If it were 1839 and I were 14, I would be heading to the neighborhood Joiner and Cabinet Maker's shop and begging for an apprenticeship. Sadly, the apprentice system has all but collapsed and woodworkers nowdays are mostly self-taught. At best, they can hope to attend costly workshops and classes, if they live in area fortunate enough to offer such things. I do not.
A cruel paradox for would-be craftspeople is that it is difficult to afford all the tools needed to get going, yet it is impossible to learn or complete a project without them. My vision is to solve this dilemma by creating a quasi-apprentice system where I serve you, the Kickstarter sponsors, as a personal apprentice. I will be learning to create traditional woodcraft items, and you will receive the fruits of these efforts.
What I Will Do
I'm going to follow in the footsteps of Thomas, the fictionalized apprentice whose story is told in the 1839 work "The Joiner and Cabinet Maker". This book details not only Thomas's experiences as an apprentice in a Cabinetmaker's shop, but also explains in amazing detail how he builds 3 specific projects.
I will build these 3 projects for you, using the kinds of tools Thomas used and the methods he used to make them.
I will use local wood (including some cut and milled from trees on my property) whenever possible and no electricity except for lighting on winter evenings and a bench grinder to adjust some tools. The lumber will be dimensioned, cut, smoothed, and joined using hand-powered tools, using traditional methods. This is woodworking with a high level of ethical integrity; the use of hand-powered tools transcends even solar power as the most sustainable possible method of working wood. Well-crafted wooden items should easily last more than a lifetime. In this era of disposable merchandise, planned obsolescence, and suspicious quality and materials from distant lands, this project is an attempt to reclaim a very proud heritage - that of hand-made woodcraft in the best of American and European traditions.
Rather than simply asking for handouts or loans, it is my wish to instead put the results of my apprenticeship right into your hands. You will feel great about sponsoring your own artisan, but your contribution will also bring you a unique item of traditional woodcraft and a relationship with a woodworker who is at your call. My alternative is to take out a line of credit - putting me in debt, giving you nothing, and dumping fees and interest into the coffers of financial institutions. With Kickstarter, we all win. With a loan, none of us do (except for the credit card companies).
How I Will Do It
While I already have modest woodworking skills and much "book learning" on the subject, I will be taking this apprenticeship seriously and start from scratch with the very basics using the best materials available to serve as my mentor: the historical record left by authors such as Roubo and Moxon will serve as the pillars of philosophy and technique, while the 1839 work The Joiner and Cabinetmaker and Robert Wearing's The Essential Woodworker will serve as a more specific curriculum for this project. From Dovetail Month (a joint a day) to making 100 saw cuts in a row to ensure superb form, to constructing the 3 items Thomas the Apprentice makes during his education in the above Joiner book, I will be learning to build traditional woodworks by actually building them. I'll be journaling the building processes so that anyone interested may follow along. In this way, you might already be familiar with your specific reward before you receive it, something which is generally not possible with purchased goods.
What is in it for You
As a sponsor, you may opt to receive one of my hand-made items. I do realize that woodworks are expensive, and so there are other rewards available for lesser ammounts - and every bit helps. You will be receiving the satisfaction of helping ensure that traditional and ethically-appropriate woodworking remain alive. It is my aim that you feel more than justly compensated for your patronage, and I believe this will be the case.
How the Funding is Used
I've created a list of the most essential, effective, and historically accurate tools. This is largely informed by Chris Schwarz's excellent tome, The Anarchist's Toolchest ( lostartpress.com). I will seek antique tools when possible, and restore them to usable condition. When needed, I will use professional restoration or sharpening services when a tool is too fragile or exotic for my comfort. In this way, I will keep costs as low as possible while remaining true to the spirit of the project. When antiques are not available or not of reliable quality, new tools from small shops (individual makers when possible) will be purchased. Additional costs include materials (glue, nails, finishing supplies, etc) and in cases where I cannot secure my own lumber, I will use that from regional wood product dealers. Of course, there are also the costs of reward fulfillment and the various fees which this campaign requires.
It also bears mention that this campaign is not adequate to cover all costs - the real total is quite a bit higher than the campaign's goal. However, if the campaign is a success, I will be able to get started very quickly and concentrate on building instead of fundraising.
The time, determination, elbow grease, problem solving, organization, blood, sweat, and tears are all simple enough for me to provide. I merely require the tools and materials themselves - and while I would gladly accept donations in the form of tools or lumber, it is the finances to procure them which are in short supply.
Hand-powered tools are quiet, safe(r), and a joy to use. They tend to produce shavings instead of sawdust, reducing health and fire hazard. The shavings themselves actually end up in my woodstove - which heats the shop. The tools are a link to both the past and (it is my hope) the future. Perhaps most importantly to me, they allow my daughter to witness and eventually assist with their operation. I feel this type of historically-informed exercise is an important way to bring long-forgotten concepts back into the public's grasp, and will hopefully prove entertaining and educational for you, my sponsors, at the same time.
Thank you for considering my project, please do not hesitate to contact me with questions or concerns, and I look forward to working on something special for you.
Photos by Chris Schwarz of his versions of the projects I will build:
Chest of Drawers:
The tool roll will be similar to this design, sized for common woodworking tools, and featuring project artwork:
I am a big fan of technology and always have been. However, I feel that we are not finished learning the lessons which the state-of-the-art in the early 1800s had to teach. Furniture design seems to have peaked in this era. While not discounting some modern movements, there is very little that modern woodworkers would have to teach citizens of this era in order to improve the strenght, beauty, or utility of their works. I believe that power tools are best used after a mastery of hand-techniques has been achieved. Then, power tools can be judiciously used for occasions where production is more important than precision, safety, or enjoyment. Chris Schwarz cites the example of making several identical Morris chairs as an occasion when a powered mortiser starts to make a lot of sense. I am not opposed to this type of work, once hand-cut mortises are mastered.
I am not Amish, but I do respect a thoughtful approach to deciding which technologies to adopt, rather than rushing off to buy whatever the latest magazine and websites declare.
While I will not use them in project, I would in fact like to add a band saw and a power planer to my otherwise hand-powered shop. The band saw makes resawing hardwood boards into thin sheets possible. Traditionally, this would have been done with a mill-powered saw or a pit saw involving two workers and a very long saw. Neither of these are feasable, and so the band saw seems like an appropriate use of electricity.
The power plane is a pragmatic solution to the very long time it can take to completely mill a board by hand. I am willing to do it all a stroke at a time, but the number of hours required for many projects would become so ridiculous that they would be utterly unaffordable. I would use a planer to quickly bring rough-sawn boards to their approximate finished size, and then use hand planes to complete the thicknessing, dress, and smooth them.
I will of course be using electricity for blogging, photography, workshop illumination, my bench grinder (I would love to find a hand-powered grinder) and even music. I am not a luddite, a Creative Anachronist, a cult member, nor a masochist. I do intend, for experience's sake, to dress, join, and build all of these projects exclusively with hand-powered tools. I believe this will increase my intimacy with the materials, demand a measured and deliberate pace, and also provide a relatively silent and contemplative workplace experience. The lack of shrieking powertools also means that I can allow my dogs, wife, and child to be present while working - something I forbid when using my power tools.
I'm not asking for donations; I am asking for people interested in supporting ethical manufacture to purchase items from me. Unfortunately, I need the capital up-front to acquire tools to make the objects I wish to sell. If you choose to buy a piece from me, you receive a special heirloom and I receive the funds to stock my tool library and continue with the work I want to do. We both win. Just think of the contributions as pre-paid work orders.
My alternative would be to take out a line of credit, and pay much more than I receive back into the financial corporations. I get debt, and you get nothing. We both lose here.
And, of course, I am using my own money, and a lot of it. This campaign is just to boost me into being able to acutally build the projects. I have been, and will continue to be, buying tools out of my own savings, earnings, and with funds I can raise selling items in other venues.
It is indeed a non-trivial cost to fund this project. If it were trivial, I'd simply pay for it myself!
My video did not leave me time to go into another area I would have liked to - that of quality tools and their cost, manufacture, and utility.
Hand tools built to actually work seem expensive. Iron planes are $200-500 each. Saws are $150-500 each, and chisels can be $100 each or more. However, these tools are all intended to be re-sharpened and used indefinitely. Amortized over a lifetime or two, these are not as expensive as they look. It is only when lumped together, as I am trying to do for this project, that their expense becomes a problem. A joiner's apprentice would start out by borrowing tools from empathetic journeymen in the shop (often in exchange for some menial chores), but this is not an option I have available to me. Another way to become more comfortable with the costs of this project is to look at the setup costs for a powertool shop. Funding at twice my target would leave many needs unaddressed, and power tools have a much shorter lifespan and larger pool of aftermarket accessories to tempt the woodworker into buying. In short, any earnest craft endeavor has high startup costs. Its my aim of this one to keep it as low as possible by choosing only essential tools, and then ensuring that those tools purchased are of sufficient quality to last a lifetime and not need replacement. It also bears mention that I am not seeking to outfit the Ultimate Workshop - I am seeking only to build a minimal kit (which fits into a single toolchest) and have left out many of the "nice to have" but very expensive items such as a new wooden plow plane (can run $1800) or a set of hollows and rounds ($3000 or more).
I labored over the target for this campaign. Even meeting my goals will leave some needs short. The actual grand total is closer to $8,000. However, my campaign's target will allow me to get cranking on the project ASAP and get the works into the hands of the sponsors.
Unfortunately, real woodworking tools are quite rare. There are only a few companies in the world that still make them. For this reason. I will be seeking actual antique tools whenever possible. When these are unavailable or unreliable, I will be working with small shops which understand traditional toolmaking and still take the pains to create them.
This gets tricky. I love Japanese saws and woodworking, and I have been primarily using a Japanese saw until now because it was affordable. However, Japanese woodworking tools have their own drawbacks. The most outstanding is that they involve radically different technique, and I lack a mentor in that area. The reality is that my heritage is tied to Europe and so I am drawn to European techniques. Although I do speak basic Japanese, I cannot decipher Japanese texts on the subject; it is simply too rich in esoteric terminology. Older English texts can be a little cryptic, too, but much simpler than archaic Japanese. Another problem with Japanese tools such as chisels is that they are based on the metric system. While in general I am a fan of the metric system and would like the US to adopt to it, Western woodworking is in general divided into inches. It is quite difficult to jump back and forth between measurement systems, and so I must choose.
It was a distinct moment. I have long been interested in hand tools, but always felt it was out of my reach to build the collection needed to make anything worthwhile. I had bought a few saws, planes, and chisels here and there, but any project requires a number of operations for each stage, and missing a single tool for any of these steps halts the project. With some frustration, I would watch Roy Underhill's "The Woodwrights Shop", longing for the riches it would take to have a collection of tools like his. In one particular episode, Chris Schwarz introduced the book The Joiner and the Cabinetmaker, and showed the projects from the book. I immediately felt something click, and knew -I HAVE TO DO THIS-. When I got ahold of the book, and saw that a joiner's toolkit need not be as elaborate as I had thought, I realized that I could do it... someday. Over the past year or so, I have been struggling to find the right vintage tools, and have spent much time window-shopping for the new equivalents of the tools I cannot find. I put prized possessions up for auction to raise funds, but still was unable to build out my Joiner's Toolkit. As my book studies continued, the burning desire to BUILD these projects instead of just reading about them mounted and the idea for this campaign was born.
In the words of Chris Schwarz, "...build stuff til I croak". I plan to make a durable toolchest to house my toolkit, and then will be available to create anything that my customers and I can come up with. Nothing would give me greater satisfaction than to cease my computer consulting career and find a way to do woodworking full time. This is my dream, and I am willing to grab it by the throat and shake it to the ground if it does not come peacefully. I crave a career of thorough integrity, and I crave a skillset which I can pass onto my daughter if she shows interest. I do not believe that my knowledge of mid-90s operating systems and web scripting technologies is going to be especially useful for her. However, as long as there are trees, there will be a call for someone who knows how to use a sharp chisel.
This sounds like the setup for a corny riddle, but is a good question. A joiner makes modest scale, relatively simple pieces of furniture in addition to items like doors, windows, and such. A carpenter works on buildings and larger-scale structures. A finish carpenter might very well overlap many duties with a joiner. A traditional cabinet-maker makes much more detailed and complex items, like carved furniture, veneer, inlay, and so on. I do plenty of carpentry around my home, but do not have the skills or desires to do it commercially. I strongly prefer to work on joining and cabintemaking projects (partly because they do not involve tall ladders).
The video was created to lend as much intuitive and visual information as possible. I would love nothing more than to show you my finished workshop and the tools being used properly. I only have a few appropriate joiner's tools, and some of them need professional repair. The first hand plane shown in the video is a cheap modern block plane, and it does not work well. It does work well enough to show how a plane is used. Later in the video is in fact a vintage fore plane - one of the first and most important tools for a joiner to have. So that one is checked off my list.
The hand saw shown in use is vintage, but is incredibly dull and has a minor kink. It will require professional repair to truly use (still a bit cheaper than purchasing a new saw), but was sufficient for the purpose of the video.
In short, I have a small handful of tools - but most needs are unmet.
If you would like to learn about the toolkit a joiner requires, I strongly urge you to seek out and read _The Anarchist's Toolchest_ by Christopher Schwarz, and available at Lostartpress.com - it is a truly amazing read.
My rewards are priced to ship within the lower 48 states, with the Chest of Drawers being an exception. If you live outside of this area and would still like a woodcraft reward please contact me about working something out before you contribute.
Absolutely! I would strongly prefer for the contributions to be aimed at one of the three projects. However, I realize that not everyone who would like to contribute can afford it. I had to limit the number of woodcraft rewards simply due to time. I am confident that I can create and send out all of the rewards listed within 18 months, except for the chest of drawers which will be last and could take up to 2 years. If you are willing to be added to the end of this list, I will craft as many projects as there is demand. I am also willing to consider other custom reward projects once the project has concluded. Send me an email and we will work it out.
In short, yes. My actual needs are close to $8000 but $5000 is plenty for me to get going. If you would like one of the remaining rewards, or to contact me about a special commission, please feel free. I will be tempted to reject funding if $8000 is reached, because at that point I would just be looking for more wood to buy or tools that are more luxury than necessity... but $8,000 is the honest limit of what I need to begin work as a joiner. Thank you so much for your amazing outpouring of support and encouragement!
This box was designed by Thomas to be quick and dirty. It was intended to protect cargo, and be essentially disposable although I assume it would have been recycled into other purposes, or at least used for firewood rather than simply tossed out like we do today. This is the Victorian cardboard box, not a fine piece of furniture. That said, it is a useful, sturdy, and (I think) beautiful object anyway, and in modern times it can serve as a reminder that in the past, even the most humble objects were still created with care and an artisanal approach.
Yes, this box design could easily be improved upon. Stronger joints could be used, it could have hinges, it could be stained. However, the purpose in building it is to explore the techniques used - this one is unique in that it uses clinched nails, where cut nails are bent like staples to create an extremely tenacious joint. The box also uses glue-free edge joining in its panels, something not often done so it is a bit of an adventure.
I am building these projects in order to explore traditional techniques, even if modern sensibility would insist on "improving" them.
I do, and I don't know why thats the case. I was focussing a lot more on making the video (something I am not very good at) and not paying attention to form. There's a great writeup about marking gauge usage here: http://www.toolsforworkingwood.com/Merchant/merchant.mvc…
Support this project
- (30 days)