Baby steps toward anarchy

The question “why”  rests deep in the marrow of my bones. I can’t help myself. When someone says something can’t be done, or someone gives me a directive I don’t understand it wells up and begs an answer.


I think that’s why I connected on such a deep level with the philosophy Chris Schwarz expounds in The Anarchist’s Tool ChestBecause it answers questions I didn’t even know I was asking and put language to things I was thinking long before I picked up the book.

The work of the aesthetic anarchist (as I understand it) is to choose quality and purpose over the expedient and fashionable. To challenge the prevailing narrative of planned obsolescence with planned permanence.

It is, in short, to choose put down roots somewhere when all the world is dust in the wind. I can get on board with that.

Another way to think of it is cognitive dissonance, not within one’s own self, but within one’s culture. The simple act of eschewing the fiberboard, flat-pack world for something more substantial bears witness that this something more substantial is actually possible.

But such anarchy doesn’t reside in books and ideas alone. The proof is in the shavings. Anarchy rests on the finely sharpened points of your rip saw. It sits at the end of your chisel, waiting to be unleashed. Somewhere in your wood stack there is a declaration of independence waiting to be signed in sweat and sawdust.

These are the things I’ve been thinking about with every choice I’ve made in constructing the (baby) Anarchist’s Tool Chest. I’ve been plugging along (albeit slowly) on this chest, and at every turn I have had to ask myself questions like “do I really want to shell out for blacksmith made hinges?” “How much am I willing to spend on paint?” “What about nails?”

And every time I ask a question like this I ask another question right behind it: “Do I want this to be around when my grandchildren are old enough to have their own grandchildren?” All of a sudden the answers become pretty obvious.

It’s like my grandfather used to say: “If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing better than IKEA.” 

Or something like that.

Anyway, I’ve made some real progress. The lid is dimensioned, embellished with a tasteful thumbnail moulding and waiting for battens. The rot strips (made out of some spare walnut) have been epoxied and screwed to the base. I’ve started fitting out the inside tray runners and I’m ready to make some trays.

In the meantime I bought some milk paint in a deep, bold blue from a local antiques store.

I found these there as well. They’re reproduction, but they’re sturdy.

I did go all out on hinges from Nathan’s Forge based on a good recommendation from a fellow woodworker. I’ll post those when they arrive.

Until then, I’ve got some gluing and hammering to do.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. James, this is a wonderful post which really captures the importance of the Anarchist’s Tool Chest book.

    Like you, the question “why?” resonates deeply for me. And if I can suggest another permutation of the “why?”; “why do I do this in this way?”. I don’t know about you, but for me the doing is not enough, I need to know “why?” I am doing something and why I am doing it in that particular way. It is this “why?” which led me down a very hand-tool focused path, and which prompts me to interrogate my craft (and most other aspects of my life) on a routine basis.

    Great choice of colour for your baby-Anarchist’s Tool Chest by the way. All the best tool chests are blue 😉


    1. They are aren’t they? I went through a slate of other colors and then came back to this blue.

      I have a healthy respect for “how things have always been done” but I’m always asking if that’s how they should continue to be done. Like you, I think that’s what brought me back to hand tools.

      With “conventional” wisdom being so machine-centric these days (all the older guys at church look at me like I’ve lost my mind when I tell them I no longer have a table saw) hand tools seem positively rebellious, but I don’t use them primarily to thumb my nose at the biscuit jointer club, but because they allow me a level of precision, control and tactile connection to the work that makes the work worthwhile.

      And, because most of what I make are “one-offs” hand tools save me a lot of time jigging up and fidgeting with machines.


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