Category Archives: Fine Woodworking

A Visit with the Frid Family

This past weekend I had an amazing opportunity to visit the home of Peter Frid — Tage’s son, and visit with his family.  Beyond seeing some of the many items Tage made it was great to hear stories of what life was like with Tage and Emma from Peter, his wife Kathy, their son Oliver and his wife Cherie.

Tage Frid's iconic 3 legged stools and natural edge coffee table
Tage Frid’s iconic 3 legged stools and natural edge coffee table

I was very exited to see Tage’s iconic 3 legged stools in person — building a pair has been on my mile long todo list since I first learned about them years ago. I tried unsuccessfully to see these chairs at the MFA and RISD museum but every time I went they were not on display. Not only did I get to see them, but I got the chance to sit on one of them as well. The stool is very stable and surprisingly supportive given its seemingly diminutive stature. It was also just as comfortable to sit in it facing forward as it was to sit in it backwards. I had read the story about how Tage came up with the idea for the stool while sitting on a fence at a horse show, but it was neat to hear that the reason Tage and Emma were at the show was because Peter and his sister were riding in that very show.

Also shown in the picture above is a very nice natural edge coffee table with inlaid metal that is seen in the Gallery section of Tage’s 3rd book.

Tage Frid's Grandmother Clock
Tage Frid’s Grandmother Clock

In another room was Tage’s famous ‘Grandmother Clock.’ The black and white photos of Volume 3 of Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking do not do it justice as the wood has aged beautifully. Inside the case are all the traditional polished brass movements you would expect to find in a large case clock.

Grandmother Clock and Bar Cabinet
Grandmother Clock and Bar Cabinet

Adjacent to the clock is a beautiful liquor cabinet that is also from the Gallery section of Volume 3. It is made from mahogany and the panel details on the side and top are carved in. The cabinet also has beautiful copper/bronze hinges that pivot on an egg shaped knuckle.

Tage's favorite chair to sit in
Tage’s favorite chair to sit in

Shown above and below is Tage’s favorite chair to sit in. With clean lines, expressed construction, and thickly upholstered cushions I can see why he liked this chair a lot. Like most Danish modern furniture the lines are clean, the details are subtle and piece has a visually light feel.

Expressed joinery and clean lines on this comfortable chair
Expressed joinery and clean lines on this comfortable chair

The profile view reminds me of some cues from a morris chair and the forward lean of the legs reminds me of some of the chrome accents on cars from the 1950s — even while standing still it wants to be moving.

Tage Frid End Table
Tage Frid End Table

The end table above has another great story behind it. In some of Tage’s writings and articles he mentioned the rocky start he had when first arriving at the School for American Craftsmen wherein the facilities were not well setup and some folks were not eager to hear what Tage had to say. One morning while the students were attending lectures with another instructor Tage took a large board and started milling and working it. By mid-day he finished construction of the table and by the end of the day he even applied a scraped lacquer finish. This feat caused quite the sensation at the school and suddenly a lot more folks wanted to hear what Tage had to say as the existing way the program operated would have taken about 2 weeks for students to carry out this work and with inferior finish results. (You can read more about this story and many others in the Smithsonian interview of Tage Frid available online here.). The table has a delicate look that was ahead of its time and has aged well.

Round pedestal table and corner chairs
Circular pedestal pull-out table and corner chairs

In the above photo you can see the circular pedestal pull out table Tage made in Chapter 4 of Volume 3 of his book. The table base has some interesting design details that hide where the table expands from. The book details the intricate and interesting sliding mechanism that supports the removable table leaf. Also shown are some corner chairs with upholstered seats. They are comfortable when sitting upright and support you well even if you sit with a more relaxed or slouched posture.

While not a cabinetmaker by trade I suspect the knack for woodworking and artistic creativity is in the genes as Peter built numerous very nice cabinets and built-ins around the house, including the kitchen cabinets and tops shown in the background of the above photo and a very nice computer desk. Oliver is an art teacher and accomplished painter and you can see some of his work here.

A sampling of Tage's bowl turning
A sampling of Tage’s bowl turning

Tage also did a fair amount of bowl turning especially in his later years. Above are a few samples of his turning work. The large checkered/segmented bowl and blue lacquered bowl in the foreground were two of my favorites. The large salad bow near the top of the photo is also interesting. Rather than create a large tenon or undercut a tenon for use with a bowl chuck it seems that Tage used 4 wood dowels to presumably affix the large bowl blank to a faceplate or similar — thus maximizing the size of the bowl he could get from the blank and also allowing him to easily cut it off of the faceplate when the turning was completed.

Peter Frid (Left) and Oliver Frid (Right)
Peter Frid (Right) and Oliver Frid (Left)

Pictured in this last photo are Peter Frid (Tage’s Son) on the right, and Oliver Frid (Tage’s Grandson) on the left. I want to thank Peter for opening up his home to me, a thank you to Oliver for the introduction and a big thanks to Kathy and Cherie and the whole Frid family for their hospitality and allowing me to poke around admire some of Tage’s work. It was an inspirational visit and reminds me how I need to get back out into the workshop and finish off my Frid inspired workbench.

Take care,
-Bill

P.S. If you’d like to learn more about Tage Frid and his work, please check out my earlier post about him here.

P.P.S I also got to see some of Tage Frid’s workbenches and will be exploring those more in a future post.

Tage Frid — The Great Dane

Woodworking is a lifelong journey of discovery and rediscovery. Along the way you’ll meet a lot of great folks and interesting characters who are surprisingly willing to share advice and help you out. The craft has been passed down this way for millenia.

Everything Old is New Again

Modern woodworking media seems to go in cycles much like clothing styles or car designs. Right now it’s popular to study the early works of Moxon, Roubo and Nicholson etc., or prove you have the best router or table saw trick. Others are interested in espousing the mix of old and new tools and techniques which is not a new concept. Manual training programs like those at NBSS have been doing it for over 125 years and the Shakers before them etc.

I want to buck the current trend and take a trip back to the 20th century. When I got started in traditional woodworking one of the first teachers I had was Tage Frid via the  ‘Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking’ 3 volume set with its iconic white covers. I haven’t seen these books or Tage’s work come up much lately and thought it would be helpful to blow the dust off those books hopefully re-kindle some interest as I think they are a great resource.

Tage Frid

Tage (Pronounced ‘Tay’) taught me and countless other woodworkers the basics via his books and teaching.  He grew up in Denmark and apprenticed as a cabinetmaker. His time as a journeyman took him to various other shops including the Royal Danish Cabinetmakers. In 1948, at the age of 33, the American Craft Council persuaded him to immigrate to New York and teach woodworking. Tage lead the woodworking program at the School for American Craftsman in Alfred NY which was later moved to the Rochester Institute for Technology. From 1962-1985 Tage was a professor of Woodworking and Furniture Design at RISD helping to propel that program to national prominence.

Tage Frid
Tage Frid

Also notable was Tage’s involvement with Fine Woodworking where he worked as an editor from it’s inception in 1975, through 171 issues until his passing in 2004. Described as having a sharp tongue and an ‘impish’ smile you can get a small taste it it through his writing and interviews which often have some memorable nuggets.

He could cut a dovetail while joking and flirting with the ladies. He referred to nails in furniture as ‘Swedish dowels.’ When critiquing a piece of work, which was nerve-wracking for students, the blow was slightly blunted by his sarcastic humor.  Hank Gilpin recounts some memorable zingers:

“Oh, good curve. Too bad it’s the wrong one”
“Nice dovetails. What’d you use — a chainsaw?”
“Beautiful legs Henry. What were you thinking about — an elephant?”
And the classic: “Congratulations, you’ve just figured out the most complicated way to hold a board 30 inches off the floor.” [*]

The goal was not to put anyone down, it was to help each student stay humble and push him or herself to reach new heights in a fatherly kind of way. I had a similar experience during my own training and find myself rehashing some Frid one liners and Rich Friberg-isms in my own shop and classroom. Thankfully the flavor of sarcasm I learned from Rich is a little less harsh, but still fun.

Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking Boxed Set by The Taunton Press
Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking Boxed Set by The Taunton Press

Teaching

When asked about teaching repetitive topics Frid had the following to say:

Don’t you get bored demonstrating the same old dovetail?
“Maybe you left too early. I always demonstrate difficult joints and techniques depending on what the audience wants. The dovetail is just the overture. What I like about teaching is that I learn something new every day. A student asks me, ‘Why can’t I do it this way?’ and I think, ‘Why not?’ Then we figure it out.” — Tage Frid (excepted from an old interview in Fine Woodworking you can read here.)

Levity aside, Frid’s teachings focused on teaching solid joinery — form should follow function, wood has a beautify of its own that should be enhanced and not hidden and instilling an innate sense if proportion via a keen eye for detail.

“The best tool is the eye. Train the eye. The eye guides your hands to achieve the form. If the eye says ‘It’s right’, it is right” — Tage Frid [*]

With a solid grounding in the basics and exposure to a wide range of tools and techniques students are able to take on whatever challenge a project or shop can throw at them. During his lengthy career as a teacher, writer, editor and studio craftsman Frid helped teach several generations of woodworkers. You can see his work live on through his students and their students.

Tage Frid Stool
Tage Frid 3 Legged Stool

Design

Working in the Danish-modern style a lot of Frid’s pieces had a distinctive look compared to many of his American contemporaries. They were generally lighter looking with delicate lines and curves that celebrated the grain. The designs are especially interesting when you view them in the context of the time they were produced — the 1940s-1980s.  Many of them were years ahead of what we think of as the the mainstream designs of the time .

For me, one of his most iconic pieces is the now famous 3 legged stool. If you read his 3rd book you’ll learn about how he came up with the design while watching a horse show and sitting on a fence. It was an interesting case study as he explains some of the revisions he went through to hone the design. These stools have been on my mental to-do list for about a decade now and I hope to eventually build some for myself.

When he first arrived in the US in the 1940s there were no good places to get a solid workbench. As a result Frid had to design and build a bench for himself and for his classrooms.  Based on a traditional continental design with a shoulder vise and a tail vise the bench below was well suited for a cabinet maker. Over the years many a student, both in person and via his writing, would build and use one of these benches or a similar variant.  In some upcoming posts you’ll see me build a scaled up version for my own shop.

Tage Frid Workbench
Tage Frid Workbench

What’s with the book report on Tage Frid?

Tage Frid’s work has shaped several aspects of my woodworking, design and teaching and I had a laundry list of odds and ends I wanted to share with you here. I also have been working to finish off my Tage Frid inspired bench and wanted to set the stage for it.  And lastly because once I saw it, I could not un-see it — my Dad (who was my first woodworking instructor) is a bit of a doppelganger for Tage Frid. (Check out the picture below and compare it to the first picture of Tage Frid in this post) They both have very similar body shapes, taste in glasses, hairline and half smiles. I can’t talk too much because I look a lot like my Dad, I’m just the taller model at 6′-2″, so I suspect there will be a similar picture of me someday in the shop.

William D. Rainford -- My Dad -- And Tage Frid Lookalike
William D. Rainford — My Dad — And Tage Frid Lookalike

If you are interested to learn more about Tage Frid please check out the links below, it’s worth the time.

Other Tage Frid Resources:

Time to get back out into the shop — it’s cold outside.

Take care,
-Bill

P.S. I never got to meet Tage Frid in person, he passed away while I was living out in Seattle but I would have loved to meet him. If anyone knew him personally I’d be curious to know a few things I haven’t been able to find online:

  • What happened to his shop, bench and tools? Are they in a museum somewhere? Did they go to his grandson?
  • Anyone have a picture of him in the classroom near the iconic benches he used to build?