Author: Christopher Schwarz
Published by: Lost Art Press LLC
Black and white
This is a project book like no other because it eschews most of the values of style and standards of crafting we nowadays assume accompany fine woodworking. It’s a book that harks back to tradition and promotes the power of the individual as an antidote to the waste and excess engendered by mass production and modern marketing. That’s the kind of anarchism the author is referring to.
Christopher Schwarz is a very well known author and contributing editor to Popular Woodworking magazine who also authors a popular online blog. He has written books on furniture, handplanes, workbenches and most recently The Anarchist’s Tool Box.
The Anarchist’s Design Book, writes Schwarz, is a ‘pattern book for the furniture of necessity’. It presents furniture that lies at ‘the core of our common furniture history’. Furniture that has survived from the 1500s on, Schwarz says, tended to be the well made kind that only the wealthy could afford, as opposed to everyday vernacular furniture that was made with function and affordability rather than fashion in mind.
Vernacular furniture from 1600s onwards is generally undocumented and undated and its makers are generally anonymous. The author’s research is based on ‘clues’ left in paintings and sketches as well as existing work, and points to two fundamental techniques of construction: the staked tenon and the tapered iron nail.
Knowing these, it’s possible for woodworkers to preserve craft traditions and create lasting structures and indeed a ‘houseful of furniture’.
To design successfully, the author explains, it’s necessary to have an awareness of anthropometric and aesthetic constraints. ‘Well designed furniture looks good from almost any angle’, says Schwarz, and to this end he outlines a simple ‘wireframe’ process for building models where angles can be determined and all-round looks assessed.
There are how-to’s for staked or conical tenon and mortise constructions including a sawbench, backstool and chair, followed by ‘drinking’ tables, worktable, bed and trestles. Boarded furniture, made with nails includes tool chest, 6-board chest, bookshelf, an aumbry (type of cabinet) and finally a coffin, always a good place to end.
After all that there are various appendices on useful and recommended tools, machines, hide glue, soap finishing and milk paint and more.
Comprising 442 pages this book is not short on detail but it’s a whole lot more than how-to. It’s insightful, instructive, immensely readable and entertaining. It will make you want to make some of the things described and you will definitely find yourself appreciating the worlds of woodworking and furniture making from a very different perspective. Get the book, read it and be inspired.
Reviewed by Linda Nathan, Wood Review print and online editor
If you head to this link you can also pre-order for a chance to win one of ten signed copies!