One of the most essential pieces of woodwork provided by joiners was the coffin – it’s a topic I’ve been doing research on for the “Furniture of Necessity” book. Coffin-making is a fascinating trade with special jigs and construction techniques that have to match the local mores.
As part of the research into coffins, I’m planning on having a coffin party with a bunch of woodworkers where we will all make our own personal vessel – and each will have bookshelves in them until we buy the farm.
It’s interesting to me how even children’s books on woodworking from the 19th century made note of the sometimes-morbid part of the job.
Below is the text from “Was soll ich werden? : ein lehrreiches Bilderbuch von Lothar Meggendorfer.” Text by von Franz Bonn München : Braun & Schneider, 1888. Translation by the ever-sturdy Jeff Burks.
All ‘s let our furniture, table and bench,
the chair, the box and the cabinet,
We thank the cabinetmaker’s diligence,
He knows how to make everything well.
He built us the cradle,
In which we beheld the light of the world –
He once carpentered us the chest,
That we will wear for eternal rest!
Matt asked if I would post the following question here on our blog so he could get some other opinions. Here’s Matt’s question:
What is the single defining quality that separates each title: “artist,” “artisan” and “craftsperson,” from the other two? Are the terms mutually exclusive or can more than one apply at the same time? And what are the implications of these titles; i.e. does your title affect how you work or the quality of the work?
Also, Matt welcomes any feedback on his essay. You can send your comments to Matt here or post them in a comment below.
In the woodworking world, you won’t find anyone more practical or resourceful than John Wilson of the Home Shop in Charlotte, Mich.
Virtually everything on his property was made by his own hands. He’s a furniture maker, boat builder, carpenter, toolmaker, sailmaker and machinist.
If you’ve ever built a Shaker oval box, you probably used tacks that Wilson made with ancient machines he restored. You probably used instructions that Wilson wrote and techniques he developed over years of work. You might have even used wood that he cut and took to a veneer mill.
He sells Shaker box supplies to the world through ShakerOvalBox.com and teaches classes at his shop and all over the country on the box-making process.
And somehow through all this, Wilson also manages to write. Last year, he released his book “Making Wood Tools,” which he sell through his web site. It’s a book about making tools that really, really work. They aren’t precious trophy-like totems you’ll put on a shelf. They are designed to be put to work. And they are tools that anyone can build in a typical home shop – even the metal work.
I can speak to Wilson’s skill because I made his router plane (from a chunk of wood and hex key) before I could afford the Stanley 71. It’s a brilliant tool. As his editor at Popular Woodworking, I used his jack plane, block plane and spokeshave. These tools have it where it counts – a sharp blade held fast by a wooden body.
Perhaps the most brilliant part of Wilson’s book is how he introduces basic metalwork to a woodworker. Using hardware-store materials, Wilson makes blades for his tools. He hardens them with a torch and tempers them in the oven in the kitchen. And he makes it so easy you’ll wonder why you never did it before.
The book shows you how to make 12 tools plus a workbench, sawbenches and tool totes. What’s even more remarkable is these plans are “open source,” for lack of a better word. Wilson allows woodworking clubs and other not-for-profit entities to reproduce his plans for free.
Now Wilson has released a supplement to his book with some new tools to build – a large compass plane, a drawknife, shoulder planes and moulding planes. You can download the supplement for free from his web site using this link. You can also download a sample of his hardbound book here.
If you are interested in making your own tools, I think Wilson’s book is an outstanding resource. Highly recommended. The best way to order the book is to give John a call at his shop: 517-543-5325 or 877-612-6435.
— Christopher Schwarz
You can read a feature that Kara Gebhart-Uhl wrote on Wilson here.