11 April 2011

The Anarchist Woodworker


Life would be boring without Chris Schwarz. Today he presented an excerpt of the upcoming book The Anarchist’s Tool Chest: A toolchest in 13 rules. As anarchy can mean "without ruler" short of reading the book, I was looking for a meaning.


Searching the web I found a obituary for John Brown by Phil Davy, and I think this gives the context of the title of the book: ...a new practical series called The Anarchist Woodworker. Aimed at the novice, John based the features around a kit of tools he put together from the Axminster catalogue, building projects for the workshop along the way. .... His toolbox remained firmly shut most of the weekend, although he was happy to discuss its contents with anyone he deemed a genuine hand tool convert! ... http://www.getwoodworking.com/news/article.asp?a=980.
Where Schwarz book is about: Assembling a reasonable kit of tools so you can be a woodworker instead of a budding tool collector.
[edit] Chris Schwarz confirmed in a comment to a post at the Cornish workshop that his book was also inspired by John Brown

Now about the chest. It looks nice and massive. Schwarz comes to Germany to give a tool chest course at Dick, most interesting, but wrong dates, so I pass, leaving it to better woodworkers than me.
The strangest part of the tool chest is the bottom. Schwarz explains that the nailed bottom allows to easily replace rotten boards. As the chest is there to protect tools from rust, a rotten bottom seems something to avoid. Maybe I expect him to add some feet to keep the bottom free from a cold and damp floor?

[edit] Looking further I got a picture of a bottom supported by two rails (battens) or is it a frame hidden by the skirt, so the bottom stands free from the floor, even if it lacks some ventilation. The bottom being cross grain to the sides (or the front and back) and possibly the battens, nailing it is a possible solution to seasonal movement.

[edit 2] In a later video Chris Schwarz shows that, for the bottom of the chest, each board is spaced (using a carpenter square) and nailed, leaving room for seasonal movement.  He probably favored simpler shiplap joints over tongue and groove to keep the bottom closed.


I checked a chest - trunk I own, It is close to a century old. The sides, having handles, are most massive approximately 1/2" thick where the front is thinner maybe 1/3" with a little more at the slots. The bottom thickness is more difficult to check. The whole is covered with linen and painted. By circling the chest with reinforced wooden bands the wet bottom problem is answered. At the same time all the joints are protected by the bands.

I see the chest concept is continued in todays flight cases. The sides are still made of treated plywood, but if the structure is closest to the late medieval chests like those I have seen at Beaune, for the rest it is all metal and rivets.

Where Schwarz's tool chest is still close to a traditional dovetailed tool box as could for example be found in old Egypt. The book Egyptian woodworking and furniture shows an example of a 12th dynasty (1991 – 1803 BC) dovetailed tool box but without giving much joinery details.