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
Sounds like fun. Sign me up.
— Christopher Schwarz