Category Archives: woodworking tools

Upcoming Live Stream Lecture. Cabinetmakers of German Origin in Eighteenth-Century Paris: A Chapter in European History of Migration and Transfer of Knowledge and Craft in the Age of Enlightenment

Dr. Ulrich Leben’s upcoming lecture, “Cabinetmakers of German Origin in Eighteenth-Century Paris: A Chapter in European History of Migration and Transfer of Knowledge and Craft in the Age of Enlightenment” sounds fascinating. He apprenticed as a cabinetmaker then received a PhD. A very full quiver for a scholar interested in craft.

The blurb: “The fact that a large number of cabinetmakers working in Paris during the eighteenth century were of German origin is well known. It is therefore surprising that there has never been research on the lives and work of these more than one hundred craftsmen. This talk will present various aspects of a project currently being undertaken by Dr. Ulrich Leben and Miriam Schefzyk on these craftsmen and provide insight into archive-based research in France and abroad exploring questions regarding social, economic, and cultural circumstances. A major goal of this project is the publication of a dictionary of these craftsmen that will be a tool for further work in the field.”

If you are in the New York City area, you can attend a brown bag lunch Monday October 9, 12:15 – 1:15 at Bard Graduate Center, located at 38 West 86th St. You need to preregister. I’ll be there, say hi!

If you are not in New York City, the event will be livestreamed on youtube: <https://www.youtube.com/user/bardgradcenter&gt;

Two Reprinted Catalogs

Mini Sears

A mini facsimile (ca. 1970-80) Sears and Roebuck catalog. Orig. 1902.

I’m not sure when, where, or why, but I acquired this mini Sears and Roebuck catalog when I was a kid. I do remember reading it with a magnifying lens, and I kept it in a stash of prized possessions.  I think the childish thrill of wishing I could go back and time and buy a dozen of one thing or another then bring them back to sell at todays prices was part of its appeal. The lure of a wood burning porcelain clad kitchen stove for $14.95 is strong. Since this catalog had images and prices of real things, it somehow seemed to me more of a time-travel-portal to the past than story books, which were fiction. Maybe something about it being in miniature intensified the secretive nature of this little time travel machine?

***

Today, the appeal of older catalogues, though perhaps less for prices than for other types of information.  And I have to confess that most of the time it still doesn’t matter all that much if it is a reprint or original. For example, the 2014 annual reprint from the Mid-West Tool Collectors Association, which is free (and ONLY available with membership, just $25 per year) is Otto Bergmann’s Woodworking Tool Catalog from Berlin, 1928-29.  This is a beautiful facsimile: cleanly laid out, well printed, the cover design even incorporating small details such as three staples from the original, both on the front and back.

bergmann catalog

Facsimile Otto Bergmann’s Woodworking Tool Catalog from Berlin, 1928-29.

At first I thought it would be useful to have a german words for a number of tools familiar to bookbinders (winkel, schabhobel, ziehklingen, spitzzirkel, bogenzirkel, leimtopfe, etc…) but soon I recognized a familiar friend: a hilfskantenzwinge, as it is called in the image below, or single screw edge clamp. I bought one very similar to this last year—since it seemed incredibly useful for something—I just wasn’t sure what. Mystery solved.

Bergmann catalog

Facsimile Otto Bergmann’s Woodworking Tool Catalog from Berlin, 1928-29. Detail page 13.

Two Ways of Reinforcing Splits in Wood

Walnut board with splits

I inherited this lovely walnut board, 16.25″ wide, 24″ long. Unfortunately, it was starting to crack in two places. I repaired the larger crack with an ash bowtie (aka butterfly), which I rounded to echo the grain of the board. It it is the full thickness of the board. In the image you can see how it has pulled the crack together next to it very tightly, so that it almost seems to disappear. I tried a different repair on the smaller crack, an end-grain insert, also ash, that has two wedge shaped legs on the inside. I’m hoping this will keep the board from splitting more, though it didn’t seem to affect the appearance of the current crack.

In both cases, I drilled the walnut to remove the majority of the wood, then cleaned it up with chisels. Working on something I own is a pleasant change from the ethical constrictions of performing conservation work on wooden book boards. It is also a good chance to experiment a bit, since I will be able to monitor any changes. On a related note, a version of the article Alexis Hagadorn and I wrote, “The use of parchment to reinforce split wooden bookboards, with preliminary observations into the effects of RH cycling on these repairs”  (Journal of the Institute of Conservation, Vol. 33, No. I, p. 41-63) should be available soon online at Columbia University’s repository. I’ll post a link when this happens.

Tools, Technique and Teachers

Can technique be embodied in a tool? Does the universal nature of hand tools enable a reasonably skilled practitioner to pick up and use an unfamiliar tool?  Is experience with tool use, or common sense, enough?  Or is it necessary to have external guide: a teacher, book or video?  How does the use of obsolete tools become rediscovered, like stone axes?  Can they ever be understood and used ‘correctly’ or in a historically accurate manner?

I investigate questions such as these in my research of 18th century French bookbinding, in part by making and using reproduction tools as pictured in Diderot’s Encyclopedié and Dudin’s L’Art du Relieur-doreur de Livres.  Since I am familiar with bookbinding tools, it is a matter of subtleties — very important subtleties! — but not massive unknowns.

I had a chance to think about these questions a bit more broadly when I purchased the tool pictured below at a flea market.

At the time I didn’t know what it was for, but it was cheap and appealingly well made.

At first I thought it might be a tool for cutting a groove in leather. The curved tine on the top is sharp (or should be) on both ends and is slightly adjustable in height.  This tool is strongly constructed; observe the thick bolster and tapered forged tang. Small details like the wedge shaped, chamfered scales make it comfortable to hold and indicate it was meant to be operated by a pulling motion. The length of the handle is about three inches, or nine centimeters, and I’m slightly embarrassed to use such a cliche, but it really does fit my hand perfectly. It is heavily used but completely functional — often the sign of a quality tool used by a professional.  Tools for the amateur market are more likely to be damaged by inexperienced users and poor quality construction.

Later, a bit of looking through Salaman’s Dictionary of Woodworking Tools revealed that this is timber scribe or log race, made to carve letters and numbers onto stakes, crates, barrels or other wooden objects. Surveyors used to use it to mark bearing trees.

After learning the name of this tool, and by extension its intended use, how to use it seemed obvious.  It can be used to carve straight lines just by using the cutting edge, and make curved ones by jabbing the point into the wood.   I had no real knowledge of this specific tool and hadn’t seen one being used. Is this a part of what a tool is — an object that contains information about its use?

There are nagging questions and doubts that the technique informed from the tool is not as elegant or efficient as possible. Tool use is only a part of the skill sets necessary for a craft. Maybe we do need teachers to demonstrate — or confirm our efforts — that we are using a tool the ‘right’ way. Craft skills are traditionally transmitted by close contact with skilled users, which seems to be one reason for the popularity of short term workshops, even though aspects of this contact can be captured in writing or video.

And as the tearout in the image below illustrates, we all need to be occasionally reminded  to sharpen our tools.

Finally, why the irresistible impulse to carve initials into wood?  Old school tagging?

Here are images of a timber scribe in use.

wooden board workshop at the Huntington

This fall, November 8-12, 2010, I will be teaching an intensive five day master class at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California.  This will be the first time I’ve taught this class, and hopefully it will be a great introduction to woodworking and the conservation of wood board books.  I’m really excited about it and think it will be a lot of fun, as well as a lot of learning. The workshop fee is a very modest $650, and I’m estimating about $150 for materials and some basic woodworking tools.  Please contact Justin Johnson ( jjohnson (at) huntington (dot) org) for an application, or if you have questions, please contact me.

WOODEN BOOK BOARDS: THEIR CONSERVATION, HISTORIC CONSTRUCTION AND THE PRAXIS OF WORKING WOOD.

This five day master class will focus on the fundamentals of wooden book boards: the basics of using hand tools to shape wood accurately, easily and efficiently; the making a sample set of wood to identify common historic varieties; the examining of historic techniques of shaping wood; and the making a sample set of common treatments for split boards. Choosing, tuning, using, sharpening and maintaining woodworking tools will also be taught. Exploring some of the complexities of wood technology and how this impacts treatment, storage and handling options for conservation treatments will also be covered. Participants are encouraged to bring documentation concerning specific split board treatment problems for class discussion. No previous woodworking experience is necessary.

Bio: Jeffrey S. Peachey is the owner of a New York City-based studio for the conservation of books and the inventor of conservation tools and machines. He is a Professional Associate in the American Institute for Conservation. For more than 20 years, he has specialized in the conservation of books and paper artifacts for institutions and individuals.

GOALS OF THE WORKSHOP

  1. Learn how to evaluate, use and maintain basic hand wood working tools.
  2. Construct a sample set of reference wood commonly encountered in historic book boards.
  3. Construct a specialized jig to plane thin wood boards.
  4. Reproduce historic board shapes, channels, tunnels, chamfering and learn to recognize the tools used to make them.
  5. Construct samples of currently used techniques to repair split and splitting boards, and discuss their applicability in various real world situations.
  6. Make one sample board from a log, by hand, to understand the historic hand technologies– using a maul, froe, and broad axe.
  7. Begin to appreciate some of the complexities of wood technology and how this impacts treatment, storage and handling options for real world books.
  8. Discuss in depth the results of a recent article by Alexis Hagadorn and  Jeffrey S. Peachey  “The use of parchment to reinforce split wooden bookboards, with preliminary observations into the effects of RH cycling on these repairs” Journal of the Institute of Conservation, Volume 33, Issue 1 March 2010 (pp 41 – 63)
  9. Consider storage, housing and display issues unique to wooden board bindings.
  10. Discuss specific potential treatment options from examples that participants supply.

The registration fee for this 5-day workshop is $650.00. Other costs apply. Class size is limited to 10. For more information and to apply contact Justin Johnson at jjohnson (at) huntington (dot) org.

Jig For Planing Thin Wood Boards

A couple of years ago, I devised a simple jig to make planing of thin wood boards easier.  I noticed Christopher Martyn, who writes the blog Finely Strung, and is a stringed instrument maker in Winchester, United Kingdom, came up of a surprisingly similar jig. We exchanged some information on the topic and he posted an image his jig and mine, although his is quite fancy compared to my pedestrian design!

Recently, I needed to plane some larger boards, so recently improved my design quite a bit.  This jig is also useful for book conservation labs who don’t have a dedicated woodworking bench, since it can clamp, with a standard “Quick-Grip” or  C-Clamp onto an existing bench while protecting your benchtop.  This one is about 12 x 9″, although it could be made to any size.  The adjustable, and replaceable, stop is held on with a 1/4 x 20 x 2″ carriage bolt, and tightened with soft grip knobs so that no tools are necessary to adjust it.  I find if convenient to rout a slot so that it can be raised up and planed flat if it gets damaged in use.  This one was made of birch faced plywood, and held together with drywall screws driven deep under the surface of the wood.  The height is 3 layers of 3/4″ plywood to allow for a variety of clamping options.  It can also function as a bench hook and can be used with tapered pieces of wood. It seems to grip the wood being planed better by not applying any finish to it.  I’m not left handed, but the light was better for the photo in this position.

The Joiner and Cabinet Maker

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“A joiner’s or cabinet-maker’s apprentice would find some instructive reading in this [The Joiner and Cabinet Maker] little work. It contains, in addition to certain rudimentary information, some hints to apprentices of how to turn their leisure hours to permanently useful account. The book is a good shilling’s worth.”

-The Furniture Gazette, Sept. 29, 1883.


Christopher Schwarz, editor of Popular Woodworking, and Joel Moskowitz, founder  of Tools for Working Wood, have teamed up to reprint, expand and annotate the 1839 edition of The Joiner and Cabinet Maker.  I also contributed a chapter,  “Contextualizing ‘The Joiner and Cabinet Maker'”, so am unapologetically biased about this book!

The first section reproduces the complete 1839 edition, which consists of a fictional boy describing his apprenticeship, accompanied by a large amount of historical information about cabinet making in the mid to late 19th century.  The next section consists of Chris following the textual descriptions in the book and builds three projects; a packing box, a schoolbox and a chest of drawers.  In a conversational writing style, he adds his own knowledge of woodworking techniques, bits of history and documents building the projects photographically–the overall effect is like having a private tutor guide you through the project.

I examine three editions of this book (1839, 1841, 1883), relate them to the history of book structure, then investigate how their physicality influences our interpretation of the text.  I am very interested how craft based information gets transmitted through descriptions and manuals. The hands on explication of  historic texts, rather than just reading, is invaluable to a deep understanding, and often opens up new areas of inquiry.  Also, I attempt to make a case for the value of primary sources and their conservation, written for the general public, rather than preaching to the usual conservation and rare book choir.

For readers who haven’t attempted any woodworking, this book has enough general information, historical details and how-to information to serve as an wonderful introduction.

The book is available for sale from Tools for Working Wood. 373 pages, tons of photos, acid free paper, sewn signatures, hardcover. One shilling. $28.95

I should be getting copies in sheets later this month, that I will be selling, and well as providing it for students in the historically oriented Cloth Case Binding  class I am teaching at North Bennet Street School, Boston, February 19-21, 2010.

I also want to credit Matt Murphy for assisting me with some  research, especially concerning Charles Knight & Co. Thanks Matt, librarians rule!