Try to be Practical

My maker’s stamp from Infinity Stamps.

I do what I can to avoid the mushy-mushy concepts and questions that are posed by the thinkers in our craft. You know: art vs. craft, sawdust is therapy, what is the saw nib for?

But I do have some answers to the practical questions that beginners ask during classes.

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Q: Why do you sign your work? Isn’t that prideful?

I suppose my answer comes from my training as a journalist. Traditionally, your published writing remained unsigned until you “earned” a byline. As a cub reporter, you were first tested with writing unsigned news “briefs” or obituaries until you proved yourself responsible enough.

After you earned a byline, it was a mark of responsibility. If you screwed something up, your name was on it. So everyone in the community knew that you, Chris Schwarz, couldn’t get your facts straight, or spell the mayor’s name correctly.

That’s why I sign my work – unobtrusively. If something ever goes wrong with the chair, cabinet or chest of drawers, then I’m the one who deserves the blame. And I’m the one who has to fix it.

Q: Why do you stamp your tools with your mark? Do you not know your own tools? Aren’t you putting yourself on par with the true maker of the tool?

Again, some history. In many apprentice systems, your first purchase was your name stamp. Not to stamp the furniture you built, but to stamp your tools. Many woodworkers had their tools insured through benevolent societies. And to qualify for the insurance, your tool had to be stamped.

Some more recent history. When my parents sent me to Jesus Camp, my mom sewed my name into all my clothes so that when I lost them, they came back to me.

If you work with others or you teach or attend classes, you need to mark your tools. Every class I have been a part of ends with someone taking the wrong tool home or leaving a tool behind.

Q: Why do you modify your tools? Doesn’t that hurt their value?

This question comes mostly from tool collectors. And I suppose they are correct. Dead stock tools are going to sell for more than modified ones. 

For me, however, a tool is worthless if it doesn’t work well. So I am happy to file the metal bits, carve the wooden bits and upgrade the innards in any way to improve the tool’s working characteristics. 

I have no quibbles with tool collectors – they are preserving tools that will be used by future generations. That’s a noble thing. But tool collecting and woodworking are two different avocations. And I’m a user.

— Christopher Schwarz


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