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What makes something an heirloom?

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Forum topic by Steve posted 03-14-2018 06:59 PM 595 views 0 times favorited 18 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Steve

442 posts in 609 days


03-14-2018 06:59 PM

As most woodworkers, I’m interested in creating something that I could give to my kids that they would hopefully keep for themselves through their lives and possibly pass down to their kids.

So I’m just curious to hear what others have made that fit this bill? And also, what makes a piece of furniture an heirloom? Joinery, materials, etc?


18 replies so far

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile (online now)

Smitty_Cabinetshop

15369 posts in 2645 days


#1 posted 03-14-2018 07:20 PM

DEFINED: Something of special value handed down from one generation to another

So, what might be valued over time? I’d guess a number of things. Like, who made it, does it have a practical purpose or utility (adds to likelihood of being kept around), is it of material(s) that have sentimental value, convey a message or story, etc. Maybe even size (smaller might be better).

Good question.

I don’t know if anything I’ve made to date will fit the bill of heirloom, and I’ll really never know past my own kids and whether they keep hold of anything or not!

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. -- OldTools Archive --

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fivecodys

1022 posts in 1663 days


#2 posted 03-14-2018 08:00 PM

I think Smitty hit it on the head.
The things that I have built for my grand-kids I hope will be cherished enough that they tell their kids about me and that I made this for them. This is what will make these projects an ‘Heirloom’ in my book.

Chem

-- There' are two theories to arguin' with a woman. Neither one works.

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BurlyBob

5555 posts in 2292 days


#3 posted 03-14-2018 08:40 PM

I’ll also agree with Smitty on just about everything he wrote.

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clin

853 posts in 1022 days


#4 posted 03-14-2018 11:32 PM

To me it has a lot to do with what it is. If it’s some silly gag wall decoration, that’s not heirloom material. It should be something that someone would want to have regardless. A well made chair or lamp for example. Nothing too extreme in styling. I think something of inherent quality matters.

I do think things that were made or used by ancestors have that value. There’s something very special about using a tool you know your grandfather used. But there’s a difference between a hand plane (that even non-woodworkers can admire) and the calculator grandpa used.

Something I just made, was a table lamp made from the porch light of my grandparents home. That was also used on several of my aunt’s homes over the years. It was trivial for me to make a lamp out of it. Nothing more than a square board with a lamp base in it that the porch light fixture attached to. But, it looks great. The fixture itself is copper with stained glass inserts. I’m sure it was probably what amounted to a tract home light fixture at the time (1910). I attached a description of it’s provenance to the bottom and it will be a little bit of family history that can easily be passed down. It has heirloom potential. I know my kids will appreciate it, but who knows what their kids may think of it.

-- Clin

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caboxmaker

281 posts in 414 days


#5 posted 03-14-2018 11:41 PM

Love and time.

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mamell

55 posts in 911 days


#6 posted 03-14-2018 11:50 PM

It’s really nothing more than an object handed down from generation to generation within a family or friends. I suppose even a stale bag of potato chips could technically qualify although I kind of doubt many folks would really want to hand down old potato chips..
I have an old crappy metal wall hanging my grandmother gave to my mother and now I have it stashed away waiting to pawn it off to my sister someday. I guess it too qualifies.. How it made it this far is anyones guess. It’s about 75 years old (or older) and I have seen others like it advertised on ebay ..

-- Never underestimate the power of the history of sliced bread. Sliced bread is still the greatest thing since sliced bread.

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Loren

10476 posts in 3674 days


#7 posted 03-14-2018 11:59 PM

Something too cool to sell or throw away.

I would maybe focus on smallish things like
fancy jewelry boxes, mantel clocks, musical
instruments.

Sometimes people can’t hold onto furniture
during life transitions but fine smaller things
may survive.

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ElroyD

82 posts in 614 days


#8 posted 03-15-2018 12:08 AM

I think heirloom is in the eye of the beholder. For instance, my father gave me the china cabinet that was in his parent’s dining room. They bought it, handed it down to him, and he handed it down to me.

He also gave me an old beat up hand saw from his basement. His father had given it to him, and it was pretty much rusted into uselessness. After cleaning it up, I found the initials of my great-grandfather carved into the handle, with my grandfather’s initials stamped over them. I cleaned it up a bit, and both myself and my daughter used that saw to build our kayaks, making five generations that had used that saw to build things. It’s beat up and beyond usable now, as we literally wore a hole through the saw blade, but that saw means more to me than any piece of furniture, and holds a special place in my workshop.

-- Elroy

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builtinbkyn

2375 posts in 967 days


#9 posted 03-15-2018 12:46 AM

I think it goes beyond just a hand-me-down idea. Heirloom furniture is desired by those who aren’t related to the maker. I think the term used in regard to furniture means something that withstands the tests of time and use in many different ways. Something strong (not necessarily in a literal sense) and of quality. Something that has a design that endures thru the ages. Something that is handmade and not easily reproduced. I think it also will have an artful quality to it and not pedestrian and mundane.

I think an heirloom piece has all of these qualities.

I’ll add, a family heirloom isn’t necessarily an heirloom piece of furniture. It may have sentimental value, but no value to others. JMO :)

-- Bill, Yo!......in Brooklyn & Steel City :)

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bondogaposis

4767 posts in 2378 days


#10 posted 03-15-2018 01:37 AM

The jury is still out on whether any of my pieces will reach heirloom status. That is what I generally strive for though. I think it is important to use solid joinery and allow for wood movement, if it falls apart, it will wind up in a burn pile. Then there is beauty and aesthetics, I typically go for Arts and Crafts as I think the style has a timeless quality. Only my heirs know whether they will keep my stuff around or not.

-- Bondo Gaposis

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msinc

429 posts in 530 days


#11 posted 03-15-2018 01:59 AM

Well, it’s easier for some than for others….in my case it is easy. I married into an entire pack of horse idiots. My wife and every member of her family sleep, eat, live, breath and die horses. So, all I gotta do is make anything and put a horse shoe on it and they all loose their mind. I can take a piece of wood, any piece of wood and mount a horse shoe on it and some member of her family will pay good money and hang it on their wall!!
I gave my MIL a live edge shelf for X-mas this past year. It was rough cut cherry and of course I put 4 horse shoes on it to hang coats or whatever, decorated it with stars made out of horse shoe nails…they are still talking about it. Personally, I think it’s ridiculous, but it works for me.
I think that for something to be a real heirloom it is 50% what it is and 50% who made it. In example, nobody gives a GD what dad gives them, but granddad…yep. Even better if he’s an alcoholic. Or let some totally crazy nutbar uncle make something and that qualifies for certain, especially if he signs his name on the back with a sharpy. All that said, I am nobody…I just spent an entire day making a 6X6 solid oak laminated workbench flat with a router sled and when I explain that all they do is give me the “what” look. Put a horse shoe on a board and they go crazy.

View CaptainKlutz's profile

CaptainKlutz

284 posts in 1521 days


#12 posted 03-15-2018 04:49 AM

+1 Smitty’s answer

Difference between a family heirloom and vintage heirloom recognized by others, reminds me of my family:

Wife likes my wood working and wanted to me to create heirloom items for my kids hoping they would keep them and pass along family history. So I have made a few heirlooms at her request:
Made my musical daughter a musical jewerly box.
Made chess table for gifted son who is rated chess player at age 9.
Still working on good idea for my other son?

An heirloom does not need to be anything large. I made a dead blow chisel mallet, and both my sons have claimed it as theirs when I die.

Had to downsize and move a couple times recently. Mentioned that I might have to sell my hand tool bench due cost of moving, lack of space in future home, and inevitable old age debilitation. Wife was ambivalent about getting rid of it. BUT my sons went berserk as they both wanted it. One even offered to make room for it in his bedroom. Just goes to show that if they help you make it, it might be a family heirloom? :)

Will mallet or bench or any piece last several generations? Don’t know. Don’t really care.
I am just happy they like and want to keep something I made. I help the process by making things that are well designed and built to last. :)

-- I'm an engineer not a woodworker, but I can randomly find useful tools and furniture inside a pile of lumber!

View HammerSmith's profile

HammerSmith

93 posts in 110 days


#13 posted 03-15-2018 05:13 AM



Love and time.

- caboxmaker

+1 on that!!!

The old timers had better wood than we have now, but if you look around, you can find some good old wood sometimes. It’s just a little harder to get..

But, if the old timers had the modern glues and finishes we have now, they definitely would’ve used em!

I’m of the belief that a modern item can be far superior to a 100 year old item, as long as it’s built right..

But, unless it’s “loved”, it will never last 100 years, no matter good you make it.

Imho, it’s the love that makes it an heirloom..

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HammerSmith

93 posts in 110 days


#14 posted 03-15-2018 05:20 AM



Well, it s easier for some than for others….in my case it is easy. I married into an entire pack of horse idiots. My wife and every member of her family sleep, eat, live, breath and die horses. So, all I gotta do is make anything and put a horse shoe on it and they all loose their mind. I can take a piece of wood, any piece of wood and mount a horse shoe on it and some member of her family will pay good money and hang it on their wall!!
I gave my MIL a live edge shelf for X-mas this past year. It was rough cut cherry and of course I put 4 horse shoes on it to hang coats or whatever, decorated it with stars made out of horse shoe nails…they are still talking about it. Personally, I think it s ridiculous, but it works for me.
I think that for something to be a real heirloom it is 50% what it is and 50% who made it. In example, nobody gives a GD what dad gives them, but granddad…yep. Even better if he s an alcoholic. Or let some totally crazy nutbar uncle make something and that qualifies for certain, especially if he signs his name on the back with a sharpy. All that said, I am nobody…I just spent an entire day making a 6X6 solid oak laminated workbench flat with a router sled and when I explain that all they do is give me the “what” look. Put a horse shoe on a board and they go crazy.

- msinc


lmao!

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Woodknack

11800 posts in 2406 days


#15 posted 03-15-2018 05:22 AM

Lots of “heirloom” furniture went to the dump, probably most of it, so there is a healthy dose of luck involved. I post a walnut desk built with hand milled lumber, traditional joinery, and striking grain on FB and no one gives a squat. But I post a pocket screwed side table with a pine top and painted base and half a dozen people want to buy one. Once I’m dead the walnut table will probably end up in a yard sale for $25 and the pine table will get a coat of paint and live on.

-- Rick M, http://thewoodknack.blogspot.com/

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