I’m just about ready to assemble a drawer, so my daughter Katy lays down her saw and heads to the pickle bucket below the drill press. She dumps the cool water down the drain outside the shop door and refills the bucket with hot.
She drops the liquid hide glue bottle into the bucket then comes over to the bench, where I’m paring out the last little bit of the floor of my half-blind dovetails. I’m using a fishtail chisel, which she’s never seen before, so Katy asks if she can give it a try. I show her how I hold the tool to wiggle it into the acute corners, then I put the tool in her hands.
After a couple shavings we knock the drawer side into the dovetail sockets. It fits fine, so Katy shakes the glue bottle and fetches the deadblow mallet. I hold the drawer front and Katy paints the sockets with hide glue using an artist’s paintbrush I’ve owned since college.
I show her how I drive the joint together with a block of wood by spreading out the blows all along the joint line. Two taps. Move the mallet. After the first joint is home, Katy takes over gluing and assembly. We put the assembled drawer on the table saw and check it for square. We press the corners of the assembly against the rip fence until the box is square.
Then Katy goes back to the small bench I’ve rigged up for her and lines up the two handplanes on the end of the bench. She asks when she can start cleaning up the shop.
It’s at that moment that I realize I’m living in a book. It feels a bit like the time I visited Graceland and descended the stairwell to Elvis’s basement. Both walls are completely mirrored and the thousand reflections of your every move are both familiar and disorienting.
A New Book Project
Since January, I’ve been working on my next book project during nights and weekends. Joel Moskowitz (of Tools for Working Wood) and I are expanding a curious book that was first published in 1839. It is one of a series of short hardbacks written to introduce young people to the basic knowledge needed for a trade, such as baking, coopering, printing or joinery.
What’s amazing about this particular little book is that it is an engaging work of fiction that tells the tale of young Thomas, a lad who is apprenticed to a joiner’s shop in a rural English town. Thomas begins his apprenticeship by sweeping the shop, managing the hide glue pots and observing the journeymen.
Then, thanks to a plot twist, Thomas is tasked to build a rough box for a customer who is leaving on a journey that same day. The book follows Thomas every step of the way, from stock selection through construction and finally to delivery, when Thomas brings along an envelope of cut nails for the customer so he can secure the lid shut before his trip.
Thomas goes on to build a schoolbox (which will be in the Autumn 2009 issue of Woodworking Magazine) and finally a large chest of drawers, all the while picking up different joinery skills and the right attitude to become a competent and trusted journeyman.
It’s an idyllic tale, and likely a bit sugar-coated compared to the reality of an apprentice’s life in early 19th-century England. But that detail aside, the book is extraordinary. Not only is it fun to read, but if you build the three projects shown in its pages, you will get an excellent course in working wood with hand tools.
And so with Katy’s help, I have been constructing these three projects by following the instructions in the book. And though I haven’t told Katy much about the story, she is naturally falling into the role of young Thomas.
She has been working alongside me through most of the chest of drawers. When I don’t need her help, she’s off doing her own thing , trying out the different saws, messing with the planes and asking me questions. Such as this one she asked on father’s day:
“Dad, when I grow up, do you think I’ll be a woodworker?”
Well Katy, I think you already are.
- Christopher Schwarz
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