Blog RSS





"Four Through Six" Now in the Store!

Do you remember how to reboot your old PC running Windows 95 when it froze up? How about the process of uploading music to your Zune or iPod Shuffle? Even further back, remember returning video rentals to Blockbuster (be kind and rewind)? All this stuff is knowledge that many of us had to acquire in order to utilize the technology of the day, back in the day. And it is all completely irrelevant now. Here at M&T, we’re big fans of skills and knowledge that do not go out of date. Things our great-grandpa knew and our granddaughters will know; things that have brought productivity and fulfillment to countless generations. I’m talking about the timeless skills of handcraft. Not with...

Continue reading



Striking an Inner Balance

Making a living as a full-time craftsperson takes discipline, careful planning, and hard work. Today’s successful craftspeople are educators, marketers, teachers, businesspeople, travelers, and community builders. It is not enough to be good at making nicely handcrafted items. You must think about your own story and why you are passionate about your craft.  Your story becomes the armature for the image you create for yourself, for your products, and for the markets you develop to sell your wares. Share your story widely – use social media and other tools to reinforce your story and build your brand. Travel to meet people and build networks – the community you create around you will continue to expand and will nourish you, as...

Continue reading



I’m Not an Artist – I’m a Craftsman

M&T: Tell us more about how art connects with the slöjd tradition, and why it’s such a vital part of it. JS: I would say it’s about form following function. The knowledge of how to make common, functional items was always a big part of everyday life. They knew, for example, how thick to make a table so that it would be strong, how big that sliding dovetail had to be to make a stable joint. That knowledge of proportions – dimensions, thicknesses, and joinery – is part of the tradition, and is very practical. But when they made things that were connected to certain traditions, like the love gift of a spinning wheel, they made it extraordinarily delicate, with...

Continue reading



In Hemmings' Young Hands

John Hemmings’ introduction to the properties of wood and the tools used in its exploitation came in his early teens as an out-carpenter on Jefferson’s Albemarle County estate, Monticello. Carrying axes, hatchets, froes, and mauls, teams of young, able-bodied men would trek into the old-growth forest at the edge of the Virginia wilderness to harvest trees for sustaining the body of Jefferson’s nearly 5,600-acre plantation estate. Near the age of 14, Hemmings was considered big enough to handle the heavy and unforgiving tools necessary to render raw trees into a usable commodity. For the last several years during his childhood, he had helped the older field hands with the lighter work of collecting the harvest and planting, but this year would...

Continue reading



Far Better in Difficult Grain

The origins of the double iron are somewhat mysterious, but probably date to the mid-18th century. A double-iron smoothing plane discovered in London during an archaeological dig may have been made as early as 1750. The most interesting feature of this plane is that while the business end of the cap iron is typical, there is no mechanism for fastening the cap iron to the cutting iron. The two irons are loose, held together by the wedge, so the owner would have to set both irons by tapping them independently. This arrangement supports the theory that the earliest double iron was simply two cutting irons that some enterprising craftsman placed back-to-back. The first written reference to the double iron dates...

Continue reading



The Connection Between Artisan and Tool

At the CSF project in Maine, the carpenters’ hewing abilities were even more impressive than their joggling – they split the line with their axes all day long as if it was nothing. It was clear that they have spent many hours with these tools, and each axe’s handmade uniqueness strengthened the connection between artisan and tool. The axes on-site were highly individual and varied tremendously from tradition to tradition, but most were French, American, Swedish, or German. Many of the examples had a bevel on only one side. The idea with this style is that the “flat” back (actually slightly convex in both directions) guides the tool in creating a flat surface on the timber. I wish I could...

Continue reading



Like a One-Handled Drawknife

The mokotagen is a tool completely unique to the North Woods, and is much less familiar to most woodworkers today than the others used in the Four-tool Philosophy; however, it was considered by many to be the most useful and indispensable of the four. Mokotagen (with a variety of spellings used) is a Cree word meaning “to bring the spirit out of the wood.” The early French explorers and voyageurs of Canada called it le couteau croche, “the crooked knife,” and quickly recognized the immense utility of the tool – Dillingham refers to it as “the indigenous version of a Swiss Army knife.” During the river-driving heyday of the 1800s, it became common in lumber camps in Maine and was...

Continue reading



We Can Do All That

M&T: How is slöjd relevant to 21st-century society? JS: I think that people are probably just the same now as they used to be 200 years ago. We still want to try new things, to learn, to be more skilled, to express ourselves, and to show off. With slöjd, we can do all that by being producers and consumers at the same time. There was a philosopher in the 1800s, Friedrich Engels, who was one of the first to talk about that concept. He warned that the Industrial Revolution was going to cause social problems because the producers would be separate from the consumers and they would be alienated from one another. Instead of connection and unity, there would be...

Continue reading



Authentic Incompetence

If you’ve been following Mortise & Tenon for any length of time, you’ll know that we are pretty critical of anything that smacks of artificiality: AI, the Metaverse, social media, and even endless workshop jigs that serve to sever us from our work and the reality of actual life in the world. Humans make mistakes, and that’s just a fact. To meet this need, you may remember that last year we announced our groundbreaking book, Faked: A Bench Guide to Photoshopping Your Woodworking Blunders. This title was slated to become the #1 best-selling social-media-woodworking pseudo-book release in the 21st century. We were so overwhelmed with the international fever-pitch enthusiasm for this content and were honestly a little taken aback. Apparently...

Continue reading



Going Beyond Observation

How can we begin to make sense of 18th-century ornament? To begin with, we must experience it. Yes, that sounds strange, but in order to gain real insight into these lines, figures, and shapes, we need to go beyond careful observation and recreate them through drawing. As soon as you put pencil to paper, a whole world of detail, previously unnoticed, reveals itself.  Consequently, the same happens once you go from drawing to carving or to careful observation of original objects – the transition from two to three dimensions and from paper to wood is equally revealing. It’s not necessary to draw entire pieces from pattern books. In fact, it’s best not to at first. For more than a decade,...

Continue reading