I have some big news to share with everyone today, I’m proud to say that I am the process of writing a book for the Lost Art Press tentatively titled “Go, Go, Go: The Life, Influence and Woodworking of Tage Frid”
You can read more about my background and the premise of the book in this post I made on the Lost Art Press Blog here. It’s an exciting opportunity and look forward to sharing my passion for Frid’s work and Danish Modern furniture design.
Related to the above book I’ve also written an article for Popular Woodworking Magazine on my Tage Frid inspired workbench which will be the cover story for the February 2017 issue which is coming out later this month. Once it is published I’ll be sure to share more related links and details.
P.S. A big thank you to Doug Levy for allowing me to share two of the excellent photos he took for the upcoming article. You can check out Doug’s photography work here. He also has a great series on New England Craftsmen here.
“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.” — Wizard of Oz
Back in May I spent a couple of days in Cincinnati Ohio on my way down to Harrodsburg Kentucky for the EAIA Annual Meeting and a quick stop in Covington Kentucky on my way home to visit with some of my woodworking friends in the area.
My first stop was at the Popular Woodworking offices and studio to see Megan Fitzpatrick and David Thiel who graciously showed me around.
The office building while nondescript from the outside contained an interesting space on the inside. A mixture of office space, editing bays, studio/soundstage and a woodworking shop.
I visited the shop area with backdrop you may recognize from several woodworking videos. The timber framer in me wants to push up that simulated plate and add some braces. 🙂
In the warehouse space you could see several projects from Popular Woodworking and American Woodworker magazine. If only we had room in the car to buy one and bring it home.
In the studio area I was able to see another F+W project video being recorded.
Out in the woodworking shop I felt right at home. There was a large machine and bench room. In the corner I could see Megan’s workbench and the windows you may recognize from many an article and post from Popular Woodworking over the years.
I was too busy talking David’s ear off and didn’t take a picture of him to include in the post, but I’ll make sure to take one next time I am in town.
On the way home from our trip I also stopped in Covington KY (right across the Ohio river from Cincinnati OH) to visit Chris Schwarz at the Lost Art Press storefront. The storefront is a nice historic building that used to be a saloon in a part of Covington that reminds me a bit of Brooklyn — lots of history, artists, hipsters, good restaurants etc.
After watching the build out via many of Chris’ blog posts it was neat to see it in person and to see several of Chris’ recent pieces in person.
You may recall the Aumbry above from the cover of a Popular Woodworking issue earlier this year and from the Anarchist’s Design Book.
The Studley Tool-Cabinet and Workbench are the stuff of woodworking legend. I’ve seen the now famous poster of the cabinet in many woodworking shop, school and store. It’s the benchmark by which every other tool cabinet is compared. I know it ran through my head when I was researching the Chandler and Barber Sloyd tool cabinet.
To gaze upon this woodworking masterpiece in person is to be in awe…
Or so I’ve heard. The cabinet has been in private hands in recent years and other than a grainy New Yankee Workshop DVD and the FWW Poster and Article there were not a lot of places to see it or learn about it.
Earlier this year Donald C. Williams and others organized an exhibit to coincide with Handworks 2 wherein a limited number of folks could visit the cabinet and bench in person. I would have loved to have seen it in person but New Hampshire is a LONG way away from Amana, Iowa and with an infant son at home I could not make a trip of that distance.
I did pre-order Don’s book “Virtuoso: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of Henry O. Studley” by the Lost Art Press which can be described as high class tool porn. 🙂 It provides lots of background, research and in depth photographic record of each tool in the cabinet along with vivid photographs by Narayan Nayar. The comprehensive book is well worth the read and can be inspirational to even non-woodworkers. There are several reviews of it on other well known websites.
But for those wanting more instant gratification or those of us who don’t have as much reading time as we used to — these days with the baby I’m lucky if I can get an exhausted hour or so in front of a screen to watch something enjoyable, so I figured I’d take a gamble and check out the companion DVD — “Virtuoso: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of Henry O. Studley” also by Lost Art Press.
The DVD runs for about an hour and fifteen minutes and feels a bit like a PBS style documentary. (Which is something I often enjoy). It’s interesting to see how much emotion folks close to this project felt as they worked with the cabinet and its tools. Don Williams, Chris Schwarz and Narayan Nayar talk about what moved them, their favorite tools from the cabinet, their adventures in researching the cabinet and Studley and even some of the open questions they’d like to learn about if someone out there is sitting on a cache of Studley documents. The disc also has a section wherein Don removes all of the tools from the main compartments of the cabinet and shows each tool to you — basically everything except the drawers. It was very interesting to watch that happen in video as it gives an idea of how well the various trays, doors and holders held in their respective tools and how Studley layered the tools to make an incredible visual composition. Given how hard some were to locate and get in and out I don’t think Studley loaded up his tools each day and night as part of his regular work as I am in the camp that views this as something he did at the end of his career to make a statement/preserve some of the tools, but it was interesting to see some areas did have some wear from repeated use. The video reinforced the inspirational value the cabinet provides and helps to showcase the quiet beauty found in these high quality and time worn tools.
My criticisms about the DVD are all pretty minor: The disc comes in a cardboard sleeve — I’d rather have had a plastic case so it doesn’t get lost on my DVD shelf or a digital download option instead. The chapter transitions all use the same cover image with different text and were a bit slow to transition — and again that is likely just me being a tech nerd. Having attempted to edit a few videos for YouTube and for classes I have a lot of respect for anyone attempting to edit video as it is a VERY tedious process and everyone is a critic. 🙂
So, if you missed the Studley Exhibit in Amana, Iowa this video is the next best thing to seeing the cabinet and workbench in person and I’d recommend watching it. Feel free to share your thoughts on the video in the comments section below.
P.S. I bought the caliper shown in the featured image at this year’s Nashua Tool Show thinking of the Studley Tool Cabinet.
P.P.S. I bought the now famous poster from Robin Lee as part of the EAIA Annual Meeting Auction — now I just have to find some time to make a proper frame for it, so I can proudly hang it up out in the shop.
P.P.P.S I don’t have a direct association with the Lost Art Press other than Chris being a friend of mine and having bought a ton of stuff from LAP over the years. The links above generate no income for me and are provided for your ease in finding the book and DVD.
Woodworking books tend to be on the dry side — and a bit saw-dusty. Tired of reading about this year’s Ultimate Power Tool, the overly complex jig you can’t live without or yet another shaker nightstand I often find myself digging around in old woodworking books or reprints for inspiration and a glimpse into the past. I find it interesting to see what other generations found interesting and what they took for granted.
When I heard that Roy Underhill’s latest book — “Calvin Cobb: Radio Woodworker! A Novel With Measured Drawings” a period novel set in 1930s Washington D.C. and the surrounding area was available I quickly snagged a copy.
I have a tendency to buy books faster than I find the time to read them cover to cover, and I ordered the hard-copy (forthcoming) along with the digital edition figuring I might find some time to read it via my phone as I am tending to our newborn baby at odd hours. The book moved along at a frenetic pace and I got through it in a couple of evenings.
Before I go much further I do have to note the following — I grew up watching Roy Underhill and visiting historic sites up and down the east coast. I remember seeing Roy’s work at Colonial Williamsburg as a child. Over the years I got into modern woodworking (yes I watched a lot of This Old House and New Yankee Workshop with my Dad) and not satisfied with that went deep into traditional woodworking chasing ‘rabbets’. As an adult I rediscovered Roy and found a new appreciation for his work and his story-telling. If you watch an episode of the Woodwright’s Shop learning about the project or technique at hand is only part of the experience — Roy is also filling your head with history, funny anecdotes, philosophical questions and of course ‘subversive‘ woodworking concepts.
We’re dumped out of a cab as we meet Calvin for the first time and follow him as he navigates the city, a section of strong personalities and some brushes with history. If you’re a fan of Roy’s storytelling style — a mixture of fact, humor, interesting and sometimes obscure details — I found myself Googling the occasional odd term like ‘ziggurat’ and ‘swagger stick’ and enjoyed learning about them — then I think you will also enjoy this book.
There is not much time to dawdle on the vivid details of Calvin’s world as he is surrounded by an energetic team of wounded female WWI vets with a penchant for computing, a mysterious woman who caught his attention, and the challenge of woodworking over the radio all while trying to hold down the government day job as the section chief of ‘Broadcast Research’. Let’s just say their agricultural muck-spreader gets a workout.
Since I know Roy usually has a story to tell on a few levels I felt a bit like a detective with a hunch — knowing a bit about Roy’s work and having met him a couple of times I had a nagging feeling that some of the story followed aspect’s of Roy’s own life — stylized of course given this is a work of fiction. Some of the evocative imagery also reminded me of my own trips through the area. So I put on my deerstalker cap and made some notes about what seemed to click with me as I felt like I had crossed paths with the world of Calvin Cobb on several occasions.
I read that Roy had grown up in the D.C. area and after reading the book’s description of the Old Post Office Building I kept thinking — wow, I know I must have seen this building at some point, but now I really have to visit it the next time I am in D.C.. In the photo above from my last trip to the Capitol I did snap a picture that shows how prominent that clock tower still is today. (At the time of this writing that building is being re-developed as a Trump property, but the tower will re-open again to the public next year as a publicly owned section of the building run by the parks service)
I also make an annual pilgrimage to Colonial Williamsburg and have visited the colonial Capitol building on many an occasion. It’s interesting to think of the restoration — which is historic in its own right given its age — as an active construction site. The carpenters in that building when Calvin visited acted much the same as guys I met while I was a preservation carpentry student. I still vividly recall Rich (the second year instructor) sending one of the students to another classroom to retrieve the ‘board-stretcher’ and on other occasions to pass the ‘screw hammer’ — so it seems that some things do not change with time.
I also recall, from a blog post on Chris Schwarz’ blog that an early version of Roy’s manuscript for this book was hanging on the wall in his classroom so I went back to look at photos from when I was at the Woodwright’s School and sure enough it was there — I wish I knew to look for it at the time.
And from that same visit I saw Roy with his trusty Stanley Multi-plane plowing a groove. Near the end of the book Calvin is thrust on stage and asked to wear a tool-belt which he sees as ridiculous in that context — which of course made me think of some of the occasional jabs Roy has made over the years at Norm who regularly wore a tool belt in the workshop though it seemed unnecessary and I thought it was a pretty funny reference. So why all the focus on Roy? I found it interesting that there seemed to be a lot of Roy in Calvin — maybe a revisionist/time traveling biography. Calvin struggles with his new-found stardom, pressures from the media superiors, communicating through media, meeting fans and trying to do what you love — all things that seem relevant to a certain TV Woodwright.
While you won’t learn much actual woodworking from this book (though there are some PDF plans that come with the book and tie into some of Grandpa Sam’s Woodshop of the Air episodes; the Roy faithful may be familiar with them from his books and TV show), you will go on an enjoyable ride through the late 1930s D.C., learn a bit about some of the woodworking tools, general technological advances and social issues of the time (segregation/racism, anti-semitism, etc), and may find a new appreciation for Roy’s storytelling abilities and fact that the truth is about as crazy as the fiction given all the absurdity he’s encountered over the years to bring us woodworking over the air via TV and now the radio too. Let’s hope that Calvin Cobb gets picked up for a second season so we can see what else he has in store for Grandpa Sam’s Woodshop of the Air.
As Calvin would like to say at the end of a broadcast: “This is Calvin Cobb wishing that, as you slide down the bannister of life, all the splinters go in your direction!”
P.S. If you have other anecdotes about Roy or Calvin’s adventures, or if you build your own ‘Liberty Ladder’ please share them with us in the comments.
A Joiner's Guide To Traditional Woodworking and Preservation