Old-Time Workmen

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The Baltimore News says:

“Really skillful mechanics are becoming more and more scarce and trades are only half learned. Old-time workmen were proud of their work and a man would consider himself guilty of a piece of flagrant dishonesty to leave a bad job behind him. The artisan had as much pride in anything he touched as was to be found in the literary creator. But there seems to be no such feeling now. Men are only half educated at their trades and about the only thing that gives real concern is the question of pay.”

The breaking up of the old apprentice system is the cause of this evil, and its restoration will be the only cure. The Gazette was informed some time ago by one of the most reputable and respected employing mechanics in this city, that it was a hard matter for him to get good native journeymen, and that the best skilled workmen he got now-a-days were foreigners.
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Posted in Historical Images | 3 Comments

Furniture Construction Drawings, 1760-1800

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When you research how early furniture was built, one of the laments is the lack of construction drawings in the written record.

Did they draw their plans on scrap wood that was later burned? Did they just communicate plans for furniture forms differently than we do today? Were furniture plans a “trade secret,” like the “arts and mysteries” that were noted in the contract between apprentice and master?

Or were the plans just lost?

I vote for the last statement, sort of. There are plans out there, but they don’t look like the plans we are accustomed to seeing in books and magazines. While researching English campaign furniture several years ago I accidentally stumbled on the book “Gillow Furniture Designs 1760-1800” by Lindsay Boynton (The Bloomfield Press, 1995).

The firm Gillows of Lancaster and London is one of the somewhat-unheralded firms of the 18th and 19th centuries, perhaps because the company never issued a pattern book. Instead of developing and publishing designs, Gillows craftsmen simply made them.

Luckily, there is an incredible archive of Gillows – everything from construction drawings to a daily record of the company’s accounting. It really is a largely untapped source of historical information on woodworking, design and the lumber trade in the 18th and 19th centuries.

(Side note: I hope to enlist Suzanne Ellison, a contributing editor to Lost Art Press, to plumb the depths of the Gillows archive in Westminster for a future book.)

Back to the point, “Gillow Furniture Designs 1760-1800” blew my mind. It is simply a record of some of the drawings in the company’s archive. Some of the drawings were intended for the craftsmen with dimensions and notes. Some were intended for customers and are colored.

Naturally, I am drawn to the construction drawings. They did not need much to make some pretty incredible stuff – just a few dimensions and a sketch of the overall form. When I first saw this approach, I gave myself permission to back away from developing sheets and sheets of drawings before cutting wood. It was liberating – worth the cost of the book.

I don’t expect you to see the same thing that I do when looking at these drawings. Perhaps you’ll see something else. Even if you don’t care for the furniture itself, there is a lot to be learned from these sketches.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Personal Favorites | 8 Comments

In Praise of NapkinCAD 1.0

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I like SketchUp – not as a tool for designing furniture, but as a way to communicate complex ideas across vast spaces.

Instead of sending someone endless sheets of drawings, I can send an electronic model that the recipient can take apart and modify with ease. That’s the beauty of the program.

For most design chores in my shop, however, SketchUp is too slow. Paper, pencil and my imagination are far more efficient when I need to communicate my ideas only to myself. And when I do use SketchUp to model something for myself, I don’t draw any standard joinery – that’s a waste of time.

I can hear some woodworkers out there fashioning a hangman’s noose from a mouse cord.

So let me say this: If you enjoy drawing dovetails in SketchUp, by all means draw them. If you are facing a tricky joint with lots of intersecting elements, by all means draw the joint. If your hobby is drawing furniture in SketchUp while pretending to work as an insurance claims adjuster, then by all means draw the pee out of that joinery.

But if you just want to see what the object looks like in the round, you can skip drawing the joinery. Your drawers can be rectangles drawn on a box (yes, I’ve done this). You can draw the square parts of a project in SketchUp, print it out and then draw the curvy details on the printout. Yes, I’ve done this as well.

napkin2When else should you draw the joinery? When you are trying to explain it to someone else who might not know squat about joinery, such as when you write an article for a magazine. I draw all the joinery, mouldings and interior bits when I submit a SketchUp model to a magazine. That helps me develop a good cutting list for the article. And it helps me double-check my writing so that the illustration, cutlist and story all agree.

But when my ideas go from my head to my hands, SketchUp is rarely involved.

The illustrations with this article demonstrate my working sketches for the recent backstool that I built and then modified. They are crude compared to SketchUp, but they work.

This, I can tell you, is exactly how some craftsmen worked in the 18th and 19th centuries. And that is what I’ll discuss tomorrow.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Personal Favorites | 20 Comments

The History of Wood, Part 51

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Lost Art Press Beehive T-shirts Now Available

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We received the first samples of our latest T-shirt from the printer and are quite happy with the logo and the crisp way it printed on the short-sleeve shirts.

The shirts are $25 and are available worldwide (shipping is quite reasonable). They are printed on 100-percent cotton on an American Apparel fine-gauge T-shirt.

beehive_red2_IMG_0678Because these shirts are cut slim and will shrink in the wash, we recommend you order one size larger than usual. After years of wearing these shirts ourselves, we think you’ll be happy with the way they break in and last – they are the softest shirt we have found.

The logo on these shirts was designed by Ohio artist Joshua Minnich and features a skep – an old-school beehive – which has long been the symbol of the industrious joiner and carpenter.

The shirts are available in seven colors and the full range of sizes from XS to 3XL. All our shirts are made, sewn and printed in the United States.

You can order your shirt from our store here.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Products We Sell | 12 Comments

Fantastic Campaign Stool Hardware from Lee Valley

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It’s available now. Details on my other blog here.

Posted in Campaign Furniture | 1 Comment

Let Each of Them the Other Aid

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Artists and craftsmen too should deal
With good faith and with honest zeal;
Let each of them the other aid
With work well done and things well made,
And as he would be served, thus serve.
— Hans Sachs, “The Book of Trades (Standebuch)” (Frankfurt, 1568)

Posted in Furniture of Necessity, Personal Favorites | 4 Comments