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Book Review: The Anarchist’s Tool Chest

June 10, 2011

I have too many tools. No, I’m serious! I have too many tools!

The Anarchist's Tool Chest

(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.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. June 10, 2011 9:25 pm

    Excellent, and timely review. I think I may actually write a “Father’s Day list” 😉


  2. June 10, 2011 11:48 pm

    Thanks, Scott! I’m amazed I a) finished it so quickly and b) wrote the review of it in a timely manner, as well!

    But not only did I get a blog entry out of it, I also came up with a submission for my Library Corner section of the St. Louis Woodworkers Guild Newsletter this month, so it was a win/win.


  3. Mike Mitchell permalink
    June 26, 2011 9:29 pm

    I just finished my copy (I didn’t preorder until the very last day that it was opened) and loved it! I don’t have many tools in my shop and find myself wishing for things all the time. After reading this book I realize that I do need some of them but others that I was about to spend money on are really not needed. Your review is spot on and I’m really looking forward to throwing out some of my plywood crap for good!


  4. June 26, 2011 11:05 pm

    Thanks Mike! Let me know how your tool purchasing goes!

    In other news…

    My parents are up this week to help babysit the little guy (regular sitter on vacation). Chatting with my mom at the dining room table, I looked over to see she was using my copy of The Anarchist’s Tool Chest as a coaster for her tea mug!


    “What are you doing,” I asked as I displaced her tea mug from my book.

    “I didn’t want to damage your dining room table so I just put it on the closest surface.”

    “Mom, the dining room table has a factory-applied lacquer finish. The signed first edition book has a cloth binding. Which do you think is more liable to be damaged?”

    Fortunately, no harm came to the book (or my mother) during its short stint as a coaster.


  5. Bill Lattanzio permalink
    September 2, 2011 3:17 pm

    I am a big fan/follower of Chris Schwarz’s writing and have read three books of his, this being the fourth. I enjoyed this book a great deal but in truth it scared me a little( in the woodworking sense). I’ve been woodworking for nearly three years and gravitated to handwork after a a year and a half or so. The first red flag was shortly into my handwork journey when I couldn’t find a decent brace and bit set. Eventually I found an okay one and half a collection of bits. That is when it dawned on me that handwork is a fairly rare thing these days.
    Schwarz’s easy going writing style contrasts well with an important subject(at least to woodworkers) and his tool lists are excellent. Among other things he puts a new responsibility on the amateur woodworker to not only continue developing hand skills but to use them pratically for your own benefit as well as the teaching of others who are willing to learn. I use the analogy of a world on the brink between the Woodwright’s Shop and Star Trek. Schwarz recognizes that we probably will never again see a world with four or five top craftsman per village. But he also recognizes that if we as amateurs don’t pick up the torch that we may have a world with no craftsman and only cheap, mass marketed, junk furniture.
    That all to me makes this an important book to woodworkers. It is his hope that the world of handwork will continue to grow and that we woodworkers will continue to support magazines with good woodworking content and toolmakers like Lie Nielsen and Veritas among others.
    More importantly it is our duty to teach others what we learn and to become the new craftsman of the Star Trek era..


  6. September 5, 2011 8:50 am

    @ Bill – Thanks for the additional thoughts. Continuing the woodworking traditions of old is a heavy mantle Chris has placed on our shoulders. But as long as none of us wears our red shirts down to the workshop, I think we’ll be ok!


  7. John Walker permalink
    September 13, 2011 6:06 am

    Hi Kiltie,

    I have yet to get a copy of the book. I am undecided at the moment, for I recently came to my own conclusion I have far too many tools. Certainly I feel a lot better for throwing out a heap of offcuts recently. (What’s the betting I shall be looking for a certain piece of a certain species in a few months time!)

    My main concern with my hand tools is being sure they are always sharp and ready for use. With too many littering the shop, it can be an ‘evolution’ making sure they are all fettled. So maybe a reduction in tool stocks would be a benefit. Also, the money I might raise from selling on a few, might buy me some timber!

    Nice review and thanks for taking the time and trouble.

    JW (UK)



  1. The Anarchist’s Tool Chest: A List of Reviews | The Literary Workshop Blog
  2. I used to be an anarchist but I quit. There were too many rules. | Short Attention Span Workshop

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