“While publications of the 1930s and 40s explored the origins of design, principles of construction and the materials employed, it was not until the 1970s that the joinery of such furniture was discussed in print. In a developing field where scholars and art historians were puzzling over dating, types, functions and materials this neglect is understandable. In addition, there lurks the suspicion that learned investigators, accustomed to intellectual pursuits, found the exploration of furniture making unbefitting to their station. Undoubtedly, ladies and gentleman at work on paintings or jades cut a more poetic and elegant picture than those sprawled below tables or chairs.”
– Grace Wu Bruce, a noted expert and dealer specializing in Ming and Qing Dynasty furniture was commenting specifically on the dearth of information on the joinery of Chinese furniture.
I think there are parallels in the study of Western furniture styles and the availabilty of information on joinery. Scholarship and publications on furniture styles often focused on classifying when a piece was made, where it was made, what woods were used and who was the maker. How the furniture was made, if investigated, was not always published.
In the last forty years or so finding out “the how” has become easier as woodworkers took on the task of researching and replicating historical furniture styles. In their research they opened up a world of variations in methods and tools. Publications that were previously limited to one language or one continent were made available to all readers and makers. Pushing these efforts along was the expansion of online resources and the use of blogs to document research and experiments in making furniture.
However, not everyone is conducting research for an article or a book. We still need those curious and intrepid souls who enjoy exploring out-of-the-way shops and regional museums and know how to charm their way into taking a closer look at that one piece that has caught their eye. If need be, they are perfectly willing to sprawl on the floor and get a bit dusty.