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The Anarchist's Tool Chest by Christopher Schwarz
blaisepascal
Christopher Schwarz is several things: he's a woodworker, a publisher, a writer, an editor, and an anarchist. Like most anarchists I've met and talked with, he spends more time explaining what anarchism isn't than what it is. Needless to say, the particular brand of anarchism he is espousing in this book ("aesthetic anarchism") does not involve bombing things, the violent overthrow of governments, etc. Unfortunately, I feel that I have not walked away from this book with a sense of what "aesthetic anarchism" is.

What I did walk away from was a very good description of what he thinks are essential hand-tools for furniture making, as well as a good idea of his philosophy towards tools and tool use is. He feels, after having amassed a large collection of tools, that a small set of good quality tools and the knowledge of how to use them are better than lots of specialized tools. As such, the book concentrates on describing the 50 or so tools he recommends for furniture makers, how to judge them, care for them, and use them. Some of the tools he describes how to make (saw benches, straight edges, and a few others). He is clear about his opinion of tools these days (there are a few makers of good tools today, but you pay for the quality; most of the new hand tools sold are "tool-shaped objects"), but also emphasizes that there are plenty of perfectly usable old (pre-WWII) tools available for affordable prices that are worth getting.

Roughly, I'd say that this book is about 4/7th about tools, 2/7th about how to build a tool chest to hold the tools, and 1/7th his journey from an 11-year-old buying his first crappy coping saw to writing this book. I found it all interesting reading, but that might not be a selling-point for you.

The main problem I have with the tool portion of the book is that, although this is the book he wishes he had when he was just starting, I find it not informative about how to begin. Yes, there are "only" 50 essential tools, but there is little guidance on which are more essential than which: if I am just starting out, and can't afford 5 planes, 7 chisles, 8 saws, etc, what should I get? What can I use instead if I don't have everything? There is some, but not enough.

The tool chest build is a better build description than most projects I've read before. The chest is well-designed, based on traditional chests he's studied, as well as his experiences with previous chests. He clearly emphasizes at every step of the way what choices are available, what choices he made, and why. There are detailed drawing, photos, build descriptions, etc, and yet I get the feeling that he doesn't want me to make my tool chest the same as his; it's as if he's saying "here's how to you can exactly copy mine, but make your own chest". Of course, the prologue to the book is entitled "Disobey me", so I suspect I'm reading his intentions exactly right here.

If you are interested in hand-tool woodworking, I would suggest giving this book a read. It may change how you think about your work, it may give you better appreciation for your tools and how to use them, or it may piss you off. Either way, it's a good thing.

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