Blog — Issue Seven RSS





Back Stories

When the time comes around to pore over our authors’ newly submitted rough drafts, I can't help but reflect on the process for past issues of the magazine. It might be because we print the magazine “just” twice per year, or because we invest ourselves so heavily into our authors’ worlds and spend a ton of time with each and every sentence, or because we intentionally don’t recycle content, but every published article sticks out in memory with a funny or compelling story behind it. Some, you might easily guess. For example, spending days hanging out with Roy Underhill for Issue Eight was a riot. We went for lunch one day at his favorite local burrito joint, then strolled to...

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Perfect for the Preservation of Wooden Artifacts

The main structure of Hay’s cabinet shop was built in the 1740s at the bottom of a ravine on a Williamsburg back street. A later extension, appended to the west wall of the original structure, spanned a small stream that snaked its way through the ravine. Never made to power early machinery, the stream, combined with the gully and locale, likely made for cheap real estate. The potential savings were offset over time by the stream’s slowly destructive interaction with the building’s foundations. Anthony Hay and successors – Benjamin Bucktrout and Edmund Dickinson – were kept busy by the stream’s constant encroachments. While the business thrived until Dickinson’s 1776 enlistment in the First Virginia Regiment, the building slowly fell into...

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There is Much More in Workmanship than Not Spoiling the Job

Where then can the workmanships of risk and certainty be found? Neither are strictly time- bound, that’s for sure. Not only can free workmanship with hand-guided tools be found today, but its antithesis, the workmanship of certainty, has been around from antiquity. “The workmanship of certainty has been in occasional use in undeveloped and embryonic forms since the Middle Ages.” This concurs with Jonathan Thornton’s observation that “the aim of the careful worker in the European tradition was to reduce variation by skill and increasingly, by ever more complex tools.” Pye explains that the most common reasons for employing the workmanship of certainty are speed or accuracy – both especially important for quantity production. In Pye’s thought, it’s an oversimplification...

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Deceptively Simple

Wood has always been integral to the world we live in, and it’s still the best material for many jobs. Consider the power lines held in the sky, suspended over our houses and streets by millions of wooden poles. Even things so seemingly disconnected from trees – concrete structures such as bridges and skyscrapers – depend on plywood forms. Many houses are made of wood, as are the cabinets and furniture in them. Wine and whiskey are still aged in wooden barrels. All of these are carryovers from the old wood culture that we mostly take for granted. Because of modern industrial processes and extensive international trade, it’s hard to imagine these products were at one time related to whole...

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An Awareness of Natural Timber

At the larger end of the scale, a number of timber-framed cottages at St Fagans demonstrate the use of curved tree trunks that have been book-matched to provide gable ends, the shape of the roof being determined by the natural curve of the trunk. This is an efficient way of working given that once felled, the tree would require little shaping before being incorporated into the frame of the cottage, and the use of curved timber ensures there is little grain runout (which would reduce the strength of the frame). This raises the question in my mind at least: Might the craftsmen who were framing cottages also have been building stick chairs?  A similar approach has been identified in extant...

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Shaker Work is Not Simple

As Shakers, we don’t look at ourselves as a guild of craftsmen, but as Believers. Being a Shaker means being a follower of Christ. Jesus instructed us to “be ye perfect even as your Father in Heaven is perfect,” and we seek to apply this to all we do. In Shakerism, personal perfection is something that unfolds over time. Although we might strive to make the best chair that we’ve ever made, in 10 years we should be able to say that we make them even better than we used to. But this is not to say that a Shaker craftsman would have identified himself as a furniture maker. Shakers see themselves as tied to the land, and because of...

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Better Balance and More Control

There are no vises on Japanese benches. In fact, to a craftsman accustomed to Western woodworking, Japanese benches don’t look like workbenches at all. Author Toshio Odate notes: “Traditional tategu-shi do not use workbenches for planing. Planes are used either while standing at a planing beam (when working long material) or sitting at a planing board (for shorter material).” The planing beam is a smoothed and squared timber with one end held elevated on a triangular horse, while the other end rests on a block of wood. This is then butted against a wall or other immovable support. For a planing stop, usually a pair of nails driven into the beam suffices. Andrew Hunter, a furniture maker based in upstate...

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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...

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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...

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The Risk is to the Object Itself

As he explains, the phrase “workmanship of risk” refers to any operation that does not rely on controls such as fences or depth stops to prevent the very real possibility of spoiling the job from cutting too far or incorrectly. This can easily happen with unguided tools when the maker lacks skill, his or her attention drifts, or unanticipated variables (such as sudden grain change) arise. The “risk” Pye refers to, then, is not risk of physical injury from using dangerous tools – the risk is to the object itself.          This mode of work is contrasted with the workmanship of certainty, which is “always to be found in quantity production, and found in its pure state...

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