Issue Four T.O.C. – “In Pursuit of the Handmade Aesthetic” by Michael Updegraff

This is the last article of the Issue Four table of contents to be announced. Every weekday until the February 1st at 8 a.m. Eastern time (tomorrow!) opening of Issue Four pre-orders, we've been announcing one article from the table of contents here on the blog. If you have yet to sign up for a yearly subscription, you can do so here. 

We all know there’s something special about handmade furniture. But how can we put it into words? To try to find an answer, Joshua Klein and I set out to study and measure a wide assortment of period pieces, made both by hand (pre-industrial) and by machine (Victorian), in the hopes of better understanding what makes them distinct from one another.

Handmade furniture is often characterized by a variety of textures and irregularities, which were completely determined by period sensibilities. In this article, I attempt to unpack the tolerances acceptable in the 18th and early 19th centuries. I examine the factors that might have affected the precision achieved by the furniture maker, why the ideas of “flat” and “smooth” have changed over time, and how the Industrial Revolution brought about greater exactness in furniture tolerances than ever before, but led to the near-demise of the handcraft signature of the individual maker.

This article took on a life of its own during our research. What seemed at first to be a simple compilation of facts and numbers, seeking trends and looking for averages, evolved into a challenging digression into what constitutes such abstract ideas as “grace” and “beauty” in handmade furniture. From learning how to better understand the pre-industrial artisan’s thought process, to being awed by the precise level of detail that a skilled craftsman can perceive by hand and eye, putting this piece together was a mind-blowing endeavor.


- Mike Updegraff


Editor’s Note: Pre-orders for Issue Four open tomorrow at 8 a.m. Eastern Time. If you’ve already signed up as an M&T subscriber, you don’t need to do a thing – you are all set to receive the new issue when it ships! If you’re not a subscriber, tomorrow is the time to place your order to receive Issue Four (with free U.S. shipping). Late March, we’ll be sending out all pre-order and subscription copies wrapped in brown paper, affixed with a special trade card and wax seal, and placed in a mailer with a handful of pine plane shavings. After pre-orders close on March 21st, the special wrapping for Issue Four will no longer be available. Don’t miss out! You can sign up for a subscription here.


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