The Anarchist's Tool Chest (the book)


(I wrote this review before attending Schwarz's excellent class building the Toolbox, which I review next.)

I liked Christopher Schwarz's last book project, The Joiner and Cabinet Maker, so much that I actually wrote two reviews of it for different venues. I've enjoyed his next major work, The Anarchist's Tool Chest, but while it's still a strong book, my feelings are more mixed.

The book has three main components which fit together somewhat uneasily:

  • Schwarz's many opinions on hand tools (plus some other equipment);

  • Detailed instructions for actually building a tool chest, which remind me a lot of his demonstration of the projects in The Joiner and Cabinet Maker;

  • Assorted takes on the challenges of anarchism and craft in the 21st century.

While I doubt my politics and Schwarz's politics are that similar in details, I agreed with practically everything he writes here about anarchism. His take on craft is a much-needed corrective to the piles of particleboard I see out with people's trash on a regular basis. Those two pieces combine into a coherent overall politics of craft.

The problem, though, is that the political message surfaces once in a while and then disappears again. It's kind of maybe background in the sections on choosing tools and building the chest, but mostly it surfaces in opening and closing sections, with a brilliant intermission ("A Tale of Three Tables") between sections. When he's talking about tools or building the chest, he's just talking about tools or building the chest. Well, in a more exciting way than most writers, but the focus changes drastically.

The other problem seems common to pretty much all hand-tool books. They may guide you smoothly into projects that help you practice using the tools, but they assume you have a complete set available. This made sense for The Joiner and Cabinet Maker, which was after all about an apprenticeship in a functioning shop, but seems strange in an "Anarchist" context. It's certainly possible for newcomers to work in a shared shop of some kind, with a complete set of tools, but otherwise they have to figure out where to start in purchasing an enormous set of tools. Some lucky folks might inherit them, but most readers will have to invest lots of money or time to build even the core set Schwarz describes. None of those options feels particularly anarchist, though I'll certainly give Schwarz points for suggesting used or the best possible new equipment.

(The closest competition to the "Reason" section on tools, Garrett Hack's Classic Hand Tools, has many of the same problems. It bothered me less in that book, though, because it was more targeted at providing an overview and intense eye-candy. It's a nice complement to The Anarchist's Tool Chest in many ways.)

If you're an intermediate hand-tool woodworker already, this may not matter. You have a set of tools, and probably (most critically) a workbench. Schwarz's opinions are always interestingly presented, and may drive you to reconsider how you use your tools. The tool chest itself looks great, and I've had a lot of fun watching the variations that have turned up on the Lost Art Press blog and elsewhere.

Overall, this is definitely a good book. Most of my frustration with it comes in places where I think it could have been a great book, but stopped short.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Simon St.Laurent published on October 6, 2012 10:27 AM.

That long-ago first project was the previous entry in this blog.

The Anarchist's Tool Chest (the class) is the next entry in this blog.

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