The Anarchist's Tool Chest

  • Advertise with us
Review by mafe posted 08-20-2011 06:21 PM 33059 views 3 times favorited 158 comments Add to Favorites Watch
The Anarchist's Tool Chest The Anarchist's Tool Chest The Anarchist's Tool Chest Click the pictures to enlarge them

Review of The Anarchist’s Tool Chest
By: Christopher Schwarz

I have just re written the review slightly since I after reading it again could see that I could be read wrong in some passages, that they could be read like ‘personal’, I belive what is left now is not more personal than Schwarz’s choose to put us inside in his book. I never meant to harm Schwarz’s I try to review a book.
(I posted a mark in the comments so you can se where the old and new comments is).

Before I start this review I have to link to the story of how it got this book so all know that I love the book for a special reason, even this has nothing to do with the content, thank you to my friend and Elf.

I’ll also say I love Schwarz book about work benches and will recommend anyone building a bench to buy this book before he set up for a specific type of bench since there are so many different and he goes through a good part of them.

The Anarchist’s Tool Chest:
Before I even get started I will say I do not like this book, so if you are one of those who like to call Schwarz for Chris and see him as a friend even you never meet the guy just stop here and go and buy the book please, there are no reason to know what I mean then.

If you are looking for a book about a man thinking loud full of sarcasm on how to get through his midlife crisis, and trying to tell others what mistakes he had done you have come to the right place, this is in its essence what The Anarchist’s Tool Chest is contributing. Perhaps even if you are not usually able to laugh about yourself and like to get an example that you can mirror yourself inside and in that way be able to laugh about yourself it might be the book also. (This might not be bad, I personally read plenty of midlife crisis books when I had mine).
If you are interested in a book about acual woodworking, or a useful advice on what tools that should be in the shop of a woodworker of our time try other places, you can read the old the joiner and cabinetmaker that inspired him, and here get a picture of what it might have been like, when I say might is it because the author is unknown so we do not really know if the book is fiction.
I’m not aware if the book can be found online but you can buy a reprint with additional material here: .
Or look in the list of books at the end of the review, some are even free.

That was a hard one MaFe, and will not be Popular Review Magazine!

Yes, and I feel almost guilty to write this review, since I do not like the book and generally don’t like to give bad reviews, but I do, and to write a review about a book written by Schwarz needs the tone of Schwarz and this is not sensitive against other people’s feelings, I have learned this the hard way.
In the beginning Schwarz try to convince us he is a ‘real’ woodworker – or more try to convince himself. And in this dilemma he gets lost in his own words and stories, there are really no heads or tails.
Schwarz have a urge to tell us all the time that he is good enough and that he has worked so many years with wood, held more tools than anyone else, read more books, made more wood working, tried this and that and so on, for me it becomes embarrassing, and I really do not understand why he needs that, I think he have plenty to be proud of, he have achieved high quality abilities to do woodworking, a huge knowledge in the field and been able to make himself a name within this field that he burns for. After reading the book I am not all sure, even he try to be funny on the behalf of his x girlfriend Asian roots and lifestyle I sometimes get the feeling that he still is searching for what he wants to do with his life, and I think he is not alone I have been there too and I’m sure plenty of men between 40-50 reading this will say ‘I know that’, but as I said this is a classic mid life crisis and so we should probably leave it there and let him grow old enough to find his inner peace and trust in himself, but it is just not easy when he wants us to read his book, and I do not understand why I should hear about his problems in a book about woodworking (Sorry).

Several pages are dedicated with photos to show us that he now have a wooden floor in his workshop, and this without any details about how, why?

Finally we are supposed to learn about tools, but again we hear more about Schwarz telling about his path that of course are so clear that everybody else can learn from this and do not need to make their own learning. The biggest problem here is that it is never clear, and the advises always end by the fact that you should buy tools from a trusted dealer where you can return the tool if you don’t like it, and yes we got the message E-bay sucks in his world. While he keeps telling us to keep it simple he tells us all the time also what he has collected, while he tells us that he makes a simple list of tools he tells us about other tools we need and so on, in other words all the ideas behind the book he simply can’t follow him self and so it becomes without meaning.

This is a book where the ends don’t meetand the short rude punch lines to make the readers impressed do not work, (people even told me it is charming that he is rude), and so this book becomes a total confusion between a self biography, a self promotion, a build a chest and a mix of thoughts that are not yet under control – chaos and not at all Anarchy.

In my world people don’t have a workshop that are replica of a old English work shop for a cabinet maker, infact I know noone but Schwarz who wants a workshop like this, even we would all love to have one of these also, and we need to make choices in life so we can’t always go to the local trusted dealer and buy the most expensive version even we know that this is what we should do. Most people start as young, they want to fix something, likely the first tool buy is a hammer to put pictures on the wall and after epoxy to put it back when it falls out, and not the full set for a carpenter 150 years ago (ok perhaps I do, but I’m over forty and have tons of other tools). And even he is really trying to make us believe that he is right all the time, of course he is not in many of his hard learned facts, there are many ways and as many meanings, and example is that we do not need a spokeshave with a curved sole that flat can do the same… try to tell that to those working with complex narrow curves. Or when he try to tell us a wooden hammer handle are better than a modern one in composite materials that are absorbing the shock, of course the new one are better, let him work as a carpenter for a week and we will see what he will go for – but I agree they are dead ugly.

Once in a while I mange to smile, but most of the time I am really tired during this part that also are the longest part of the book, the same lines are used again and again to convince us (old technique in writing to dummies like us), and the few good points or facts drown under this semi religion. I have a habit to make folds in my books when there are some good advices, facts or how to, this book might be one of the few where there are almost none… But then again should I make a fold where Schwarz try to tell me about his dinner table and how much he hates IKEA, to me it’s amazing he try to make this into a story or even worse when he try to teach us about design, Schwarz what were you thinking when you wrote this?

The bonus…
Ok I was sure the book had ended, but please help me, Schwarz try to tell us he is a anarchist, I can only imagine the faces of the people present the day he said so… This man feel he is in his right to be rude to whoever he wants, he is not even grateful to his boss and his job but even finish of the book by saying he is not sure this is what he wants, he tell us how he is so full of aggression and are ready to scream if people waste his time or he have to wait in a line (his own words in the book), his magazine is app. 1/3 commercials and he do videos for Lie Nielsen, and yet he try to tell us he is not under influence by the companies since he buy his own tools…

The end of the book.
This part is a how to build a tool chest to store your tools inside. First of all what home wood worker (buyers of this book) really needs a chest? Who should steal your tools in your own workshop… I think a tool cabinet would have been more interesting, a place where the tools would be at hand and I did not need to bend down to get a hammer or crawl to get a hand plane only to discover that I need a doctor because I can’t get up… Ok but at the end this is a matter of taste, interest and was in that book that inspred him to do his, so I almost buy it – almost.

When this is said Schwarz build a beautiful chest, and we see clearly that he know how to put things together in a good way, I’m impressed! Also I like that he think, it would just have been nice if it was a little, in a typical how to we spend a few lines for each picture to tell, he spends a whole page of talking for each picture and this becomes quite dull, even he claims to be one of the sharpest in the business, when he tells us that he is on his number five sharpening stone (you are supposed to be impressed).

I hope this review was at least a little constructive even I took the rude pen of Schwarz to write this review, and that you can read between the lines that what I actually say is, do not buy this book if you are looking for a woodworking book, if you are under 45 of age, unless you suffer from midlife crisis and need a mirror, instead spend the money on tools, seek up your information where people are kind and helpful, like right here on LJ, do not ask yourself what would Schwarz have done, you are not him, and you don’t make what he do (I guess), but ask yourself what you need to build and then what you need of tools, buy tools for fun also, play be a child make mistakes, to buy a wrong tool is not the end of the world and if you do not have the money to buy expensive tools use E-bay or other ways to get old tools, and learn to restore and tune them, find out who you are in all this and do it with a smile and the ability to share this in a positive way with the others, at the end this is what it is all about. If you like to collect tools do that, this is wonderful, but if your hands can, then restore them and try to understand them, this brings great joy and makes you understand what tools you need and what tools that suits you and your desire. Sometimes the straightway as Schwarz try to explain us not so straight at all, it is in the process we learn.

(If you need advice ask, there are so many wonderful people around who do not feel you waste their time if you ask advice but see the pleasure in passing on what was given to them).

If you are interested in old tools use and or the period Schwarz try to describe try:

Classic Hand Tools By Garrett Hack, John S Sheldon

Woodworking Tools 1600-1900, by Peter C. Welsh


The Complete Woodworker
Bernard E Jones
First printed in 1917
This book simply teels all you need to know if you will go the handtool way.

Tools: Working Wood in Eighteenth-Century America
ISBN-10: 0879350989
ISBN-13: 978-0879350987

The toolbox book, Jim Tolpin
ISBN: 978-1-56158-272-3

Mastering hand tool techniques
ISBN: 1-55870-457-4

Roubos planches is free to download here (thank you Andreax):

Here you can buy a CD with the Roubo book L’ART DU MENUISIER EN BATIMENT and get the planches (posters), it is photographed high resolution quality so you can see the bend of the pages:
Here planches from France with all the wonderful old tools and ‘Roubo’ workbench free to download and print:

Best thoughts,

For the record: Link to a blog I made on Popular Wood Workings policy on stealing people’s rights to their own projects what I really not consider anarchy in it’s pure form.

Link to the blog where I tell about Mr. Schwarz rude answer to me when I confronted him with the policy of his magazine, this gives me a certain right to talk back to him just as rude as I’m pleased lol.

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect.

View mafe's profile


13204 posts in 4249 days

158 comments so far

View Mark Shymanski's profile

Mark Shymanski

5623 posts in 4872 days

#1 posted 08-20-2011 06:54 PM

I’d also wondered about this book. I’m not sure why being an anarchist is relevant to woodworking. Based on what you write here I think I will move this book way down the purchase priority list. Thank you again for a detailed review, and the links at the end.

-- "Checking for square? What madness is this! The cabinet is square because I will it to be so!" Jeremy Greiner LJ Topic#20953 2011 Feb 2

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 4157 days

#2 posted 08-20-2011 07:15 PM

I totally agree about the tool chest. They are wonderful for what they were intended. They were a theft deterrent in a shop where you work for someone else. Somewhat mobile if you change jobs or workstations. Too heavy for someone to carry off on their own.

They are miserable to work out of. Forever sliding tills back and forth to get to something that you cannot see down in the dark depths. Something shifts and sticks up and the tills don’t slide at all. Always sitting in the wrong place so you have to walk and work around them. If you replace a tool, you have to find one that fits.

As far as his writing, what I have read of his work always seems to be from the perspective of a journalist looking at woodworking and woodworkers rather than a woodworker telling his story or techniques. Almost as if people working were a curiosity from long ago and somewhat odd and out of place. Much like an anthropologist looking at some odd tribe and pointing out how “quaint” they are while not being too successful at hiding their disdain.

I much prefer the enthusiasm of Roy Underhill, the introspection of James Krenov, or the gruff “do it this way” of Tage Frid. I especially enjoy the odd perspectives such as Cecil Pierce or Alexander Wegers who cut through the “mystique” and say more in a paragraph than others do in a chapter.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View Bertha's profile


13624 posts in 3852 days

#3 posted 08-20-2011 07:24 PM

Nicely put, David.

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View Manitario's profile


2818 posts in 4042 days

#4 posted 08-20-2011 07:26 PM

Thanks Mafe for writing this and going against the tide of praise for this book. I haven’t read the book, but I trust your opinion. Maybe when I reach mid-life, or decide to become an anarchist I’ll pick it up and read it, but for now, you’ve convinced me to leave it alone.

-- Sometimes the creative process requires foul language. -- Charles Neil

View Milo's profile


869 posts in 4479 days

#5 posted 08-20-2011 08:17 PM

I bought Schwartz bench book, and built the Nicholson. It’s in my Projects.

Thank you for the review. This book was already on my Christmas list, and now I can’t wait to read it.

-- Beer, Beer, Thank God for Beer. It's my way of keeping my mind fresh and clear...

View llwynog's profile


288 posts in 3738 days

#6 posted 08-20-2011 08:33 PM

I ordered the book 2 days ago.
This is the first negative review that I read about this book.
Oh well… I’ll see what I think of it when I read it.

-- Fabrice - "On est bien bête mais on sent bien quand on se fait mal" - my grandfather

View mafe's profile


13204 posts in 4249 days

#7 posted 08-20-2011 09:13 PM

Hi guys,

I did know this review might bring me in trouble, I felt this last time I had the nerves to not just be positive arround Schwartz…

For the record:
I have nothing agains Schwartz, the truth is that I don’t know him, never meet him, and since I live in Europe there are a good chance I will never meet him, or will get to know him, but we never know the world is small and Roy Underhill just visited Denmark so why not, he will be welcome for a cup of coffee here.

When Shwartz writes a book and send it to the stores to be sould I’m sure he knows he will get reviews, I have made a critic of his book here about the content of the book, not about Schwartz, if some one feel so, please read the book and then the review, you might not agree in my review, but I only critique what is in the book. I have no intention of a personal attac on Schwartz and I’m sorry if it is understood so, but really I have no qualifications for that.

Fabrice, you might love it, we never know.

Milo, that is the right attetude! I love that.

3fingerpat, I would have been happy if you had told my why you find it a good book, I think this is more interesting than the who is mad at who. Please read my review of his workbench book and I think you will see I have no reason to be ashamed, I have plenty of nice words about Schwartz. I have read a lot of good stuff Schwartz wrote, I write in this review that I even admire him, but this part I perhaps don’t make clear enough. But I guess you are right, we just disagree, and is that wrong? My fionce loves the Phantom of the opera, I think it is the most borring book, we can’t all be the same, even when it is the once we love.

Rob, yes this is why I say I know I would be in trouble, I go against the tide here, I honestly tried to love this book, for the simple reason of my wonderful Elf, but we can’t win them all…

Al, ;-)

David, it seems we have more the same taste for books, but I would never compare Schwarts to names as Roy Underhill or James Krenov he is not made of that in my oppinion – he is as you say a journalist, and I think this is his strong side, he wrote a good number of good articles you can read several on and it is also what I try to say in my review, that I think he is good in the short reviews and also he impressed me in this work bench book. Honestly I did not read a lot he wrote and made two reviews of his books one good one bad…

Mark, you can read some more reviews and make a choice… Smile.

Best thoughts,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect.

View lysdexic's profile


5349 posts in 3782 days

#8 posted 08-20-2011 09:56 PM

You are on of my favorite contributors to LJ’s and I appreciate your review of this book but I can’t get past the personal and bitter undertone.

-- "It's only wood. Use it." - Smitty || Instagram - nobodhi_here

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 4275 days

#9 posted 08-20-2011 09:59 PM

:—)) I think I go down in the basement and look into the mirror there
it has to be trown out after the little flood anyway so it doesn´t matter it cracks
in 200 peices when it try to replicate my image …........... LOL

I turn 50 next year so I expecting to be over that crises after 20 years in it …............ LOL

thank´s Mads :-)


View SamuelP's profile


793 posts in 3806 days

#10 posted 08-20-2011 10:19 PM

Thanks for the honesty.

-- -Sam - FL- "A man who carries a cat by the tail learns somthing he can in no other way" -Mark Twain

View Chelios's profile


568 posts in 4225 days

#11 posted 08-20-2011 10:19 PM

I just read this book because so many fellow woodworkers were pretty much raving about Chris Schwartz fun style. I have been in a couple of conferences about saw and planes with him presenting and he was pretty good at that.

Here is my honest feedback about the book. I found it ok to pass the time and read about tools which I am always up for anyway. I didn’t think his style was that fun. I put the book down several times to catch a breath because I tought it was a bit monotonous. And finally this is what really made me feel a bit cheated was the fact that he didn’t discuss brands and the features by brand of each of the tools discussed. I thought that was the greatest insight he could provide. He did it often during his conference, but once he had to put it down on paper he chickened out. Sure he talks about stanley, ace and craftsman but those don’t count. Any one can talk about those and get away with it.
I understand why he would do that but I thought he shouldn’t need be that careful.

Still it is a nice quick reference about tools, hard bound copy that will look nice on my nightstand


View SCOTSMAN's profile


5849 posts in 4745 days

#12 posted 08-20-2011 10:34 PM

I know nothing about this guy, but I find people who try to turn a teaching experience into very cheap entertainment whatever that means are for me a big turn off .We had a guy on tv here who made furniture and couldn’t stop clowning about (ALL) the time acting the fool whenever he cam e on tv I would switch him off . I simply couldn’t abide his style of getting the method across a sort of cheaper than cheap pythonesque approach, sorry not for me.
Now if this guy strays from the statistical norm too much when writing ,teaching, presenting his work then it is possible I would want to stay clear.I am no prude and enjoy a good laugh but not during my woodworking or machining.
If they are very clever/talented it could be acceptable but there is nothing worse than tantrums, crap jokes, and toothache,and not neccesarily in that order.Like I hate babies in films were adults talk for them or dogs that speak it turns me off imediately my rant sorry I agree with this post beware is all he’s saying. Alistair

-- excuse my typing as I have a form of parkinsons disease

View lysdexic's profile


5349 posts in 3782 days

#13 posted 08-20-2011 10:47 PM

I would add that I have read the book twice (I am a beginner) and the info within probably means more to me than someone with a well appointed shop. I do not own half of the tools on his list. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a “The Schwarz” fanboy. For instance, I may be cynical, but I think the brand information was left out for a purpose. Not to protect himself from industry alienation but that you could spend another follow-on $10 for the DVD.

I also, watched the DVD where he promises he will go each and every tool with a brand name recommendation. I did not count but he probably only covered 50%.

Perhaps the difference between my opinion and MaFe’s is significant. Perhaps for the uninitiated woodworker the value of the actual tool reviews overshadow Schwarz’s personal “mid-life crisis.” For those more seasoned, where the tool descriptions are basic, then his perspective and clever/crude humor may be just irritating.

-- "It's only wood. Use it." - Smitty || Instagram - nobodhi_here

View KayBee's profile


1083 posts in 4406 days

#14 posted 08-20-2011 11:46 PM

I’ve been following the reviews of this book since it came out. According to many reviews, some from Schwarz fanboys, a big part of this book is dull and uninteresting. But they still gave it top marks? I’m confused and curious. Not curious enough to give “the Schwarz” any of my money though.

Thanks everyone for giving an honest review.

lysdexic, if you want some good, valuable tool reviews there are many better sources to get them from than a journalist. Right here on LJs provides some very good, real world feedback. David Kirtley provides some great woodworkers that wrote books to follow up with too.

-- Karen - a little bit of stupid goes a long way

View TechRedneck's profile


770 posts in 4016 days

#15 posted 08-21-2011 01:01 AM

Based on some of the early reviews here on LJ’s I purchased the book before my vacation at the beach. I read the entire book on vacation and rather enjoyed it.

It may be because most (if not all) of the things I read are technical in nature for my business or news. I would still recommend this book for a beginning woodworker. (Love you Mads) but I came away with a different viewpoint on the book. I wasn’t looking for anything but a book on woodworking and that’s what it is.

Here is what I took from the book:

1. It sparked my interest in hand tools. Along with the other LJ’s here (Mads included) I am finding that taking a look at the “old school” way of doing our craft has merit. This book helped me see this in a different light.

2. It made me think about the types of tools I choose to use. I agree that quality tools are worth the money.

3. I have started to redesign my shop to incorporate more hand tool use including a Rubio style bench and dedicated sharpening station for the tools.

4. I dusted off the old tools my grandfather had in his shop and found some jems that I am bringing back to their former glory. This is a connection that goes beyond the tool itself.

Now I am not a Schwartz groupie. I LOVE my power tools and unlike him, will not give them up. Along with my guns, you’ll have to pry them from my cold dead hands. However, there are some power tools I have that are of lesser quality and are merely junk. I agree with Schwartz and other veterans here on LJ’s that you should get the best quality tools you can possibly afford.

As I approach my 50th birthday, perhaps I fall into that mid-life thing that Mads is talking about in this review. When you get to be my age, you look back and realize that TIME is the most precious resource there is.

My power tools allow me to get boards of wood into the shapes that I want quickly and accurately. Then I plan to switch to hand tools to shape and finish the stock into a project. I looked at the tool chest in the book and was more interested in how it was constructed. I have no plans to build one. If I had a very small shop it may be an option.

I think he was making a point that for hundreds of years, craftsman created heirloom pieces with a set of tools that fit in a chest.

I don’t feel this book was a waste of my time. It was not a “masterwork” and perhaps not even a good reference. It did change my way of thinking about woodworking, and for that it was not a waste of $35 and the time it took to read it.

-- Mike.... West Virginia. "Man is a tool using animal. Without tools he is nothing, with tools he is all.". T Carlyle

showing 1 through 15 of 158 comments

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics