A 17th-century Joiner’s Life

01pwm1113follansbeePeter Follansbee has devoted his career to furniture from early America.

by Christopher Schwarz
pages 52-55
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Peter Follansbee, the joiner at Plimoth Plantation, gets peppered with questions from museum visitors all day long as he builds 17th-century boxes, stools, chests and chairs at the re-created colony of the early English settlement in Plymouth, Mass.

“What wood is that?” (Almost always the answer is “oak.”)

“How do you do these carvings?” (“Like this,” he says as he starts carving.)

“Don’t you wish you had a table saw?” (The answer is unprintable.)

But when things get really interesting is when Peter starts asking questions of the visitors. One common exchange goes something like this:
Peter: “How long do you think this chair took to make?” Peter gestures to a carved, turned and painted chair.

Visitor: “About 5,000 hours.”

“I can’t even conceive of what 5,000 hours is,” Peter says. “Is it a year? No. Not 5,000 hours. Try 70 hours.”

For Peter, that ignorance about how long it takes to build handmade furniture has become far more common during the last 20 years he’s worked at Plimoth.

“People just don’t make anything anymore,” he says. “They have no concept whatsoever of how things are made or how long it takes.”

Blog: Visit Peter Follansbee’s blog for more on 17th-century woodworking.
Web Site: Learn more about the teamwork and writings of Follansbee and Alexander.
To Buy: Get step-by-step instruction to carve a 17th-century, New England S-scroll.

From the November 2013 issue #207
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