Chris Schwarz's Blog

A Gift for My Successor

In 2006 a reader sent me a little spiral-bound black book that was filled with handwritten notecards. Graphs. Equations. Photos.

It was a carefully assembled list of all my mistakes and misdeeds during the previous decade. It called me out as a fake – someone who doesn’t understand woodworking or handwork or editing a magazine.

While I don’t agree with everything in the black book, I admire the guy’s attention to detail and his passion for the craft. So I have kept the book here in my office since the day it arrived and I refer back to it at times.

It’s humbling to read a handmade book that rips you apart. But the book has always pushed me to be a better writer and editor. Some days I wonder if the author is squatting in a hut in rural Nevada making notes for a new book for 2016. I hope so.

That’s because the book also reminds me of another thing: The readers of Popular Woodworking Magazine are a passionate bunch. The guy cared so much about the stories we published that he spent hours trying to do something to fix the magazine.

After spending my life in newspapers and magazines, I can tell you that this level of devotion is rare. And it’s why I’m going to leave this book behind for whomever takes this job.

Yeah, the guy who wrote the book hates my guts. But it sure beats the alternative: Not bothering to write at all.

— Christopher Schwarz

32 thoughts on “A Gift for My Successor

  1. me

    over the years I have put a LOT of wood in the scrap pile but never ones with the same mistake! some woodworkers are a lot better than me but the better ones give me something to strive for. Chris has probly pushed me into trying new and different ideas and for that I will sorely miss his guidance smooth sailing on your new venture

  2. MarkSchreiber

    It is not how many times you fall, but how you get up.

    I had a boss once that kept track of peoples mistakes by making little check marks next to the person’s name on a ledger tablet (before PCs). One day, the boss was conferring with my Dave, my immediate supervisor. Dave looked down at the ledger in an open drawer of the boss’ desk and remarked how many check marks Mark had next to his name. The boss sat back in his chair and said it was true, Mark had many more check marks than the other workers but that none of them were circled. Circled check marks were repeat mistakes. The boss further pointed out that some workers had no check marks at all. This told him that they were afraid of risk, afraid to try something new. He said Mark does make mistakes but he is not shy about tackling new things.

    We all make mistakes Chris, but I am sure very few of yours were repeaters. Moreover, you continually ventured into new and unknown territory.

    There are many of us who are grateful for your contributions to woodworking. Thank you. Mark

  3. kingsrider

    Chris, I am a bit shocked and Totally saddened by this news of your leaving. I love your articles as well as your bench books. It will be a huge job to try to replace you. Just let me say that you have kinda kept my head together after finding that I would not have my “dream shop” but a hand tool shop instead. I really hope that you will come back for some guest articles. Happy Trails Dude!

  4. johnah5

    Hey we all make mistakes right? If I ever find out who kept that book on you I am going to introduce them to some hand working pain

  5. joshwhipkey

    I decided to become a “professional woodworker” at age 30. It has been a tad more difficult than I fancied, and over the past six years I’ve had to resort back to my training as a jack of all trades – mostly framing, and trim carpentry.

    Woodworking Magazine was with me at the beginning, and is still at the top of the heap. I have purchased Chris’s, and Bob Lang’s books, videos and Sketchup tutorials, to name a few. I am currently building my third Schwarz-inspired bench to put in the dining room (no kidding! I talked my wife into letting me have a hand tool only shop in there!!)

    I’ve put Chris’s articles under the microscope over the years… squinting to see if there are any gaps, tear out, or flaws of any kind. I never did this out of spite, but, rather, to see if ‘the Schwarz’ is human. I’ve never found any (aside from the few Chris would cop to!)

    It doesn’t matter. What matters is that Chris Schwarz has been able to do what few have had the time, patience, or opportunity to…. It’s my feeling that Chris ticks off ‘geeky engineers’ and causes perfectionists like myself to squint for hours at photos of his dovetails because he’s dedicated himself to learning, and doing what truly makes him happy. It makes ME happy, and I’d be lost if I couldn’t live vicariously through his articles, blog entries, books and vids.

    Now he’s taken it to the next level by sharing something that would make me, personally, feel angry, spiteful and vengeful. It now seems, perhaps, what separates Chris Schwarz from the pack is his humility.

  6. vinfonet

    Not sure what the fellow could find to despise so much, but I can say this. I have learned an awful lot from you, and immensely enjoy your style, wit and drive to question conventional wisdom. PWM will not be the same without you, but I know that your work on the Roubo book may be more important that anything you can do as a magazine editor. If you manage a complete translation (probably lifetime work)it will be a lasting contribution to the craft. Like many others, I will continue to follow you, wherever you go.

    John G. Van Derwood MD

  7. lawrence

    I’d say the person had “too much time on their hands” but I’m writing a response to your entry on their response to your entries so I’m not throwing any stones…

    …but I will say that if I disliked someone in your line of work this much I’d probably just stop reading their work (and paying for it!) This seems a bit too logical though.

    Any chance this person’s moniker begins with Auguste and ends with Gusteau?


  8. RWL

    Ha! As a beginning woodworker, I would say that the learning is in the mistakes–and everybody makes them. What a terrific complement you have to all of the neat and tidy how-to literature out there. It’s rare that you get to see what went wrong, along with a picture of it. And somebody has done it for you. I still remember reading a Derek Cohen article about making a chest of drawers in which he goofed by reversing the pins and tails, complete with pictures–priceless! Seeing other peoples’ mistakes frees up the reader’s creativity a bit. It allows one to let go a little of the gotta-get-it-right-the-first-time pressure that comes from reading about how to build a piece of furniture.

    It would great to see a sample of famous woodworkers’ biggest goofs and how they handled them.

  9. John Passacantando

    Damn Chris, you nailed it with this one. You’ve taught hundreds of valuable lessons, tricks and tips for aspiring woodworkers, but this is the greatest lesson. That our fiercest critics, opponents, enemies, however described, are our greatest teachers, if we have the humility to allow them. Nice work. John

  10. Adam CherubiniAdam Cherubini

    I love the fact that it’s written on graph paper. Is the hand writing all caps too? Exactly how many pens do you think that reader, obviously an engineer, kept in his pocket protector?

    These used to be called poison quill or poison pen letters. But I think you have single-handedly created a whole new category for the engineers you’ve p’o’ed: “The poison 0.5mm mechanical pencil letter”


  11. scooteruk

    Nice job Chris! Your pen has always been your sharpest tool so carry on at Lost Chris Press…there will always be room for your work in my mailbox. Of course, there can be no successor, merely a replacement who hopefully finds her (or his) own eccentric passion for working wood and cobbles it into a usable, informative and inspiring view that moves me to the bench as you so often did. All the best.
    By the way, take the book with you. Next time you find yourself squatting in a hut I’m sure another appropriate use for the missive will occur to you.

  12. sapfmgateway

    I say hire the guy as your replacement. The way I see it, this could go three ways. Either he will be even better than you (not likely but so much the better for us the readers if he is) or he’ll learn a much needed lesson in humility and there’ll be one less jerk in the world. The third possibility calls for the author of the notebook, we’ll call him “Tyler Durden” to join you at Lost Art Press or “Project Mayhem” as I like to call it. I haven’t worked out all the details but let’s just say the two of you are never seen in the same room together. Suddenly the title of your last book takes on a whole new meaning.

  13. Dadsradride

    To err is human, to forgive divine. To learn, invent and create is to practice and err, all which is stifled and crushed by the practice of those with a (maniac’s) narrow mind.

  14. badger1402

    What would your writing be like if everyone agreed with you all the time?

    I am always suspicious of someone that can’t find fault with me, I don’t agree with them.

    All the best on your new adventure, you might be wishing for another spiral bound before long.

  15. gdblake


    Funny, I’ve had a similar experience. My wife has kept a notebook of all my mistakes and inconsistencies for the last 36 years. The difference between us is that I never took it to heart nor will I be passing it on to my successor (let the poor guy find out the hard way for himself). I’m looking forward to more stuff from Lost Art Press.

  16. Kris

    OK, so now I am dying to read some of that notebook. Publish an example or two. I suppose you need his permission though. Maybe you could paraphrase a few.

  17. Niels

    I don’t envy your position, nor the position your successors.
    However, I respect the hell out the job that you have done, even more so considering the constant onslaught of the woodworking-troll-taliban. This sort of entitled, bile-filled, negativity has no place in a craft community amongst people that earnestly strive for openness and a generous sharing of information. It makes me ill.

    Imagine what could be accomplished if all of these malcontented misanthropes could dedicate half their energy to productive ends, instead of cowardly hurling dung from the safety of their armchairs. It’s easy to take potshots at the guy out front, but it take guts to go out and put your money where your mouth is.

    You should always remember for everyone of these jerks there dozens people who appreciate your good work- this is evident by the outpouring of positive comments that inevitably follow these bozos skulking out of the woodwork.

  18. damien

    I find it admirable, an attention span of a decade. It seems that as an editor you sometimes get a chance to meet Don Quichote himself, storming new windmills.
    I also know that feeling, every other time I see Myth Busters, I think: OK, they had to be creative, so mistakes are normal, but …

  19. John Cashman

    To quote Reggie Jackson, “Fans don’t boo nobodies.” But honestly, how much of a tool could that reader be? How much time did they have on their hands? How much medication had they skipped? For me, hell would be locked in a room with someone like that.

  20. paulkray

    We should all remember that Chris has shared this with us as a learning. If we are not aware that it was a mistake. We just continue to repeat them. If we stop and reflect on our mistakes and successes. Then we can grow and become better at what we do. On the bright side of things it did take 10 years for him to have enough content to send.

  21. DanGar

    This is something to pay attention, the person who sent that notebook is out of their mind, I think this must be investigated, how come an unknown dude sends that?
    That’s freak, obssesive.

  22. Dusty

    Sounds like the same guy that tore me apart because he said my knobs were to large on a Shaker Sewing desk I built based on one made by, oh heck I forgot who now, but it had big knobs to. I told the guy to leave my knobs alone.

  23. keithm

    Dans ses écrits, un sàge Italien
    Dit que le mieux est l’ennemi du bien. – Voltaire

    (The perfect is the enemy of the good.)

    I suppose the alternative would be to have one or two masterpieces of perfection over that decade.

    When my daughter was 12, she was finishing up construction of a cherry blanket chest when the drawer slipped out and fell on the floor. I told her the sign of an artisan was the ability to correct the inevitable errors and flaws. Twenty three years later, that chest is still in use and no one ever remembers or knows.

    I get the occasional hard to please customer. A friend of mine adopts the mindset that we only have to put up with them for a few hours; their spouse and family has to live with them.

  24. Mitchell

    I worked for a guy once who was a textbook perfectionist. One day he tore me down like I just shot his mother. I didn’t. All I did was buy a box of #12 elastic bands when I found the stationery store was out of the #10’s that he wanted.

    After his anger at my world-distroying mistake settled, he said to me; “Perfection is only perfect if it doesn’t get in the way of your job”.

    Don’t do your successor any favours, Chris. I, for one, would rather see him use his time to create posts, rather than waste it reading one man’s opinion about what they should include.

  25. skirincich

    I am going to wait until this spiral-bound notebook and its contents become available for limited release with a leather cover.

  26. richardrank4

    Chris: You certainly are charitable in your blog about the guy who spends a lot of time tracking your work to find errors. He has to be living alone, because no one would put up with him. He could make a good living working on a politition’s staff as an attack dog. Clearly there is also a medical diagnosis describing his illness. I continue to really enjoy your writing and editing because I am oblivious to your errors. Dick

  27. Mark

    I know a few people who could use a book like that. For myself, I’m already too well acquainted with where my skills fall short. But honestly, mistakes and omissions are just a part of the path to perfection no? I suspect the guy’s motives for writing that book centered more around a sense of empowerment for him, rather than any real love for the craft. I mean, if the guy cared so much, wouldn’t you want to know how many he’s taken under his wing in order to impart the vastness of his knowledge? I’d think he’d at have written a book or two, or at least, have a blog someplace.

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