Chris Schwarz's Blog

James Krenov in the 1990s

krenov_plane_IMG_5356

When James Krenov died in late 2009 (wow, has it been that long?) I wondered at great length what would happen to his reputation.

For some undefinable reason, when some influential woodworkers die, their legacy seems to fade with each passing year. See Tage Frid and Alan Peters for examples of this. And others seem to grow with every passing year, such as Sam Maloof, Wharton Esherick and George Nakashima.

Actually, I’m amazed that anyone’s reputation survives considering the crappy state of photography on Wikipedia. (Note to future furniture gods: Allow a Creative Commons license for photos of your finished products.)

Back to Krenov, many of his students have carried his ideas forward. I’m most familiar with Robert Van Norman at the Inside Passage woodworking school; Laura Mays who took over the fine woodworking program at the College of the Redwoods; and David Finck, a furniture maker and planemaker. There are hundreds of other students that I don’t know, plus thousands and thousands of woodworkers who have been influenced by Krenov’s influential books.

So I was fascinated to see the creation of the Krenov Foundation in 2014, which has as one of its goals to create an online archive of Krenov’s work. That, in my opinion, is one of the things that will ensure that his huge, almost un-measurable, influence on the craft will not be forgotten.

This week the foundation posted a 23-minute film on Krenov that was made during the 1990s by Cam Schiff and Richard Swift. If you have never encountered Krenov or his ideas about woodworking, this short film is an ideal encapsulation of his thoughts on design and work. It might just make you pick up one of his books. My personal favorite is “A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook,” though they all are worth owning.

I never had the opportunity to meet Krenov, but I do own one of his planes. After his eyesight started to retreat, Krenov turned to planemaking to continue living life as a craftsman. I love words, but I cannot express adequately how much respect I have for this man, who found a way to continue working wood when most of us would have given up.

I only hope I can meet that bar when I hit my 80s.

Watch the interview above. And even if you aren’t inspired by his furniture forms, I think it’s impossible to deny that Krenov loved the craft as deeply as anyone.

— Christopher Schwarz

7 thoughts on “James Krenov in the 1990s

  1. Rcho

    Chris,

    In regards to the issue of legacies growing or diminishing: I think it’s due to the difference between an artisan and an artist; technique vs. idea

    Tage Frid and Alan Peters are largely known for their craftsmanship whereas Esherick, Nakashima and Maloof are known for their designs. Technicians are of interest only to people who practice the craft but the people who come up with new ideas are of interest to a larger audience in the general public.

    my 2 cents.

    best,
    Roman

  2. Gary 1662

    I am very fortunate to attend a weekly class somewhat nearby from a Krenov 2-year graduate – Brian Condran. I am sure it is his cabinet with the marquetried leaf in the drawer. He is mentioned in the credits. The class is an astoundingly great experience and located in the North Bay area of Northern CA. If anyone is nearby, you are welcome to contact me and I would really like to share my experiences.

  3. Rob Porcaro

    Chris,
    Thank you for bringing attention to the Krenov Foundation. For so many of us, surely for me, JK’s most important motivating message was that making fine things in wood is important and has meaning. From there, well, it’s just a matter of sharpening the tools and getting on with it.
    Rob

  4. Archer Yates

    I learned to make Krenov style planes from David Fink in Boone ,NC. They are special planes I use for finish work as well as a narrow plane for truing edges. It’s a beauty of Purple heart with an African Blackwood sole.
    I still have a couple of David Fink’s plane irons that I am saving for that special plane.
    Jame Krenov once was ask if any of his planes did not preform as expected. He said oh yes ,I have a box of them on the shelf.It’s like that sometime, for some reason a plane will be your favorite and the other well not so.

  5. thekiltedwoodworker

    I *still* have an email from Britta Krenov dated 5/28/2008 (apparently James used his wife’s email account) with information about his planes and how to get on the waiting list…

    “Thsank you for nice e-mail. I make smooth ingplanes in hardwood,6-9″long, with Hock iron. The price is US$300 to be paid When or if I tell you a plane is ready. If still interested, please tell me and I will put you on my waitinglist.
    Best wishes,
    James Krenov”

    I’d responded and was on the list. I knew it was a long waiting list.

    Too long, unfortunately.

    I think David Marks probably did a lot to get James’ name out there initially with his TV series (he did a special with interviews of James Krenov and Art Carpenter). For me, his books are required woodworking reading and I make sure and re-read at least one of them, if not all of the ones I own, every year.

  6. hmerkle

    Many people’s goal in life is to “leave a legacy.” Without a doubt – James Krenov succeeded in doing that.
    How fortunate we are that the foundation has the film to release for future generations!

  7. redtaildd

    Palomar College, in San Marcos CA, offers a class in plane making as part of their Cabinet and Furniture Tech program. The first plane everyone makes is a Krenov. After that the students are free to make a variety of wooden planes. They also have a very good introduction to hand tool joinery class.
    -Rob

Comments are closed.