Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Day I Met C.Schwarz

The first time I met Christopher Schwarz face-to-face was extremely briefly at HandWorks in 2013, but this is not that story, it goes back farther. At the risk of sounding cliché (or like an awkward bromance), it was a day that changed my life.

The date is within a few days of Jan 3, 2007. My life had been linearly progressing, family was healthy, kids were out of diapers, doing well enough in my career, the garage shop was slowly filling with the large stationary power tools "every shop needs" and I was beginning to think about getting a "fun" car instead of the practical (if beater-esqe) transports I had dutifully driven as a frugal family man.

I began researching the type of car that I longed for, classic gentlemen's roadsters in British racing green & tan interiors. I can't really say what I asked Google, but in addition to the exactly correct answer in the first 2-3 lines there was this:


I read this post, was intrigued by the English bench project (and MG analogy) and was drawn to the writing that was fresh and personal in a way I'd never seen in technical writing. (I can't even say I really knew what a blog was then.) Over the next weeks/months I combed through mountains of old posts and really began looking forward to the nearly daily updates about tools, old methods and of course benches.
My English Gentleman's Car for an American (made in Japan)
Schwarz was sharing everything he learned with his audience and I soaked it up. He wrote his first workbench book and I bought it, not so much for the info, which I'd already recieved in blogs, but as a way of paying back for the information I'd received earlier for free. The same went for the magazine as he progressed there (and continues @LAP). As he mentioned interesting and influencing people he ran into, (Konrad, Raney, Jameel, Economaki, Williams, Brian, Jonas...) I would begin to follow their blogs and expand my list of woodworking mentors. Given the personal writing styles of these and others filling up my RSS feed, most of my corporate cutlist magazine subscriptions lapsed.

My projects began to move from machine-centric work based on detailed CAD models to more loose organic projects with more personality, and hand finished touches with more focus on getting the lines, details and quality right. An example of his influence finding its way into my work was when I built a picket fence. Instead of a nailgun or screws, I chose to clench all the nails. http://blog.lostartpress.com/2009/03/22/clinching-nails-sometimes-teeth/ (the technical data clenched it for me) Years later, all the pickets are still just as tight. While I don't think my work is very similar in style to what Schwarz does, his influence helped me on my way, and eventually inspired me to start this blog to share what I think I know and be a part of this helpful community.

Beyond woodwork, his blog changed my professional life, It encouraged me to share my lessons learned, not in a dry documentary style, but instead as approachable and like someone giving-it-all-away. He made me think there was something to writing well, demonstrating a way to communicate in a simple, compelling and straightforward style. (This is unnatural for engineering types.) This has led to satisfying job tweaks and a measure of career success that wouldn't be possible had I stayed inside my analyst shell. For instance, I founded a well regarded corporate technical intranet blog and community that I have often been commended for (even despite my attempts at humor)

If you are still interested in my face-to-face meeting with Christopher Schwarz, it was, as I said at HandWorks 2013. I'd wanted to meet the people I'd followed for years. I waited in the loud and busy line at the LAP booth when simultaneously two such people,  Megan Fitzpatrick and he, started talking to me. I figured Emily Post demanded I address the lady first, but by the time I exchanged pleasantries with her, Schwarz had disappeared. I didn't get to chat with him again that weekend, but in reality I hadn't wanted to. I'd approached a mentor whom I'd felt I knew closely (95% sure ATC was written directly to me), and realized I hadn't been sharing anything back to have a two-way conversation like a real conversation. I felt more like creepy stalker than compadre

My Best Impression of a Woodworking Icon.

This year, at Handworks 2015, I do hope to run into him again. This time, I won't hesitate to chat him up, because in the last 2 years I've become a participant in this community. (If you aren't yet, you should be.) If anyone reads this blog and is coming to HandWorks, please find me. I'm sure I won't be busy, and frankly I would be flattered to know that this thing gets read, we can grab a coffee next door and geek out about woodworking and tools. If you find me with the jitters, then you'll know this blog is way more popular than I believe.

Thanks Christopher, you've made a great number of people's lives better, including this one.

1 comment:

  1. I am humbled being mentioned as an influencing person :-)
    The picket fence looks great.
    I once worked at an electronics company. That place would surely have benefited from having a humorous approach at an intranet blog.

    Keep up the good work and writing.