warehouse could get its ducks in a row.
Right now we are evaluating three new suppliers – one domestic and two that are international. We always prefer to use domestic suppliers. But my position is that if you can’t supply the product, then you suck and we won’t use you. So we might end up with an international supplier on this product.
So shirts should be back up on the site within a couple weeks. If we use the supplier I am favoring, we’ll be able to offer sizes XS up to 5XL.
Making the bottom boards of a tool chest is straightforward work. For years I made tongue-and-groove boards using rough pine and beaded the tongue side.
Then, I visited Menards.
This home center giant carries 1 x 8 x 8’ pine carsiding in Eastern white pine. It is already tongue-and-grooved and finished beautifully. I couldn’t find any machine marks when I handplaned it. And the price in incredible. In the store a 1 x 8 x 8’ is about $5.50. That’s cheaper than I can buy rough white pine.
So all you have to do is crosscut it, plane it and nail it in place.
This takes us to another change I’ve adopted since publication of “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” in 2011. I use Rivierre nails to fasten the bottom boards instead of cut nails. These nails hold as well as blacksmith-made Roman-style nails.