Garrett Hack Visits German Tool-Maker
The name might give you a chuckle, but for 165 years, the German company DICK has been in the serious business of making and selling some of the world’s best woodworking hand tools. To put this in perspective, Stanley is only about half as old.
DICK also runs an amazing variety of workshops on everything from knife making to gilding, furniture making to building a Japanese long bow (as they would have been made, with a layer of water buffalo horn for extreme flexibility). I taught two classes there in late October, in English, to a group from Estonia, Germany, Hungary, the U.S., and Turkey.
The workshop, and DICK’s tool showroom, are in the small town of Metten, a little over an hour from Munich in the southeastern part of Germany known as Bavaria. The hills roll and the Danube flows swiftly by huge fields of sugar beets, with the Alps in the distance. Metten is a typical German town of white washed houses with tile roofs along winding streets, a few restaurants and shops, a thousand year old monastery, and lots and lots of paths to walk. My wife and I stayed in a simple and very nice guesthouse a comfortable walk to the workshop through a spruce forest.
As you would expect of German attention to detail, the workshop is impeccably organized, well lit, spacious, and full of more hand tools than you ever knew existed. One room is just for sharpening with special high tables and every sharpening method known. And then there is a large bench room, a machine room with big industrial tools, and a lounge where we ate lunch every day (catered) with an espresso machine, fresh fruit, and a large library of books and magazines.
More Fantastic Shops & Tips
To understand why I was there you have to know something about the German woodworking scene. No doubt in some areas there is innovative one-off work being done, but not much. From what I could learn and observe, German woodworking is highly skilled, but conservative and quite bound to tradition, often heavy, and overly ornate. It’s not the kind of work a hobbyist would attempt, nor necessarily what you would actually want to live with. So here I come to introduce new ideas, such as some of the light Federal details I love to use.
Language was much less of a barrier than I had feared, in fact we laughed a lot trying to translate some of my English expressions. Many times at the workshop or guesthouse there would be several languages going, questions flying back and forth, lots of hand gesturing, and drawings quickly made when we needed them. Everyone was extremely friendly and curious. And they love to hang out and drink great beer.
Going to Germany was an enriching experience. Connections were intimate, sharing continuous, inspiration lasting. I shared a sense of how we live and how I make a living building furniture, while my students and others shared about their lives and views of the world — often quite different from our US centric vision. I wouldn’t go to Germany just to take a class, but the overall experience will stick with you for a long time. Spend a few days in Munich and just walk, or soak in the design ideas at Munich’s world- class science museum or the modern art and design Pinakothek, for years of furniture ideas.
Since train travel is so easy, we left after my classes to spend 4 days in Vienna, just a short trip from Metten. Vienna was a hotbed of furniture creativity for centuries, from Biedermeyer to Hoffmann and the Weiner Werkstatte (Vienna Workshops). The Klimpts and Scheiles are not to be missed either.
I’ll be back in May for a small cabinet project, which as one student put it, “is an encyclopedia of woodworking”. A direct flight from Boston to Munich on first-rate Luftansa is 6 – ½ hours, and once you get there food, lodging and beers are a bargain.
The architecture of Munich varies from medieval to contemporary, with many buildings colorfully painted in delightful patterns, lending a whimsical look to simple facades like this one.
Metten is in the area of Germany known as Bavaria, with some high hills and much rolling farm land growing mostly sugar beets.
The workshop has great natural light, lots of space, and large sturdy benches. Students got lots of personal attention.
I had students form Germany, Estonia, Hungary, Turkey, and the U.S., working with a variety of tools, doing a series of exercises I call "Precision with Hand Tools."
DICK's main workshop space has every hand tool imaginable for students to try out.