More Than One Bench

The number of tools necessary for a woodworker to conduct his business varied of course with his occupation and with the size of the craftsman’s establishment. It is difficult to make a precise determination of how much of an investment was represented by a woodworker’s tools. Inventories are of some help but these must be used with caution because monetary standards varied from colony to colony and from state to state. Moreover, the age of tools listed in estates is not given and the depreciation factor is difficult to compute. Then, too, there can be no guarantee that the appraisers of an estate were familiar with tools and their value. Despite these precautions, useful information can be gleaned from estate records.

Evidence from inventories and surviving shop examples indicates that more than one bench was required in the shop of an 18th-century carpenter. The Dominy craftsmen had three benches in their shop at East Hampton, one with a superb red oak top 12' in length. Samuel Bissell, a Philadelphia house carpenter, had two workbenches in his shop at the time of his death in 1762, valued at a total of £1–15–0. While it was customary for woodworkers to make their own benches, occasionally they made them for colleagues. Thus Nathaniel Dominy IV billed his neighbor Nathan Conkling, Jr., 10 shillings in 1773 for a “joiners bench.”

–Charles F. Hummel, excerpt from “The Business of Woodworking: 1700 to 1840,” in Issue Four


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