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Forum topic by poopiekat posted 01-19-2010 10:19 PM 1895 views 0 times favorited 41 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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4355 posts in 3730 days

01-19-2010 10:19 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question

Would a cabinetmaker in 1850 use a router or tablesaw, if we could go back in time and give him one? Is it fair to assume that the Chippendale chairmaker of 1793 kept his toolchest filled with the latest and greatest gadgets of the day? Though I fancy the notion of going off the grid as much as possible, a recurring thought keeps hitting me: did the woodworker of 1900 dream of being the woodworker of 1800? Does refitting your shop with antique tools really reflect the mindset of woodworkers of a century ago? Or were they just as excited over a newly developed tool then, like the gadget-hounds of today? Suddenly, I realize that there is more to consider when backscaling the technological level of my shop. Have you had any moments when you’ve pondered this, perhaps when considering a change of direction in your own shop? I’d like to know.

-- Einstein: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." I'm Poopiekat!!

41 replies so far

View Russel's profile


2199 posts in 3935 days

#1 posted 01-19-2010 10:32 PM

My position has always been that if the woodworkers of the 1800 and 1900 really liked what they had, we wouldn’t have what we have now. I’m pretty confident that they looked forward to new gadgets an labor saving devices. They were an ingenious bunch so I’m betting they got just as excited about innovation as we do.

-- Working at Woodworking

View miles125's profile


2180 posts in 4002 days

#2 posted 01-19-2010 10:48 PM

The 1850 craftsman would think he’d died and gone to heaven to see the woodworking equipment of today. Then he’d realise he was actually in hell after he discovered he now made less money than a clerical person who shuffled paper in a cubicle all day.

-- "The way to make a small fortune in woodworking- start with a large one"

View rhett's profile


742 posts in 3663 days

#3 posted 01-19-2010 10:56 PM

I can’t imagine why anyone given the chance wouldn’t want to be faster and more consistent with less work. Its funny how having a large stable of handplanes and tools makes one appear more skilled, even though most never use them. There is definatley a specialized set of skills required to be proficient with only handtools, skills which are mostly obsolete. Choosing the “neanderthal path”, as I have heard it stated, with todays technology is more of a nod to woodworkers past and another way for people to challenge themselves. Personally I am results driven, so I try to get from point A to point B without all the sightseeing and backroads. Get in and get done. I would also like to think our woodworking forefathers would have made use of plywood had it been available.

-- Doubt kills more dreams than failure.

View CharlieM1958's profile


16274 posts in 4214 days

#4 posted 01-19-2010 11:22 PM

Rhett summed it up pretty well. If you enjoy the challenge of doing things the way our ancestors did them, more power to you. (Unintentional pun). However, I agree that people who work wood for a living will always look for a quicker and easier way to do something, so I’m quite sure those old timers would welcome today’s power tools with open arms.

Just because something was done the “traditional” way doesn’t automatically make it better. In the old days, craftsman used dovetails as a strictly utilitarian joint. Based on the glues and fasteners available to them at the time, it was the best way to go. Their dovetails were often pretty rough, and were concealed by moldings. Today, we look at hand cut dovetails as a challenge, and show them off proudly as a mark of fine craftsmanship. But that was not their original purpose.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View kiwi1969's profile


608 posts in 3438 days

#5 posted 01-19-2010 11:35 PM

If i,m making one piece it,s often faster to do some things by hand, if i,m makung 10 it,s a machine every time. Sometimes it,s just quicker to round over a rail with a plane than set up a router. All my donkey work is done by machine and all my mortise and tenons are done with machine and finished by hand, all my dovetails are done by hand. There is no right answer, but i,m sure the shakers would have had plenty of router stations, just look at their chair making workshops.

-- if the hand is not working it is not a pure hand

View gbvinc's profile


628 posts in 3943 days

#6 posted 01-20-2010 12:03 AM

I think they would have snagged the modern goodies in a heartbeat! I just keep enough hand tools around to keep plugging away if the power goes out, or I am feeling a bit luddite.

Great question.

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 4096 days

#7 posted 01-20-2010 12:08 AM

Furniture makers of the past were businessmen and they would use the most efficient technology to get the project done.

There will always be various opinions and philosophies on what tools to use. What craftsman use will be a personal matter of philosophy and efficiency. Each will have to find what suits their needs and/or fills their soul.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


18268 posts in 3672 days

#8 posted 01-20-2010 12:11 AM

I was born on an all muscle power farm, we moved to mechanization as fast as it could be afforded. I’m 100% sure, they would have and did.

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View Sawkerf's profile


1730 posts in 3065 days

#9 posted 01-20-2010 12:31 AM

I have little doubt that most of them were businessmen and would climb all over any technology that improved their productivity – although possibly not as quickly as we do.

In those days, labor was relatively inexpensive compared to technology so they could add people at a realtively low cost which let them be more productive without buying new machinery. These days it’s the labor that costs more than the technolongy.

-- Adversity doesn't build reveals it.

View NathanAllen's profile


376 posts in 3140 days

#10 posted 01-20-2010 12:49 AM

We have a name for people like you around here…

We call them Amish.

View Dan'um Style's profile

Dan'um Style

14172 posts in 3979 days

#11 posted 01-20-2010 01:22 AM

I drilled a hole with rock and a stick…just to try it like my ancestors did. my fingers really hurt bad for a while, but …. hey, I’m s bull$@*?er >grin< ... sometimes …

-- keeping myself entertained ... Humor and fun lubricate the brain

View papadan's profile


3584 posts in 3364 days

#12 posted 01-20-2010 02:01 AM

Just fall into it!

View a1Jim's profile


117090 posts in 3573 days

#13 posted 01-20-2010 02:15 AM

I don’t doubt for a second that they would jump on new technology in a new york minute as long as they could see how things worked better, including using new materials like plywood and modern glue.
On the other hand I’ve seen Roy Underhill do some operations quicker with some sharp 18Th century tools quicker than it would take to change router bits takes now.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View TheDane's profile


5423 posts in 3659 days

#14 posted 01-20-2010 02:23 AM

I think woodworkers in 1850, or any other year, used the best tools and technology they had available at the time.

Modern woodworkers, however, have an advantage in that we can use the tools and techniques of by-gone eras as well as the stuff we have today.

So the trick is to select and use the best tool for the job at hand.

-- Gerry -- "I don't plan to ever really grow up ... I'm just going to learn how to act in public!"

View 8iowa's profile


1580 posts in 3757 days

#15 posted 01-20-2010 02:28 AM

In Indiana, going up route 27 from my old home town of Richmond, there’s a large Amish community centered around Berne, Geneva, and Portland. They have developed a very complex relationship with the modern world. If you think all of their furniture is made with hand planed boards, and hide glued hand made dovetails and tennons, you would likely be surprised. Even their ancestors would likely disapprove of many of their “modern” working methods.

-- "Heaven is North of the Bridge"

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