Chris Schwarz's Blog

Highland Woodworking: Hand-tool Stalwarts of the South

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If it weren’t for Highland Hardware in Atlanta (now called Highland Woodworking), my life would be a lot different.

1. That’s where I first met Roy Underhill. Well, “met” is not the right word. I was too shy to introduce myself. I just watched him for about an hour until it reached the point that I thought he might call the police.

2. That’s where I bought the worst shoulder plane I’ve ever encountered (an English Stanley 93).

3. That’s where I bought my best shoulder plane ever (the Lie-Nielsen 073).

4. Those two shoulder planes launched me into figuring out why they were different and then into tuning handplanes.

5. That’s where I bought my first mortising chisel, burnisher, saw file and on and on.

But most of all, Highland Hardware was like a “safe zone” while attending the International Woodworking Fair (IWF) held every other year in Atlanta. Highland didn’t have a booth at the fair, but fellow editor David Thiel and I would sneak out of the machinery fair early and head to Highland for an afternoon of taking in this Southern institution.

Before the Internet took off, this was where you would go for advice on hand tools, either in person or (in my case) on the phone. Whenever I placed an order, I’d ask annoying questions in the hopes they would answer my stupid question of the day.

When ordering a chisel, I’d ask about forge-welded Japanese chisels and if they were better. I asked if the Anant planes were any good. And on and on.

Today I showed up at Highland Woodworking with a tool chest full of tools to demonstrate during a Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool event on Saturday and then to teach a class on Sunday. For about two seconds I thought to myself, “Hey, now I am somebody!” But then I wandered off and inspected their huge selection of replacement blades for bowsaws. Dang. I’ve never seen so many.

Anyway, Chris Bagby, one of the founders of Highland, took a few minutes to chat with me about the store, and I shot some video of this fantastic store and the Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event in progress. If you are ever near Atlanta, stop in and plan to stay at least half a day. Your family will be fine – the store is in a hip shopping area with lots of cool restaurants, galleries, clothing stores and coffee shops.

OK, now to sleep. I have to look alive tomorrow.

— Christopher Schwarz

Also, for more on hand tools in general, check out my DVD, “Mastering Hand Tools.”

11 thoughts on “Highland Woodworking: Hand-tool Stalwarts of the South

  1. wallace

    In the FEB 2013 HW Video you showed us a BENCH TOP MINI Version of a “European Design” Clamp Down Work Vise which you said you found on the Internet. I can’t Find anything like it? Not at Lie-Nielson, Not Highland, Not Rockler.?”

    WHO? WHERE? How Much$?

    Wallace at wallace.l.johnston@gmail.com

    Help!

  2. garpet

    Hi Chris, I could see from the long shadows of light coming into the front of the store on your video that you must have shot it later on Saturday….. I really enjoyed talking with you as brief as it was but THANK YOU so much for autographing the “A” book for me . I want to apologize for my comment about your exclamation remarks…. I really did enjoy them and it gave interesting perspectives about many trials and victories, et al. (those dastardly others!!) I will do some research about certain Hardwood FINDs on Craig’s List and those possible home owners with whom I might be able to make “a deal” ….. somewhere in Kentucky …. during our Mission trip up to Blackhawk.. Hope you had a safe back home from Highland Ave, Atl, GA….. I’ll be listening in , Sincerely, your hearing and learning underling, Gary Peterson.

  3. billboard

    My son Tyler and I were there today. We saw the Lie Nielsen hand tool event and Chris Schwarz. I have been shopping at Highland for years and love the store. We had a blast today.

  4. Joel Jacobson

    As a youngster in Atlanta back in the 1940s, I lived on Lanier Blvd – not far from where Highland Woodworking now stands.

    Although I’ve bought items from HW, unfortunately it’s no longer in walking distance … from my home in Northern Virginia. I envy the folks can visit there.

    1. cbhighland

      Joel,
      Not exactly like being here in the store, but we love that you visit the Highland Woodworking website, open 24/7. There’s even a Google Streetview link on our homepage that let’s you take an interactive virtual tour inside the store. (There’s also a store tour video on YouTube.) Be sure to drop by if you’re ever in Atlanta. Boy, seems like the magnolia trees down the middle of Lanier Blvd were in full bloom not that long ago.

      Thanks for your business,
      Chris Bagby, owner

  5. Playful Plans

    Enjoyed the vid- thanks.

    My first visit to HH (sorry- HW!) was sometime around 1980 for a weekend seminar with Ian Kirby, my woodworking idol at the time who impressed upon our small audience that the new generation of American woodworkers was notably enthusiastic but quite haphazard about our ideas, tools and techniques.

    He preached the Continental gospel of a “whole” technical arsenal (including not just tool use, but right attitude and respect for traditional processes) that could be mastered by time and practice. It was a bit of a revelation at the time. I went on to use his innovative torsion box techniques for clients of my first cabinet shop.

    Kev

  6. BLZeebub

    I lived in Atlanta during the ’80s when they were starting up. I left plenty of my DNA there in the form of drool. Left plenty of my hard earned there too. Even attended a Tage Frid seminar. Jimmy Carter was there too post POTUS. I didn’t vote for him but he didn’t hold that against me. LOL Been hooked on wood shavings ever since.

    My advice to anyone considering a visit, bring plenty of money and don’t stay too long. Or else you’ll be explaining to the missus how the mortgage might be late next month. It’s happened before.

  7. Maurice

    Highland Hardware is where my addiction started as well! Fortunately, I was living in the Atlanta, and was fortunate enough to physically haunt and lurk there. By far, tha most important aspect of the store is the staff: they are wonderful to a fault. No question too weird, too “newby”, or too dumb. As one veteran employee, Mike, has said to me “there’s no wrong way to do that, just different ways”. Meaning, “yeah, you could try that, but try this way, or that way instead”.

    Highland became a learning resource for me, and they never minded fielding my questions. I return, they became (quickly) my go to source for all things woodworking, even classes. I recall a Woodcraft store opening in the suburbs, and thinking to myself upon entry, “well, it’s nice and all, but it’s NO Highland Hardware!

    I knew that I was spending a lot (read: too much) of time and money there when the cashiers began to know me by name. Oh, well, one could have worse addictions……

  8. Robert Flowers

    Highland Hardware is one the best places to visit,spend time looking, touching,playing with the LN tools.If i every win the lottery I’m sure i would have my own private parking space and my picture on the wall along with Roy and Tage.

    Wish i could come up and meet you but i am working this weekend to make money to spend at Highland Hardware.

    Robert Flowers

    ps.
    To us old customers it’s still Highland Hardware.

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