Arts & Mysteries: The Charles Plumley Inventory

Documentary sources teach us about traditional woodworking.
By Adam Cherubini
Pages: 32-35

From the June 2006 issue #155
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In my shop, tradition fills in where experience and education are lacking. So, I find it helpful to learn as much as I can about traditional woodworking. Studying 18th-century furniture is a great way to learn, but let’s face it – I don’t have any 18th-century furniture and the people who do don’t want me steaming their joints apart so I can figure out whether the mortises were chopped or pared!

Period estate inventories offer the chance to explore 18th-century woodworking by analyzing the contents of period shops. The inventories won’t tell us how to hold a mortise chisel, but they can help us form reasonable expectations for our work by revealing what our ancestors actually did and did not do with hand tools. For example: Were 18th-century craftsmen specialists who made the same things every day? How did they process trees into useable lumber? Did they use scrub planes for that? Were apprentices necessary for such work? The problem is, we don’t generally know the answers to these questions. In this article, we’ll examine one estate inventory and see what we can learn from it.

From the June 2006 issue #155
Buy this issue now