Friday, July 29, 2011

The Anarchist's Tool Chest: Book Review

I'm glad Chris Schwarz is playing on our team.

If he had decided long ago to take up needlepoint rather than woodworking, we'd be missing out on his sense of humor, creative writing, commitment to the woodworking community, and enormous amount of hand tool knowledge.

Chris's latest book is The Anarchist's Tool Chest.  Why "anarchist"?  He provides several explanations, one of which is "a desire to work for yourself and to run in social and economic circles made up of other individual artisans." It's the notion that we can buck the norm and make something that's built to last, using the best joinery and made with the best tools. It's an idea that thumbs its nose at the flimsy, veneer-covered, chipboard garbage that surrounds us as consumers.

The book is divided into three sections. In the first part, we get a glimpse into Chris's initiation into woodworking starting at age 11 when he helped his Dad build the family's farmhouse.  We read about the path that led him to Popular Woodworking Magazine, his insatiable desire to learn all he could about the craft, and his revelations along the way.

Then Chris gives us his tool list—a list that's been pared down to the essentials for a hand tool woodworker. This is the result of 30 years' experience with using and testing more tools than most of us will ever get our hands on.  He encourages us to learn from his mistakes and discoveries, so this book is a great place to start if you are just getting into hand tools.

It's also a great place for those of us who use hand tools on a regular basis.  I'm glad I didn't skip a single page in his book, because I learned a lot more than I ever realized I didn't know.

I love a strong opinion, but only if it's backed up with thoughtful reasoning and facts. Chris provides this with aplomb. He has a rationale for every single tool that made his cut list, how they work, and what to look for when buying new or vintage.

The book also contains Chris's philosophy about the craft and about life. Time is more important than money. Doing the things we love, the best we can, with the best tools and materials we can acquire, is everything. And while you might not agree with his ideas and suggestions, they will give you pause.

The last section of the book is devoted to building a tool chest, the design of which is based on his years of study.  Many times we try to outfox the old timers, which is foolish. They knew what they were doing.  So, Chris relies on the things he's discovered about the vintage, user-friendly, bomb-proof chests and lays them out for us, so we can get it right the first time.

His 475-page book is jam-packed with straight-to-the-point information and peppered with Chris's signature quips, but it also shows what a great storyteller he is.  His easy and conversational style makes this a fast and enjoyable read.  The Anarchist's Tool Chest is a hard book to put down—literally and figuratively. It's engaging and very well-written and -researched.

As I was reading, I was picturing what a 23rd-century woodworker would think of it. Because this book will be around that long. And then some.