by Peter Follansbee
Back in the 1970s, there was an undercurrent in American woodworking that connected to an ancient past. After decades of home-workshop projects, many craftsmen were trying to understand some of the “old” ways of woodworking. One of these woodworkers was John (now Jennie) Alexander, a chairmaker from Baltimore.
Alexander was learning, principally through research and trial and error, how to make ladderback chairs from freshly felled hardwoods, particularly hickory and white oak. While Alexander was working away in an urban workshop, Drew Langsner was in his rural mountainside shop working on a book of projects called “Country Woodcraft.” Somehow, these two got wind of each other and began a correspondence.
Alexander noted that Langsner’s term “country woodcraft” excluded workers in cities and towns, so the phrase “green woodworking” was introduced. “Green” referred to the use of freshly felled stock as the starting point for such projects as the chairs in Alexander’s book, and the spoons, bowls and agricultural implements included in Langsner’s book.
Roy Underhill’s work, begun at the same time, bridged both these subjects and threw in house-framing, log building and more.
A later book by Langsner, “Green Woodworking” (Country Workshops), went ahead and embraced the term.
Today, there is a resurgence in this approach, culminating on the Internet in a number of green woodworking groups, forums and what have you. Some even get together in the physical world.
Blog: Read Peter Follansbee’s blog.
To Buy: “17th-Century New England Carving: Carving the S-Scroll (Lie-Nielsen).”
From the December 2014 issue, #215