Book Review: The Anarchist’s Tool Chest
I have too many tools. No, I’m serious! I have too many tools!
(I’ll wait until you’re done laughing before I continue…)
At some point, I went from buying tools at estate sales and garage sales, because I needed to outfit my shop, to “rescuing” that lone ¾” Stanley 750, even though I already have two of them at home. This became a sudden reality check when I tried to organize things to bring them into the new shop. I have (at least) four full sets of chisels and eight lignum vitae carving mallets, for Pete’s sake!
So when I heard about Chris Schwarz’s new book, The Anarchist’s Tool Chest, and read a little about the concepts behind it – bucking the current trend of wasteful consumerism in woodworking and outfitting your shop with only the essential woodworking tools – I knew it was a book I needed to get my hands on as soon as it was available.
My (autographed) copy arrived two days after the first shipment of orders. Like several other recent Lost Art Press publications, this book comes in a cloth-covered hard bound copy and it is made with quality paper and an excellent binding technique. I dove into it that first night and have been reading (and re-reading certain parts) in most of my free-time ever since. The print is easy on the eyes; the writing is clear, concise, and fun to read; the photos are plentiful and well-placed.
If you have unlimited shop space, plenty of disposable income, and a dislike of puns and groan-worthy woodworking humor, then this book is probably not for you. If, on the other hand, you want to develop a good set of quality tools to get you busy making things out of wood with a reasonable amount of expenses (notice I didn’t say minimal expenses – quit being cheap!), and enjoy fun and witty writing (not many woodworking books make me laugh out loud), then you should consider reading this book before you buy even one more tool.
The first section of the book, entitled “Memory”, discusses the reason and the concept behind the book in great detail, with the end goal of trying to get people to wake up and break the cycle of buying cheap crap. This is where you also get to see the all-important list of tools you should consider buying (or “you get to keep”, in my case, though I am a little light in the saw department still). Chris also discusses the work shop environment in general, and what kinds of things we might do to create a welcome environment where we can comfortably work on our projects.
The second section, “Reason”, is the meat of the book. It breaks down the tool list in great detail and examines why each tool is on the list, along with a bit of use and upkeep information. This section is riddled with useful tips (along with a large number of puns). The information provided does not by any means replace a week-long class on using hand tools, but it is a good starting point.
The final section, called “Experience”, is mostly involved with building your own anarchist’s tool chest. Chris discusses important dimensions, what kind of wood and joinery to use, what finish is best, and ideas on how you might organize the inside.
His appendices include a chart of what tools some historical tool lists included and a very dangerous section on sources for finding antique tools (read at your own risk). In a thought-provoking Afterword, Chris highlights the fact that our government and free-enterprise will not preserve our craft; this task is left up to you and me, the “passionate amateurs”.
I do not think I could give this book a higher recommendation.