Saturday, March 30, 2013

DVD Review: Shaker Side Table with Christopher Schwarz

In short, this is perhaps the most important woodworking DVD I have seen.

This is more than just a project DVD.  If you have no intention of making this table, you still should watch it.


Because in this DVD CS discusses and demonstrates hand joinery techniques for nearly any kind of carcass furniture.

I think one should build this table if for no other reason than it is a perfect exercise for building your first piece of furniture entirely with hand tools.

Let's look a little closer at this DVD:

The price from Lie Neilsen is $40.  This seems like a lot for a DVD, as you can get the latest Harry Potter movie on Amazon for $6.49.  If you want a good afternoon of entertainment for cheap, go with Harry Potter.  If you want to learn to build furniture by hand, CS's DVD is a fantastic bargain.

This DVD is 269 minutes in length.  That is almost four and a half hours!  Plus, the DVD contains some other information you can access on your computer such as Sketch Up plans.

I found I couldn't absorb this whole thing at once.  It took me two days to get through it.

Here is the important bit:  I have been to a few of CS's classes, and the information he shares here is exactly the same.  It is delivered in the same easy to absorb language.  There are not a lot of teachers who can make the transition to teaching on a video without boring you to death or skipping all the important parts.

In this DVD, the shaker side table isn't the most important part.  It is the delivery of the techniques used on all of the different processes.  This small project is full of them.  You'll get to see CS show you how to do the following:
  • Choose lumber and orient it for this project for beauty and ease of hand tooling
  • process stock by hand including gluing up a panel and flattening a wide piece for the top
  • taper table legs with a hand plane
  • mortise and tenon joinery
  • dovetails, both through and half blind
  • drawer construction and fitting
  • chamfers
  • layout of all joints and cuts
  • finish the piece
  • a lot more that doesn't come instantly to mind
What's more, you get to see all of this in real time.  Nearly every operation and joint is executed live, with his commentary just like you would get in a class.

Chris does make everything look easy.  However, he explains it in his way which I know he does to give woodworkers the best likelihood of achieving success.  In other words, there are many different ways to cut a joint, but he chooses methods designed for ease of learning.

I would also like to give credit to Tom Lie-Nielsen for producing this video.  As the head dude in charge of his tool company, it is obvious he gave Chris free reign to do everything his own way.  Chris uses the Lie-Neilsen tools in this video from his own working kit, but there are some other companies whose tools make an appearance in this video.  For example, Chris spends a good bit of time demonstrating and discussing the Veritas Skew Rabbet Plane.  How many other CEOs would produce a video where the star advocated the use of the product of a competitor?  The answer, of course, is that what is good for woodworking in general is good for Lie-Nielsen, as well as all fine tool makers.

If you truly are a hand tool newbie, then this DVD is a great place to start.  The only prerequisite is that  you know how to sharpen your tools.  Chris has two DVDs that cover this really well:  The Last Word on Sharpening, or Handplane Basics.  Either one of these DVDs will show a beginner how to sharpen planes and chisels to the kind of edges that are required for this project.

If you have more projects under your belt than that, I guarantee you that there is something in this DVD that you are ready to hear.

The positives for this DVD in my opinion far outweigh the negatives.  However, in the pursuit of providing full disclosure, there are a few things that might be considered minor drawbacks.  This will seem like nitpicking, which of course it is.

I am not so sure maple was the best choice for this DVD.  Not because it isn't a good wood for this project, but because it doesn't photograph very well.  The beauty of the grain was lost on my TV.  I think perhaps if the cover photo showed the table in cherry or walnut, the spousal unit might be a bit more interested in seeing this project built.  What we as woodworkers can get from this, though, is that maple is not known for being an easy wood for hand tools.  If I can see Chris do it in maple, even I should be able to find success with cherry.

The other bit of nitpicking is Chris uses tools that are his own tool chest.  Since this is a great project for a beginner, some alternate methods with a more basic tool kit might be discussed.  For example, in his book the ATC, a jointer and a smooth plane are on his nice-to-have list.  He doesn't distinguish this in the video, nor demonstrate how one might approach this project without them.  On the other hand, it is nice to see these tools demonstrated being used how they are meant to be used. 

In conclusion, I think every woodworker would benefit from this project video.  Even if you are a power-tool only woodworker, making this table entirely by hand might show you some methods you might choose to add to your bag of tricks.  If you don't want to build this particular table, you can use the same methods and joints for practically any other project that is on your to-do list.

Me, I'll be building this table as soon as I am done with the project I am currently working on.


  1. Good review, I've been on the fence about whether or not to buy it. That's been settled as I just ordered it.

    1. I hope you won't be disappointed.

      I think people who only look at it as a project video might miss out by passing it up. Perhaps it should have been titled: "How To Build Furniture By Starting With This Shaker Side Table," but that probably wouldn't fit on the cover.

  2. Great review! I feel the same way about Schwarz's Supertune a Handplane Video, even if you aren't an exclusive hand tool used it's a great video to own as a woodworker.
    I may purchase the video just from your recommendation although I made a table identical to this one at the Acanthus Workshop with Chuck Bender.
    As far as your observations concerning the tools used, I think that has been at the heart of my blog for the past 6 months. Just like you, I don't want to be nitpicky, but I personally think the mission of the "professional" woodworker who teaches should be teaching students how to woodwork with a minimal set of tools. I know that Christopher Schwarz advocates that to a large degree, but his minimal set of tools, while an excellent one, is still a rather large and expensive set.
    For those reasons alone I will always be a proponent of power tools, in the least owning a good table saw. A good table saw can do the work of thousands of dollars of specialty hand tools and still leave you the ability to refine your by hand. I don't make those statements as a knock against Schwarz because his video(s) specifically mention "by hand"
    Sorry to go on and on. Again, really nice review!
    Thanks. Bill

    1. A video like this should get people jazzed up to get right out to their shop. I always think it is unfortunate if the message turns out to be hurry up and save enough for these tools so you can then build this project.

      Chances are nobody has exactly the same tools as in the video, but there should be ways to complete the project anyway.

      Fortunately, we woodworkers are clever and we should be able to figure out a way to get-r-done. If Jonas can make a sea chest with secret compartments at sea with a hacksaw, I should be able to get by without a #7 jointer.

    2. I think Jonas may be a sorcerer. Just saying..

  3. Thanks for the very nice comments.
    I think that is the most flattering thing I have been called for a long long time.

    I am on my way out to do some dumpster diving for some more exotic wood.

    All the best

  4. Great review! If this DVD is as good as the review, then it will be the best $40 I have spent on woodworking. Thank you.

    1. I enjoyed it. Let me know what you think of it.