|Craft apprenticeships never took hold in the United States in the way that they did in Europe. Apprenticeships existed here but even in colonial times an ever expanding country, and a constant demand for talent, meant that anyone with a modicum of skills could get a job - even if they weren't fully trained. There was little incentive for a skilled apprentice to complete their indenture, little enforcement, and a steady stream of immigrants to fill the need for trained craftsman.|
In the United States today some forward looking companies have apprenticeship programs of one sort or another, but in general a person gets out of school with a BA or something like that and tries to get work in a good shop. Of course the shop needs them to produce, so while ideally there might be some training, most of the time it just learning production.
In Europe, via a combination of industry support, strict rules on hiring and firing, and government aid, apprenticeship systems exist for recent school graduates. You can actually go to University to study to become a joiner and in the process of your schooling work as an apprentice in cabinetmaking shops. Unlike the old days when one would start at age fourteen, the apprenticeships are more like what in England they called "improvers". People who knew the basics and were now traveling to new shops to round out their experience and broaden their horizons. In Germany today there is even a group of journeyman who are following the strict medieval rules of journeymen and are walking from town to town, working in shops along the way.
Laura, a friend of ours in Copenhagen is at University training to be a joiner. In Denmark when they train a joiner they mean it. She has mastered both traditional skills and modern machinery so as to be fully ready for the twenty-first century. Her training, and frankly the training of a lot of joiners in Europe, is the reason why you can still buy well made, well designed furniture in Europe that reflects a great combination of modern machinery and hand skill.
Summer is coming and Laura is looking for an apprenticeship position in the United States running from May through August. The apprenticeship is mostly paid by her school but in addition the shop must contribute $585 per month to her expenses.
Currently she is working at www.rudrasmussen.com, a 140 year old Furniture workshop in Copenhagen that designs and produces hand crafted wooden furniture. Here is a short film of the shop that Laura works in. Laura makes an appearance in the second half. Note the mix of old machines, new machines and hand work.
Laura is a capable hand, and machine woodworker - in her spare time she makes- you guessed it - furniture.
If you run a professional woodworking shop - in any discipline - furniture, cabinetry, etc. - and you would like to host Laura, please email us and we will forward your information to Laura so she can contact you directly. She speaks English so don't worry about communication. Please include the name of your shop or a link to your website.
This is a great opportunity for the right shop, and for Laura. You get skilled labor - and she gets hands on experience.
Note: The work in the pictures are all pieces done by Laura.
In other news: The Joiner and Cabinetmaker, is back in print. The only contemporary narrative training course from the pre-machine tool age this book, originally published in 1839, tells the story of how Thomas was trained as a joiner. Complete with projects, instructions, and a villain. Originally published 1n 1839, with historical commentary by me. All three projects in the book were build by Chris Schwarz. If you don't already have a copy, you can get one here!
|We package and sell dewaxed shellac under the BT&C brand. Regular BT&C shellac we fly in from India and while we don't at the moment retail it ourselves you will find it at retailers all over the US. Tiger Flakes, which is also a BT&C product, is refined in Germany, and we both retail and wholesale that. |
From a retail standpoint shellac flakes are a fussy product. First of all it's a great finish and sticks to everything. But how fast shellac dissolves is a function of the age of shellac, how it was stored, the quality of the alcohol used, the size of the flakes, and agitation. We have no control over the last three parameters but we have spent years upping our game on the first two. So when you get a bag of shellac from us it's in a fairly heavy bag that is a good oxygen barrier, and it's got an oxygen absorber in it. This seems to help. In addition we try not to keep it around and fly in small quantities as we need them from India or from our Tiger Flake supplier .
We test every batch of shellac that goes out of here. We make sure it dissolves easily and every bag is batch dated so we can keep track of what's going on. So after getting a query from a customer about the differences between the various types of Tiger Flakes we stock I realized that I've got these little samples of shellac in all the colors and doing a quick test wouldn't be that hard.
"Cut" is the term used to describe how thin or thick the shellac to alcohol mix is. A 2lb. cut, or two pounds of shellac dissolved in a gallon of alcohol is pretty standard but a quick calculation suggests that my samples are about 1.5 lb cut. A little thin for a lot of build-up but reasonable.
All the samples in the test were Tiger Flakes, just because that's what we had from our most recent packing. We stock four types of Tiger Flakes (in order of color density): Super-Blond, Blond, Amber, and Garnet. I applied a fairly heavy coat of each type of shellac to a freshly planed board of maple and took a look at the results.
Remember two things - there is only one or two heavy coats on this wood, maple absorbs very little finish, and a proper French polish would have far, far more buildup and show off the colors better. Even a regular shellac finish would have more buildup than these samples. What is interesting to me is how even a thin coat of super-blond adds a little color to the maple, but the main difference between the colors is a little bit of extra color definition in the pores of the wood. This is what makes grain pop in a finish.
My conclusion: If you are just planning a wash coat of shellac as a primer, using blond is less expensive than super-blond and should be almost indistinguishable. If you are planning a French polish over distinctly colored marquetry super blond might keep your materials less yellow, but if you are doing woodtones - blond might be just as good. If you want character in your finish without going crazy, especially if you aren't French polishing, garnet will pop the grain nicely and isn't nearly as dark a finish as the flakes might suggest. Amber is a good choice if you want the piece to look shellaced as if the finish had age in it.
Note: While our bags are fairly decent oxygen barriers and they have the absorber, and they reseal, store the bags in a sealed glass container, kept in the fridge. Super-blond - has the shortest shelf life in flakes - garnet the longest.
|There are many contenders for the most important book in woodworking, and the best book in woodworking is a subjective subject. However I probably can tell you what's the biggest book in Woodworking. Thomas J. Beveridge's 1921 "English Renaissance Woodwork 1660-1730: A Selection of the Finest Examples of Monumental and Domestic Woodwork of the Later Renaissance in England, Chiefly of the Period of Christopher Wren" is only 80 plates long but at 19" high by 14", it covers an entire settle seat and doesn't fit in any shelf I own. It's a problem and I still haven't figured out how to store it. I don't know of any larger woodworking book.|
The book is a series of 80 plates, each detailing various bits of late 17th century architectural woodwork. This is the time of Moxon, Christopher Wren, the rebuilding of London after the great fire, and in general a time of exuberant architectural woodworking. You really see in the work a general expansion of design that we didn't see in the sixteenth century (Cromwell might have had something to do with that). Between the rebuilding of London, the end of Puritan England, a new availability of metal due to the first ideas of the Industrial Revolution, not to mention England's new wealth as a international trading giant, and finally a rise in skilled work and better tools we get some wonderful pieces of work.
For me the book is a great reference of architectural carving designs. For the original 1920's audience I wonder if the book was a reaction to the modernism sweeping Europe, or a sympathetic wave to the neo-colonial movement in America? I don't know.
I don't know of an electronic version of this book, it is, however, not that rare and most good library systems should have a copy.
In other news: Next weekend is The Woodworking Shows in Somerset NJ. See you there!
This past week we launched a new glue, Nexabond 2500, instant glue, is is designed to set up in only a few minutes and be far more friendly to stains and finishes than yellow glue. Is is a one part glue and doesn't need to be mixed, or shaken up before us.
PS - Sorry about the photos - I got the idea for this blog on Tuesday night, and all I had was my phone and bad lighting.
|In two weeks we will be at the Somerset, New Jersey Woodworking Show, The largest woodworking show on the Woodworking Shows tour, and one of, if not the, largest woodworking show in the nation that's directed towards custom shops and hobbyists. (IWF is a much bigger show but a lot of their emphasis is on the very large, highly industrial production shop. |
This year we will be bringing all our Gramercy Tools, a fair amount to other great hand tools, and Festool. We will have tools to try out, tools to take home, and some new tools that we want you to take a look at. I'll be there Friday and Saturday, Ben is going to be there Sunday.
On the Festool side we are very, very pleased to announce that Sebastian Lata will be presenting Festool in our booth from the practical viewpoint of a working cabinetmaker. Sebastian isn't a professional demonstrator going from show to show. Sebastian is a working cabinetmaker who runs a successful cabinet-shop doing very high end exclusive work. Every time I talk to Sebastian I learn new ways of doing things better and using Festool more efficiently and so I asked him if he would be willing to share some of his experiences using Festool daily on the job. Sebastian and his crew will be in our booth all three days of the show.
The hours of the show are:
Friday 12-6; Saturday 10-6; Sunday 10-4
The location is:
Garden State Exhibit Center Exhibit Hall
50 Atrium Drive
Somerset, NJ 08873
Click here for Directions
There are lots of other interesting exhibitors at the show, to see the list and to buy tickets (cheaper in advance)
In addition to the regular exhibition and demonstrations you will also have the opportunity to enroll (at a small charge) in classes with some of the leading people in woodworking today. Matt Kenny and Michael Pekovich of Fine Woodworking will be teaching as will Marc Adams.
While we do most of our business on-line,a and I know the show isn't convenient for most of you, for those of you in the neighborhood meeting you at a shows for us gives us a chance to put faces to names and have a personal sense of who you are. So we hope to see you there!
Note: Since we haven't brought Gramercy Tools to Somerset before I obviously don't have a picture of our booth there. So the picture is of our booth at Maker Faire 2013. The Somerset booth will be at least three times the size, and have loads more stuff, and it's inside - (very important in the winter).
|I spent most of the past week helping my parents pack and trying to sort out my stuff that has been at their house. It brings back memories. And that's what my mind has been on all week. |
My first job out of college was working at the Industrial Construction division at Black & Decker in Hampstead, Md. They put me to work designing power tools - something that it became readily apparent I wasn't very good at but I learned a tremendous amount in the year and a half I worked there. I learned from my colleagues, I learned by watching. I still quote from my experiences there to the folks here at TFWW. It was an amazing time for me.
Every lunchtime we used to walk most of the length factory to the company cafeteria and back, passing the company store. We used to pop by the store at least once or twice a week where we could buy various seconds of tools, the odd souvenir and things like this very limited edition train car in the picture. In my time there I assembled fairly good collection of C. 1980 power tools from the company store and at the time they were the best tools you could get - I will probably write about them in the future. But while I have great nostalgia for my time there, power tool technology has gotten a lot better over the years. And while I feel that, especially when it comes to traditional tools, the older designs if well done can't be beat, seeing how modern technology can push the design of a fret saw or a coping saw is really interesting and keeps me from constantly looking backwards.
This is a really exciting time to be an iron monger. In the past 10 or 15 years we have seen a revolution in the design and availability of well made and well working hand and power tools. The hand tools in both traditional and new designs work better than ever, and power tools are easier to use, more functional and safer than ever before. This is happening just as the need for these tools is peaking. The end product, furniture, has been left behind. Furniture itself as a possession is less important than it was. For all the advances in tools building a Newport highboy, or a Ruhlman bureau is still really hard to do and takes skill and practice more than just fancy tools. Skill is skill and that won't change, but I hope we are on the verge of something new, and in a few weeks I hope to be reporting on what I think is the most interesting development in hobbyist furniture design in decades.
|I'll say from the get go about this blog entry that it's not about tools, not about wood, not about actually making anything, but it is about history, my personal history. It's been a very stressful and long couple of months. We are working flat out on several projects that will allow our business to grow - but at the same time the payoff is in the future so now it's just a time sink that means other stuff gets put off. But the constant pressure of work has been over shadowed in the past months as several friends have passed away and I deeply feel their loss. |
My parents are moving from their house that they have lived in since 1969, and that house has just about everything my family has accumulated since the 1930's. My mom wants to move, my dad loves the house, but they both agree that it's time. For me I am glad that they are moving to a less isolated place, but of course it's a serious break in my continuity. Very soon I won't be able to go home again. Emptying the house isn't easy. Since I live in an apartment, it's not like I need any new stuff so figuring out what to do with all the stuff they they don't want in their much smaller new place is a challenge. A few Sundays ago a couple of strong shop mates and I rented a truck and we moved the entire contents of the basement to here. I have tools and equipment in that basement dating back to when I was a kid. We also took with us a "kitchen full" of white cabinets that date from the mid 1960's when my folks redid their apartment kitchen - metal cabinets were "in" so that's what they got. When they moved to a house the cabinets lived in the basement and we new they live in the shop (picture at bottom).
My mom had a office typing chair from the early 1950's and a typewriter desk to match - I used the chair when I was a kid. They don't need it and I have a wooden office chair, but Kris, who volunteered his help, loves the style and took both the desk and chair for his apartment.
I mention all this because it's great!! This idea of continuity is a wonderful thing. Stuff outlasts us and it's a good thing. The worst part of lots of factory made modern furniture is that it won't last and the modern concept is that furniture is as transient a possession as a kitchen towel.
You should read this depressing blog entry by W. Patrick Edwards. I'll wait......
... He's right you know and if that small group of rich people aren't fueling an interest in antique furniture, the rest of us will get out of the habit of looking at furniture and increasingly furniture is not where we spend our money on conspicuous consumption. And that of course means that fewer and fewer of our children will have the urge to saw wood to size and make something to sit on, eat at, work at, or just pile books on.
The picture on the top is the old desk and chair in it's new permanent location - Kris's apartment. The picture on the bottom is of one of the old metal cabinets installed in the shop.
In other news we have been introducing new products on a weekly basis and some weeks we have more coming out than others. This past week we added Hand screws which are made in the USA by Dubuque Clamp Works. I remember a few years ago when the owner of Dubuque was complaining to me that Chinese competition was killing his business and he lost a lot of the major woodworking accounts. We started carrying their clamps a few years ago and it's great to see the tide turning and right now just about all the major tool shops carry Dubuque clamps (although sometimes under their own brand).
I don't know what's new tools are coming down the pipe this Friday, (it's a lot of work to get stuff out the door) I do know that in the coming weeks we have several major category expansions.
I also should mention that next month you should come see us at The Woodworking Show, February 21-23, Somerset, New Jersey. We will have with us tons of hand tools for demonstration and sale, and a top notch Festool display and inventory with all the latest stuff and a contractor who can show you how he works faster and does better work with Festool power-tools. I'll have more information for you in a week or to - but reserve the dates now!
|The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the blog's author and guests and in no way reflect the views of Tools for Working Wood.||