The temperature has been varying between really cold and OMG cold since the New Year, and unfortunately our indoor work temperature has reflected this. Our steel roll-up garage-style showroom door and super-high ceilings are major escape routes for heated air and our three gas powered reflecting heaters barely make a dent.
Are we part of a "proud" historic tradition? Amazingly, in days of yore cabinet shops in Europe and US, even in dank and chilly parts, were not heated.
Let's think about this for a bit. Iron stoves date from the mid 18th century, commonly available central heating from the end of the 19th. Light was essential for craft work, but glass windows were not common in Britain and the US prior to the middle of the 19th century. In the spring, summer and fall, craftsmen worked in front of open windows - a source of light and air. Rain was kept away by roof eaves. In the winter and in truly inclement weather, translucent oiled cloth over the windows gave some protection from the elements. Shutters secured the premises at night and when there was no work.
While fine sawdust from sandpaper wasn't much of an issue before the 20th century, sawdust from sawing and plane shavings did present a constant danger for a fire. And with all that dry wood around, any small fire could easily become a deadly conflagration. Thomas Chippendale's shop, for example. burned in a fire in 1755; although he rebuilt his shop, his personal fortune never recovered from the disaster. And so unlike those lucky blacksmiths who had forges and bakers who had ovens, woodworkers had to exercise extreme caution around fire. Even smoking was generally banned anywhere near the shop. Open fires of any sort were forbidden in shops -- and with that, no ready source of heat was available in shops.
Even in the 18th century, there must have been some small fires to keep the glue hot. The Joiner and Cabinetmaker (1839) describes the apprentice's job of preparing and maintaining the glue pot and makes note of the "serious accidents [that] have sometimes arisen" with improper care, such as when a "hot cinder sticking to the bottom has set the shavings and the shop on fire."
With the advent of iron stoves, it was possible to have some heat in a workshop. But the lack of insulation in the shop, and the probability of working next to the outdoor light meant that on a good day your back might have some heat on it but your front and hands would be freezing.
Fortunately, in the winter the workdays bowed to the reality of shorter daylight and were shorter too.
The funny part of all of this is that at the end of my workday I ride on a (mostly) heated subway and a centrally heated home. Up until pretty recently your frozen cabinetmaker went home to a house probably heated only by a fireplace in the kitchen and parlor. If he was lucky and well-to-do, maybe his bedroom had a small fireplace, but by and large, your workplace might have been freezing and your home was pretty cold too.
And don't get me started about the plumbing.
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