Day 3 at Kelly Mehler’s school of woodworking started with a rousing discussion of Journeymans’ wages, servitude, and slavery. Period furniture was not “build to print”. It embodied the choices and culture of the individuals who built it and very much reflected the time. As we encounter questions like “why did they do this?” it’s important to know who “they” were. They shared our DNA, but we probably have very little else in common with these folks. What’s important for woodworkers is that we look fearlessly, and without preconceived notions, nostalgia, or hope.
It’s also true that the experience of early Americans was as diverse as the furniture they left behind. In class was my friend Jerome Bias, a period woodworker and fellow interpreter. Jerome interprets the life of free (and wealthy) African-American cabinet maker Thomas Day . I think Jerome embodies what we all must become: equally conversant with our hand tools and our history. If we are to break free of what can be lifeless, dimensional copies of furniture, we need to examine more closely the lives of the people who bought and sold the furniture we reproduce.
Climbing back down from my soap box :), the rest of the day went pretty well as far as I could tell. We examined the full range of fitting planes available in the 18th c. I set up sample pieces on several benches where guys could try working with a moving fillester, rabbets, match planes etc. I demoed making moldings freehand with hollows and rounds. I like the careful approach in Don McConnell’s DVD on the subject. But freehanding is fun, it’s a good skill to have, Don certainly does it, so I offered it as an alternative. But for those unfamiliar with Don’s approach, buy the DVD, watch it, and donate it to your local woodworking guild.
After lunch,… by the way, Kelly serves a hot gormet lunch everyday. Lunch is catered by a chef from Louisianna. We had chicken the first day, cajun catfish the next, and crawdad etouffer, (or is that rock lobster, Chuck?) the third. Lunch is served in Kelly’s spotless office in the corner of his upstairs hand tool shop. Here’s a shot of the downstairs, filled to brimming with upspeakable wood torture devices:
This is what your shop looks like, right? The plants are real, by the way. I’ve seen shops (boat shops mostly) that cockroaches couldn’t survive in!
So after lunch, I carved a cabriole leg out of a block of basswood (it was actually bass this time). I was hoping to encourage guys to try sculptural type carving at least. I got a good basic shape and three quarters of the ball and claw done in about 2 hours. With the day drawing short, I went back to fulfill a promise from day two; I cut a housed sliding dovetail (which turned out remarkably well). A few brief, hopefully encouraging words, and that was the end of our class. We headed out for Thai food at Wanpen’s restaurant.
I hope the class demystified some of the arts and mysteries and encouraged guys to give the old fashioned tools a try. One unlikely student I WAS able to convince was Kelly Mehler himself! He’s looking for a good 5/8″ BDS (brass depth stop) dado plane. If you have any leads, email him.