My Woodworking (Among Other Things) Mentor: Christopher Schwarz


I am extraordinarily lucky to have the job I do today, and to do work that I love. It is almost entirely due to Christopher Schwarz.

In the summer of 2005, I notified my supervisor that I was leaving my Creative Services job after seven years (wherein my duties included writing marketing materials for Popular Woodworking Magazine and the WoodWorker’s Book Club) to return to school full time in pursuit of a teaching career in higher education.

About a week later, Christopher Schwarz and Steve Shanesy asked if I was interested in becoming the managing editor for Popular Woodworking Magazine. Sure – why not. So my resignation turned into a department transfer. I wasn’t committed to staying long-term; we worked it out so I could take the necessary coursework for a Ph.D. I planned to leave after I finished my dissertation (it was a four-year plan).

Fast forward to February 2009. I took (and passed – whew!) my candidacy exams (already behind on that four-year plan) after taking almost all of my 2008 vacation in December, and my 2009 vacation in January and early February. If Chris hadn’t covered my essential duties during those months, that would simply not have been possible. For that, he has my eternal gratitude. (I know exactly how much it sucks to work two full-time jobs while getting paid for only one.)

Fast forward to now. Little did I know in 2005 that I’d fall in love with making big sticks of wood into smaller sticks of wood then sticking them back together. And while I’ve had the good fortune to learn in person from many incredibly gifted woodworkers, it was Chris’ love for the craft that inspired me most to keep learning, to keep trying new things and to become proficient (most of the time, anyway) at the subversive and rewarding act of making things instead of buying them (read “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” (Lost Art Press) for more on that). Or maybe I just respond well to his squirrel jokes. (Time-limited on writing a dissertation, I resigned my candidacy in 2015. While I miss talking about and teaching Shakespeare, I’d miss woodworking and being around woodworkers full time a lot more. So much for plans!)

Chris is an excellent teacher of woodworking, editing, writing, life and appreciation for craft beer; he is my éminence grise, and my friend. Yep – I’m extraordinarily lucky.

But he hates this kind of thing…so he might not ever talk to me again.

Note: January is National Mentoring Month; the above is in response to Joshua Klein’s request to post about our woodworking mentors; check out more at Instagram under the hashtag #woodworkingmentors.

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A Plea for Pro HVAC Help


Current floor vent location is on right, with a dedicated duct to it from trunk line in basement. The fancier grate is propped into a former vent location, and there’s a capped duct that terminates just in front of it, running under floor from the duct that was in the open space on the opposite wall.

In tearing things out for the bath rehab, I uncovered some rotted 10″ x 3-1/4 duct work under the floor (currently under the OSB above)…that goes to nowhere. A patch in the bathroom floor (where the fancy grate is sitting above) indicates there used to be a boot on it and a floor vent. Now, the heat for this room is served off a separate duct that goes only to this room (see the grate to the right).

The dead-end duct is a 90° off the run that feeds a floor vent in what will be the guest bathroom, and did (and will again) continue up to a single boot/vent on the third floor.


Vent location in “new” bath, off stack that comes up inside wall on first floor.

The run up to the third floor was slapped on the outside of the wall in what will be my shower.

So, having already torn off most of the plaster, I plan to run new (non-rotted) 10″ x 3-1/4″ duct in the wall up to the third floor, which will necessitate building out that currently 1-3/4 deep wall a bit before putting up Wonder Board. I have to build it out anyway to fit the plumbing.


What’s left of the ductwork to the third floor. It will be pushed into the wall, which I’ll then build out 2-1/2″ to fully enclose the ductwork and the plumbing.

I doubt there’s any issue with replacing the straight run and the boot in the “new” bathroom and on the third floor.

But here’s my question: Is it acceptable to replace that (currently dead-end) 90° run to the old bathroom, attach a boot and move the floor vent back to where it clearly was before, thereby having three boots/vents on that one run? (Any issue from an HVAC standpoint, I mean…I do realize the vent location in front of the walk-in shower is not ideal, but it would solve another problem.)


The problem it would solve is to get rid of the ductwork currently serving the old bathroom. That run was slapped on the outside of a wall in my pantry, and when I redo the kitchen (If I don’t give up on this crazy house project before then, that is), I’d dearly love to push into what is currently a full bath on the first floor (off the dining room, which is weird) to make what is now the pantry large enough to be a 1/2 bath (which is to say I can’t just bury the ductwork in that wall, because it would still be in the way of making the room larger).


Quite annoying placement for this ductwork in the pantry below the bath – it stymies my future kitchen rehab planning. (This really was a decent if too-small pantry…until I had to rip out all the shelving to access the plumbing chase. And now that whole wall has to come down to remove the black mold on the backside of the drywall – yuck.)

That full bath on the first floor? It was once a butler’s pantry. And if I can figure out the HVAC problem, it will be again. Someday. Not soon.

Oh – and in case it helps, here’s the view in the basement of both of the runs in question.


The one on the left is the one that runs in the wall up to the second floor – the one I would like to use to serve three vents. The one on the right, which runs through the pantry and serves only the old bath, would go. Note that they are both on the same trunk line.

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Halfway (?) There


“My” bath, Nov. 12, 2016

The last of the Great Bathroom Tearout of 2016 will happen in 2017: cutting and framing  the door from the bathroom to my bedroom (see tape below). That’ll come when I’m almost done putting things back to rights (so maybe 2018), in a likely futile effort to keep the dust out of my sheets.

While there’s still a lot to do, I’m not displeased with how far things have come.

The plumbing for both baths is roughed in, and the electrician stopped by today to go over the wiring plan. On Monday, he’ll be back bright and early to give me a fishing lesson (and do most of the work, while I do only as directed).


“My” bath, Dec. 31, 2016.

I hope by next weekend to be nailing floorboards back down and choosing the floor finish for the pine flooring in the guest bathroom. There are fewer decisions to make in there (and less money that still needs spending to make them), so it will be done first.


Guest Bath, August 2016 (it used to be a kitchen…obviously)


Guest Bath, Dec. 31. 2016

I’ll be relieved when a midnight trip to the bathroom doesn’t include negotiating the stairs. (Because yep – those stairs are still dangerous!)

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Good on Paper; Terrifying IRL


I think my plans are greater than my ability to put up with getting there – but it’s far too late. My plan looks so nice and neat. My house does not.

I’ve ripped out most of the old second-floor bath down to the joists (the rest still has to be done), torn out three plaster walls, opened joist space to run new plumbing (and lifted those floorboards in a toothed pattern so they look right when they go back– that’s a bitch of a job), and will be rerouting some HVAC this weekend. I also need new electric, which I’m trying to talk myself out of doing, but my bank account has different ideas.

On the left above is what was a kitchen (for what was the second-floor apartment). I’m putting a second bath there, and will eventually turn the front of it into the laundry room (which has to wait until I redo the kitchen on the first floor, so I can run a drain to the basement in the wall. I couldn’t bear tearing out the kitchen counter and cabinets right now on top of everything else.) That one will almost certainly be done first, because I had to order the clawfoot tub so my plumber knows exactly where to put the drain and water lines (it’s in the front hallway right now. Of course). And the sink has been in my garage for a year. (I should get a toilet….) The floor boards I uncovered in there are in pretty good shape and already sanded, though I’ll need to sand a bit more before applying a finish. That has been the only good surprise.


What was the bathroom is currently a disaster zone.

In “my” bath, I’ve uncovered mold in the sub floor around the toilet (and on the back of the waste-pipe access wall in the pantry below – blech), more knob-and-tube wiring and the craziest jigsaw puzzle of sub floors I’ve ever seen. Plus I can’t get the tile off the tub wall, so the entire wall is having to come out in sheets of tile backer, with all the tile and mastic intact; I have only one of those out so far. (And then there’s the cast iron tub….)

What was a narrow hallway (and dead space) will be my shower, accessed through the original door into the bathroom. But before I build that, I have to tear down more plaster and put a door from my bedroom through to the bath.

Plaster is heavy. And dusty.


All this open floor will be the walk-in shower.

The plumbers are here now, running all the water and waste lines, and taking out the still-live gas pipe from the old stove that I keep tripping over. I suspect it will take multiple days for them to get everything done – and that’s OK. It gives me a short and welcome break from what has turned out to be punishing physical labor. (This is not my first bath rodeo, but I seem to have forgotten the pain and suffering from last time – also, I’m a decade older.)


All the waste lines in the new bath are being tied into the already existing 4″ pipe in the old bath. This limited the layout a bit, but saves a lot of headache and, more important, a lot of cash.

When I started, I thought I could get at least one bathroom on the second floor up and running before Christmas. Hilarious. I’m now shooting for April Fool’s Day.


The most vexing problem has been cat wrangling – two of them are awfully interested in the interstitial space.

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‘Tools,’ by John Updike


I’d not read much of John Updike’s poetry until recently, (though I’ve long counted his “Gertrude and Claudius” (2000) and “The Centaur” (1963) among my favorite contemporary novels). It’s engaging stuff, and this one in particular spoke to me as I used my great-grandfather’s farriers’ pliers to pull nails this weekend.


Tell me, how do the manufacturers of tools
turn a profit? I have used the same clawed hammer
for forty years. The screwdriver misted with rust
once slipped into my young hand, a new householder’s.
Obliviously, tools wait to be used: the pliers,
notched mouth agape like a cartoon shark’s; the wrench
with its jaws on a screw; the plane still sharp enough
to take its fragrant, curling bite; the brace and bit
still fit to chew a hole in pine like a patient thought;
the tape rule, its inches unaltered though I have shrunk;
the carpenter’s angle, still absolutely right though I
have strayed; the wooden bubble level from my father’s
meagre horde. Their stubborn shapes pervade the cellar,
enduring with a thrift that shames our wastrel lives.

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Anger Management


This is one heinous bathroom.

After writing two checks on November 9 (one to the ACLU, the other to Planned Parenthood), I gathered my implements of destruction and started hitting things with a vengeance. I’m still angry, but at least I’m making progress on the long-overdue bathroom rehab.

First to go was that stunning gold-tone mirror; behind its strip of lovely lights was a bit of a shock, in the form of exposed wiring.


I’m no electrician, but I’m certain that’s not to code.

With that monstrosity relegated to the ever-growing trash heap, I turned to the walls, ripping off the layer of vinyl wallpaper to expose two layers of hardboard attached with plaster bolts and construction adhesive. And whatever that adhesive was, I’m guessing it’s now illegal; it works too well.


Looks better already.

I’m not sure what that material is around the top, but it wraps onto the ceiling and I can’t manage to cut it with any of my various utility blades – so I’m leaving it for now. I don’t want to pull the ceiling down on my head. Yet. It’s going to be a long time before I get around to plaster repair.


Oooooh! Original, but unsalvageable, anaglypta. (That wall is coming down.)

The rough plan is to knock a door through from my bedroom (after I take out the bathtub in the way), and knock through into what was a pantry (behind the wall above) in the second-floor kitchen, and put a bath/shower there.


Hallway to the bath. No, the chimney cupboard doesn’t usually live there.

The door at the back right above is how one currently gets into the bathroom, and the picture is snapped from just outside my bedroom door. The wall straight ahead is the side of the old pantry; that wall is toast. The door to the left is the entryway to the former kitchen, which will become a stupidly large laundry room/second bathroom sometime before the next presidential election (giving me two things to which to look forward). In the meantime, the plumber is going to do the rough-ins…so I’m tearing out that room, too.

Below is the current floor plan(ish). The red line in the hall will be a new wall; the red in the wall will be the new door. Then the hallway (and old pantry) becomes part of my en suite bath. The one possible structural fly in my ointment is that the wall on the right of the hall – the one into which I’m putting a large opening for the shower (basically, doubling the size of the current doorway) – is load-bearing. There are king studs and big beams in my future. Or perhaps my future holds a massive pile of bricks formerly in the shape of a house.

I don’t really have the whole plan worked out yet (like what the heck to do about the pesky HVAC duct). I just had to break something.



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In the Dark, Fixturally Speaking


Back stairs (can’t leave this one on for long, lest I toast the plaster).

I got the old-knob-and-tube electric rewired in February, yet I’m still stumbling in the relative dark. Choosing the “right” lighting fixtures (at an affordable price) seems beyond my skillset.

So I still have installed in three places the bare bulbs my electrician put in almost 10 months ago. Pretty.


The tasteful living room fixture. (This room had no overhead lighting when I bought the place.)

I don’t want them to all be the same, but because you can see simultaneously the fixtures in the front hall, living room and dining room while standing just about anywhere in said three rooms, they have to at least be in casual conversation with one another. I suck at these types of casual conversations.


But hey – until I choose the fixtures, there’s no pressing need to fix & paint the dining room ceiling.

And then there’s the contemporary fixture I rehung in the front hallway, because there, I just couldn’t bear a bare 100-watt bulb. Too gloomy (and the stairs still have no railing…too dangerous to not see where I’m going).


This one would be nice in the right house. Mine is not the right house.

I think I need professional help…on so many levels.

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