Monday, August 19, 2013

A Woodworker's Tool Chest

Plane Details's "Perpetuating Woodworking Project"
© 2013 Albert A Rasch and
The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles

It all started, innocently enough, (Have you guys noticed how many of my stories start that way?) with an email from Chris Schwarz, Contributing Editor of Popular Woodworking Magazine and Owner of Lost Arts Press.

I’d been sitting on the shop-built plank stoop in front of my office, letting my eyes relax from staring at the monitor and become accustomed to the searing Afghan sun that was steadily turning my usual seat into a weathered, splintered piece of scrap wood. A few long legged running ants were foraging on the misshapen gravel, looking for the meager crumbs that might have escaped the mini-flocks of sparrows. I figure those ants only come out when the sun’s burning rays are scouring the land so they can avoid the sparrows that are sensibly roosted in the shade.

I’d about had enough of the sun and limited local fauna amusement, and trudged back to my office to see what new and wonderful pronouncements would cross over my desk.

 I fired up the laptop and waiting for everything to load up.

“OMG! An email from Chris Schwarz?” What wonderful and wondrous news!

Quickly click here, wait for it to load… view!

“Hey Albert, you still planning on being home in June?”

To which I responded: “Lord willing and the Taliban don’t manage to separate my head from my shoulders, I should be.”

“That’s great. I want to send you a little something.”

Ok, right now, the majority of you are wondering who is this Schwarz fellow, and why would I be so elated that he wrote?

Image credit: Chris Schwarz/PW
Well, most of you all follow me for the hunting, fishing, and outdoor adventure stuff, but I also do quite a bit of hand work like woodworking and machining. So imagine Ted Nugent or Tred Barta dropped you an email saying they wanted to send you a little something. For those of us that do any kind of woodworking Chris Schwarz is like the Motor City Madman… except he’s not in camo and smeared in bloody entrails; maybe some mutton tallow, but not guts. I don’t think he wails on a Gibson Byrdland either. (College years not withstanding…) But you all get the idea.

“Honey!” I gushed over the VOIP line to the house, “Chris Schwarz is sending me something!”


I could tell she did not understand the galactic immensity of this by the marked lack of enthusiastic and immediate recognition.

“You know - the magazine woodworking guy! The nice fellow who I buy books from all the time.”
 Still nothing.
Image Credit: PBS
“The guy whose picture is on the shelf by the planes and slicks, next to the other guy in red suspenders!”

“Ohhh...” she says as she recalls the picture frame and votive candle incident at Michael’s Craft store and the ensuing fire.

Finally some progress.

“Is that the one with the beard or the big mustache?”


Of course, I’m giving it all sorts of thoughts between rocket attacks and ground fire. Probably some books or videos… No. He wants me to review an as of yet unpublished opus on woodworking! Hmmm, no probably not. Wait… He’s going to offer me a job writing for Lost Arts Press! "Afghan Woodworking" and he want’s research done in the field! Now that would be up my alley. Tearing up the countryside; black bagging woodworkers and interrogating them. Kill two birds with one stone! Fantasized about that one for a while, but unlikely at best.

I know it’ll be something great no matter what!

So I’m counting the days until R&R; home, roast chicken with garlic mashed potatoes and expecting, well, a little something to arrive at the house.

A week or two before I’m scheduled to get home, I get another email, this one from a fellow named Sam Cappo.

Huh? Who the devil is Sam Cappo? I ask myself. But the subject line says: Friend of Chris Schwarz. Ok, a better than good reference, so let me see what’s up. “Dear Albert, I’m a friend of Chris Schwarz, and I want to send you something.”

You know something, I like getting things, but seriously, I feel vaguely uncomfortable with such largess. But I’ll allow that I know it makes a lot of folks very happy to share their good fortune. I know I like to do it too. So, qualms forgotten, now I’m thinking a couple of little “somethings” will be waiting for me when I get home.

“That Chris,” I think, “what a hell of a fellow. A celebrity no less, but always doing something to help out a fellow woodworker out in the suck.” “What about this Sam fellow? What a lovely gesture to make someone’s day like that, right out of nowhere too!”

Imagine traveling almost 56 hours with little sleep. Imagine a joyous reunion with the Mrs at the airport. Now imagine a Starbuck’s made with real half and half instead of plaster of paris colored water. And imagine, if you will, a large, obviously well-constructed crate covered in shipping labels from an exotic, far flung locale like New Orleans, sitting on the downstairs landing. That’s what awaited me when I walked through the door, along with Charlie the mixed breed ball of happy fur! Hmmm, I think to myself as I try to lift the corner of the crate. This sure isn’t a little something…

 I dump my bags, and after getting my ribs fractured by Blake’s bear hug, drinking another good coffee, scratching Charlie, and paying respect to Her Royal Highness Rollie the cat, Blake and I head downstairs, and between the two of us hoist the crate up a flight of stairs and into the living room. Cristal had taken a seat on the couch, and Her Highness paced around the crate, wrongly assuming that anything securely shipped in such a handsome crate, must be for her. Sam and Chris, I wonder, what have you sent me here.

I cracked open a bottle of Red’s Apple Cider to wash down the coffee and pondered how best to approach this. I had noted that Sam had thoughtfully taped the appropriate bit to the inside of the handle in order to assist in the disassembly of the well-constructed crate.

Blake gets my brace from my tool box, and we start to pull the screws from the lid. I had commandeered a small jar to hold the screws, because anyone who builds a crate as nicely executed as this one has been, deserves the respect of having those screws saved. That, and I tend to save stuff anyway; ever seen my garage? So all the screws were off, and the lid lifted.

Inside we found everything padded in bubblewrap, and wrapped in brown kraft paper with cardboard strips holding everything in place against the capricious handling and unknown ravages perpetrated by our brown suited delivery Santas.

Still no clue as to the contents; though my initial guess was perhaps some nice lumber or something like that. After a bit of looking, I choose a narrow well wrapped object and get a grip on it to pull it free. I can tell what t is by just the little bit I’m hold onto, It’s obviously a saw!

Laying it on top of the crate I unwrap it and find myself holding a lovingly refurbished and recently sharpened panel rip saw. I asked Blake to pull some of the cardboard out of the way while I ran my fingers over the teeth and squinted at the saw’s toothline.

He plucked a half dozen pieces out and said, “Dad, there’s a big blue thing in here, and this other thing feels like a big piece of wood.” I turned to look and he was holding a well wrapped rectangular object.

Ahh, I thought, it is a bunch of wood and maybe a couple of tools. Awesome! I love wood; got all sorts of wood in my garage that I have saved for just the right project! Did he say a blue thing? Go ahead and unwrap it I told him, and went back to inspecting the saw.

“Ummm, Dad. What is this?”

I think I did a double take, as what he was holding wasn’t a board. It was a… “Uh Blake, I really don’t know.”

I rewrapped the saw, and placed it on top of the end table, and peered into the crate. The blue thing was by all accounts a tool chest! Blake handed me the wooden contraption, but in the midst of everything going on and the dawning realization that there was more to this than a bunch of neat “stuff,” I was feeling a bit like a California surfer about to be engulfed by a frothing, towering wave.

I went and sat on the couch for a moment to collect my thoughts. You know, I just got in from Afghanistan, I’ve had a long trip to the front door of the house, everyone including the cat, is glad to see me and well, I was feeling a little overwhelmed. Perhaps an appropriate libation for its medicinal effects and properties would help me place everything in perspective.

With a cut crystal tumbler, ice, a scant inch of Wild Turkey American Honey (to wash down the Red’s), and the rip saw on my lap, I settled down on the couch for a moment and marshaled my thoughts.

Cristal saw my anxiety, and took my hand and said, “Albert these are nice people, they appreciate what you’re doing, and want to show you their appreciation with this gift.”

“I suppose you’re right my love.” She has a way of always saying the right thing at the right moment. That includes kicking me in the ass when I need it too.

 Feeling a bit better and less anxious, I got up and asked Blake to give me a hand.

“Blake,” I said, “let’s reach in and carefully lift the blue box up and out, mind the sides now!” We managed to lift it completely out and set it on top of the solid, reinforced crate.

I took another sip of Bourbon, and asked Blake to lift the top of the chest and take a look.

“Holy smokes,” he stage-whispered as he turned to Mom, “it’s full of stuff!” Inside, carefully wrapped in paper and bubble wrap, was indeed, a whole bunch of “stuff.”

I’m not going to bore you all with a blow by blow account of each individual item, even though I really want to! Suffice it to say that Christmas had come very early!

Image credit: Sam Cappo Plane Details
A Stanley # 5 followed by a #4 were the first items I pulled out. Each one looked as if it was better than brand new. A small brass carving mallet followed along with a Disston backsaw. Lie-Nielson chisels and dividers.

On and on it went: A Record 044 plow plane, Lie-Nielson backsaw, handmade squares and straight edges, sharpening stones, pig sticker mortise chisel, router and block planes, marking gauges, beautiful winding sticks, a wooden shoulder plane; I think someone even threw in a sea lion nasal hair bundle for wiping just sharpened blades!

And the contraption.

As you might imagine, I was officially stunned at the magnitude of the gift.

I had to go lie down and take a nap. I heard my wife say, "Put all the tools down! You're going to cut, stab, or otherwise mutilate yourself in bed if I insist on taking them in with you!"


It turns out that Sam had the crazy idea to construct a tool chest, fill it with donated and refurbished tools, and then find someone that would put them to use. He started to write about it, brought Chris on board, and worked tirelessly to put it all together. He chronicles the whole project on his blog Plane Details.

Now, let’s discuss the contraption. I try to keep up with Popular Woodworking’s blogs, and Chris’ own Lost Art Press blog, but listen; the internet really sucks out in Afghanistan. So I miss a lot between accesses. All this in a way to explain why I didn’t know what the contraption was.

Underneath, there was a clearly identifiable maker’s mark. It was the Lost Arts Press logo! Eureka! Now all that was left to do was go through everything that Chris has ever published on-line, and figure out what it is. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not entirely clueless. I had an idea of what individual parts of it where, but I just couldn’t figure out the whole.

After a short search, I found the post where Chris describes and builds “The Milkman’s Portable Bench.”

 Try Squares made by Aaron Moore on the Milkman's Bench

I ran back to my office desk/work area and carefully clamped the sucker down to the desk. The only piece of wood available was an eight inch or so split and somewhat squared quarter of an oak log that somehow ended up on my desk. Without further ado, I clamped it in place, and proceeded to plane it flat with my old Stanley block plane. (I wasn’t about to use any of my new tools until I had sat down with them and gotten to know them better!) That little bench is solid as solid can be and lets you do just about anything you can think of. My friends at ALR are going to LOVE it!

Counter Clockwise from Top: 
Stanely #5, Stanley#4, Lie-Nielson #71, #61 Block Plane, and Record #044 Plow Plane

Now, you might ask, “Which is your favorite tool in the chest?” Well, they’re all fantastic, but one in particular really is incredible to me. Mr Marty Backe made an absolutely stunning straightedge out of 200 year old Hard Maple. He even included a small note, which reads:

“Remember, tools are to be used to make ‘things.’ Don’t abuse them, but don’t treat them as precious things that you are afraid will be worn out if used.”

 I’m going to mat and frame it.

I went down to see my parents, and I took a few of the tools for my Father to see.

My Dad built custom yachts for a firm called Katzenberg (sp) back in the Fifties before he went to the DoD. I believe that he was in the hull construction part of the house, but as you might imagine, I’m certain that everyone at the yard had a hand in everything from the keel to the topside, and interior. In those days it was all wood and fine finishing.

Dad went on to work for the US Navy as an engineer, but never stopped doing a little carpentry or furniture making here and there as need arose. That’s how I became involved in woodworking.

Anyway, Dad’s health has diminished somewhat, and his memory isn’t what it used to be. I visit him each and every time I come home. My Mom’s a real trooper and takes really good care of him. Anyway, when I went to see them, I brought a few tools for him to see. I brought the Record combination plane, pigsticker, maple straightedge, and the Lie-Nielson backsaw.

The effect on him was magical!

My wife cried as he took the tools one at time and vividly recalled his days at the boatyard. He lectured me on the proper care of a good quality saw, remarked that the mortise chisel could use a bit of sharpening, explained to Mom the proper use of a plough plane, and asked me who had made the maple straightedge. It was as if he was transformed and transported back 50 years, his mind clear, and hands strong.

He held the backsaw for some time, looking at it from end to end, lingering on the flame patterns on the handle, running his thumb gently down the tooth line. I saw him squint and look down the saw plate nodding in appreciation of the straight and true line of teeth. I could almost imagine he was considering how to best employ such a quality tool. Fellows, I wish you all could have been there. I can’t thank you enough for the opportunity you all have given my father and I!

Now all that’s left to do is to put it to use. As Marty said, “These are meant to make things.” Blake wants to get started making things, and as soon as I get home permanently, (A few more months!) he and I will have lots to do and plenty to show.

What I need to find is a lumber yard that deals in furniture quality wood. Obviously the first step is to use lesser quality non-descript wood to learn the basics of woodworking. Granted, I know a bit, mostly on a scholarly level, but much past a rabbet or lap joint cut with a table saw and dado blades, I don’t have all that much experience in quality woodworking.

The local Orange and Blue Borg operations carry plenty of poplar and red oak in stock sizes to practice on and at a kind of moderate cost. (Excluding social cost of course…I almost started to rant…) None-the-less I want to stock up on some domestic woods like white pine and quartersawn white oak. I have several projects in mind, from a gunmaker's adaptation of Chris Schwarz’s Anarchist’s Tool Chest  to a Greene and Greene inspired entertainment center.

Plus, I really want an old school library card catalog – five drawers high, eight across… But let’s get the dove tails down first, and then we’ll venture into more stratified regions.

Ok, so, a really big shout out and an eternally grateful “Thank You!” to Mr Sam Cappo for putting this all together.
Chris Schwarz for throwing his weight behind this project and putting in some wonderful additions to the chest.
Marty Backe for not only the straight edge, but especially the insightful note that accompanied it!

And to everyone else, please drop me an email at your convenience; I would like to thank you all individually for your generosity and kindness. And if you know someone who donated to the project, please let them know I’m looking for them so I can thank them!

Best Regards,
Albert A Rasch
Member:  FOB Shank Tent Club
The Hunt Continues...

Albert Rasch,HunterThough he spends most of his time keeping the world safe for democracy and corporate profits, Albert was actually a student of biology. Really. But after a stint as a lab tech performing repetitious and mind-numbing processes that a trained Capuchin monkey could do better, he never returned to the field. Rather he became a bartender. As he once said, "Hell, I was feeding mice all sorts of concoctions. At the club I did the same thing; except I got paid a lot better, and the rats where bigger." He has followed the science of QDM for many years, and fancies himself an aficionado. If you have any questions, or just want to get more information, reach him via TheRaschOutdoorChronicles(at)MSN(dot)com.


The Suburban Bushwacker said...


Great read, and magic to see you and your dad.

Looking forward to seeing you start posing again

kindered spirit said...

That was B E A UTIFUL. My Grandfather also worked in a shipyard. I recently showed him a piece I'd made of wood and iron. That's when I learned of a Blacksmith in the family. His 97yr old mind was instantly transported back to his youth.
It's amazing how the use of lost arts ie, blacksmithing and old lesser used techniques in woodworking can have an affect on what is normally considered a feeble mind. I'm 48yrs old and I heard for the first time from my Grandfather,
" Rick I'm proud of what you've done, I love you."

My mother is 69 said she's never heard those words from him. Yes Old tool's were made to make things.

And make an old man smile is one of those things

Albert A Rasch said...

Thanks fellows!

I really appreciate the time, energy, and expense that Sam went through, and the generosity of all the woodworking fraternity that made it possible. I'm on the lookout for the next installment of his project so I can put a few things in the next woodworker's box put together by Sam, or another person for that matter!

Best regards,

Amy Lynn said...

The narrative about you and your dad mde me cry. So precious to have family that you love ao much.

Amy Lynn said...

I never thought I would like an outdoor blog until I cared for the baby mockingbird.

itumba said...

Hio Albert.

Is Me Martin Hopley From Tanzania East Africa with ITUMBA HILL CONSERVATION SINGIDA...

I manage a lot for the project and still going on.

I have been sending my emails are you getting them?

My contacts is +255 713 969696


AbbaBakes said...

Great read, I wish my dad lived close by... I'm in New York and they live in Florida.

I saw that you had comments on another blog about Band Saws... I looking to buy one 14", but I don't want a piece of junk I can't maintain,
do you have any suggestions?

Please stay safe G-d bless you and your family.


Anonymous said...

Hey, came across randomly, but such a great read, thanks.

Son Of Rabbit Stew

John said...

Have you called it a day on blogging Albert...I sincerely hope not.
John...aka murphyfish

LSP said...

It's been forever but... hope all's well!