I’ve had my head plunged deep into the cracker barrel of the 19th century this year while working on the forthcoming book “The Joiner and Cabinet Maker.”
One of the things I really like about writing books is the research. I have, for example, learned more about the history of pencils this year than during any other period in my life. In fact, I’m considering making some for my own amusement if I can get some graphite from Cumbria.
Of course, all this research has also made me one of the most boring people to be around in our neighborhood.
During my research I’ve also become fascinated with the benevolent societies of the 18th and 19th centuries. These were, in essence, clubs that had several aspects to them. They would provide insurance in case you died or your tools were stolen. They provided a social network , there are many accounts of parades and celebrations (think Shriners with sharp tools). And these groups sought to further their education. Many of these societies hosted traveling lecturers to speak on the craft.
So this morning I’m cleaning off my 350-pound French workbench to load it into the truck for Valley Forge, Pa., and the Woodworking in America conference. I swore I’d never move this bench again. (Actually, that was my back that was doing the swearing.) But despite all the grunting ahead of me, and some anxiety about my lecture on bench planes, I’m looking forward to Woodworking in America in a way that transcends the fact that it is part of my job.
You see, I’ve never been one to join clubs. I wasn’t in a fraternity. I never attended the French Club meetings (except when they had those Toblerone candy bars). Heck, I don’t even belong to the Society of Professional Journalists.
But this weekend, I know I’m going to get to see all the people who make my job so rich, including both toolmakers and readers I have known for more than a decade. I’m going to get to meet people I’ve always wanted to know , Toshio Odate and Peter Follansbee to name only two. And I’m really looking forward to the Hand Tool Olympics. Wait until Mike Siemsen gets his claws into you — you’re going to love it, too.
This event, for me, almost captures the spirit of these benevolent societies. If you went to Berea last year, you know what I mean. If you’re going to Valley Forge, you are about to find out.
All we really need now are some funny hats and a secret handshake.