Monday, March 07, 2011

Mr. Schwarz? My brain is full.

Chris Schwarz came to Atlanta this past weekend.  He is the editor of Popular Woodworking Magazine, a workbench guru, a hand plane aficionado, and a leading voice in the use of hand tools for woodworking.  On Friday night he gave a talk about router planes and then gave the first-ever public talk about his upcoming book, The Anarchist's Tool Chest.  The talk was very compelling and I am sure the book will be very well received.

Chris Schwarz at work

On Sunday, I had the good fortune to take a day-long class with him at the Atlanta Woodcraft store.  The goal was to build a traditional English layout square, copied from an antique tool and published recently in Popular Woodworking Magazine.  Think of a wooden framing square and you'll have the right idea.

Here is how the class felt for me:

This was an 8 hour brain dump on all sorts of topics.  We talked about lots of tools and practiced a bunch of techniques.  Sharpening plane irons, planing stock square, sawing tenon cheeks, using shoulder planes, laughing at router plane "depth suggesters", fairing curves with rasps, cutting tenon shoulders cleanly, paring with a chisel, and even simple things like gluing end grain.  This class was full of great content, and well worth the time and cost to spend the day soaking it up.

After 4 hours of work, here is what was on my bench.  Three sticks of walnut that really don't look much different than when I first picked them up hours earlier.  All I can tell you is that this stock was as flat and square as I could make it, which is a critical first step toward making tight joints.

Halfway done, but not looking like much!

For the rest of the class, we rallied and worked toward cutting a bunch of half lap joints, roughing out curves on the detail areas, and making tight joints.  I don't think anybody finished the square, but some folks got pretty close.  Here is a picture of my project as I was marking the joints in the stretcher.

My progress toward the end of the day
There were only 7 students in the class, so there was plenty of personal attention. This did not always work to my advantage.  Quote of the day from Chris was "Uhh, Aaron?  Maybe you cut to the wrong side of the line." Ouch.

Thanks to Chris for making the trip, and to Steve Quehl for bringing him to our local WoodCraft.

It is always humbling for me to interact with very experienced woodworkers, but I learn so much more than I can by just reading about it or going solo.  How do you connect with the woodworking community?  Do you take classes, or just try to figure things out for yourself?


Eric said...

I can't afford the classes, so I try & catch them doing demonstrations at woodworking shows and such.
Plus, blogs, magazines, TV shows etc, etc.
Just talking to Frank Klauz and watching him cut a set of dove tails advanced me 3 levels from where I was.
Thanks Aaron.

Dyami said...

I'll be catching what I suspect will be the same lecture on the "Anarchists Tool Chest" in a few weeks when Chris comes to the Northeast Woodworker's Showcase in Saratoga. I've never been able to take an actual class (more the time than the money), though I try to take seminars as often as I can.

The square looks great. I hope it gets lots of use. While I can fully appreciate the fundamentals it teaches by building it, did Chris mention why he likes it so much?

I have a Woodpecker 12" try square that I bought from Chris. Now that I have it (and many other subsequent Woodpecker marking & layout items) I can't figure why anyone would part with it. Wooden layout tools are something I just don't get.

Mansfield Guthrie said...

I know this feeling of which you speak and I'm sure I'll have it again after being subjected to Chris class for three days in September. My only defense was to take my camera and photograph some it so the pictures would help me remember.

Morton said...

Aaron - you lucky dog getting a class with Chris. Would love to do that. I try to take classes from people I've read from whenever I can. This past weekend I was lucky enough to get two days with Darrell Peart - master of G&G work. What fun.

Dyami - I think the wooden tools are really nice to hold/feel/use - at least, that's what I've read from Chris. I am going to make a couple myself and see how I like them. You know, when I get around to it ;)

Victor said...

Lucky man! I need to get caught up at work, so I can jump on opportunities like this. As it is, time off scares me too much!

Aaron said...

Eric - I find that 30 minutes with somebody who knows their stuff is as valuable as a month of reading and studying this stuff online. I really like seeing live demonstrations, like you.

Dyami - No special reason Chris likes the square so much, though he did say that they are pervasive in the old English shops. Almost as if this was a rite of passage for young apprentices. He said that this same design shops up consistently over hundreds of years. As to why Chris would part with his Woodpecker Square, I think you will understand when you hear the "Anarchist's Tool Chest" speech. I don't want to steal his thunder, but there is a theme of avoiding overconsumption.

Mansfield - I know what you mean. I've already forgotten some of the day's tips. I wish I had a video camera in my toolbox.

Morton - A class with Darrell would be amazing. His furniture is stunningly beautiful. BTW, caught your first Highland Hardware video - very nice!

Victor - I was lucky to snag a spot in the class at the last minute. My wife was very understanding when I left the house at 7am on Sunday morning!

Jeff Branch said...

I could have easily driven over to take the class, but did not know. :( Your cartoon is funny.

I took a hand plane class at my Woodcraft a couple of weeks ago and plan to do more of that. Otherwise, I have seen some great videos on-line that have been helpful.

Aaron said...

Jeff, you would have had to leave about 5am on Sunday morning to get here by 8 for the class. But it would have been worth it!

John Walker said...

Well Aaron,

My woodwork teacher at school; way back in the 1950s, taught me everything I know. I found out later that he didn't teach me everything HE knew! That's not a criticism. I reckon he felt there are things we just have to find out for ourselves. It's an ancient fable, but it is true; I.e., Who never made a mistake never made anything worth the while. Learn from your mistakes but better yet, learn from the mistakes of others. My regards to you your family and your mad English neighbour.
John in UK.