At a recent meeting of the Mn Woodworker’s Guild, we had SAPFM member Dean Jansa give a demo on period woodworking using tools from his decked out Benjamin Seaton (18th century) tool chest. A nice write-up of the meeting with a few pictures is on page 8 of the guild newsletter (pdf).
What isn’t in that article is something that really struck me that Dean said comparing modern woodworking methods to 18th century methods. I’m paraphrasing from memory here, so all bets are off. The jist of the comment was this: that woodworking methods and tools had evolved nicely for about 800 years up until around 1800. The true old-school woodworking guilds would pass on their methods of work to new members. And when a cabinetmaker or joiner wanted a modification to a tool he’d go straight to the toolmaker. The methods and the tools evolved together and became more efficient for the better part of a millenium.
Then came the industrial revolution. Everything that wasn’t machine made was considered inefficient. Both products and the tools that made products had to be made by machines. And 800 years of woodworking wisdom was tossed out the window. Since then we’ve had to relearn how to get our tools (machines) to make what was done well before. And now we’re also having to relearn how to use the hand tools – skills from 200 years ago. As we discover the old hand-tool methods and the methods with our machines, it seems as if we’re coming out of a self-induced dark age.