In China, the sawyer’s, the carpenter’s, the joiner’s, and the sashmaker’s trade are all exercised by the same person. There are no saw-mills, planing machines, or sash factories, and in sauntering about the streets of the cities, at the door of a shop, or new building, may be seen one or two men sawing boards from the logs, and inside other workmen manufacturing them into the different forms for constructing or finishing a house.
Their carpenter’s tools are few, peculiar, and rudely made; but the work done with them, although not equal to that of our mechanics, made with more perfect instruments, is probably much superior to what they could produce with similar ones. The peculiarity of their tools will be immediately noticed by a mechanic; the handsaw resembles our bucksaw, except that the blade stands at an angle to the frame, the plane, from its diminutive size, looks like a plaything, and is used, as seen in the hands of one of the figures, the chisels and gouges are few and have very short blades, the rough wooden drill-stock, with a bamboo bow and dart-shaped drills, answers instead of gimblets, a bolt and ring serves to draw nails, as the clumsy looking hatchet does to drive them; the adze, with its wooden head, is a curiosity from the economy of iron evinced in its construction, and, like many other things, the exact opposite to ours, the line for marking boards, &c., is black instead of white.
This marking apparatus is a convenient affair; the line is wound on a spool, fastened in a small box, and turned with a wire crank; when drawn out it passes through some cotton containing moistened India ink, which is also used with a slip of bamboo for marking as a pencil, a small weight fastened to the end of the line keeps it from being drawn into the box and serves as a plummet.
A Chinese mechanic knows nothing about augers, braces and bits, gimblets, drawing knives, spoke shaves, and the host of other tools used with us to save labor and economise time. These are not desideratums to the myriads of China who overcome physical obstacles, like insects, by dint of numbers, but economy of materials is the great object. Their pay will not admit of their spending hundreds of dollars for tools, their chest and all the contents, they can easily carry in one hand to the place where required for use, and if they need a hole larger than can be made with a drill, they have the time to make it with a chisel or gouge.
Enoch Cobb Wines
A Peep at China in Mr. Dunn’s Chinese Collection – 1839
The door has been altered, and there are a dozen carpenters in the roof, making a ceiling. At this end three Canton men are erecting the stage. The walls are losing their roughness under a new coat of plaster. In the middle of the building four men are hard at work sawing up the planks ready for use. Curious is their mode of sawing up timber. I give you a sketch, to assist my description. The saw points, in its teeth, two ways, these meeting at the middle, so that the up and down motions each cut. Hammer, hammer, hammer!—saw, saw, saw!
The Englishman in China – 1860
Most of the business streets, both of the old and new city, have their specialties. Besides the streets of the butchers and bakers, we passed through several devoted to the dealers in fruits and vegetables, the street of the stone-cutters, a long street occupied by the workers in iron and brass, and also one made up entirely of cabinet-makers. The shops of the latter are large, and in many of them we observed that the mechanics were sawing and preparing their lumber with hand-saws. In Southern China, where there are neither horses nor machinery to aid the people in their labors, it is surprising to observe with what comparative ease and skill they perform their work. A street of old clothes and second-hand furniture shops, is called, by the foreigners, the Chatham Street of Canton.
Martha Noyes Williams
A Year in China – 1864
Alone in China: And Other Stories by Julian Ralph – 1897
The streets of the Tartar city are as busy and crowded as those of the Chinese city, but along Legation Street there are no shops. They saw men sawing great beams of wood by the wayside, the beam being tilted on end and sawed into strips, or boards. Two men were required to saw the beam. Boards have been sawed by hand in this way for ages in China, and will be for ages to come, if the people have their way. It is slow and tedious, as is most work done in China, but more people are thus employed, and there are work and wages for them, which would not be the case if mills were put up everywhere.
Wood is very costly, for it must be brought from a long distance, and it is sold by weight. No one would think of using wood for fuel in China, where hardly enough is supplied for doors and window frames, furniture and coffins. The houses, as Mary and Ellen already knew, are roofed with tiles, and the floors are paved with brick or stone, even in the palaces. Only foreign houses, of which there are very few, have wooden floors and staircases.
Mary Hannah Krout
Two Girls in China – 1903
Here we first saw lumber sawing in the open streets after the manner shown in Fig. 33, where wide boards were being cut from camphor logs. In the damp, already warm weather the men were stripped to the waist, their limbs bare to above the knee, and each carried a large towel for wiping away the profuse perspiration.
It was here, too, that we first met the remarkable staging for the erection of buildings of four and six stories, set up without saw, hammer or nail; without injury to or waste of lumber and with the minimum of labor in construction and removal. Poles and bamboo stems were lashed together with overlapping ends, permitting any interval or hight to be secured without cutting or nailing, and admitting of ready removal with absolutely no waste, all parts being capable of repeated use unless it be some of the materials employed in tying members. Up inclined stairways, from staging to staging, in the erection of six-story granite buildings, mortar was being carried in baskets swinging from bamboo poles on the shoulders of men and women, as the cheapest hoists available in English Hongkong where there is willing human labor and to spare.
Franklin Hiram King
Farmers of Forty Centuries – 1911
Two carved models of Chinese sawyers from the British Museum. Notice how the saw teeth point in both directions allowing each sawyer to provide half of the labor.