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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 tired.

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 lumber.

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 good!

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 2

Written by: Lee A. Jesberger © 2006 - 2010
Inventor of: Ezee-Feed Systems ®


Glen Huey's Illustrated Guide to Building Period Furniture Glen Huey's Illustrated Guide to Building Period Furniture
Build the classic furniture of your dreams! This book and BONUS DVD offer five exquisite examples of classic American furniture that you’ll be able to call your own. Step-by-step guide features hundre.. 

Glen Huey's Illustrated Guide to Building Period Furniture


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