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!
Download the entire book scan here.
— Christopher Schwarz
From the 1907 Tiersot & Cie. tool catalog. While the French workbench is known for its typical tool rack on the back of the benchtop, this is the first time I’ve seen it under the benchtop. The catalog features a lot of very interesting tools and worth downloading from Jeff Burks’ web site here. Warning: I’ve been poring over it for the last two days.
“The craftsmen of Paris have a lengthy and expensive apprenticeship, provide about 500 francs of tooling, and are bound in unhealthy and foul-smelling premises, have longer working days than their foreign comrades, to earn wages lower than those of laborers.”
— French political pamphlet published in 1912 by Chambre syndicale des ouvriers ébénistes du département de la Seine. The drawing is by Paul Poncet. Image found by Jeff Burks. Note: One French inflation calculator indicated that 500 Francs from 1912 are the equivalent of more than 1,650 Euros in 2012.
Photo courtesy of Jeff Burks, of course.
Some early drawings of workshops show working conditions that seem impossibly crowded. Sometimes you will have four people working on a small bench, each doing operations that would be certain to annoy the others.
Ever tried to saw dovetails while someone is planing on your bench? Even on a stout bench, it’s not fun.
While some of these compositions are likely artistic license, overcrowded living and working conditions in the 19th century were real. In fact, collapsible campaign-style furniture was sometimes employed to convert dining rooms to sleeping quarters at night.
So take a good look at these eight guys working in a shop that is smaller than a master closet in a McMansion.
Dug up by Jeff Burks, naturally, this is an undated image of a French joinery shop that is signed “Bombled.” Jeff reports:
Louis Charles Bombled was born July 6, 1862, in Chantilly. His father was the the Dutch painter, etcher and lithographer Karel Frederik Bombled. He exhibited at the Salon des Artistes Français in Paris, where he received an honorable mention in 1885, and a gold medal at the Exposition Universelle in 1900. Bombled was known as a painter, watercolorist, draftsman and illustrator, especially of military subjects. He provided illustrations for many books and magazines, including contemporary publications “La Caricature,” “Le Chat Noir,” “L’Illustration,” etc.
— Christopher Schwarz