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. 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.

  5. vinfonet

    Chris,
    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

  6. 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?

    Lawrence

  7. 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.

  8. 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

  9. 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”

    Adam

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