Monday, November 30, 2009

The Joiner and Cabinet Maker

When I pre-ordered The Joiner and Cabinet Maker from Joel Moskowitz, I figured I'd be getting a quaint little story about a young woodworking apprentice in 19th c. England.

What I got was a history book, a novel, and three projects all rolled into one captivating tome.

Joel provides fascinating details about woodworking trades in rural and urban England; and how they compared, from high end shops to garret masters (those who built and sold one piece at a time and worked from a room in their dwelling).

Also covered are workshop practices, including purchasing materials and tools; expectations and responsibilities of apprentices and journeymen; wages; and details about the hierarchy and differences between the specialized trades within the realm of woodworking.

The novel itself, first published in 1839, was part of a series of almost 100 books that provided an overview of various trades to help young people choose a vocation.

The Joiner and Cabinet Maker follows young Thomas from the start of his apprenticeship, as he learns about shop behavior and duties, including keeping the glue pot warm and the fire going; sharpening his tools; choosing lumber and laying out a project; and building three projects of increasing difficulty.

We learn about the interactions and pecking order between the master, journeymen, and apprentice, and what it means to be a conscientious craftsman.

The footnotes alone are worth the price of admission. Joel offers loads of information about tools, techniques, and woodworking trades in 19th c. England.

Following the novel, Chris Schwarz walks us through the 3 projects using only hand tools. He clearly explains how to build a packing box, a school box, and a dovetailed chest of drawers.

We learn the differences between wrought head, fine finish, and rosehead nails, and cut headless brads and sprigs; how to fit locks; woodworking techniques; and how to put an 8 year old girl to work without attracting the attention of the Department of Labor, Child Labor Laws Division.

The book concludes with notes on bound and cased books, how they were made, and how they were used in the 19th century.

The Joiner and Cabinet Maker not only shows you what it would be like to work in an English cabinet maker's shop in 1839, it may very well encourage you to unplug your own shop.

17 comments:

Mark Hochstein said...

I'm about half way through it Kari - and loving it!

jmk89 said...

Nice review, Kari.

But you forgot to mention the fourth project - how to handle your chisels! I have just made handles like Thomas' for my saw sharpening files and they are great - no lathe required and they don't roll off the bench!

Bob Rozaieski said...

Yep, great read. And if you read between the lines, there are some other tidbits of information that shed some light on some common questions/beliefs that occur today like "How would you do this by hand" or my favorite, "They had apprentices to do that" :).

Dyami said...

Nice report, Kari.

Next time you're in Brooklyn, I'd highly recommend you stop by Joel's shop, Tools for Working Wood. Just a brief stop in and you'll spend hours talking with Joel on all manor of woodworking.

rgdaniel said...

"Keeping the glue pot warm" -- I love that... there's a metaphor in there somewhere... or possibly a dirty joke...

The Village Carpenter said...

Mark, glad you're enjoying it. :o)

Jeremy, that's awesome! There's so much great info in the book.

I also forgot to mention that the much debated secret to the nib is finally revealed! (Just kidding, people. Sorry...that was mean.)

Bob, you're right. There are things about shop practices and apprentices' activities that I've never read elsewhere. Are you writing a review? I'm enjoying reading everyone's take on the book. We all seem to be attracted to different aspects.

Dyami, Joel is a wealth of information for sure and I'd love to stop by to see him someday. He's only about 4 hours from me.

Bob, my partner would have a big gigglefest over that. She can make anything woodworking-related seem naughty. Don't even try to talk to her about crotchwood. Sheesh!

JERM said...

Crotchwood HeeHee!!! I had the fortune of working with a boat carpenter who at the age of 10 had been apprenticed to a Swedish boat carpenter at his parents marina. I was luck enough to learn quite a bit from him. I think it is a shame that working with your hands has become taboo with a lot of society.

Wesley said...

It sure is one interesting read. One question that come to mind is how can the woodworking community attract younger members?

Looking closely at the photograph I see you carved some words on your tool cabinet. What is the rest of the sentence? Quomodo cogis comas tuas sic videri?

The Village Carpenter said...

Jerm, I wish there were a program like they have in England (and other countires) to help preserve handcrafts. It's important for kids to learn to work with their hands. And they still like it--I saw that first-hand at the WIA conference at Valley Forge.

Wesley, that's a good question. We can do that on an individual basis, but there is an organization to help kids learn woodworking: http://wisdomofthehands.com/

You are correct about the phrase I carved into my tool cabinet. ; ) I wrote about it in a February 14, 2008 blog post.

johnjoiner said...

Nice review Kari.

I am part-way into this book and am really enjoying it. History, historical fiction and woodworking all in one - it's perfect.

My apprentice is nine. So we're going to have to get going on that packing box so she doesn't get too far behind the curve.

Woodbloke said...

Hi Kari - haven't seen this one but it sounds interesting. I doubt though, there wasn't very much that was 'quaint' about working in any trade in early Victorian England...don't forget that this was the era when Dickens first started to describe working and living conditions of the day. I think I'd rather be a woodworker today, with all it's problems, than endure conditions in a 'shop in 1839 - Rob

Anonymous said...

If you disliked this book, would have you written that you disliked it or would have you avoid writing a review?
(Translating this question made me lose a lot of time because of the conjugation of verbs, and however I don't think it's well written, but I hope you understand what I meant to ask you.)

Auguste

The Village Carpenter said...

John, your apprentice is a lucky girl!

Rob, you have a good point! Joel does mention some of the hardships in his write up--workers having to pay for materials if they botch a job, for instance. The story itself is written in a charming way. Probably because they were trying to paint a nice picture for young people who might be considering a job in the woodworking trade.

Auguste, excellent question. I subscribe to the motto: If you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all. So, had I not liked the book, I would not have written a review.

Dyami said...

Kari,
If you make it Tools for Working Wood to see Joel, drop me a line. If it's ok with you, I'm always up to chatting with him, and I'd like to thank you in person for the great blog.

The Village Carpenter said...

Dyami, absolutely! Can you send me your email address? goodwoodworkshop@comcast.net

Kevin T. Keith said...

This sounds really fascinating.

Can you shed some light on the "series of almost 100 books" on the trades that this comes from? Who published that series? Are any others still in print?

The Village Carpenter said...

Kevin, according to the book, the series was first published in 1939 by Charles Knight and Co. The Joiner & Cabinet Maker was one of the books in the series entitled "The Guide to Trade." There was a companion series called "The Guide to Service." In 1941, the two series were printed by Houlston, but many of the books were culled from the original production (only 36 were printed). The last printing was in 1883.