Outside Your League - Popular Woodworking Magazine

Outside Your League

 In Chris Schwarz Blog, Woodworking Blogs


At this stage in my life, I cannot take woodworking classes. I have the will and the money, but I also have kids, a wife with a crazy job and my own endeavors – a publishing company, a custom furniture business and (oddly enough) a teaching schedule.

So until I can make our home life look like Lake Placid, I am always looking for other ways to improve my work. One of the best things I’ve tried recently is collaborating with other woodworkers. I have been building projects that involve efforts from people who have talents I don’t have (but that’s only part of the story).

You might be thinking: Where would I find other woodworkers I could collaborate with? A good source is your local woodworking club, of course. But that’s not the half of it. If you like handwork, go to a local Hand Tool Event put on by Lie-Nielsen Toolworks. These great (and free) shows are always stocked with attendees and demonstrators who are also looking for some sort of human connection in the craft.

If you hang out for a couple days, I can pretty much guarantee you will find like-minded people. And it’s less dangerous to your private parts than Match.com.

If you do casework, veneering, chairmaking, turning, specialty finishing, inlay or metalworking, find someone who doesn’t do that. Suggest that you work on something together – a tool, chest, bench, panel, anything. You do one part. The other woodworker does the other. And get a blacksmith involved. Or a fiber artist. Someone who has a skill that you think is impressive.

The project you make together is only part of the benefit. The real benefit is that everyone involved will take their work up a notch. After all, you don’t want to be the slacker in the group.

This year I’ve been working on a collaborative tool chest project with Jameel Abraham of Benchcrafted and blacksmith Peter Ross. I’m designing and building the carcase. Jameel is building the marquetry panel for the lid. And Peter is making the hardware.

I’ve built about 50 tool chests, most for customers. This project is different because of my collaborators.

You are going to be able to see the results of this three-way in a future issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine. Editor Megan Fitzpatrick has been a huge supporter of this effort and will be publishing two articles – one on the carcase and the other on the lid.

Oh and one more thing: If you find people who aren’t interested in collaborating with you, don’t take it personal. I’ve found that some people are too ashamed of their work to deal with other people. Or they are too proud, which is really worse in my book.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 10 comments
  • Russ T Munn

    Interaction is the key here, like minded folks conveying their ideas to and with one another makes perfect sense especially when there’s a project on the go!
    Always nice to hear your perspective and I always enjoy the write up’s!
    Variety is the spice of life!
    Between you and that Roy guy I only have so much time, you understand!!!

  • cliffgribben

    I just read the Anarchist’s Tool chest. At the end was a remark about the lost of workshop in schools. As a member of a school board in the 70’s and 80’s I can tell you that lawers and law suits are the reason for the lack of vocational classes.

    • jncc

      You reckon fear of liability is why all the music and band classes got cut, too?

      Kind of odd that schools can still offer football programs where kids injure themselves.

      • BobGroh

        Ouch! I think you made a very good point!!

  • pmac

    Open Sesame.

    • Megan Fitzpatrick
      Megan Fitzpatrick

      No. Not yet.

    • wldrylie

      Try the original Arabic phrase…..”iftah ya simsim

  • hmerkle

    This is a GREAT idea Chris,
    Many woodworking guilds and clubs can benefit from creating a collaboration project like this.

    Unfortunately we missed you at WIA 2014 in Winston Salem, but we took to heart the idea of Collaborative woodworking. I know Megan got to see the “North Carolina Wood Workers’ chest of many drawers” Mary May actually carved a drawer front too! (see if you can find it…)


    (you may need to sign up an become a member to see the pictures, not sure…)

  • bobjones2000

    Good tips. Then I guess you are coming down to the LN event in Nashville in less than two weeks? I’m planning to. It will be my first LN event. Can’t wait.

  • Sawduster

    I’m quite sure with your collaborative efforts it will result in a magnificent chest of expert craftsmanship. I’m looking forward to the PWM articles.

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