What Happened at Popular Woodworking?

3heads_7816Over the last few months it has become obvious that the values we have for the craft of woodworking, creating and marketing content, and relations with the audience are not shared by the management of Popular Woodworking and its parent company. When you realize that the boat you’re on isn’t ever going to sail in the direction you want to go to, it is best to get off. And, as when any relationship comes to an end, the public discussion of the details serves no purpose.

There is enough spin and speculation online regarding our departure from Popular Woodworking Magazine to warrant a response. To clarify, we resigned our positions as a team and going forward we will be working together as a team. Our decision to leave was not a hasty one, it came after a year and a half of discussing our concerns regarding the brand’s editorial direction and marketing policies with management at all levels of the company. The “restructuring” occurred several months ago, with the departure of Kevin Ireland. While that was a factor, it was not the sole cause. While we have been asked to submit contributions in the future, none of us has accepted that invitation.

We want to thank each and every one of our readers who have taken the time to express their appreciation for our work. We are honored, humbled and dedicated to living up to the things you have said about us. We have decided to move on and we hope that those who enjoy our work will find the next phase of our careers as interesting and exciting as we do. We can be found online at 360woodworking.com and if you visit the site, you will be in the front row as our plans unfold.

— Chuck Bender, Glen Huey & Bob Lang

 

The Magazine

“Bdrrrrrrr…bdrrrrrr”

I had just opened the package the Fedex guy handed me, tilted the envelope and out slid a cell phone.

“bdrrrrrr…bdrrrrrr”

I answer it. “Hello, Eno.”

“Chris…Chris Schwarz, is that you? How…what?”

“Call me, Morehandtools and we don’t have much time, Eno. I hoped this conversation would have taken place under different circumstances but you can never count on hope. I’ve been watching you for some time now, Eno.”

“Been at the beer a bit much lately, eh?”

“They are coming for you Eno.”

“What are you talking about? Who’s coming for me? And stop calling me Eno.”

“Stand up and see for yourself. Look over at the elevator now but stay low.”

“Right now?”

“Yes. Now.”

Peering over the partition wall I see them as they exit the elevator. I see a woman point in the direction of my cubicle and I duck…three editors had turned and looked my direction.

“How did you…what do they want?”

“I’m not sure but if you don’t want to find out, you need to get out of there.” the voice on the phone replied. “I can guide you out but you have to do exactly what I say. The cubicle across from you is empty.”

“But what if…”

“Go! Now!”

I gather up my chisels and hand planes and lunge across the aisle into the vacant cubicle. Two of the editors turn the corner just as I take cover in a dark corner.

“Stay here for a moment.” the voice on the phone whispers. “Just a little longer” he continues.

I peek around the wall of the cubicle and see Editor Fitzpatrick talking to a man while Editor Huey searches my desk. Editor Lang must be waiting in the elevator to cut off my escape.

“When I tell you, go to the end of the row to the office on the left.” says Morehandtools. “Now! And keep your head down.”

I roll out of the cubicle right behind an intern who had just turned his back. I sneak away, crouching as I go, down the aisle and into the first office on the left. The office is empty.

The voice comes across the phone and breaks my fevered concentration. “Good. There’s a window. Open it.”

“How do you know all this?”

“The answer is coming, Eno.”

I fling open the window and the wind howls into the room.

Morehandtools continues, “Outside there’s a scaffold. You can use it to get to the roof. There’s a small ledge. It’s a short climb. You can make it.”

“No. No way! It’s too far. Are you crazy?”

“Don’t be controlled by your fear, Eno. There are only two ways out of this building. One is that scaffold. The other is in their custody. I leave it to you.” Morehandtools hangs up.

As I climb out onto the ledge, I think “This is insane. Why does this keep happening to me? I’m going to die.” A blast of wind knocks me off balance and, as I cling to the building, I lose my grip on the cell phone. It plummets to the ground slowing as it is swallowed by the distance below. I climb back through the window as the editors enter the room.

Editor Fitzpatrick, “We just want to offer you a job.”

“Geez, Chuck. You didn’t have to put us through all of this.” said Editor Lang.

“Yeah, Chuck, come work with us. We think you’ll make a great addition to the team and it’ll be fun!” said Editor Huey.

“That’s what all this is about? You guys want me to work with you? Sounds great but what was Morehandtoo…err, Chris talking about?”

Editor Fitzpatrick replies “Chris?! He’s been touring his way through the German breweries teaching woodworking classes as he goes from town to town. Have you talked to him lately? I don’t think he’s been sober for weeks.”

That explained everything and I humbly accepted the editors offer. So, on June 3rd I enter The Matrix…umm, start working with my friends Megan, Glen and Bob as the new Senior Editor for Popular Woodworking Magazine.

Six years ago when I finally broke down after years of Glen Huey’s badgering me to begin writing and teaching, I started the Acanthus Workshop and submitted my first article idea to Popular Woodworking Magazine. The whole idea was to reach out and share my experience with other woodworkers. Sure, I had apprentices in the past (as many as six in the shop at one time, of varying experience) but this was something different. This was being driven solely by my desire to pass on what I had learned. And so I embarked on a tremendous new woodworking adventure.

I would never have guessed that it would take the turns that it did nor would I have guessed I would have met such amazing people in the process. Through the school I’ve come to know some really great people who are as passionate about their avocation as I am about my vocation. Through writing for the magazine, I’ve had the opportunity to give presentations to the crowds at Woodworking in America and to woodworking clubs and guilds across the country. I’ve had the opportunity to travel with The Woodworking Shows and meet beginning and experienced woodworkers from all walks of life. The best part of this new adventure is, none of that will change.

Sure, the Acanthus Workshop will be scaled back but I plan to continue teaching classes (Bob Van Dyke of the CVSW are you reading this?). As a member of the Popular Woodworking team, I plan on participating in Woodworking in America 2013 as a presenter again. And, of course, you’ll get to know me even better through my increased writing both in the magazine and out. This change means I will finally have more time to blog both here and on the magazine’s site.

It also means my wife and I will be relocating to Cincinnati. The magazine has generously worked with us so we can wrap up the 2013 class schedule. Some classes are being rescheduled over the next couple of months while others may be relocated to our new base of operations. As the details unfold, the website will be updated.

I’m sure I’ll do this more than once over the coming months but I want to thank everyone who has so graciously accepted me into this woodworking fraternity (and I mean that in a purely non gender-specific way). To the students past and present here at the Acanthus Workshop, and the subscribers to No BS Woodworking, I want to offer my sincerest thanks. It is my interaction with all of you that has turned my experiment into the most fun job I ever had. I am truly blessed and grateful to each and every one of you for your participation, patronage and your friendship over the past six years. I look forward to many more years of our interaction.

I’d like to thank my lovely wife, Lorraine for all her years of support. She worked with me in the shop for years and has supported every endeavor I’ve decided to try. When opportunity knocked for the senior editor position she more than enthusiastically expressed how she thought I ought to go for it (some would say she was “excited”…in fact, she has on multiple occasions herself). I know how close she is with her family and how hard it will be to move so far away from them. To paraphrase Clint Eastwood in Grand Turino, ‘I somehow managed to get the best girl in the world to marry me. It’s the best that’s ever happened to me, by far. ‘

And I want to publicly thank Glen Huey for being one of the best friends I’ve ever had. Without his creative input my career would never have made the turn into this exciting, fascinating and completely rewarding segment of the woodworking world. He has encouraged me to reach out to a larger world and share my experiences. He has inspired me with his unflinching craftsmanship, his insatiably inquisitive nature and his unparalleled passion for the craft. Without his guidance and mentorship I would never have come to know any of you. I certainly would not have even considered tackling a career at The Magazine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Open house

In case you hadn’t heard, we’re having an open house on November 23 & 24, 2012. Everything will happen here at the workshop from 11am through 5pm on both days.

There are select pieces of furniture from our private collection as well as some sample pieces we used to take to shows. Since I’ve limited my participation in furniture shows, we just have too many pieces. Naturally we (read my wife) decided it was time to sell them off to make room for pieces I am already building or have planned to build. The great part of having an online woodworking show is I get to make some really cool things that I’ve always wanted to make. The down side is we’ve got a finite amount of space to put them.

If you are in the area on Thanksgiving weekend, and would like to see the shop or purchase one of the pieces for sale, please stop by and say hello. You can get all the pertinent info by checking out our class/show calendar or, if you’d like to view some of the furniture for sale, click on the Furniture For Sale tab in the navigation bar above.

 

I get asked this a lot

Carved Chippendale chairsWhen I’m out on the road, I get lots of questions. One of the most frequent is what’s going on in my shop? I guess people are looking to make a connection between what I am working on and what they have going on in their shop. For me the problem is, between writing for Popular Woodworking Magazine, producing an online woodworking show and dvd’s, teaching classes and trying to get some furniture made for customers, my answer is usually not much of real interest.

 

In talking with Glen Huey, over at  Woodworker’s Edge, he made me realize that people aren’t necessarily looking for a detailed report. They just want to know what interesting things have been happening in my shop lately. Well, once again, the lightbulb clicked on and I finally got it.

A few years back one of my good customers sent me an email and asked about commissioning a pair of chairs to match some old ones that had been in his family for quite some time. Since I had done some other pieces for him in the past that were lots of fun (primarily Newport pieces some of which are in my portfolio), I jumped at working with him again on another project. 

If you’ve read through Parings you may have stumbled upon a blog post about Monticello. It was on that same trip that I stopped and looked at the chairs to be copied. I also picked up a side chair and an arm chair from the original set that needed repair. This worked out well because the chairs are rather complex and it would be great to have a model from which to work in the shop. This helps both for the carving details as well as the color and finish.

Yeah, I know those other posts are four years old. I’ve got a backlog, what can I say? The chairs got finished and, after lots of fits and starts, the customer finally took delivery a few weeks ago  of his repaired chairs and the two new ones made to match.

The big thing to remember is the parallel you can draw between my work and yours. When that certain someone asks if you’re ever going to finish that project that’s been in your shop for months just say “I may take a while but I’m no where near as slow as Chuck Bender.”…no, that’s not what I want you to say. Just say “It may be taking quite a bit of extra time but, when I’m done, you’ll be amazed that I could make something like  that.”

In typical woodworker fashion, I fret and worry over my projects from beginning to end. I’m sure at every step of the project that it’ll be a complete piece of junk by the time I’m done. This, for me, means I’m sure the customer would never want this abomination in their home. When the last of the surface prep is complete, the color is dry and the final bit of wax is applied to the project I usually shake my head and realize how lucky I got…once again. Are the projects perfect? Far from it but if you give me (or you) a little time, we’ll both be amazed that I could make something like that…

As my friend Glen Huey says, get into your shop and “build something great”. Thankfully, he doesn’t put a deadline on it.

 

When to stop measuring

You know I’m in favor of layout sticks because you’ve probably read my previous two posts on the subject (Proper Planning and Sticking to the Plan). The hard part to admit is I don’t use them. That’s right, you heard me. I don’t use layout sticks 100% of the time. Oh, I start with one nearly 100% of the time but there’s always a point where the layout stick becomes useless.

When do you reach the point where you no longer use a layout stick you ask? It’s at the point where theory meets reality.

Using the layout stick to mark shelf placement.

Using a layout stick on the initial construction of a case, for instance, is a great idea. I advocate using it for directly dimensioning the parts. The minute you have something concrete put together, either dry fit or glued up, it’s time to let the layout stick gather dust. In other words, I’ll use it to dimension my case parts and get my thicknesses and widths of my face frame parts but I won’t cut my stiles and rails to final length using ONLY the layout stick.

Once I get the case together, whether a dry fit or glued up (glued up preferably), I’ll take my dimensions off the case itself. I still won’t use a ruler or tape measure because that allows room for me to make calculation errors. I know, just do the math. I’ve been through school and did the math. Why should I EVER have to do it again (and I’m a HUGE math fan, by the way)?

Marking the shelf to final size using the actual case.

The answer is, I shouldn’t. No matter what I’m working on, I try very hard to avoid measuring and calculating dimensions. Every time you put a rule to a piece of wood or a pencil to a piece of paper (or usually scrap wood in my shop) you stand a chance of making a calculation error. So, use the ruler to create the layout stick then put it away and don’t bring it out until you absolutely need it.

All of this is predicated on the concept that you are coherently thinking about what you are doing and what steps follow. In the case of the project in the photos, I made a design change in process. I made all the case parts thinner because they looked too heavy once I started milling. I wasn’t about to go back and redraw my layout stick but there was still a ton of useful information on it (such as the location of my shelf). I just needed to make the appropriate adjustments when needed.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know I’m an advocate of woodworkers fully engaging their thinking machines before ever touching a piece of wood. The key is to keep it turned on and functioning throughout every single step of the process. Know when to use theory and when reality supersedes.

Want to be a better woodworker? Think about it.