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.
‘Full hand’ armchair. Collection of the National Museum of Australia.
My first thought on seeing the photo of this chair was, “that certainly is an armchair.” It turns out that was the maker’s intention – to make a visual pun of an Armstuhl.
The chair was made by Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Zilm, known as Wilhelm, when he was in his late 60s. Three of the four chairs were later repainted and decorated by one of Wilhelm’s youngest sons.
A Very Short Zilm Family History in Australia
After King Frederick William III mandated a new Lutheran church service many “Old Lutherans” rejected the change and, to avoid persecution, decided to migrate to other countries. Groups of Old Lutherans migrated under the leadership of their pastors with many going to Australia and North America. Five members of the Zilm family left their town of Goltzen in the Brandenburg area of Prussia in early 1838: Johann Christian (known as Christian), his wife Anna Dorothea, their sons Wilhelm and Friedrich and Christian’s brother and sister.
The family sailed on the ship Bengalee and arrived at Port Adelaide in South Australia in November 1838. The Zilms and about 50 other families helped to found the town of Hanhdorf (about 28 km southeast of Adelaide). On arrival in Australia, Wilhelm was weeks short of his 11th birthday and his brother Friedrich was 7.
From Hahndorf2019.org.au. Date estimate 1860s?
By 1853, the much larger Zilm family decided to go north to the Barossa Valley and helped found the community of Nain. In 1875 Wilhelm, now age 48, moved with his wife and nine of his children further north to Booleroo. He had acquired 450 acres to clear and to ultimately grow wheat.
Wilhelm (center) his wife Luise (on the right) and some of their many children, date unknown. Collection of the National Museum of Australia.
The Zilms named their Booleroo homestead Pantakora, and in addition to the family home, there was a workshop for the farm (originally the first house they built) used for equipment repairs and blacksmithing and another small building for carpentry work.
Wilhelm and his sons had both the metal and woodworking skills required to run a farm. They were able to make and repair farm equipment, furniture and other wares for the home.
When Wilhelm arrived in Australia he was of an age when a boy might enter an apprenticeship. He certainly helped his father as the newly arrived families built homes and made serviceable furniture. Wilhelm would have had ample opportunities to observe and help men who, although they originally migrated to farm, had trained as carpenters and cabinetmakers (some of whom would later resume their former occupations). Finally, he was a member of a community that migrated together and worked together for the benefit of all. Passing along needed skills, such as metal working and woodworking, was a value to the entire community.
Chairmaking at Pantakora
The woods used to make the chairs were red gum and other eucalyptus species. According to Noris Ionnou’s research, the carpentry bench was essentially a huge table with a thick red-gum top (about 20 cm) and splayed legs. With this basic setup, Wilhelm and his sons made staked tables, chairs and stools (all of which readers of this blog will be familiar).
‘Knuckle or closed fist’ chair (#1) with outward curving arms. Collection of the National Museum of Australia.
The chairs seats average 4 cm in thickness and to lighten the weight of a chair (except the “full hand” chair in the topmost photo) the central part of the underside of the seats were carved out. Seats were not saddled. Chair legs were squared or rounded and staked and wedged to the seat. The back slats all have the same shape: narrow at each end tapering to a wider middle. Two of the four chairs have two round spindles (or sticks) in the back rest. The crest rails are a tablet form and have a slight curve. Screws were used to attach the crest rail to the back slats.
Wilhelm used well-known construction techniques to make his chairs. Was a similar style made by other branches of the Zilm family or other Old Lutheran families? Did he develop the look of his chairs, or was it learned from one particular furniture maker? We don’t know, but there is a consistency in all the known chairs he made.
The carved hands aside, his chairs were a local style, made for daily use and to meet the needs of the family. The carved hands were his unique addition for his and his family’s enjoyment. In other words, Wilhelm made true vernacular chairs.
Decoration and a Few Other Details
Full hand with fingernails on the left. Knuckle or closed fist (chair No. 2) on the right.
Wilhelm made two types of chairs with hands. The “full hand” has four fingers including fingernails! As related by family members, Wilhelm carved the hands to replicate the natural action of hands draped over the end of the chair arm. He was also fashioning a visual pun: he put “arms” on an Armstuhl (armchair). This chair is also heavier than the other three and was the chair he sat in.
The other three chairs have small knuckles (or closed fists) at the end of the chair arm. The arms of one chair curve outward (chair No. 1 in the large photo above) and there are only three knuckles. This is the chair Wilhelm’s wife sat in.
‘Knuckle or closed fist’ chair (No. 2). Photo from ‘The Barossa Folk-Germanic Furniture and Craft Traditions in Australia’ by Noris Iannou.
The other two “knuckle” chairs each have four knuckles with chair No. 2 having the addition of two back spindles.
‘Knuckle or closed fist chair (No. 3). Photo from ‘The Barossa Folk-Germanic Furniture and Craft Traditions in Australia’ by Noris Ioannou.
The four chairs are dated 1895 and the original paint color was yellow. A nice, bright accent in a pre-electric and dark home interior.
There is some thought that the chairs are gendered. Wilhelm and his wife each had a specific chair and perhaps each family member had their own specific chair. It is very common for the parents to have specific chairs and the kids to each have their own until they grow up and move on (and then a younger sibling grabs that chair). I really don’t see a lot of difference between the knuckle chairs. It is one thing to make a chair for your wife, a lovely sentiment, but that does not necessarily give the chair a specific gender. Also, when the chairs were originally made they were all the same color and did not have the decorative designs we see on them today. So, I don’t see a gender factor.
Wilhelm Zilm, about 1895, State Library of South Australia.
At the time of Wilhelm’s death in 1906 (at age 78) his three youngest sons were living at Pantakora: Christian, Jack and Paul. Christian, a bachelor, inherited the farm and later left it to Jack. In 1937 Jack (also a bachelor) gave the farm to the married Paul.
Paul, the youngest son, is responsible for the designs on chairs. About 1910 the chairs were painted black. White, orange and red-brown paint was used to decorate the knuckle chairs. Other chairs he may have decorated are either in private hands, destroyed by later family members or otherwise lost.
The crest rails and the shaped back splats were outlined in orange. Legs were painted with concentric orange circles and the seats were given curved lines in orange and white. Swirls, leaf shapes, flowers and suns were in white. Dots were added to fill in the background. On his mother’s chair (chair No. 1) hearts, a common German motif, were painted on either side of the seat. (Note: design details on chairs Nos. 2 and 3 are difficult to see due to the low resolution of the photos.)
According to his family, Paul painted and decorated furniture and woodwork in the Zilm home. He also liked to carve. His designs incorporate both German motifs and elements often used in aboriginal rock, bark and body painting.
Every month in the late 1990s, an oversized manila envelope would land on my desk at Popular Woodworking magazine. When that happened, I’d finish editing the sentence I was working on, put down my red pen and rip into the package.
Inside was the newest Good Woodworking magazine with the latest John Brown column. I’d read the article several times. Photocopy it for my records (I still have those photocopies). And then pass the magazine to one of my fellow editors who would read it for the tool reviews or how-to-make chopsticks article.
I adored John Brown’s column for two reasons. One, his writing was outrageous, even by the typically wilder U.K. standards. This gave me confidence and license to loosen up my own woodworking writing so I didn’t sound like an instruction manual for a toaster oven.
Two, the chairs. Gawd, I loved the chairs he showed in the articles. While I adored the chairs shown in his 1990 book, “Welsh Stick Chairs,” the chairs in his magazine articles were far more interesting because John Brown had learned so much in the decade since writing his book.
Today I went to the mailbox and there was an oversized manila envelope with a U.K. postmark waiting for me. I put down my satchel and ripped into the package. Inside was a mint August 1999 issue of Good Woodworking magazine. And on page 50 was the John Brown article titled “Of All the Works of Man.” One of my favorites.
We’re collecting these vintage magazines to help illustrate the upcoming book by Christopher Williams titled “The Life & Work of John Brown.” The book will feature 20 of JB’s best columns. We purchased the rights to reprint these articles for the book, but the publisher who now owns the rights to the articles doesn’t have the images from the columns. So I need to invoke some digital trickery to illustrate John Brown’s columns for the book.
It’s a bit weird to see this article again after 20 years and in mint condition – like encountering an old friend who hasn’t aged a day. (And who is still a dang interesting guy.)
We have two upcoming classes in July at our storefront that should – by all rights – be filled and have a long waiting list. But they aren’t.
If you can attend these classes, I encourage you to do so for two reasons. One, in both cases these classes are being taught by the premier instructor on the topic. Two, we won’t offer a lot of classes next year, so these opportunities will dry up in December.
Here are the classes:
French Polishing With Derek Jones
Most people know Derek as the editor of Furniture & Cabinetmaking magazine. But Derek is way more than that. He’s a time-served professional woodworker who has an affinity for toolmaking and French polishing. His classes on French polishing sell out quickly in the U.K. and Europe because Derek has distilled the process so it contains 0 percent garbage. I’ve watched Derek teach it, and it’s brilliant. In fact, the reason I wanted him to teach the class here is so I could take it (as luck would have it, my Germany trip was extended, so I cannot).
Honestly, if you want to up your finishing game (or just establish your finishing game), this weekend will do it. Period. This class is for beginners. Intermediates. Experts.
Make a Carved Oak Box with Peter Follansbee
July 29-Aug. 2
Yup, we managed to lure Peter Follansbee west of the Allegheny Mountains for this class, and he is bringing primo rived oak for the students to build and carve their boxes. Follansbee is one of my favorite woodworking writers, instructors and builders (I said it so right here). He’s also the author of our newest book, “Joiner’s Work.”
This class is the gateway drug to 17th-century-style construction methods and carving. You get to make this beautiful little box with traditional joints and then cover every surface with the geometrical carvings. Even if you’ve never carved a block of soap or a ham, you’ll do great. I’ve been amazed by what Peter’s students turn out their first time holding a gouge.
About Next Year This year has been nuts. We offered so many classes that I found it difficult to keep up with the shop’s commission work and work on future books. While I loved having people teach here from all over the world, we’re going to dial things back – way back – for 2020 so we can regain our footing and catch up on commercial furniture work and toolmaking.
We’ll still offer a weekend class or so each month. Maybe a two or three week-long classes during the year. And we’ll bring back Chris Williams for another Welsh chair class. But for the most part, we’re going to hunker down and build stuff.
For the past two years I’ve been posting at Fine Woodworking’s Pro’s Corner blog. Web producer Ben Strano’s invitation to write for the blog came shortly after the publication of Making Things Work, and while I don’t know whether the content of that book prompted the invitation, I can confirm that the blog posts are closely related to it.
There’s one big difference: While serious lessons I’ve learned about making a living as a woodworker form the subjects of most of the book’s chapters, I addressed them in the context of stories drawn from real experience. The narrative is meant to be as entertaining as it is instructive. You could read the entire book without noticing the pedagogical dimension, were you so inclined.
My posts at the Pro’s Corner blog are pretty much straight-up—about as close as I want to get to putting myself in the position of a counselor at a branch of SCORE, the Senior Corps of Retired Executives. (Please note that I am not retired, and probably never will be.) Over the years, I’ve consulted a few counselors at SCORE. It’s an invaluable source of business guidance, though I’ve found that most of the counselors, and so, their advice, come from companies that are radically different from a single-person craft micro-enterprise such as mine, where profit is understood more richly than in terms of a number on a bottom line and there’s no secretary or executive assistant to whom you can delegate the stomach-wrenching tasks that every business has to deal with once in a while. My hope is that my posts will give professionals and aspiring professionals the kind of perspective, and in some cases advice, that I wish I’d been able to find.
Of course, businesses, like shops and woodworkers, vary greatly. I’m writing about what works (and doesn’t) for me, given my experience, interests, values, and capabilities. Ideally readers will expand the posts into more of a conversation in the comments.
There are other types of content in Making Things Work, among them the blasting apart of certain widespread fantasies about woodworking and woodworkers. You’ll find those addressed occasionally at the Pro’s Corner, too. I’m honored and delighted that Lost Art Press is in the process of publishing its own edition of Making Things Work; it’s on track for publication around October.
Finally, I’m always grateful for suggestions about topics. The comments section is the place to put them.
Despite some slow fabric shipping and a booming business at Sew Valley, our sewing contractor, we’ve just taken delivery of the final prototype of the moleskin work vest. It came out great – the fabric is amazing, the fit is spot-on (a smidge boxier than the LAP chore coat) and the pockets are useful without being bothersome. The inner pocket has sewn divisions, which means that you can lean over without your 6″ ruler and pencils falling out.
Chris asked if the mole’s blood was still on the fabric, but I had to disappoint him. Moleskin is just plain heavy cotton, often woven in a very dense sateen. The British nearly always brush one side of their moleskin, resulting in a soft-handed but super sturdy and long-wearing fabric. It was a traditional workwear material for miners, carpenters, farmers and just about everyone else doing heavy work in the British Isles.
I truly don’t know why, but the French seem to rarely brush either side of their moleskin. Our first Chore Coat was in a Japanese woven French-style moleskin (le moleskine, en Français), thus the shiny surface on both sides. Our work vest is British style, and you can see the brushed and non-brushed surfaces in the above photo. The stuff is awesome – wind and abrasion resistant, warm and long lasting. We’re getting the real stuff, woven and brushed in England by Brisbane Moss. It’s expensive fabric, but so, so nice. And hey, you don’t have to pay for sleeves!
This sample has just been approved. Now starts the wheel turning – importing the bulk fabric, getting in line at Sew Valley, and cut, sew and QC. We’ll definitely have these available by early fall, which is good timing – summer woodworking, in my experience, calls for cutting your hickory shirt sleeves off like Dick Proenneke. Quantities will be very limited, and we’re only doing this lovely olive drab color. We’ll have more details, especially sizing, closer to the date of release.
It’s been too long since I’ve updated everyone (including my fellow editors) on the projects that are about to bear fruit. Plus other projects that are in fruit cocoons, which is totally not a real thing but should be.
These are in the order in which you’ll likely see them. As always, if I haven’t listed a project that you are lusting for, that’s because I don’t have any news on it. Here we go.
“Making and Mastering Wood Planes” by David Finck Likely release date: August
This book is a classic. I wore out my first copy and even wrote a gushy blurb for it when it was on the imprint of a competing publisher. That’s how much I love it. David was self-publishing the book and asked if we would like to take it on. I said yes, as long as Lost Art Press could put it out in a high-quality domestically printed hardback. David agreed. Everyone wins.
“The Solution at Hand: Jigs and Fixtures to Make Benchwork Easier” by Robert Wearing Likely release date: October
Here’s another book we’ve been working on but haven’t been talking about. We love Wearing’s “The Essential Woodworker,” and so we asked him if we could compile about 150 of his best jigs and fixtures that he’d published in various forms during his career. He agreed. This book is hand illustrated, like “The Essential Woodworker,” and is as tricky as a Vegas magic show.
“Making Things Work” by Nancy Hiller (the Lost Art Press edition) Likely release date: October or so
Nancy considered letting this book go out of print (she’s a damn busy professional woodworker). We thought that would be bad for readers. So we offered to bring it into the Lost Art Press fold. Our new edition will have a new cover and will feature one extra short story at the end that elegantly twists the knife as you laugh….
“The Anarchist’s Design Book (Revised & Expanded)” by me Likely release date: January 2020
I tried to finish this book at the end of 2018, but my father became very ill. So I put aside all my personal writing projects to help take care of him at the end of his life. With his estate now settled, I have the time to finish this revision. I’m building the mule chest for the revised edition now. There are two additional projects to build after that (which are already designed). And then we’ll have a new book.
“The Life & Work of John Brown” by Christopher Williams Likely release date: March 2020
Chris should be done writing this book in the fall. Then I just have to design it. This book has been filled with many twists and turns – like the life and work of John Brown. I promise it will be worth the wait.
“Make a Chair from a Tree” by Jennie Alexander Likely release date: As soon as I can manage
This book has been a lodestone for me. I have lots of excellent people helping me with the text, illustrations and technical side. But in the end, I have to ensure the book is true to what Jennie wanted and helps you build her chair. I work on this project whenever I can. It’s slow going, which is totally my fault.
That’s the list. There are lots of other projects that are eyeing the birth canal. When they get closer, we’ll post an update.
Today I signed off on the 11th printing of “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest.” Since 2011, we have printed nearly 30,000 copies of this book. In big-boy-pants publishing terms, that number represents a total and utter failure. Also a failure: Telling the world how many books you’ve really printed.
But <expletive omitted> that.
Those of you who purchased that book are responsible for laying the foundation blocks for what we do here with Lost Art Press. Had I published that book with another publisher, I’d have made about $10,000 (and would be working in retail by now). Because John and I published it ourselves – and you bought it – we made a publishing company instead.
The 10th anniversary of the book is coming up in 2021. We might have to do a revision or (at least) a redesign….
STEINWAY FIBONACCI PIANO 7 by Frank Pollaro. Macassar ebony and bronze with inlaid synthetic ivory. 600,000th Limited Edition Steinway & Sons Fibonacci Piano
It might seem a bit out of character for Lost Art Press to publish “The Difference Makers” by Marc Adams. Unlike many of our titles, this book is filled with furniture that scratches at the stratosphere. These are pieces that you would see in a modern art museum or a gallery in Milan. And not the lineup of a publisher that wallows in the nitty gritty of historical handwork.
The way I see it, publishing “The Difference Makers” is just another way for us to challenge both ourselves and our readers.
Number One Chairs by Michael Fortune (photo by Michael Cullen)
And it begins with a confession: All too often I end up searching out furniture that looks somewhat like the furniture I now build. I focus on historical vernacular forms and their connection to 20th-century design. So the majority of the books in my library touch on those topics in one way or another.
It’s a lot like eating Southern food. Sure, you can survive on fried chicken, grits and collard greens for the rest of your days. But wouldn’t it be sad if you never had your mind blown by Ethiopian food?
No matter what sort of furniture you build, “The Difference Makers” is designed to shock your palate. It might be the negative space of Binh Pho, the textures created by Michael Hosaluk, the astonishing realism of Julie Bender or the visual trickery employed by Silas Kopf. You might not like all of it. But it will challenge you as a designer and builder. As we spent the last year editing this book I kept looking at the photos, wondering, “How was that built? And what possessed them? (In a good way).”
And that’s where the text of the book comes in. Marc knows all of these makers personally. They have taught for him at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking. He’s watched these people work – sometimes over decades – and grow. These 30 people are the best who have passed through his school’s giant garage doors.
To package up all this beautiful work, we decided to challenge ourselves on the manufacturing and printing size. We wanted to create the most beautiful largest-format book possible without cracking the $100 mark. This took a bit of math – finding a paper with a roll size that would produce a minimum of waste and a maximum amount of surface for ink. We also wanted to push the boundaries on the paper. This book is made with a heavy and bright paper we’ve never used (or thought we could afford).
Then we added our normal high-quality binding, which we haven’t been able to improve on.
Why So Quiet? We know that some of you might have been surprised to see the announcement of “The Difference Makers” with very little run-up to the launch. This was due to some chaos at our printing plant (three words: private equity takeover). As a result, we’ve been done with this book on our end for months but it wasn’t certain until late last week when it would go on press. And then we got the news: It would be shipped in mid-July.
We’ll be talking more about the book in the coming weeks. We’re all very excited to see it, and I know you’ll like it. We’ll release an excerpt in the coming weeks, but until then, take a look at these two short features from the book. One on Frank Pollaro and the other on David Franklin.
“Number One Chairs” by Michael Fortune (photo by Michael Cullen)
Editor’s note: I haven’t been able to talk much about “The Difference Makers” by Marc Adams because the printing plant’s schedule has been quite messed up. We weren’t sure when it would go on press. Well we now know the book will be delivered in mid-July. If you order before the book is delivered, you will receive a free pdf download of the book at checkout.
The book is $68 and you can place a pre-publication order here.
— Christopher Schwarz
Thanks to the internet, you can see a lot of interesting work with ease. But it’s easy to forget that the vast majority of the images on your screen are of pieces that are derivative, merely acceptable in their craftsmanship and were made by people at the beginning of their journey.
When you encounter true greatness it is shocking, inspiring and a bit humbling. The hair on your neck might stand on end. Your stomach might lurch like you were on a roller coaster. You might want to quit your job.
Encountering this kind of greatness is also an incredibly rare experience these days.
Since 1993, Marc Adams has invited hundreds of the best craftsmen and women to teach at his woodworking school in Franklin, Ind., which has grown to become the country’s (if not the world’s) largest. Every year, thousands of students soak up the instruction from a who’s who list of woodworkers and artists in multiple disciplines.
“Fall Front Desk with Cat” by Silas Kopf (photo by David Ryan)
Every year, Marc has expanded the school and brought in a different mix of new instructors and veteran ones. As a result, he has figured out who is the best. He’s seen their work. He’s seen them at work.
Now Marc has selected the 30 best men and women makers that he’s worked with for his new book, “The Difference Makers: 30 Contemporary Makers; 30 Remarkable Stories.” It’s a sweeping journey into the work and lives of a diverse group of people, from pure traditional woodworkers to people whose brain is from the future. Furniture makers. Toolmakers. Luthiers. Sculptors. Engravers.
“Inferno” by Michael Hosaluk (photo by Trent Watts)
Each chapter reads like a short biographical novel – recounting the person’s life and how they became the artisan they are today. Then Marc offers an analysis and interpretation of their work – why it’s special – and tells a few stories about what they are like in the workshop.
And then there’s a gallery of the person’s work. Even if you never read a single word of “The Difference Makers,” we think you will spend hours poring over the photos.
All of this is wrapped up in a beautiful and huge book – 11” x 11” and 260 pages long. The large and square format of the book allowed us to reproduce the images as large as possible. The book is printed on a heavy and coated #100 stock – the nicest and smoothest paper we could find. Like all our books, the pages are sewn together and bound with fiber tape so the binding will outlast you. The book is hardbound with the boards covered in cotton cloth. And the entire package is wrapped with a long-wearing full-color dust jacket. It is made in the United States (Tennessee) using domestic materials.
We are honored to have worked with Marc and the 30 outstanding people featured in this book. Collecting their stories took Marc decades. Writing it all down took more than two years. And we are proud to present it to you so you can be inspired by it for many years to come.
“One should place a drawer at the end of the bench so that the workers can close up their minor tools like gouges, compasses, etc. There are even shops where the benches are finished with planks/panels all around [a closed base] which is very convenient because that prevents shavings and dust from entering in the shelf and the tools which you put inside are less likely to be lost.”
I’ve built a few workbenches for customers who insisted on me adding a drawer under the benchtop as shown in Plate 11 of “l’Art du menuisier.” They also wanted a lock for the drawer, as shown in the plate.
At the time I built these drawers, I considered them superfluous. Plus they interfere with some clamping operations at the end of the workbench. As a result, I’ve never added a drawer to my personal workbench. I keep all my stuff in my tool chest, like a British dude.
Today I am reconsidering my position.
During the last year we’ve had hundreds of people through our shop. Some are students. Some are customers. Some are careless. All are curious. On Wednesday when I started dovetailing a series of seven drawers I played out a familiar scene.
“Have you seen my .7mm mechanical pencil?”
“Have you seen my Tite-Mark floating around?”
“Where’s my block plane?”
When you have other people in your shop, your stuff gets moved. Messed with. Even if you lock up your tool chest at night, during the day it’s open and people will poach a hammer, pencil or ruler if they are in a hurry and not thinking.
I’ve asked students, visitors and fellow woodworkers to please put things back. Doesn’t work.
During my panic on Wednesday I made a list of my stuff that has gone missing recently.
Mechanical pencils (several of them)
Starrett 6” rule
Tite-Mark marking gauge
Small Starrett dividers for dovetails
Paint can opener
Starrett 6” combination square
Most (but not all) of these tools were located after I searched through the shop and the machine room. But after 20 minutes of looking for a rule, I start to feel like I’m losing money.
Hmmm, I thought, all of these things would fit in a small drawer under the benchtop. And if I locked it, then those tools would always be there when I needed them.
I feel a bit like a jerk for doing this. But I figure that building a drawer is a better idea than asking for anxiety medicine from my doctor.