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Masters of the 18th Century
Master Woodworkers of the 18th Century
Woodworking in the 18th century...
When I was a young boy, probably nine or ten years old, my parents
had inherited some very fine furniture from a relative. I would actually lay on the floor in the dining room,
and stare at the ball and claw feet on the table and chairs, and to try to figure out how they were made. Even
at that age, I was fascinated by the work, and the fact that such things could be made from wood.
From my humble opinion, comes the statement, this is a period in time that
generated the finest woodworking craftsmen that ever lived! Bar none. If you consider what these people could
create, and how they created them, it's mind boggling. The furniture made during this century has become known
as Period Furniture.
They were not only masters of our craft, they were working under conditions,
most people today would consider impossible.
I have to wonder if the experts of today would enjoy the recognition they do,
while trying to work within the limitations of the times. Just trying to imagine these limitations, makes me
They had no electric power to work with. The had no trucks. They had no
phones to order materials, or contact clients. (that client part might be a plus).They had no kilns to dry the
They couldn't walk into a nice warm shop, hit the light switch, and turn on the saw, or router, or
jointer, wow, I'm getting depressed. They didn't even have an oscillating spindle sander! Just think about the fact
that they used sharkskin, as sandpaper. Well, at least they got to fishing.
I can't imagine trying to work by candlelight, at least not on wood. But not
only did they do it, they did it with accuracy and skill that even today is hard to match. The Philadelphia shops
in the late 1800's were paying Journeymen $1.00 per eleven hour day, and the shop had to supply the candles. This
was after, what in today's terms was a strike. The workers had united into "Societies", in order to have a stronger
base allowing them to demand, and get a better rate for their services.
In the recommended reading I listed Jeffrey P.
Greene's book, "American Furniture of the Eighteenth Century". I can't recommend
any book higher than this one, if you have an interest in woodworking from this time period. Mr. Greene has
researched the conditions and techniques deeper than anyone I am aware of, and has presented it in such a way,
it makes for good reading. I've read this book a dozen times and I still regularly refer to it. It's that
What make this book even better is the fact that Mr. Greene does build the
finest furniture of the period, using the same tools and techniques as the masters of the period. To say his
skills are remarkable would be an understatement of epic proportion.
It's pretty obvious that his preference is the works of the "Townsend
and Goddard" families of woodworkers. Also refered to as "the makers" of the Newport School. There was a
time when I couldn't even say those names, without feeling like I was praying. Even today, I must admit that the
work coming out of Newport actually gives me goose bumps. Some pieces had no answer from the Philadelphia school,
such as Knee Hole Desks, or Block fronts, or Bombe pieces.
continued on page
Written by: Lee A. Jesberger © 2006 - 2010
Inventor of: Ezee-Feed Systems ®
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