The old time woodshop journals #24: Dominy inspirations and tales of a turnscrew

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Blog entry by jjw5858 posted 08-26-2012 09:29 PM 10032 reads 0 times favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 23: Why I make spoons Part 24 of The old time woodshop journals series Part 25: Practices in Spoonology: Part two »

Recently I was lucky enough to purchase The Woodrights Shop Season 4 (1984) on DVD and was absolutely treated to a hand tool lovers dream watching the episode featuring the Dominy Workshop. The knowledge of this episode is truly a must see for any hand tool or machine enthusiast wether veteran or beginning in the craft. The show stars Charles Hummel who helped to restore and recreate the original Dominy workshop which now is on display at the Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, 5105 Kennett Pike Wilmington, DE 19735. You may check this link and scroll downward until you see the heading Dominy Shops. Trust me, if old handtools is your thing you might begin to drool fast looking at this teaser pic…lol.

For an added education and background on this supremely talented family you might also find the following videos and pdf by Mr. Hummel of great interest.

The pdf lecture text on the Dominy’s work ethic, speed and quality is something to truly humble and inspire us to aspire more from our own ventures in working with wood. Many people crank out wonderful looking tables, chairs, etc in a few day’s using machines and their work looks fantastic. Imagine producing a rocking chair in 9 hours of a 12 hour workday varnish included using a treadle lathe, hand tools, and years of experience…wow. Their work was not gaudy in it’s given design but extremely superb quality and well done to say the least.

Somehow it feels almost too out of place that something we as hand tool hobbiest’s today have such a love for and jubilation in and yet these were such different times with a much different story to tell. It’s easy for us to get lost in fun satisfaction working our projects by hand and have some small glory in it’s old school ethics. Actually I would gather it would be quite an inverse emotional operation if we stepped into the scenario of a 10-12 hour workday in the Dominy shop. No one there was high fiveing using the great wheel lathe or taking great quantities of time on a summer sunday to enjoy shavings and planes. With that said I am sure there was a tremendous pride of serving the community with highly crafted work. I would say this history is a nice reminder for us all to remain respectful and grateful to the comforts of a modern day lifestyle. We give these fantastic, historic crafts people there proper stage while keeping this history alive with our old tools and growing skills of forgotten trades.

Perhaps our modern day tool auction celebrations may not be so bad. We obviously want to grasp onto something we see as precious, something I have said before I feel reestablishes a connection of memories in our psyche that brings us some momentary calming.

Just this morning I picked up this great old turn screw at the auction from my buddy Ralph. Cost 5 bucks!....I was thrilled to add it to the tote! I just love the lines on this..for my dollar they really got this design right. This looks like a tool with solid quality as well as artistic expression. The lines pushing for something more to value than only tasking but remembering to keep the visuals pleasing while creating balance combined with strength in it’s wholeness. Tools then had a charm unmatched in todays modern throws of cookie cutter manufacturing. Most of todays better made tools lack one or the other with the latter usually being the one they lack most. Somehow I feel with a tote of tools like I have been collecting if you did not know how to do anything with them at all…dam, you sure would want to try them and at least see….lol. They look interesting like an untold story you cannot wait to find how the ending unravels. These tools have mysteries, lessons and crafstmenship.

Old wooden bric-a-brac that enters a euphoric melody of a long awaited song of saws and sawdust. You once more may rekindle and convert your aged years to the youth we never lose in the curves of an old Disston or strength of a wood handled hammer. These days are fast, tough, money is king, and that old Oak cares less about any of it because mother nature is a wonderful bitch that offers us glorious gifts and brings us horrible hells when angered. We are strong, but that oak will always win and when it’s gone it will grow back again. You cannot fight and push back the wind, time smiles and miles pile lines on our face while the clocks tick and click your memories far off into space. Forever is not for us, not even the mighty oak, so may you choose the tools wisely and enjoy the tools you tote.

Thanks for stopping by and great shaves ahead!


-- "Always continue to learn, laugh and share!" JJW

9 comments so far

View A Slice of Wood Workshop's profile

A Slice of Wood Workshop

1073 posts in 3227 days

#1 posted 08-26-2012 10:01 PM

GREAT write up.

-- Follow me on YouTube-

View DarrylJN's profile


262 posts in 2617 days

#2 posted 08-26-2012 10:39 PM

Yeah that is a great write up. I only started watching the show when Roy Underhill has been on but he is pretty amazing, it’s so cool that he uses only hand tools for everything. It’s a little advanced for me at this point but I love watching his show.

-- Darryl ~ Waxhaw, NC

View Jim Jakosh's profile

Jim Jakosh

20759 posts in 3159 days

#3 posted 08-26-2012 11:10 PM

That is great that they have that old workshop preserved in perfect working order. It give you a real appreciation of hand tools!!

-- Jim Jakosh.....Practical Wood Products...........Learn something new every day!! Variety is the Spice of Life!!

View jaykaypur's profile


4017 posts in 2462 days

#4 posted 08-26-2012 11:31 PM

Thanks…..again…..a great blog entry.

-- Use it up, Wear it out --------------- Make it do, Or do without!

View Jamie Speirs's profile

Jamie Speirs

4168 posts in 2910 days

#5 posted 08-27-2012 07:06 AM

Joe many thanks for this wonderful

information, I’ve no desire to travel

but this would tempt me. :)

-- Who is the happiest of men? He who values the merits of others, and in their pleasure takes joy, even as though 'twere his own. --Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

View jjw5858's profile


1135 posts in 2656 days

#6 posted 08-27-2012 11:29 AM

Thanks to all of you out there with your wonderful work inspiring me so I can in turn maybe give something back to all of you. Keep being creative and enjoying your woodcraft.

All the best,


-- "Always continue to learn, laugh and share!" JJW

View TDominy's profile


124 posts in 2596 days

#7 posted 08-27-2012 04:29 PM

I have been to the museum on a number of occasions and have been fortunate to be allowed into the exhibit to see close up the tools used to make the furniture. Many were repurposed from other items like sword blades. I am even more amazed at the clock shop and its suite of tools. Making the clock works and the case from scratch, where did they learn that craft? They also built windmills on the east end of Long Island. The Old Hook mill is a good example which sits in East Hampton.

-- By hammer in hand, all things do stand.

View Mauricio's profile


7144 posts in 3205 days

#8 posted 09-06-2012 07:48 PM

These were great videos Joe, I wish I could have watched while they turned out a table in one work day with all hand tools and tons of skill.

-- Mauricio - Woodstock, GA - "Confusion is the Womb of Learning, with utter conviction being it's Tomb" Prof. T.O. Nitsch

View mafe's profile


11739 posts in 3143 days

#9 posted 09-20-2012 07:18 PM

Alway nice to read your words, they make me smile and dream.
Wonderful screwdriver.
Best thoughts,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect. Democraticwoodworking.

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