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This question arose in the earliest days of Christendom. I believe St. Paul, himself a Jew, provided the definitive answer: Naah.

For my own part I understand those who felt Christianity is a progression that must begin with Judaism. Maybe that’s why Judaism dominated all 4 years of religion classes in my Roman Catholic high school. We used to joke that we went to Catholic school to become Jews. I may also be particularly sympathetic to an anti-parochial point of view because the man who taught those religion classes was a Polish Jesuit Priest and Auschwitz death camp survivor, imprisoned for his outspoken faith.

What’s all this have to do with woodworking you ask? I see many of the same points of view in the almost as dogmatic and burning question (on everyone’s lips these days): Must all period cabinetmakers be joiners first? Many feel they can jump into cabinetmaking like stepping on to a train. No need to have travelled the road before.

For my part, I see great value and benefit in a deeper, perhaps even intimate, understanding of the previous. In this year’s series of articles for Popular Woodworking Magazine, my unstated goal is the construction of a formal Chippendale (baroque) chair. I’ve begun that process by constructing chairs of a style and structure easily 50 years earlier. You can read along and see how I do. But if you’re the type who reads between the lines, I think you’ll find that I disagree with Paul from Tarsus.


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  • James Watriss

    Must they all be joiners first?

    Maybe not. But they still need to find a way to use the tools, I think. I generally hold to the notion that there’s no such thing as cheating in woodworking. If you can find a way to get something cut or joined, then it’s a viable way to get the work done. But I think that this holds less true as you get into the realm of better pieces.

    The ability to cut clean joinery… or even sloppy joinery, in a hurry… is dependent on a level of skill, as well as a level of awareness of how to use, maintain, and sharpen a tool.

    There are christian people who genuinely and sincerely believe that killing abortion doctors makes them better christians. There are also people who really, really love Ikea. (I’m not trying to group those two groups together… at least not today.)

    I’m no scholar of religion. But I think a solid grounding in judaism, and jewish history, will give a good christian enough of a sense of perspective to realize that being schlepped around and persecuted for millenia will give a much better perspective on how to live a quieter life, without passing judgment or consequence on other people. Judge not, do unto others, love thy neighbor, etc. And leave me alone, I don’t feel like being persecuted today.

    I’m a pretty lame scholar of woodworking. But I think that having an appreciation for how something goes together is a pretty important thing. Knowing how to use tools properly, and with respect, and knowing how to work with the medium, so that an outwardly beautiful piece of furniture, or other woodwork, will stand the test of time.

    There are so many people out there who know so little, understand even less, don’t really care, and they’re so surprised that their world is full of sustainably producable, but still poorly made things.

    Do you have to be a joiner first? Eh, probably not. But I think it helps to have a background in almost anything, to be able to understand something new.

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