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The Anarchist's Tool Chest and The Value of True Quality

Posted on 18 May 2016

There is a certain kind of book that exists between a technical manual and a true piece of theory or literature. There's a book like this that I keep under the dash of my 1965 VW bus: John Muir's 1969 VW repair manual How To Keep Your Volkswagen Alive. It's an invaluable resource for perpetual novices and driveway tinkerers who insist on driving fussy and fragile old Volkswagens. Muir's manual is equal parts philosophy and practical know-how. It not only tells you how to fix your car but also what tools you need, how to handle them, and why doing so in a careful and considerate way matters. 

Chris Schwarz's book The Anarchist's Tool Chest is the only other book I have read in the same vein as How To Keep Your Volkswagen Alive. I have picked up a number of woodworking manuals; they all tend to be hideously drab reads. Invariably, I get 20 pages in before my eyes roll into the back of my head and I pass out. 

Not so with The Anarchist's Tool Chest

The core idea of the book is to walk you through what basic hand tools you need to become a proficient woodworker (no fancy multi-thousand dollar Festool setup needed), how to determine if a tool is any good, then how to use those tools to make a tool chest to house them. Schwarz walks you through each tool, explaining its purpose and place in a way that reads like a story, acquainting the beginner or further familiarizing the hobbyist. 

The Anarchist's Tool Chest is not just another stodgy woodworking book written for woodworkers and sold in woodworking stores. I think it would be fair to say that traditional woodworking isn't necessarily on the minds of many Core77 readers, but this book offers an important perspective for those of us who feel uneasy about the chipboard junk that has become the standard of quality in our culture. It is a book to empower the reader be something beyond a consumer. I think people have largely forgotten that they have more control over their environment than they realize. Perhaps the first step towards wresting our identity back from big box consumption is equipping ourselves with the tools and knowledge to fill our life with meaningful objects. This book helps the reader become more self-reliant. Self-reliance is often freedom. 

Historic image via Lost Art Press

Hand-Eye Supply also stocks The Anarchist's Design Book, another great text for the beginning or experienced woodworker, in which Schwarz explores the construction of a number of pieces of furniture in traditional yet unpretentious forms. 


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