Forged in Wood

I suspect that many of you are fans of Roy Underhill, his television show "The Woodwrights Shop, and his series of books. One of my favorites is The Woodwright's Workbook: Further Explorations in Traditional Woodcraft. The last chapter of that book features the building of the Anderson Forge at Colonial Williamsburg. I found that fascinating, and didn't know that there was a video showing the build.

Now, into the story comes my lovely wife. For my birthday, she bought me
Forged in Wood- Building Anderson's Blacksmith Shop. It's a great video! Shows the construction of the forge, talks about the history of James Anderson, and shows the carpenters of Colonial Williamsburg building the forge, as well as the blacksmiths at work in it.

This particular DVD also includes the 1967 documentary about the coopers trade, as well as a short look at the Hay Cabinet shop and other craftsman using the tools of the 18th Century. This DVD is just about the perfect thing for those interested in traditional construction, Williamsburg, hand tools or St. Roy.

Stop the ride, I want to get off!

The work that period woodworkers were able to accomplish with such a small kit is astonishing, when you compare it with the level of tooling present in most modern shops, even hobby shops. I tend to agree with Adam Cherubini on this point: he's mentioned that most woodworkers are equipped in a fashion more similar to a 1900s production shop than that of an 18th century woodshop, but that most of our woodworking output is geared more to a 18th century shop mindset (smaller volume, one-off pieces not production runs).

One thing that contributed to the output of period woodworkers and their small kits is the level of specialization. For example, in many cases they bought wood already sawn to the proper size and thickness by professional sawyers, eliminating the need for rough hewing / planing / sawing. A Philadelphia chairmaker probably wouldn't have needed carving chisels, as he would have had a professional carver do that portion of the work. He likely wouldn't have finished his own chair, as there were professional finishers to do that job. Upholstery was the same deal. In contrast, modern woodworkers do it all, and most of us are self-trained, unlike period woodworkers who would likely have had at least a minimal apprenticeship with a skilled master.

Modern woodworkers are frequently doing the work of several skilled craftsman with significantly less training that the average worker of the past. Because of this, the projects that modern woodworkers complete on a regular basis are just as impressive, if not more so, than the 18th century pieces we all revere. It also, in some ways, explains the woodworking community and its obsession with tools, as we are all fighting an uphill battle against basic human nature. We can't do everything or be good at everything, so we all seek the next great thing to allow us to cut those perfect dovetails, or carve the Newport shell, or apply a French polish in 20 minutes. It's a losing battle, but one that makes a great deal of money for some people.

Like a lot of guys, I'm just trying to get off the merry-go-round, be happy with the tools I have and can find / restore, and make the best furniture and sash that I can with what skills I've got.

Progress on the chest over drawers and a few new old tools

I've been busily working on my pine chest over drawers.  I've made quite a bit of progress since deciding to build this project. I've decided to go with a red-brown milk paint finish. I also found time to visit one of my favorite antique stores and bought a couple of things.

The case, before adding the face beading, base and lid

Case back, showing shiplap backboards
Case beading molding stock, being jointed with my Mathieson try plane
Pile of shavings, plus beaded molding, ready to be ripped off

 I managed to score a few nice, fairly uncommon saws. I bought a Harvey Peace Perfection  26"crosscut saw, and a Wheeler Madden and Clemson 22" panel saw.  Both need some cleanup, but are in very good overall condition.  Check out that wheat carving on the Peace applewood handle. Also scored a very nice pair of Davidson dividers, which will be put to good use here in the shop.

Harvey Peace Perfection saw and a Wheeler Madden and Clemson panel saw
A very nice pair of Davidson dividers

"Of course your chest is over your drawers"

In a previous post, I mentioned that I was struggling to identify my next shop project. I finally finished the woodworking on the Nutting tavern table for my wife April, it only lacks its milk paint. April will be painting that soon, after which I will post the photos. I'm quite happy with the way it turned out, especially the clamp joints on the top.

So, looking for my next project, I once again cracked open Denis Hambucken's book on country furniture, Early American Country Furniture: 22 Woodworking Projects Inspired by 18th- and 19th-Century New England

In the book, there is a rather nice chest over drawers that I immediately knew I wanted to build, which is extremely simliar to this 18th century English piece:

18th Century secretary, but one with similar lines to my storage piece

It features a slanted lid to the top chest portion, with two nine inch deep drawers underneath. Mine is a storage piece, not a desk, so it will not have a writing surface or chest gallery divisions. As I mentioned before, one of the great things about Hambucken's book is the lack of measurements. Choose the composition (overall size / footprint) of the piece, then make the parts to fit proportionally. A great way to work. Mine is being constructed from quartersawn eastern white pine (cut from home center 1x 12s, but I've left a few knots in it) and will be painted with milk paint. I'm undecided if it will be painted a red-brown color or a blue-green color, but blue-green is winning right now.  Anyone have any thoughts?

I'll shoot some pics of my progress tonight. This weekend I got through panel glue-ups, some dado work (my router plane got a workout!), a few rabbets, a some dry test-fitting.  Eventually some dovetailed and cockbeaded drawers will be built, along with square bracket feet.  This project is going extremely quickly, but I won't be making any predictions on how long it will take.  If I do that, something will come up and it will take me 6 months to finish, just like that darn Nutting table.