Back to Germany to See an Old Friend - Popular Woodworking Magazine

Back to Germany to See an Old Friend

 In Chris Schwarz Blog, Chris Schwarz Woodworking Classes, Woodworking Blogs

Despite my butchering of their language last year, the German tool company Dictum asked me to return this week to teach two classes at its new workshop in Niederalteich, a small village in Bavaria.

Since I last taught here in September, Dictum has moved its workshop to Niederaltaich Abbey, a Benedictine order whose roots extend back to the 8th century. Students can stay on the abbey grounds, which is where I am, and walk to the workshop every morning. There also is a nice restaurant and beer garden on the grounds.

I wonder when my passport and visa expires?

The only rough part about teaching in Germany is the jet lag. It’s a six-hour time difference, which is just enough to mess with my internal body clock. I flew from Cincinnati on Thursday and arrived in Munich Friday morning. After checking in I slept until about 9:30 p.m. local time and went to find some dinner.

The restaurant had just stopped serving food, so I had to settle for two weiss beers, which are like liquid wheaty goodness in a glass. Thanks to my empty stomach, the beer put me under for another eight hours. Jet lag vanquished.

Today I took a look at Dictum’s new workshop and sorted through the stock they had prepared for the two classes I’m teaching. On Monday I’m teaching a two-day workshop on sawing to 13 students. Usually when I teach this class we build a sawbench. But because this is land of the bowsaw I had to reconsider. So instead we’re building the English Layout Square using European cherry.

It is going to be a fun mash-up of cultures on Monday. There are students coming from all over Europe. Dictum sells mostly Japanese tools. And I’m trying to translate my sawing methods to work with English, European and Japanese tools.

Example: How do you describe “points per inch” in the metric system? Points per 21mm?

Starting Wednesday I’m teaching a five-day class on building a traditional tool chest – the first time I have ever taught this course. If I can get the bugs worked out of the class here in Germany, perhaps I can teach it in the United States.

My only apprehension at this point is the wood. The cabinetmakers who run this shop have already prepared the panels for the students. They used a local pine, which is good. But it looks to my eye a lot like light-yellow pine – there are serious color changes between the earlywood and latewood. If the wood’s density changes a lot between the annular rings, the students could be in for some tricky sawing.

After sorting out the wood and touring the workshop a bit I made one last visit to the shop’s lunchroom. In September I had become quite fond of the company’s coffee machine, which dispenses a wide variety of hot beverages. I don’t know if Germany would be the same without it.

And there in the corner it was – my old friend.

— Christopher Schwarz

Can’t Afford a Sawing Class in Germany?
• My sawing class is one of my most popular courses. It’s so popular that we filmed one of the classes and now sell it as a DVD: “Build a Sawbench with Christopher Schwarz.” It’s just like taking the class, but without all the smells.

• If you are interested in building a dovetailed tool chest, I recommend you watch Glen D. Huey’s “Cheating at Hand-cut Dovetails,” which has a lot of great tricks to speed you on your way.

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Showing 22 comments
  • chewie136

    I just found out a job opening with my company in a town about an hour down the road from Niederalteich. It looks like a nice area. What are your thoughts? Could you live there as a midwestern transplant?

    • gehentogo

      There are quite a few of us Americans living in the area. I live in Munich and work for the US Army in Garmisch. A bit of German would be nice, buy you could probably get away without it for a while. And, with Dictum only an hour away, you’ll be able to get your tool fix whenever you need to.

  • BaileyNo5

    As damien has pointed out, 1 inch is 25.4mm or 2.54 centimeters. I would imagine centimeters would be an acceptable measurement rather than millimeters. So an 8 PPI saw would be 3.15 CPI or centimeters per inch. 10 PPI would be 3.94 CPI. You could round these to 3 CPI and 4 CPI. A true metric saw would likely have an even number of CPI, so the teeth would be spaced slightly different than one calibrated in PPI. But close enough for gubmint work.

    Also, in regard to jet lag, the US military used to publish a manual on how to deal with it. I think it is out of print (hey, isn’t that your specialty?), but if you PM me on the Woodnet board I’ll email you a copy. I’ve used it and it works quite well. It’s a bit like what Dave Keller suggested. You won’t like the “no alcohol” part tho.

    • Jonas Jensen

      Hi BaileyNo5
      In Scandinavia, a saw is still graduated in PPI. Even though we are normally using the metric system. I think that it is the same in Germany. I just checked on a page selling Bahco saws.
      Brgds Jonas

    • adrian

      So ppi is actually a tricky measurement because you measures points, rather than teeth, so it is one more than the number of teeth per inch. If you had a 6 ppi saw and you wanted to measure points per half inch you’ll find it’s not 3 but 3.5 points per half inch.

      The upshot is that if you *really* want to compute points per cm, you end up with something like ppc = 0.39*ppi+.61. So an 8 ppi would be 3.8 ppc and 10 ppi would be 4.6 ppc. (One could argue that rounding isn’t so great as it means that 5-7 ppi all get represented as 3 ppc.)

      Now ignore the last paragraph. Nobody really wants to mess with this, nor does it really help anything. Much better to just stick to ppi, especially if you’re talking about saws that were made according to the Imperial system with an even number of points (or teeth) per inch.

  • David Keller

    Chris – Might be a bit too late to try this on this trip, but as a veteran of the coporate pond-hopping thing, I found the “travelers edge” to be very effective.

    The specifics of it are to scrupulously avoid caffiene for a week before your trip. If you’re addicted like I am, you can just pare it down to avoid-withdrawals levels. When you arrive in Europe from the US, it’s typical that you arrive in the early morning. Instead of heading to bed, drink coffee for breakfast, lunch and mid-afternoon and eat some food, but not much.

    Eat dinner like a king, and drink nothing caffeinated.

    You will sleep through the (European) night, and be very much non-jet lagged that first day.

    You can reverse the process for your return trip.

    Try it – it really works!

  • Jonathan Szczepanski

    Chris –

    I am jealous of your trip. Maybe some day I can attend. (My wife was a German major, so I don’t think it would be difficult to convince her).

    In the last photo, with the wood piles, are they clamped to stop them from warping? If so, does that actually work?


    • GregMiller

      Keeping freshly machined stock in cramps certainly does work to help prevent cupping.

      The tensions in any piece of timber are held in equilibrium. When you significantly re-dimension a piece of timber, you can change that equilibrium, causing the timber to bow or cup. Quartersawn material is much more stable and much less likely to do this, but backsawn material is very prone to it. If you rip a wide narrow backsawn stick down the middle on edge, creating two wide thinner pieces, this is when you are most likely to get cupping. Of course, this depends on the timber species, the radius of the growth rings, and the moisture gradient in that particlar stick also.

      Here in Australia, where drying our hardwoods is difficult (slow) due to the cellular structure of the timber, extremes in moisture content and temperature of the surrounding air impact on this. Even kiln dried timber has moisture in it. Wood is always trying to be at moisture content equilibrium with the air around it. That’s why we seal our completed work, to slow down that moisture exchange and help prevent the wood from moving.

      Here in Western Australia, on a hot summer’s day (not unusual to have two weeks running of days over 38C/100F) when the air is very dry and I’m re-machining wide boards, I will always leave the wide sticks I have just machined stacked and cramped flat – especially if I’ve got to leave them for a few days before using them, like over the weekend. As the tensions in the timber find their new equilibrium, I want those sticks to be happy in their new state and to stay flat. Much easier to do the dovetails and joinery with flat boards rather than with cupped ones. Another trick to help reduce cupping is to ensure we machine both wide faces of a stick, not just one face.

      Yep, it actually works…hope that helps.


      • Jonathan Szczepanski

        Greg –

        I tend to only thickness the stock that I am going to use that day. I have had the stock cup and warp when I thickness it ahead of time and have it sit there. But I might try this if it’s a big project with a lot of stock.


  • gsuing

    No left-handed benches. Lame.

  • Jonas Jensen

    I can hardly wait.
    I am going to the tool chest class along with my father.
    So Monday I’ll sign of the ship and drive home to change clothes and pack a different suitcase, then its a 1200 km drive and we’ll both be there.
    See you Wednesday morning.
    Is it OK to bring ones own tools?

    • Christopher Schwarz
      Christopher Schwarz


      Definitely bring a few important tools if you can. Your favorite dovetail saw, a mallet, your favorite marking gauge and a couple chisels will go a long way. And if you have a block plane you are fond of….


  • Tumblewood

    I fell in love with Germany on one of my first trips home to visit my wife’s family in Unterbalbach Lauda. We went on a tour of glass blowing factories and when I saw a beer vending machine at the work place, I knew I was home. :o)

  • cams2705

    Chris … you must be really popular there for them to name a one of their drinks after you. Take a close look at the selection fourth from the top! LOL

    Cafe Creme schwarz!!!

  • mrogen


    I’m sure that everybody’s happy (and breathing a sigh of relief) that there is no hardware to be aged!



    • Christopher Schwarz
      Christopher Schwarz


      We “process” a lot of beer here in Bavaria, and we need to do something with all that wastewater. I’m sure I’ll find some way to shock the locals.

      • mrogen


        Oh, I have no doubt about that, the smart money is always on you. To see the faces of those unfortunate souls…One could only hope.

  • damien

    To my regret I am unable to come to the class even if it would have been a long ride. My guess is that for transport the glue up can wait until home.
    But 21 mm ? Now I am confused, is it not better to suppose a more standard 1.00 inch = 25,4 mm. I would stick to inches, like in “Pitch 14 TPI (1,8 mm)” and even use fractional notation to make it completely outlandish 🙂

    • Richard Dawson

      I’ve been thinking a little about this issue of points per inch vs points (or teeth) per mm. Metric and imperial measurements are based on an arbitrary standard length. One is clearly more sensible, both are arbitrary.
      A frequent, often fatal from a woodworking standpoint, mistake made in the states is to try to deal with both standards of measurement at the same time. Most people are clueless when it comes to knowing what one fourteenth of an inch is, or 1.8mm or 1,8 mm, for that matter.
      Better to acknowledge that two arbitrary standards are at work and call it a 14 point saw, include the function in the name, and understand how the number of points (per arbitrary unit of measure) affect the functionality of the saw.
      If more Americans accepted this approach, there would be less confusion and fewer mistakes. I believe that Europeans are more attuned to what I think is a reasonable concept.

      • gehentogo

        Actually, the metric system is far from arbitrary. Everything is about water. It freezes at zero, boils at 100, a cubic centimeter weighs a gram, etc.

        However, I would agree that none of this is relevant to woodworking.

  • gehentogo

    I can hardly wait. I signed up for both of your classes and am really looking forward to them. The only thing I haven’t figured out yet is how to get a new tool chest home in my hatchback. :o)

    • Christopher Schwarz
      Christopher Schwarz

      We are going to make gluing up the chest optional so you can ship the chest flat, or pack it into a car. That is the magic of dovetail joinery.

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