I am thinking of changing the name of this blog to “The Broken Tradition”
In part, our tradition of woodworking spans thousands of years into a past where stones were the cutting edge of technology (all puns intended)
The efforts of colonizing the Americas were at best sporadic and frequently poorly planned.. our early history is rife with stories of starving colonists, and under supported efforts. Colonists who came with tools, but with no one who knew how to use them. Freezing in inadequate shelters and starving because they didn’t know how too “do” the farming.
We idolize the survivors for having figured it out for themselves… but this is where the breakage starts. We are very proud of “having no masters” to rule over us and tell us what to do. Or, more importantly, telling us we can’t do something.
The carpenters, cabinetmakers, smiths etc who “figured it out for themselves” wanted nothing to do with later colonists who wanted to establish the guilds here. And a lot of the better organized attempts brought either craftsmen under contract to train people then go home (back to Europe), or persons actively trying to get away from the restrictions of the guilds to a place where they knew those guilds held no charter.
Eventually, even in America, the tradition of “Masters” teaching apprentices held sway. There were no books, no schools. No other way. And yet no guild to see or oversee the training of apprentices and the making of “Masters”. So anyone could call themselves a master….
Then the Industrial Revolution comes along… Machines to do everything!
The hand tools and the skills got tossed out, and we all get turned into machine operators.
And all of the Masters stopped teaching because no one wanted to learn. And they took their knowledge and skill with them to the grave.
There is very nearly a 100 year gap between the end of handmade furniture and the advent of our current resurgence and interest in making things by hand.
So there is another gap between the end of making everything by hand and our resurging interest in making things by hand.
Yes, you can point to individual makers during those 100 years… But did you personally learn directly from them? And some of those makers had to have figured it out for themselves because they did not serve an apprenticeship, nor have a teacher to guide them.
The point is: a lot of knowledge and experience was LOST! Gone forever! The line of tradition, Broken!
We can recreate or recapture some of it (and we have). But that re-figuring is at best, just guessing. Some of our guesses may actually be Better than what was done in the past. Some may be not so much.
But we need to acknowledge that the tradition of father to son, master to apprentice, has been broken.
Having admitted this to ourselves should make it easier to accept that We do not know exactly what they did do “before”. We do know what they left behind. The handmade artifacts, the tool marks on those artifacts, the tools themselves, and a very few books.
From all of these things we all work to recreate what was done.
We do this for knowledge, we do it for history, but mostly we do it for fun! We do it for the sound of the hand plane swooshing along a board and the satisfaction of the handmade artifact.
Today we have the benefit of the extensive research that has gone into books that have been (and are continuing to be) written by the pioneers in Experimental Archaeology.
I would draw your attention to: Mr. Michael Dunbar (Windsor chairs), Mr.Roy Underhill (traditional woodworking and early American carpentry), Ms. Jeanie Alexander (primitive hand tool work, “how to build a chair from a tree”), Mr. Peter Follansbee (17th century New England Furniture). Mr Drew Langsner (swiss woodworking and chairmaking).
But none of our ancestors had books (a lot of them couldn’t even read).. The tradition of woodworking was “passed down”, an oral tradition. Saying that “none” had books is misleading.
Of the few existing books, Moxon, Roubo, Diderot, Fabian, et al. stand out in their attempt to record what was done.
So, I am thinking of changing the name of this blog to “The Broken Tradition”
Leave a Reply