Chris Schwarz's Blog

Video: ‘As Smooth as a Nun’s Stomach’

I don’t know if there were ever guinea pigs in Europe, but now there are 11 of them.

This week I am teaching a class in building the traditional tool chest from my book “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” at the Dictum workshop in Niederalteich, Germany. I’ve never taught this class before. Heck, I’m not so sure we can even accomplish it in a week.

So I decided to try this class first in Germany. That way, if I fail miserably, the news might not travel as fast as it would in the United States. (Thank you, language barrier.)

The other goal of the class is to sow a few seeds.

You see, when I wrote my first book, “Workbenches: From Design & Theory to Construction & Use,” the initial reaction from woodworkers wasn’t very warm. The benches were odd looking. The material I chose was lowly. The vises were simple and weird looking compared to a modern quick-release vise.

But after a few people built them and agreed that these ancient benches were nice, the word began to spread and now the book is in its third printing in less than four years.

Most people I talk to think I’m insane to work out of a traditional tool chest. Even if they like the book, they say that my ideas about tool chests are simply wrong. They involve stooping. They are too heavy. Too big. Poorly divided up inside.

My hope is that these 11 people – who are from all corners of the world – might agree with me and appreciate working out of their tool chests as much as I do.

Today was the first day of the class. After a quick lesson in dovetailing and sharpening, I threw them into the project. The first goal: Handplane the insides of the chest pieces. Then dovetail the corners. Glue it up by the end of the second day.

What was surprising was how easily they jumped into the planing without much instruction at all. And their results were quite nice – shimmering surfaces.

And I learned a Danish idiom that describes this kind of work: “As smooth as a nun’s stomach.”

Did I mention we are staying in a monastery? I better keep an eye out for lightning bolts.

— Christopher Schwarz

• We’ve published two good books on designing and building workbenches: “Workbenches: From Design & Theory to Construction & Use” and “The Workbench Design Book.” Both are available in our store.

• Roy Underhill’s tool chest from the June 2009 issue is pretty awesome. That issue can be downloaded from our store here.

17 thoughts on “Video: ‘As Smooth as a Nun’s Stomach’

  1. finzona

    I have not found any beer in the U.S. that I like as much as some of the German and other European brews. Major brand American beers leave a nasty after-taste.
    Having lived in Germany for three years I learned that the German attitude toward excellence and quality is far and above that of the everyday American.
    They work hard and play just a hard.

  2. Cloudy

    I built a massive tool chest when I worked at Hancock Shaker Village as their lead carpenter- it held everything I could possibly need and became an excellent exhibit in it’s own right. Now that it’s in my shop, I’ve added casters to the bottom to facilitate moving it around (loaded, it does NOT move!)

  3. Mitch Wilson

    At the 2:00 mark, there is a shot of a stack of dovetailed panels. Were all of these panels for one participant or a collection of all of the day’s completed panels? After all, that’s an awful lot of dovetailed panels there for one person to do in one hot, muggy Bavarian day (sausage and beer not withstanding).

  4. mitchellm

    I guess I am one of the lucky people who is too ignorant to the subject to question your ideas. I loved your Workbench book and am anxious to build the English Bench as soon as I have time. Now I’m eager reading the Anarchists Tool Chest and am struggling to decide what I need to build first the tool chest or the workbench. I did get the sawbench finished and love it as well. Keep the “crazy” idea’s coming and I’ll gladly follow along.

    1. Christopher SchwarzChristopher Schwarz Post author

      It’s pretty warm here in Barvaria right now and the shop isn’t air-conditioned. Hence the good sweat.

      It makes the beer taste even better at the end of the day.

      1. Dusty

        …..and adds patina to the wood,

        ….beer makes one sweat so the more beer one drinks the night before the darker the patina.

        Don

        1. texasbelliott

          Mmmmm, sausage.

          Looks like everyone is having a great time! I can’t imagine how great the beer is there.

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