The following is excerpted from “The Joiner & Cabinet Maker,” by Anonymous, Christopher Schwarz and Joel Moskowitz. The original short, book released in 1839, 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 of 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. However, this is not a book for children. It is a book for anyone exploring hand-tool woodworking.
In our expanded version you’ll find the unabridged and unaltered original text; a historical snapshot of early 19th-century England; chapters on the construction of the three projects that 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; and complete construction drawings (you can download those files here).
With the glue dry, it’s time to ﬂatten one face of all of your panels. Thomas begins with the jack plane then moves to the trying plane, yet the details of the operation are sketchy in “The Joiner and Cabinet Maker.”
Early workshop practice was to use the jack plane (sometimes called the fore plane) across the grain of a panel. This operation, which Joesph Moxon called “traversing” in his “Mechanick Exercises” of 1678, allows you to remove a good deal of deal without tearing the grain too deeply. Working the grain diagonally in both directions allows you to get the board fairly ﬂat – Thomas checks the board with a straightedge as he works, which is always a good idea.
Note: When you work at 45° to the grain of a panel, you will typically see more tearing in one direction than in the other. This is normal. Just make sure you ﬁnish your diagonal strokes in the direction that produces less tearing.
Determining when a board is ﬂat can be a challenge. After some practice, you learn to tell by the way your planes respond when dressing the panel. The shavings become consistent in thickness, width and length all along the board. A straightedge can help. So can winding sticks, which aren’t mentioned in “The Joiner and Cabinet Maker.”
Winding sticks are two identical sticks that are longer than the board is wide. They are placed at several points across the width of the board and compared by eye. When the panel is twisted, the sticks aren’t parallel. And because they are longer than the board is wide, they exaggerate any wind. The author of “The Joiner and Cabinet Maker” has a novel solution: Compare your panel to a known ﬂat panel. If your panel rocks on the ﬂat one, it’s in wind. Of course, the trick is getting that ﬁrst panel ﬂat. It’s possible to create two panels that are in wind but don’t rock on one another – the high spots of one panel nest into the low spots of the other and result in a false reading.
However, once you get one panel ﬂat, the method explained in the book works well.