An Open Letter to Christopher Schwarz
I am having the honour to commend your efforts in producing “The Anarchists Tool Chest” and encourage everyone to read this excellent book. Although I buy lots of books I dont usually buy woodworking books, I Don’t really know why I bought your book except for the recommendation of my friends at Classic Hand Tools. On closer examination, they might be right, that it is very rare thing, a good book.
A real quality book, nice binding, good paper and a typeset that look good. I have had your book on my night stand for several months now remaining to be read. I have been a professional woodworker now for over 35 years and wood work books tend to hit the wall before I get past chapter one. Amateurs writing with utter conviction about something they dont really know tend to get me cross. Schwarz is an amateur but somehow through a lifetime of woodieness he avoids the wall. Since starting this wonderful tome I have come to carry it about with me, almost closer than a good friend.
I find myself Christopher, if I may be so bold, agreeing with almost all your technical considerations from marking knives to dovetailing, from saws to scraping and that is saying something. I would differ in some things but that would be tipping into pedantry. Nonetheless, why not, be a pedant. We have both for many years found that sharpening with 4000 grit water stones to be as sharp as we have needed. But I am just now researching Japanese planes and find these supremely simple but highly developed tools to be offering a shine of the tool that my Norris plane cannot match. This is with an edge honed to 12,000 a laminated back iron pushed up close and tiny mouth. Here endeth the……
I am also not so supportive of contemporary tool makers. Bless them L N and Veritas have admittedly pulled us all out of the “rubbish hand tool hole” we were all heading towards in the 1980s . Now however I find their insistence on how wonderful their new cutting edges are to be disingenuous. Sharp edges they do not make. What they make are edges for the amateur that stays kinda sharp for ages. They do this for amateurs who do not know how to sharpen and would not know the difference if a really sharp edge bit them in the rear end. However, that me being a sad old maker.
I love your references to Charles Hayward. I have written since 1982 for a series of editors at The Woodworker magazine. My articles “The Craft of Cabinetmaking” paid my monthly mortgage when I moved from London to Devon. I didn’t work for Charles, but I spent many hours with him in retirement picking his brains. He was a rarity in our world, a man that could really make, and also could write and illustrate what he knew.
You are right. The term anarchist scares the living bejaysus out of Europeans. We immediately think of Rosa Luxemberg, the Paris Commune and bomb wielding Anarcho- Syndicalists. Nevertheless, you are right to challenge the consumerist convention. Work your ass off, earn the money to buy rubbish that won’t last anyway. Send your kids to poor state schooling so they can achieve and get to cheap overcrowded universities to run up huge debts….. I can go on I get so cross!
Trusting Government with the care of woodworking hand skills is madness, but, I am not so sure that we can rely upon the amateur alone to deliver the top quality that both you and I delight in. Given they’re not very sharp tools that top five percent that create real quality is tough to achieve. It is tricky to achieve even if you are attempting to do it every day, with sharp tools.
I see month after month young men and women coming to learn hand skills because something is missing in their lives. Something about “Making”, something that demands their intellect, their physicality and an aesthetic sense. You must already see the madness of working out in a gym when you could be digging vegetables or planing a that stack of oak. Making is good for you and it’s especially good for men.
Now I risk the wrath of the sisters here but I am not so bothered about women. You gals have lots of making you can still do. Cooking, sewing, gardening, us blokes have had lots of traditional “doing” activities removed from our lives. Tinkering with a car which I did with my dad is now a big NO NO! Lift the hood on an automobile now and you can’t even find a dip stick. DIY is NAF. Dads have a tough time “doing stuff” with their boys other than watching the game on cable.
Making is anarchistic. You are right. It can be subversive and has the capacity to be critical. However, it also had the capacity to improve US. The maker not only makes the piece, but the piece makes the maker. I have felt and seen that happen to myself and my colleagues and students and it makes me want to go in every day to see it happen again and again.
To those of you who have not bought and read “The Anarchists Tool Chest “
Please do so now, you will not regret it
Good luck comrade.
David “the bomb chucker” Savage