Principles Essential to the Woodworker’s Success

There is an old saying that a worker is known by his chips. This old saying must have had its origin years ago when firewood was used almost exclusively and many woodchoppers were employed cutting wood for fuel. Some of these woodchoppers would greatly excel others in the amount of wood cut consequently a swift worker would make many chips in a day’s toil while an inferior chopper would make comparatively few, so we have the saying passed down to us, “The workman is known by his chips.” But in these days, it would be nearer correct to say a workman is known by his tools and slightly more to the point to say a worker is known by the use of his tools.

Oriental Workmanship

They say that workers in Japan use some of their tools in a way that seems awkward and somewhat ridiculous to those of us of the Western world. The Japanese when he uses a plane pulls it toward him instead of pushing it from him. The drawing knife he pushes from him instead of drawing it toward him as the name of the tool signifies. They have odd ways of using tools, that is, it appears so to us, and our ways of using tools no doubt appear queer to some foreign-born workmen. With us as woodworkers our ways of using tools are quite uniform. Occasionally a workman, however, is seen using a saw in his left hand. Some are able to use one hand quite as well as the other.

Character in the making of chips, getting a shop reputation, motion study and its worth as a factor in forming workmanlike habits

But passing along from one worker to another in a shop or factory it would appear that all do things in about the same way in reference to their respective trades. Yet frequently we notice much difference in the quality of work done and much difference in the time that one man takes to do the same work in amount and quality compared with some other men. What is the reason for this difference? Why are not all workmen equally good? Why is it also that one man can do so much more work than another and do it just as well? These are quite important questions for with but few exceptions the worker is paid according to his work and he is known in the office and on the pay rolls by the use he makes of his tools. Therefore, how may a workman improve his work and thereby add to his chances?

Fundamental Principles

If these questions were submitted to a company of workers it would be sure to create interest and many and varied would be the answers given. I as one among the great army of woodworker., will suggest a few fundamental principles. First of all the old saying that a workman is known by his chips is obsolete. Chips or shavings are no indications of a workman’s speed or skill. But a good workman as a rule has good tools. If any man can do good work with poor tools the same man could do better work with better tools. The first requisite, therefore, to good work is suitable tools.

Inspecting the New Man

We notice new men as they come into the shop. It is natural that we should size them up by the tools they display. When a man appears with a substantial tool chest or tool case and unpacks a tine assortment of well kept tools we have at once respect for him even before he does any work. We expect him to be a workman that “needeth not to be ashamed.” How different is our views of the man that comes shuffling in with tools in an old battered box devoid of handles or sometimes with a market basket with a few odds and ends, relics of tools that appear as though they may have come from a second-hand store or possibly a pawnshop. Such a man as this the foreman is sure to look upon with some anxiety and suspicion. He does not give such a man very particular work, for judging from the tools the man carries about with him he could not be trusted to do a neat and particular job. If we would become a good workman and command respect among our fellows we should get together a kit of good tools. A worker is not only judged by the tools he may display but by the way be uses his tools. This is the great test of the workman. Workmen, like the rest of mankind the world over, are creatures of habit and the skilful use of tools by which we may earn a good living is largely the result of habits we form as we take up our tools to use them day after day. Much, however, depends upon the kind of start we get while learning the trade. The skill of the pianist depends on his position at the instrument together with expression as conveyed by the touch of the fingers on the keys. Improper position at the piano, awkward movement of the fingers, or a wrong start in learning has made the development of the performer into a great musician impossible. In a measure it is so with the use of tools. Much depends on the kind of habits we form while learning the trade and our disposition to correct errors and improve as we grow older and more experienced in our work. A man is never too old to learn if he is so inclined. But here is the rub. As we grow older our habits, good or bad, have a tendency to crystallize, to become fixed. As woodworkers in the use of our tools we are apt to get into a rut. We may move along in a monotonous kind of a groove. We become a kind of a human machine that goes neither faster nor slower and grows neither better nor worse except like the machine we are imperceptibly but gradually wearing out. It appears that as workmen we may be divided into two classes, those who from the start manifest a desire to advance by improving every available opportunity to become more skilful and those who having learned the trade manifest no activity to learn more only as it comes to them naturally and ordinarily through the performance of their routine toil. I can illustrate my thought best in this way: There was a cabinetmaker in years past who had two sons. They worked on either side of their father learning the trade. The older one from the start appeared quick and handy with tools but was not careful about his work.

Comparisons of Craftsmanship

When in fitting a set of drawers into a bureau he had to be watched and his work inspected frequently as he would plane too much off from the ends of the drawer fronts leaving too much space or play for the drawers. When spoken to by his father about his work not coming up to the standard he would invariably reply, somewhat impatiently, “Oh, that’s good enough.” His bench was always littered from one end to the other. His tools were never sharp, and as for grinding a plane iron or a chisel it was almost impossible to get him to do it. He was a hard- working fellow and always went at things with a rush. But he never could take time seemingly to do anything well nor to keep his tools in good condition. He indulged careless habits. He had no ideal, nothing to look forward to in the way of improvement. Passing from his bench over to that of his brother, who was younger and serving his time with him, we notice a great difference, not so much in the movements of the young men for they both were quick and seemed to do things by the same method. But the younger brother did much better work and just as much of it. He was painstaking. He made no more motions than the older brother but each effort counted. There were no false motions. He kept his tools well sharpened and arranged in good order. He consulted with his father frequently about the best way to do certain things. It was not enough for him to get it done some- how, but availing himself of the experience of those that had been longer in the business he tried to do everything in the best way. And it is needless to state that this young man forged ahead. He was given the best work. This worker was known not by his chips or the shavings he made but by his well-kept tools and the very skilful use of them. The difference between these two brothers which so affected their work and wages is largely the difference between workers the world over.

ENTHUSIASM VERSUS APATHY

BY JOHN RUSKIN 1901

To ensure enthusiasm of good workmanship among craftsmen, they must be relieved of the hard pressure of circumstance. They must neither be pressed for time nor by want. They must be removed from the necessity of slovenly production. They must be led to perceive and acknowledge the value: that is usefulness or the beauty of the materials which they daily handle; so that waste, that enemy of the workshop, may not enter to create dissension between the employer and the employed. They must be taught to respect the work of their own hands, so that it may com to be for them a subject of great interest, care and love. They must be made to feel their worth and dignity as producers, as one of the prime factors of organised and civilised life.

“Work” a new magazine for the hand tool woodworker

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Work was first published in London by Cassel & Company limited on 23 March 1889 and ended on January 14 1893.

There were four volumes released and was named “WORK, An Illustrated Magazine of Practice and Theory.”

There were many authors but the man who begun it all was the first author Ed Francis Young.   The Work magazine filled a hole in the market and that was to create a magazine that covered all trades of the working class man, in modern times this would be regarded as the blue collar worker or tradesmen.

I felt a need to bring this magazine back to life once more, but not entirely with all the contents of the yesteryears, but mostly the parts pertaining to woodworking with a hint of metal work as well.
I will cover most topics I have covered in my blog. As all blogs you have to scroll forever to see all the topics covered, unless your organised and have each topic categorised which I didn’t.

I have spent a great deal of time writing blogs, never ending research and so forth, while, my own work behind the bench diminshed to an almost stop.
I’m hoping that this magazine will free me up from the responsibilities of the blog but not entirely neglecting the blog, just free me up to devote more time to the craft I love so much.

Education is important, and I believe it should be free, we all have a responsibility to pass on the knowledge we learn along the way. By doing so, we keep the craft alive, teach others skill, be that for the amatuer, or professional. To earn a living for himself should he pursue that avenue. This is a responsibility we all share equally and its not just for the privledged.

This magazine will only be available in pdf format and will be available for download through my blog. As I said above, I intend to cover many topics and many projects. It will be much like my blog except in the hope it will be fairly detailed. Every write up will be accompanied by an illustrations and or photographic pictures, and possibly videos embedded into the page.

I have no intentions of charging for this magazine but I cannot say for sure if there will be a charge later in the future, or if I will continue with it at all.   All I know for now, is that I want to bring a first ever hand tool magazine for woodworkers.

I invite anyone who wishes to contribute to this magazine to do so.  Please send your write up in PDF format with your full name so it can be accredited to you to
handmadeuniqueclocks@gmail.com
As the original work magazine is to this date is 128 years old there is no copyright on it. Legal advice has been sought and I have been given the go ahead with it. This means I can repost word for word everything that is written in it. Its wonderful to read into the mindset and work practices of the old. There is much we can learn from them.

As you can see from the screen shot above, I’ve already begun the first write up.

As for now, I also cannot say how often a new issue will be released. Let’s just take one step at a time for now.

 

A good sawbench

I used to use a saw horse for all my rip and crosscutting, but a single saw horse isn’t just wide enough to support your material.   So the choice was to make one more, but that also posed some problems.  I have to kneel on the board which meant thinner boards would bend under my weight and the clutter of it eating my shop space didn’t sit well with me either.  There just had to be a better sawbench and so I devoured the net for ideas.

I looked at Chris Schwarz saw bench, then Shannon Rodgers bench and finally at Tom Fidgen sawbench.  Well that definitely was a winner for me, the bench stood 20 1/4″ x 12 7/8″ wide with a split top and 35″ long.  I like the idea of a split top, it meant that I can safely rip not so wide material.  It has dog holes for clamping and a fence for crosscutting. I made holes on both sides so the fence can be used on either side.  What I also like about this design is that one side legs are splayed and the other is square.  What this means is that you can use the square side as a reference while ripping while the splayed side provides great support to stop the bench from tipping.

It was a no brainer so I ordered his book “Hand crafted Project for the home and workshop” this book is great as it has so many other beautiful projects and none of which I ever got around to building and I bought this book probably about 2 or more years ago. Hopefully this will change as work outside my hobby always seems to get in the way.

As I was today continuing with the build of the planter box I thought it would be great if I showed you just how fast ripping with a handsaw can be.  This video isn’t sped up and no edits has been done to it, there’s nothing to sugar coat hand tooling is what it is.  It can be fast or slow it all depends on you, you are the machine, the driving force behind the tool.

The saw I’m using is a Disston 28″ 4 1/2 point  with hooked teeth.  This type of saw is mainly used for carpentry and works well slightly damped wood.  The timber I’m ripping is Radiata pine 3/4″ thick.  True not very thick stuff so ripping is made easier plus it being Radiata and not hoop pine also makes ripping easier but none the less whatever material your ripping,  your stamina and muscle strength is something you’re going to greatly rely on.

In the first video this is the full rip and in the second video I’m ripping probably  just proud of a 1/16″ from the line.  You can see as I got very near to the end I used my foot to clamp down onto the work.  Not sure if this is correct but it works for me.

Btw today was scorcher, sweat poured out of me like a running tap and sadly it landed on the sole of my LN hand plane and immediately rust formed on it.  It broke my heart.

Ancient tools & History of Woodworking

by Tony Morgan

Tools are like windows to the past. They allow us to view the civilisations that created them. Obviously, the more wooden objects a society produces, the more tools it needs and uses.

In some instances, societies advanced slowly or even regressed when it came to the development and use of woodworking tools. For instance, the Roman joiner had a larger tool chest than his medieval counterpart.

Axes and adzes were among the first tools created. Woodworkers used the axe to fell trees, and the adze, whose blade was turned 90 degrees, to dress timber.

The Minoan civilisation of Crete used a combination axe-adze and invented the double-headed axe. The axe-adze was popular with Roman carpenters.

The handsaw was used in Egypt as far back as 1500 B.C. It had a broad blade, some as long as 20 inches, curved wooden handles, and irregular metal teeth. Since the blades were copper, a soft metal, they had to be pulled, not pushed. Because the carpenter could not bear down on the cutting stroke, sawing wood must have been a slow, tedious process.

The Romans improved the handsaw in two ways. They used iron for the blades, making them stiffer, and they set the teeth of the saw to project alternately right and left. This made the saw cut slightly wider than the blade and allowed a smoother movement.

The Romans also invented the frame saw and the stiffened back saw, with s blade that is reinforced at the top to afford straight-through cuts. The frame saw uses a narrow blade held in a wooden frame and is kept taut by tightening a cord. The principle of the frame saw lives on in the modern hacksaw.

Roman builders used the try square (also known as the carpenter’s square), the plumb line, and the chalk line, tools developed by the ancient Egyptians. Egyptian woodworkers also used wooden pegs instead of nails and made the holes with a bow drill, which they moved back and forth.

Since the bow drill is ineffective for heavy drilling and wastes energy, the Romans came up with a better tool: the auger. The auger has a short wooden cross-handle attached to a steel shaft whose tip is a spoon-shaped bit. It enabled the woodworker to apply great rotational force and heavy downward pressure.

Woodworkers in the Middle Ages created a breast auger for drilling deep holes in ships’ timbers. It is topped by a broad pad on which the carpenter rested his entire body weight.

The Romans improved upon the Egyptian’s wooden pegs by inventing forged iron nails. They also created another dual-purpose tool: the hammer.

roman-hammer

In addition, the Romans invented the rule, the smooth plane, and several other types of planes. One historian has called the wood plane “the most important advance in the history of woodworking tools.”

Chisels are more ancient tools. Bronze Age carpenters used them with both integral handles and socketed wooden handles for house and furniture construction.

The first mallets, shaped like bowling pins, were pounded across the grain and didn’t last long. Eventually, a handle was fitted to a separate head. These made a more durable hammering surface.

Because of the vast amount of material to cover related to the history of woodworking, this article will focus on woodworking from ancient times to the Middle Ages, focusing on some of the more prominent civilisations. Woodworking conducted in other civilisations will be omitted – not because they are less important but again, due to the sheer volume of material. We will, however, briefly review some of the more prominent tools woodworkers used throughout history.

Ancient Egyptians (3100 B.C.)

Many ancient Egyptian drawings going back to 2000 B.C. depict wood furnishings such as beds, chairs, stools, tables, beds, and chests. There’s also physical evidence of these wooden objects, as many were found well-preserved in tombs due to the country’s dry climate. Even some sarcophagi (coffins) found in the tombs were crafted from wood.

Ancient Egyptian woodworkers were noted for regularly practising their craft and for developing techniques that advanced the craft for future generations. For instance, they invented the art of veneering, which is the practice of gluing thin slices of wood together.

The earliest examples of veneering are over 5,000 years old, found in the tomb of Semerkhet. Many of the pharaohs were buried with objects that had African ebony veneer and ivory inlays.

According to some scholars, Egyptians were the first to varnish, or “finish” their woodwork, though no one knows the composition of these “finishes”. Finishing is the art of placing some kind of protective sealant on wood materials in order to preserve them.

Ancient Egyptian woodworkers used a variety of tools, including axes, adzes, chisels, pull saws, and bow drills. During the earliest pre-dynastic period (circa 3100 B.C., about the time of the first pharaoh), they also used mortise and tenon joints to join pieces of wood. Pegs, dowels, and leather or cord lashings strengthened these joints. Animal glue was used during the New Kingdom period (1570 – 1069 B.C.).

Egyptologists found the world’s oldest piece of plywood in a third dynasty coffin. It was made of six layers of wood four millimeters thick held together by wooden pegs.

The Egyptians used a variety of wood to build their furniture and other objects. The wood came from native acacias, local sycamore, and tamarisk trees. However, when deforestation occurred in the Nile Valley starting from the Second Dynasty, they began importing cedar, Aleppo pine, boxwood, and oak from various parts of the Middle East. They also imported ebony from Egyptian colonies and used it to construct items that went into tombs such as inlaid wooden chests.

Noah’s Ark

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In the Book of Genesis, we encounter one of the Bible’s first woodworkers – Noah. After God revealed his plan to destroy a corrupt humanity by flooding the earth, He gave Noah a 120-year project – build an ark of cypress wood coated with pitch inside and out.

God furnished him and his three sons with precise instructions and dimensions. The ark was to be 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide and 30 cubits high. If we convert cubits into feet based on the common cubit of 17.5 inches used by the Hebrews, we get an Ark that is at least 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet tall (about the size of a 4-story building).

The sheer size of the Ark staggers the imagination and seems an impossible task for Noah and his sons. The Scriptures, however, do not suggest that Noah had to build the ark without the help of hired men. After all, the size of the timbers for such a huge vessel would likely have been beyond the powers of four men to handle.

After the flood, the ark came to rest upon the mountains of Ararat. The mountains of Ararat are in present-day Turkey.

ark-diagram

Old Testament Woodworkers

While Noah and his woodworking crew displayed exceptional skills in building the ark, the Hebrew Bible paints a different picture of the Israelite woodworkers during the time of Solomon. As written in Chapter 5 of 1 Kings, Solomon had to import Phoenician artisans from the coastal city of Tyre to build his temple.

The Phoenicians were skilled in intricate woodworking such as making furniture and inlaying them with ivory carvings, but as the years passed, the Israelite’s woodworking skills improved. In Isaiah 44:13, the prophet describes the carpenter and his tools, suggesting that during the era of the kings, the Israelites were becoming more adept and involved in carpentry. In fact, carpenters were among those Israelites exiled to Babylon after the Babylonians captured Jerusalem in 597 B.C.

Lebanese cedar, imported from Lebanon, was one of the most popular building materials used in the Biblical world by ancient woodworkers because of its high quality, pleasant scent, and resistance to both rot and insects. Many temples, palaces, and seagoing vessels were made from this wood, including Solomon’s famed Temple.

This cedar was also used in the construction of the so-called “Jesus Boat” of the first century A.D. In 1986, two brothers discovered the boat in the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee after a tremendous drought had lowered the water level. It was similar to the boats Jesus and his disciples would have used to cross and fish the Sea of Galilee.

jesus-boat

Almost 27 feet long and over 7 feet wide, the boat’s types of nails and hull construction placed the boat’s origin between 100 B.C. and 100 A.D. It was the first near-complete boat ever found in the Sea of Galilee.

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720 B.C. Chinese Woodworkers

chinese-furniture-makers

Early Chinese civilisations also promoted the art of woodworking. It’s believed that woodworking mushroomed in that country starting around 720 B.C. When that happened, the Chinese developed many sophisticated applications of woodworking, including precise measurements used for making pots, tables, and other pieces of furniture.

During this time, a well-known carpenter, Lu Ban, was credited as being one of the originators of woodworking in China. It’s believed he brought the plane, chalk line, and other tools to China. Some 1500 years after his death, his teachings were compiled in the book Lu Ban Jing (“Manuscript of Lu Ban”).

This book documented his work as a carpenter and contained descriptions of dimensions for building various objects – such as flower pots, tables, and altars. It also provided specific instructions concerning Feng Shui (wind and water).

Feng Shui is the ancient Chinese practice of geomancy, that is, the positioning of physical objects in strategic locations in the home and in work environments to stimulate optimal wellness, health, and happiness. Ironically, the book says almost nothing of the intricate glue-less and nail-less joinery for which Chinese furniture was so famous.

Ancient Japanese Woodworkers

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Woodworkers today who practice the ancient oriental woodworking techniques take pride in their mastery of the fitted joint and their skill of not using electric equipment, nails or glue to hold their pieces together. Japan is where this style of woodworking primarily originated.

One reason for Japan’s success in such excellent woodworking was that they developed high-carbon steel tools early in their history. Their use of high-quality blades and the engineering of the lathe made ancient Japanese woodworkers leaders in crafting round and curved objects. Cooperage (the making of barrels and casks) and bentwood works (wood that is artificially shaped for use in making furniture) were popular in Japan for everyday household objects.

Japanese woodworkers also made exquisitely-sculpted scenery. Their popularity and the techniques used in the process spread across Southeast Asia.

Another highly skilled form of woodworking was blocked prints – made from inked blocks of wood. Lacquering also was developed in the orient. It is a technique dominant in Japan, China, and Korea.

New Testament Woodworkers

Recorded in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, we find that Jesus’ adopted father Joseph was a carpenter. In the Jewish culture of that time (1st century), the father was required to teach the son his trade at age 12. Being a good Jew, Joseph would have followed this practice and began teaching Jesus at 12 his carpentry trade.

jesus

Carpenters of the time of Jesus were often called upon to construct or repair ploughs or threshing sleds, or cut a roofing beam or shape a yoke for a new team of oxen. They also met the demands for new doors and door frames, or a storage chest, and made a variety of other repairs.

Sometimes they helped with the construction of larger building projects, such as building a wood balcony, or making doors or stairs for a new synagogue. And, on occasion, a master carpenter would be asked to create a holy object such as a Torah cabinet for the storage of Scripture scrolls.

Hebrew carpenters used a variety of wood species depending on what the job required. They included cypress, oak, ash, sycamore and olive. If it were a special project, they might have to import expensive cedar from Lebanon, or use the stock of vines for small projects.

When a carpenter needed wood, he sawed trees into boards using a large bronze saw with the aid of other workers. He cut thin boards from tree trunks. Trees in that region, however, were not large or straight.

Among the carpenter’s tools mentioned in ancient sources were the saw, mallet, adze, plummet and line, chisel, rule stick, plane, and squares. They also used the bow drill, held in one hand by the handle, which they rapidly set in motion by drawing the attached bow back and forth.

The bow-lathe was a crude primitive tool, yet a skilled woodworker could produce decorative spindles and bowls with it much like today’s wood turners. He turned the wood by pulling a leather strap back and forth like a bow. This motion moved the lathe and enabled the cut to be made in the turning wood.

With these tools at hand, carpenters from Biblical times possessed the skill to create intricately dovetailed, metered and dowelled joints. Combining considerable skill and patience, they often created splendid wood products.

800 B.C. Arabian Woodworkers

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Woodworking in the Middle East goes back for many centuries, even to Biblical times, as evidenced in the descriptions of some items. For instance, the Book of Exodus chronicles the construction of wooden holy items for the Tabernacle of the ancient Hebrews.

The ancient woodworkers of the Near East built great wooden boats out of timber that grew in the Anatolian plateau (the Asian part of Turkey) along the Levantine coast (the Mediterranean coastal lands of modern-day Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon). This wood was so coveted that invading armies often demanded it as a tribute.

Archaeologists found furniture crafted from wood inlaid with bone, ivory or metal that dated as far back as 800 B.C. at Gordion, the alleged home of the mythical King Midas. Near East woodworkers used lathes as well as wedges, mallets, chisels, hammers, drills, plumb bobs, compasses, and other basic tools.

The wooden windows of the early mosques and private houses still seen today in the Arabic culture were crafted at the height of ancient Near East woodcarving. The Muslim woodcarvers of Persia, Syria, Egypt and Spain designed and created exquisite panelling and other decorations for wall linings, ceilings, pulpits, and all kinds of fittings and furniture. Their woodwork was elaborate and minutely delicate.

 

Roman Woodworkers

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The Roman Empire also had its share of skilled woodworkers. Wielding adzes, lathes, files, planes, saws, and drills, including the bow drill, they constructed aqueducts and waterworks using wooden scaffolding, built impressive warships and barges and erected strong and lethal battering rams and catapults for attacking enemy cities.

They also crafted furniture, including tables and chairs that stylistically represented the arms of animals or that were carved to represent mythological creatures.

Archaeologists were delighted to find a furniture shop intact in Pompeii, an ancient resort city destroyed in 79 A.D. when Mt. Vesuvius erupted. They also discovered wooden furniture and decorations, and the methods of building.

Roman woodworkers used a variety of woods for their wooden creations. Wood species included ilex, beech, maple, elm, olive, and ash. The most prized wood in the Roman Empire was the African wood Tthyine, which was believed to have mystical powers. It was used by both the Romans and Greeks to make furniture.

Thyine, from the Cedar family, is a fragrant and beautiful wood the Romans called citrus or citron wood. It comes from a North African tree and was alluded to in Revelation 18:12 as being among the items which would no longer be purchased when Babylon fell.

400 A.D. Middle Ages

The medieval period, also known as the Middle Ages, occurred during the one thousand years between the fall of Rome and the Renaissance, from about 400 A.D. to the 15th century. Since wood was the most common building material in the Middle Ages, carpenters prospered. They also were considered to be among the most skilled craftsmen.

Carpenters, however, had to belong to guilds – groups that were designed to protect the interests of people in certain occupations. They also were required to do apprenticeships with established carpenters. Their tools were much simpler than what we use today, but they had to know how to use them as well as know math and woodworking. This knowledge was necessary in order to create furniture, wagons, and homes for people of that era – even kings and lords.

All buildings used wood in some way. Buildings were sometimes constructed almost entirely out of wood, from the framing for their walls and roofs to their siding and shingles. Even stone buildings required considerable wooden construction. For instance, while being built, wood was needed for scaffolding, ramps and frames to support arches until the mortar hardened. Later, wood was used for doors, window frames, floors, roof beams, and some interior walls.

Although most of the wooden buildings of the Middle Ages have long since vanished, we still have contemporary illustrations of buildings and other wooden structures either completed or under construction.

Woodworkers of the Middle Ages also were skilled in creating wooden figurines and statues, some of which still stand today. These Byzantine or Gothic art pieces showed that woodworkers exhibited extreme patience in their woodworking and their love of this skill.

 

 

Brass Glue Pot-Designed by Hank Levin

Above is an audio of the post below

You know my stance on hide glue; you know all the benefits of it; if not read my earlier posts on the topic.

I’ve been using Old brown glue or OBG as it’s known, it’s a liquid hide glue which again you all know what that is, it’s nothing in relation to Titebond’s liquid hide.  I’ve used Titebond Liquid Hide once and never again due to glue failure, OBG is the real deal, its real animal hide glue of 192-gram strength and has never failed not once.  Unfortunately, it’s only available from one seller in Australia and it isn’t cheap.  It costs me about $60 including shipping for a 20-ounce bottle, and if I were to purchase it from the States, add another 15 to $20.  Comparing to PVA which costs only 5 to $6 it’s not what you would call cheap as chips.  However, that doesn’t deter me from using animal hide glue but, I have been looking for a cheaper alternative and that would be making my own.

I would go through a 20-ounce bottle within 3 to 4 months in the past, so the 18 months’ expiry date never bothered me.  Now that I no longer woodwork as a business per say, a 5 ounce bottle would suffice 6 months probably longer.  I have been looking for a cheaper alternative by mixing my own batch, plus the tack time will be quicker.

So I hunted on eBay for a glue pot.  Knowing that antique glue pots if rusted on the inside are worthless, or if dropped can have a hair line crack that isn’t noticeable which, also renders them worthless, and knowing that some antique dealers on eBay are either clueless or just can’t be trusted, is a gamble I just wasn’t willing to take.  Besides I really needed something small that I could mix a small batch and use it all then and there.  No point in making a lot of glue that will end up going off and then throwing it away is just false economy.

By chance after almost giving up on the chase, I stumbled upon this beautiful brass glue pot by Hank Levin from www.musicaravan.com/.   When I saw it I fell in love, literally my heart wanted it and it was the perfect size, much like what Lee Valley is selling however, 1000 times more beautiful and it’s entirely handmade from brass, which means no rust, ever.

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Hank is a Luthier since the 1960’s from New York who specialises in building and repairing musical instruments.  As a Luthier, he doesn’t need a lot of glue, prior to Hank developing this pot, Hank would end up throwing a lot of glue away after a few days of not using it, even though he kept it in the fridge, he couldn’t afford to take the risk of using it for the fear of glue failure.

When you make high class expensive precision instruments, you simply cannot afford the risk of glue failure which forced Hank, to come up with a design that would suit his purpose, hence; the birth of the Brass glue pot.

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The inner sleeve is heavily tapered and for good reason, this you will not find in any other glue pot, it’s sheer brilliance!

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When the glue dries out a shell is formed and when it does, it shrinks. Because of this heavy taper and its smooth surface bottom, this dried shell can be plucked out in tact as Hank calls it with your fingers or using some wooden stick, which means you can use it again if it hasn’t spoiled by crushing it up.

Patrick Edwards has on his website how to dry and store your glue, but since this is such a small amount, you really wouldn’t bother.   Hank also suggest never to use abrasives like steel wool on polishing the brass.  As an optional purchase Hank also offer a warmer, once you heat the pot on the stove to the right temperature you place the pot on the warmer and it will maintain that 140 degrees Fahrenheit for however long you need it too.  A metal brush is also supplied but I like to use my own.

Having dealt with a lot of businesses I have never honestly dealt with a man with such high integrity, and I believe this integrity can only come from a high calibre craftsman.  Craftsmen who take pride in their work reflects in their business dealings with people.

After a couple of weeks into my purchase, I wrote to Hank requesting for a tracking number.  This man called me personally from the States worried because he couldn’t locate a tracking number for me and said, he will send me another pot.  Knowing that it’s only been two weeks I wasn’t perturbed at all and rejected his offer.  However, this touched me, the fact that he called which is something I have not experienced from any other business in the past, be that from the US or from Australia and believe me, Australian businesses have a lot to learn about customer service. The fact that he wanted to send me another pot just proved to me that this level of honesty and due care, can only come from a craftsman artisan.  He didn’t say would you like me to send you one, or, if it doesn’t come in two weeks’ time, I’ll just send you one. He said I’m going to send you another pot.  That is incredible service.!

I love my little glue pot, it’s not only a work of art, but an inspiration to me, because every time I look at it, it reminds me to take extra care in my work.  All that’s left now is to buy the granules from Patrick Edwards, which is directly from Milligan and Higgins.  Currently Patrick is offering 6 pounds on eBay or from http://www.oldbrownglue.com/index.php/store for $50, so you pay for 5 pounds and get 1 pound free.  The shipping on eBay is more than double than it is directly from his website, I’m not sure why.

An old craftsman

This is an audio file of an old craftsman’s thoughts on the craft many, many years ago.  It’s funny to note and I am noticing as I research even deeper into the craft of the yesteryears that the complaints and wisdom are very much identical to what we see and hear today.  Go make yourself a cuppa and enjoy this short story.

Guilds and their purpose

The above photo is a medieval craft guild symbol.  Guilds were created to protect the interest of the tradesman and to prevent outsider from entering into competition with them.  Journeymen who worked for the master were not allowed to take  tools home so they don’t earn a living on the side that would take away potential work from the master.   I believe that these guilds which if memory serves me correct begun in the 10th century by none other than the king.  Which king and which country I’m sorry I don’t have the answer to this question.  I do suspect it’s main focus in the beginning was for tax purposes.  No one could work without belonging to the appropriate guild for the  associated trade.  Much like today you can’t hide your taxes so the same principles were enforced then.

Here is a brief summary of the main functionality of the guild which I’m sure you will find quite interesting and sophisticated for it’s time.  I can’t believe I just said that;  modern policies are nothing more than an extension by continuity with minor refinements of ancient policies.  Another words it’s a continuation of the same policies or ideas that begun in the 10th century.  Read on and compare for yourselves.

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Craft Guilds

The craft guilds came about by increased specialization of industry.

  • A group of artisans engaged in the same occupation, e.g., bakers, cobblers, stone masons, carpenters, etc. would associate themselves together for protection and mutual aid.
  • As these craft associations became more important than the older merchant guilds, their leaders began to demand a share in civic leadership.
  • Soon no one within a town could practice a craft without belonging to the appropriate guild associations.
  • The purpose of the guilds was to maintain a monopoly of a particular craft especially against outsiders. For example, the harness makers would get together and figure out what the owners of business needed from that trade then allow as many masters to set up shop as the business could support.
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Consumer and Worker Protection

In protecting its own members, the guilds protected the consumer as well.

  • Many craft regulations prevented poor workmanship. Each article had to be examined by a board of the guild and stamped as approved.
  • Because of lack of artificial light, work at night was prohibited.
  • In Florence the number of dyers was specified by the guild. In one place it was forbidden to see pigs fattened by a barber-surgeon lest the pig had been fattened on rich peoples’ blood.
  • Metalware plating was tantamount to fraud and, therefore, was forbidden.
  • To regulate competition between members the guild forbade advertising.
  • All prices were regulated
  • Craftsmen could take work outside where it could be seen.
  • Price-cutting was strictly forbidden.
  • To preserve its monopoly a guild forbade the sale of foreign artisans’ work within a city.
  • The most important processes used in manufacturing were guarded. In Florence a worker who possessed any essential trade secrets and for some reason fled to a foreign territory must be tracked down and killed lest he divulge the information.
  • Monopoly existed within individual guilds through the limitation of the number of masters.
  • No member was ever allowed to corner the market by purchasing a large supply of a product or commodity so as to be able to fix the price.

Services Performed by Guilds
Guilds performed other services for their members as well. They

  • provided funeral expenses for poorer members and aid to survivors;
  • provided dowries for poor girls;
  • covered members with a type of health insurance and provisions for care of the sick;
  • built chapels;
  • donated windows to local churches or cathedrals;
  • frequently helped in the actual construction of the churches;
  • watched over the morals of the members who indulged in gambling and usury; and
  • were important for their contribution to emergence of Western lay education. In earlier times, the only schools in existence had been the monastic or cathedral schools.

Apprenticeship_image

Apprentice — usually a male teenager who went to live with a master and his family; his parents paid to have him taken on. He probably occupied the attic of their 3 story home:

  • The shop where he would learn his trade was located on the ground floor.
  • The second story was the masters’ living area.
  • The third story housed the journeyman who was there to learn also.

The apprentice was subject to the master. During his apprenticeship he was not allowed to marry. This learning period might vary from 2-7 years depending on the craft. His training included the rudiments of the trade. The apprentice then progressed to journeyman.

Journeyman or day worker — entitled to earn a salary.
The next hurdle was to produce a masterpiece that would satisfy the master of the guild so that he could assume the title of master craftsmen and would thus get membership in the guild. This was not easy to accomplish because:

  • The journeyman had to work on his own time to produce this masterpiece — Sunday was the only day he did not work sun-up to sun-down.
  • He must use his own tools and raw materials which required a capital outlay that he might not have been able to accomplish as a wage earner.
  • Then if he did produce the required work, the state of the economy guided the vote of acceptance — it was not desirable to have too many masters in a guild and when the economy was tight. The masters would not admit anyone to their ranks to strain the economy.

MasterOnce the masterpiece was completed and the guild voted to accept the journeyman as a master, he could become one.

ANDRE CHARLES BOULLE – Father of Marquetry

Andre was born in Paris, France in the year 1642 and died at the age of 90 in 1732.  He was a famous cabinet maker who practiced the art of marquetry.  Some call him the father of marquetry even though he didn’t invent the art but he did refine the art to a fine art.

His career began as an architect which only lasted a few years before merging over to cabinetry type work, another words he became a cabinet maker.  Within a few short years his work was so outstanding that at the age of 30 he was awarded the title of Master Cabinet Maker in 1672 by Louis XIV who granted him the royal privilege of lodging in the Palais du Louvre.  In the same year he achieved the title of cabinetmaker and sculptor to the king.    This allowed Boulle many privileges such as practicing two professions simultaneously which the guild through their strict rules prevented craftsmen from doing however, turned a blind eye to Boulle’s favoured position allowed him protected status and exempted him from these requirements.

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Guilds were created to protect the interest of the tradesman and to prevent outsider from entering into competition with them.  More on this in another blog.

Marquetry was originally used in the 16th century by Italian craftsman but Boulle took this craft to another level of artistic flair. Boulle specialised in the inlaying of ebony with exotic woods from India and South America such as mother of pearl. Large areas were covered with tortoiseshell, inlaid with arabesques of gilded brass. He added splendid bas-relief compositions, as well as sculptured rosettes, masks, and acanthus scrolls, all in gilded bronze.  Many of his inspirations came from his personal collections of paintings, drawings and prints which included the works of the Italian artists Raphael, Rubens and Italian engraver Stefano Della Bella.  These inspirations led to some of the world’s finest pieces ever made and all works after his death that were made by other artists that included inlays of copper that were on a black or red ground were known as the Buhl.

BoulleOrnateCommode

Commode, ca. 1710-32
Walnut veneered with ebony and marquetry
of engraved brass and tortoiseshell, gilt-bronze
mounts, verd antique marble top

BoulleOrnateTable

BoulleOrnateTable-Top

Table, c.1680
Oak veneered with ebony, tortoiseshell, pewter, brass,
ivory, horn, various stained and natural woods; gilt bronze mounts

 

Clock With Pedestal (centre picture)
Attributed to André-Charles Boulle
movement by Antoine Gaudron, clockmaker; Paris, c.1690
Oak veneered with tortoiseshell, pewter, brass, ebony,
and ebonized fruitwood; gilt bronze mounts

His work was so popular that it continued to be carried forward on by others to the last half of the 19th century, with the implementation of machinery by then enabling the creation of large quantities of furniture in the Boulle style.  Many of the cheap plastic mold recreations of clocks you see made in China and other Asian countries are based on his early work.  I’m not being a racist for naming Asian countries as producers of low quality productions as I do not blame them for the cheap productions that come out of their countries but the companies in western nations who pay them a pittance to produce such low quality diarrhea as Christopher Schwartz once said.  I am fully aware of the rich history of fine craftsmanship Asia’s talented has provided throughout the ages but as the old saying goes you get what you pay for.

Boulle left his work to be continued by his four sons Jean Philippe, Pierre Benoît, André Charles, and Charles Joseph along with the title of cabinetmaker to the king. Later in 1754 Charles-Joseph hired the brilliant German furniture designer Jean-François Oeben, from whom the Boulle tradition was inherited by Jean-Henri Riesener. His style continued with tremendous success in France during the 18th century and under Napoleon III.

Here are some more examples of this most talented true master craftsman which I hope you can appreciate my dislike of this word “master craftsman” being so careless attributed to many modern day craftsman who do not measure up to the standards of these high level of achievers and I would discourage you all to stop flaunting this word so carelessly and attribute it only to the ones who live up to such standards.

 

 

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To finish this blog here is a video of William Patrick Edwards the founder of OBG and Marqueter employing two methods of Boulle marquetry, première-partie, in which the tortoiseshell serves as the background with inlaid brass, and contre-partie, with tortoiseshell inlaid on a brass ground—and sometimes made complementary pairs of furniture pieces, utilizing each technique.