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.