Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Anarchist's Tool Chest

Well I ordered the book on the first day you could pre-order and I have to say that I really had a hard time waiting. Well, it was worth the wait.

The Anarchist's Tool Chest by Chris Schwarz is the latest book from Chris and Lost Art Press. If I had to classify it under a heading I'd probably be torn between Philosophy and Craft, or maybe a heading called Philosophy of Craft would be most appropriate.

In the book Chris discusses his experiences of a life with tools and craft, how to distinguish good tools from what he terms "Tool Shaped Objects" as relates to essential hand tools, and the construction of a chest to store them in which should last centuries.

I was able to really relate to Chris and the experiences he shares interspersed among the wood work and tool information. I used to use my dads Craftsman coping saw. My first tool shaped object was a Craftsman Jig Saw. I started using that coping saw when I could hold it. I think Chris' experiences are the experiences of a great many of us, moving from basic hand and power tools to several machines and an urge to try everything we think we might need and end up with shops crowded with power machinery and gadgets. I know it was mine.

Especially refreshing was the emphasis on the tools and their functional requirements. Without mentioning brands it is simply stated that there are good tools and there are tool shaped objects and there are ways to separate the former from the latter. There are many past and present makers of fine tools that are good daily users and you can get them to work well. I've found this to be the truth as I've been acquiring vintage and new tools for my shop. A good tool beats a tool shaped object hands down. The Groz Jack plane I bought to "try out" hand planes nearly kept me from ever using one again, the Stanley #5 Bailey that I inherited from my grandfather is unbelievably easy to use in comparison. Sit them side by side on the bench and they look almost identical. I wish I had this book before I purchased that Groz years ago.

The section on the tool chest is also very well done. Material selection is discussed as well as basic construction techniques. Some people may not like that Chris does not get especially specific about interior fit out. I however like that Chris guides you on the creation of your own tool chest, highlights the sticking points of design and construction and discusses the interior basics. He leaves the final chest design to the reader and even lets them know that it's ok to alter some of the dimensions. After all we are not all the same size people nor do we all have the same tool kits. I have a 28" Rip Saw that will be going in my chest and a couple of metallic match planes. I'll need space for those, someone else may not. He wants each of us to make it our own for our own work.

Finally there is a philosophic component of the book that is laced throughout the text, sometimes delicately and sometimes forcefully, the philosophy of the artisan. The artisan cares and build the best work that can be made to last for generations. This is in opposition to the current disposable consumer culture.Also the concept that you only really need a certain number of tools to do good woodwork and the emphasis on the skillful handling of those tools differs from a lot of the modern message on woodworking equipment. While I do own more tools than are outlined in the book or have larger versions of those tools, my work encompasses not only cabinet and furnishings but architectural work as well, it has helped me thin the herd and make any new tool selections more carefully. A good tool never needs an upgrade.

I'm working my way through the book a second time, but I believe that this is a book that I will read more than twice and will get pulled of the shelf again and again. I'm considering building my own tool chest. I've been reducing my tools for a while and am replacing my tool shaped objects once and for all. Hopefully with those tools I'll be building things that last and I'll be doing it as long as I can push a plane.

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