One of the best things about working on this new book, “The Joiner and Cabinet Maker,” has been the opportunity to poke through some 19th-century books on the trades. I always disliked history class in high school and college, but this stuff fascinates me to no end.
Recently I dug up some descriptions of the 19th-century trades in a huge book that was intended to be a guide for parents and children who were trying to choose a profession. Most of the entries from this 1842 book describe each job in a somewhat glamorous fashion. How you have to be strong and ingenious to be a carpenter or joiner. Or how you have to be excellent at drawing to become a cabinet maker.
But the description of the profession of “Sawyer” cracked me up. Perhaps I’ve just been buried too long in this sort of material, but I found this one a real knee-slapper. The author begins by saying that many sawyers would tend to work for many masters.
“(T)hey either find ‘nothing stirring,’ and literally starve awhile, or make such astonishing sums at piece work, as to set their heads a madding with the fumes of the stomach; they become broilsome, drink unaccountably, fight any body or thing, pawn their tools by scores, and, when Tuesday comes round, find themselves under the necessity of kicking the master for an advance.”
“Who would be a Sawyer? Or, being one, would not work out his own reformation in time?”
from “The Complete Book of Trades” by Nathaniel Whittock (1842 edition), page 398
On Friday afternoons, I always try to end the week with some work in the shop that improves my working condition. I do a lot of sharpening, fix a hammer or just put tools away.
This Friday was a day I have been looking forward to for seven years now.
My long-awaited-for hollows and rounds came from Clark & Williams. I’d ordered the half-set nearly two years ago, and had been saving up the money for them for many years before that. And 10 years ago, I’d built the tool chest to hold them.
My tool chest is a somewhat-crappy Kentucky copy of Benjamin Seaton’s 18th-century chest. I’d built it in 1999 for publication in the magazine, but I needed to build it in a certain way to make it buildable for the power-tool woodworker. That meant finger joints instead of dovetails. And no interior plane tills.
But I did get to add a little bit of English flair. I veneered the main toolbox till and the saw till. And I used curly maple drawer fronts (though I really wanted to do the banded drawer fronts in the original). I always vowed to re-do the toolbox like David Nelson did.
But the toolbox works fine, and I already have a list of things to build that exceeds my 8-year-old’s Christmas list.
So on Friday I fitted the interior with a rack for all my moulding planes, including the new hollows and rounds. It is the simplest sort of till I could manage that would allow me to see each plane’s profile and keep them handy.
Essentially, it’s just a piece of cherry that’s 3/4″ x 4-1/2″ x 34″ and is screwed to the sides of my toolbox and is wedged below the runners that my tool till slides on. I dressed the cherry by hand and put a 3/16″ bead on the top edge.
The way it works is simple. The cherry board makes a compartment that is about 1/8″ bigger than the toe section of the hollows and rounds. They simply drop between the toolbox’s front wall and the cherry. And you can see the profile of the sole.
And because moulding planes are all about the same dimensions, the single board fits all the moulding planes (though not the joinery planes that have knobs and nickers that ram into this board).
After screwing the board in place, I felt better about the toolbox. Perhaps I’ve not totally redeemed myself, but installing this little rack ended my week on a nice note. When I return on Monday, all my hollows and round will be waiting patiently to get started on the next project at hand.
In 1839, an English publisher issued a small book on woodworking that has – until now – escaped detection by scholars, historians and woodworkers.
Titled “The Joiner and Cabinet Maker,” this short book was written by an anonymous tradesman and tells the fictional tale of Thomas, a lad of 13 or 14 who is apprenticed to a rural shop that builds everything from built-ins to more elaborate veneered casework. The book was written to guide young people who might be considering a life in the joinery or cabinetmaking trades, and every page is filled with surprises.
Unlike other woodworking books at the time, “The Joiner and Cabinet Maker” focuses on how apprentices can obtain the basic skills needed to work in a hand-tool shop. It begins with Thomas tending the fire to keep the hide glue warm, and it details how he learns stock preparation, many forms of joinery and casework construction. It ends with Thomas building a veneered mahogany chest of drawers that is French polished.
Thanks to this book, we can stop guessing at how some operations were performed by hand and read first-hand how joints were cut and casework was assembled in one rural England shop.
Even more delightful is that Thomas builds three projects during the course of his journey in the book, and there is enough detail in the text and illustrations to re-create these three projects just as they were built in 1839.
“The Joiner and Cabinet Maker” was virtually unknown to modern woodworkers until Joel Moskowitz of Tools for Woorking Wood obtained a copy and immediately saw its significance. He loaned a copy to me, and as soon as a I read the book I knew that we had to republish it.
Simply reprinting the book would have been the easy path, however. What Joel and I did was much more involved.
This month we are putting the final touches on a project that has taken untold hours of research, building, drafting and writing. This fall, Lost Art Press will republish the original text of “The Joiner and Cabinet Maker,” with additional chapters that will help you understand why the book is important, plus details that will make you a better hand-tool woodworker. In our expanded edition, you’ll find:
• A historical snapshot of early 19th-century England. Joel Moskowitz, a book collector and avid history buff, explains what England was like at the time this book was written, including the state of the labor force and woodworking technology. This dip into the historical record will expand your enjoyment of Thomas’s tale in “The Joiner and Cabinet Maker.”
• The complete text of “The Joiner and Cabinet Maker,” unabridged and unaltered. We present every word of the 1839 original (plus a chapter on so-called “modern tools” added in a later edition), with footnotes from Moskowitz that will help you understand the significance of the story.
• Chapters on the construction of the three projects from “The Joiner and Cabinet Maker.” I built all three projects – a Packing Box, a dovetailed Schoolbox and a Chest of Drawers – using hand tools (confession: I ripped the drawer stock on my table saw). My chapters in this new edition of “The Joiner and Cabinet Maker” show the operations in the book, explain details on construction and discuss the hand-tool methods that have arisen since this book was originally published.
• Complete construction drawings. I drafted all three projects in SketchUp to create detailed drawings and cutting lists for the modern woodworker. This will save you the hours we spent decoding the construction information offered in “The Joiner and Cabinet Maker.”
In the end, we got more than we bargained for in our effort to bring this book back to life. To be sure, I expected to become a better hand-tool woodworker by building these projects, but I didn’t expect this book to give me my own apprentice to train. You’ll have to read the book to find out more about that.
Like all Lost Art Press books, “The Joiner and Cabinet Maker” will be hardbound, printed on quality acid-free paper and made in the United States. As soon as we have a release date, we will publish it here. In the meantime, look for additional blog entries here about the “The Joiner and Cabinet Maker” and its significance to the hand-tool woodworker.
Lost Art Press now has 300 copies of my new book “Handplane Essentials” in stock, signed and ready to ship. This 312-page book is a compilation of many of the things I’ve written about these fantastic tools during the last decade for Popular Woodworking, Woodworking Magazine, The Fine Tool Journal, Lee Valley Tools’s newsletter, my blog at Woodworking Magazine and my blog at Lost Art Press.
To be honest, if you have followed my work closely for the last 10 years you won’t find anything shockingly new in this book (not that there’s anything “new” in woodworking anyway). But I have tidied up the text, organized it so it makes sense, added a bit here and snipped out a bit there. And it’s collected all in one nice volume: hardbound, printed on nice paper with a full-color dust jacket. The book was produced entirely in the United States. All production occurred in our offices in Cincinnati. The book was printed at a plant in Ohio.
You can also purchase this book from my employer, F+W Media, and even get it for a discount from Lee Valley Tools starting in September. So why should you buy it from me?
A cool drawing of a sock monkey.
I have signed all of these 300 copies of “Handplane Essentials,” and my 8-year-old daughter, Katy, helped. Katy is learning woodworking and helps me on many projects. She signed most of the books, each with a unique little drawing. There are chickens, some smiley faces, a couple turkeys and even one very nice rendition of her beloved sock monkey.
If for some reason you don’t want a copy signed by Katy, just let us know on the order form. We have a box of books that are signed by me alone.
The book costs $35, plus $4 shipping anywhere in the United States. You can read more about the book or place an order by clicking here.
As always, thank you for your support. Lost Art Press wouldn’t exist without you.
“I have several books on hand tools, and the hand planes, written over the last 50 years. My woodworking library is bigger than any Barnes and Noble, Woodcraft, etc. I love books. I consider your book on Handplanes to be the definitive book on the topic.”
— David Ragan
“I read your book for the second time this weekend and it was better that the first reading! You not only hone the tools, you hone the woodworker as well.”
— Greg Barringer
“Sometimes woodworking books are just LAME and really repetitive. I am an advanced woodworker and I can’t get enough info on handtools (planes), they are just so much fun. Since having my kids I have really appreciated hand tools because they can be in the shop with me without a respirator and earplugs! Your writings and videos are excellent because you have a great way of not expressing the common, ‘experienced condescending arrogance,’ that is sooo annoying in woodworking. Great work.” — Mike Berkshire
I am not able to put into words to convey the depth of what I am learning here. The information is so relevant and voluminous that my brain is almost on overload – and yes I am taking notes. Over the last two days I attended “Anatomy of a Masterpiece” by Jeffrey Greene, “Measure Twice or Not at All” by Jim Tolpin, “Unlocking the Secrets of Traditional Design” by George Walker and “Early American Furniture: Casework and Detailing” by Jeff Headley and Steve Hamilton, as well as the keynote address by Thomas Moser. Wow! The best part of this event is the Q&A sessions. Yesterday I got to sit with Jeff Greene, and Jeff Headley and Steve Hamilton, for an hour and a half and ask whatever question I could think of, from glues to tools to shell and fan carvings. There were only four of us in one session and 10 of us in the other! Do you know what it would cost to get these guys to put down their tools and focus on all your questions?
Jeff and Steve go 100 percent and they travel heavy. They brought a number of their pieces and of course they all come apart. Someone asked Jeff about secret compartments and within a minute he had taken the pigeonhole assembly apart from a slant top desk to show all the compartments and how they are made. Man this is gold!
Greene’s presentation consisted of a well-detailed trip through the development of furniture from the Jacobean period to the Federal. Included were a number of slides that showed close-ups of details that indicated a change in design. Greene also covered the reasons why the styles changed. I can now tell the difference between a Queen Ann and Chippendale piece. Greene also talked about the regional differences in furniture between Rhode Island and other parts of the Colonies. And get this, he is producing approximately 50 pieces a year working alone!!!
Jim Tolpin gave a very thought-provoking talk about the difference between machine and hand-tool work and design. The evening was capped off by a presentation from George Walker concerning the use of classic column orders in determining the size of a piece of furniture. The Marketplace (Lee Valley, Lie-Nielsen, Blue Spruce, Benchcrafted and the Society of American Period Furniture Makers (SAPFM), to name just a few, was great. SAPFM was running the Hand Tool Olympics, led by Mike Siemsen. The first day’s contest was ripping a board. The cut was timed and examined for square. Fortunately, it was pine and the saws were sharp. I thought I did good ripping the 3′ board in 20 seconds but was informed that Deneb Puchalski of Lie-Nielsen had done it in 10 seconds. I felt better when I was told he was considered ineligible to win a prize. My elation was deflated when Mike said I was also ineligible. Oh well.