Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Now Open For Pre-Orders!

Finally the day has come to take Mortise & Tenon Magazine pre-orders!  The “Pre-order Now” button is live at the Purchase page of the M&T website. Check out the updated Table of Contents and put in your order. Don’t forget: As a thank you for your support, all US pre-orders from the website will receive free shipping.

For international orders, please check the Purchase page for the list of stockists. Classic Hand Tools is taking pre-orders for the UK and Europe and The Wood Works is now taking pre-orders for Australia. Also, Lee Valley will begin taking all Canadian pre-orders within the next couple of weeks. I will let you know when they’re ready.

I have spent many hours this year interviewing, photographing, and writing to prepare Issue One. It has been an incredible privilege spending time with the best of the best discussing period furniture, conservation, woodworking, and scholarship. Al Breed, Phil Lowe, Freddy Roman, George Walker, Martin O’Brien, Jon Brandon, Gerry Ward, Charles Hummel, Zachary Dillinger, and the Yale Furniture Study are all making an appearance in this Issue. It is a truly incredible line up… beyond what I could have hoped for.

I’m now hunkered down now in editing mode in order to get the manuscripts off to my copy editor, Megan Fitzpatrick. There are a lot of articles and photographs to work through so I’ll be busy. The printer and I are working out an expected delivery of mid to late February.

To all you enthusiastic folks that send me the steady stream of encouraging emails and messages, I look forward to putting Issue One in your hands. Spread the word: Pre-orders are open! Thank you!

Warmest regards,

Joshua Klein
Mortise & Tenon Magazine

Monday, November 30, 2015

M&T is a Celebration of Historic Furniture

This is the seventh and last part of a seven day series leading up to the tomorrow's opening of pre-orders for Mortise & Tenon Magazine Issue One. Each day I’ve been discussing one tenet of the Mortise & Tenon Manifesto.

7. M&T is a celebration of historic furniture. We believe that reveling in historic workmanship is an important way to honor the past. Although there is an astonishing variety of wood craftsmanship produced today, our passion remains singular: Without apology we celebrate the wisdom, skill, and ingenuity of our woodworking forefathers.

It’s easy to get sucked into our culture’s solipsistic approach to creative endeavor. When new woodworkers approach the craft as if they existed in a vacuum, I can’t help but scratch my head. What these folks are missing is that over thousands of years craft knowledge was developed and passed on through apprentices so that as they continued on in their life’s work they carried with them the wisdom of all those that came before. It was through the work of skilled hands that this knowledge survived and it wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that it would be any different. In the 19th century, when these skilled artisans began to be replaced with machine operators, thousands of years of craft knowledge became endangered.

Today there is a misguided assumption that if a certain way of doing things is “old” then it must be slower, less effective, and hard. As I’ve already discussed, the rise of machinery was not because an individual craftsman thought planing a board was arduous. Machines are for quantity. Building furniture “by hand” was abandoned because the values of high quantity production drove technological innovation. Do you, maker, share that objective with the Industrial Revolution? Are you planning on making 1,000 of the same table?

But I’ve gotta ask: What if the “old” ways were put away for reasons that aren’t valid in your case? What if you aren’t a factory?

M&T is a place to discuss the roots of our furniture making heritage. As we engage with our past, we find that there is nothing new under the sun and that the same problems we encounter have been conquered by countless artisans before us. We aren’t going to progress with our fingers in our ears.

I don’t care what style of furniture you make, this applies to you. A table is a table. A chair will always be a chair. Stylistic detail is merely embellishment and you can take it or leave it. But studying historic furniture keeps us grounded makers and only when our roots are deep into the tradition of our trade can we build on the wisdom of the generations that came before us.

At midnight tonight, I am opening US pre-orders for Mortise & Tenon Magazine Issue One. To order, go to the “Purchase” page of our website where there will be a “Pre-order Now” button. More info about Issue One can found there now.

Some of our international stockists have decided to take pre-orders as well. Classic Hand Tools will be taking pre-orders for the UK and Europe starting tomorrow. The Wood Works will be taking orders tomorrow for Australia as well. For Canadians, Lee Valley will be ready in a week or two. I’ll know that exact date soon.

Tomorrow has felt like a long time coming but it was only a year ago that I had my first conversation with Chris Schwarz about the idea. I consulted with a lot of encouraging and helpful people which had different experiences and expertise to bring to the table. Only some people told me I was crazy for going the print route. I don’t care. The whole concept of what Mortise & Tenon is trying to do is to too tactile and too weighty to be emailed to readers as a bunch of pixels.

I think the value of holding this publication in your hand, far exceeds the extra expense it takes to produce it. Mortise & Tenon is not meant to be skimmed on your iPhone during your lunch break. It’s designed to provide a respite when you get home. It’s reading for after the kids are in bed and you have your beer poured. It’s meant to be digested and thought through.

Check back tomorrow… we’re taking orders.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

M&T Serves as a Bridge Between Disciplines

This is Part Six of a seven day series leading up to the official December 1st opening of pre-orders for Mortise & Tenon Magazine Issue One. Each day I’m discussing one tenet of the Mortise & Tenon Manifesto.

6. M&T serves as a bridge between disciplines. We believe that period furniture makers, conservators, and scholars all have a unique and important contribution toward researching and preserving our furniture heritage. We want Mortise & Tenon to be a place for those disciplines to meet and collaborate.

Multidisciplinary professions like conservation can be frustrating at times. Because you are drawing on the expertise of multiple areas of discipline, it can feel like you’re a jack of all trades rather than a master of anything. Furniture conservators straddle the worlds of woodworker and scholar. Although this dual citizenship sometimes feels like you’re shooting yourself in the foot, it does have a unique vantage point. An intentional conservator is able to be conversant with both spheres individually and at the same time seek to bridge them.

Period furniture makers, conservators, and scholars all look at the same object from different perspectives. A maker’s interest goes first to design and construction choices. Because they are in the business of working wood, they notice construction anomalies in a heartbeat. Conservators may note some of those things but they have been specifically trained to take note of physical condition and will spot repairs or modifications quickly. Scholars are interested in the stylistic and decorative features and often attempt to discover an attribution in order to place the object in a historical context. All of these observations are important to understanding the creative work of our furniture making forefathers. While a number of us are a little of each of these, no one is all of all of these. We need collaboration.

M&T is determined to mine the depths of each discipline in order to broaden our collective understanding of historic furniture. Let scholars mine the documentary sources and write to educate, let conservators examine the originals and share the findings, and let makers recreate them so that we can learn period methods. There is so much uncharted territory to explore and the only way we’re going to get there is together.

M&T Honors Cultural Heritage

This is Part Five of a seven day series leading up to the official December 1st opening of pre-orders for Mortise & Tenon Magazine Issue One. Each day I’m discussing one tenet of the Mortise & Tenon Manifesto.

5. M&T honors cultural heritage. We believe that patina makes an object more beautiful. We agree with David Pye that “the effects of age and wear are powerful diversifying agents”. And because historic artifacts are representations of the life and values of our ancestors, patina is cherished as a document of the past just as much as the piece’s original construction.
The license plate on my work van reads “PATINA”. I never was one for vanity plates but a few years ago I decided to give it a shot. I occasionally get folks looking at the plate who ask, “Patina? Who is she? Is that your wife?” I jokingly tell my friends that if people don’t understand the license plate, I probably won’t end up doing work for them.

Among antiquarians, the natural wear and tear and grime and soiling from 200 years of honest use is something unanimously understood and cherished. There is something almost mysterious about seeing the “fingerprints” of multiple generations’ daily life scrawled across the surface of an artifact. It transports us into the past. We feel a real connection to those that have lived before us as we live with and use the same object. This is sometimes called the “associative value” because, through the object, we associate with our ancestors.

Conservators are keen to this concept and that is exactly why “patina” is often retained. Removing finishes, sanding raw wood, and replacing original components are all subtractive processes that must be very carefully considered before performing. No matter how many dings and layers of glaze you apply, they will never be authentic marks of use. Removing original material from historic objects obliterates the evidence of the piece’s “life”. And once it has been erased, it is gone forever.

I think that this associative value, at least at some level, is the foundation for the beauty attributed to patina. Pye has explained that patina breaks up the visual monotony of an unused surface and thereby aesthetically enhances it.

But when is dirt just dirt? When does an artifact “need” to be cleaned? The answer to this question lies not within objective tablets of stone that govern every scenario. The question is satisfied only by assessing the values the object actually does have. Is it truly a historic artifact or is it just a comfortable seat? Does this object still retain utilitarian value or after 300 years, has its “usefulness” been eclipsed by its research or historic education value? The way I see it, the locus of the conservation mission is to preserve or restore the most significant values an object does actually have. Historic artifacts are preserved for research and museum display (or private collection) and common forms are preserved for daily use.

M&T honors our cultural heritage. One of the distinctive missions of this publication is to educate readers about the importance and value of preserving historic furniture. The M&T vision is to deepen appreciation of the creative work of our ancestors. Surviving artifacts are all we have of them and without careful stewardship of these “documents” of the past, the voices and fingerprints of our ancestors will be erased forever.

Friday, November 27, 2015

M&T Honors Original Construction

This is Part Four of a seven day series leading up to the official December 1st opening of pre-orders for Mortise & Tenon Magazine Issue One. Each day I’m discussing one tenet of the Mortise & Tenon Manifesto.

4. M&T honors original construction. We believe reproducing original characteristics such as coarseness of secondary components, irregularity of dimensions, and occasional expeditious joining/fastening methods is appropriate and honoring to original artistic achievement.

It has always been surprising to me how disparaging some furniture makers can be about the perceived deficiency of “quality” in other’s work. Whenever I hear comments about the incompetence of another maker because of aesthetic or construction choices I feel a bit disheartened. This attitude of superiority leaves a bad taste in my mouth because I began working wood out of a curiosity and passion. I simply enjoyed the process and loved the satisfaction of completing a tangible project. I wasn’t trying to outdo or outsmart anyone. I just loved woodworking.

I would want those that criticize period work to put themselves in pre-industrial shoes: You are living in the year 1780 and you have a client who commissions you to make a chest of drawers “in the most fashionable taste” “as cheap as can be had anywhere else”. After finalizing the design with the client, you walk over to your modest lumber stack and begin digging for material. Your only lighting is natural window light, you are cold because there’s no central heating, and you’re likely coping with some sort of pain from the rigors of an agricultural life. (Oh yeah, you’re a farmer too, by the way.)

Now you’re only getting paid for a few days labor to produce this chest of drawers (because frugality is not a modern invention). How are you going to build this object in a way that satisfies the client’s conflicting demands? Because every client and every maker were different the answer varied, of course. What is consistent, however, is that not much time was spent beautifying the areas never seen. It’s the same reason people today slap plywood on the back: It’s easy and “no one’s ever going to be looking at it anyway”. Period work is workmanlike, not precious. Flexibility with the dimensions of stock, coarseness of undersides, “flat” only in the loosest sense of the word… all that stuff was par for the course. But I’ve covered this territory the other day in Tenet Two so refer to that discussion for further thoughts.

This drawer bottom is the most extreme example of restraining wide boards

But what does today’s maker do with fasteners or glue blocks originally restraining a wide board? We all know that the wider the board, the more the movement and the more likely the chance of splits at points of fastening. Most period furniture makers I know will alter the method of attachment (i.e. tabletop buttons) to allow for seasonal movement. I understand the concern and can appreciate a maker’s concession to avoid splitting. For my part, I prefer to go with what was original. The panel may crack a little but as they say here in Maine, “it won’t bother”. It’s normal to see modest splits on the sides of period casework and I cannot for the life of me think of any real issue with it. I always tell folks that if they’re seriously concerned about minor warpage, splits, or seasonal movement, they shouldn’t be using wood.

M&T appreciates historical precedent. There is so much published out there emphasizing modern concession that I wanted to hear (and experience firsthand) the other side of things. Working wood by hand alone demands a different mentality. You just can’t be concerned about leaving rough work on unseen surfaces. Tools marks testify to that value of efficiency. To say it in a more romantic way, the tool marks left behind highlight the honest interaction between man, steel, and wood. It’s the kind of interaction you don’t get in an office cubicle. It’s something real and earthy.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

M&T is Dedicated to Hands-On Research

This is Part Three of a seven day series as a lead up to the official December 1st opening of pre-orders for Mortise & Tenon Magazine Issue One. Each day I’m discussing one tenet of the Mortise & Tenon Manifesto.

3. M&T is dedicated to hands-on research. We believe working with authentic methods is the best way to do historical research because it allows the maker to stand in the shoes of the original artisan. Insights are gained through this “shop based research” more readily than by ordinary examination because the natural constraints of working by hand allow the maker to discern the logic behind original construction choices.

There are so many ways to study period furniture. By exploring documentary evidence, tracing genealogical lineage, and examining the object itself, we can potentially determine quite a bit about a piece. Nine times out of ten, what scholars are after in that kind of research are the names of the maker and original owner. But that doesn’t say much about the characteristics of the object itself.

By intimately acquainting ourselves with a piece’s construction, we can often retrace the original workflow and creation process. By then walking through the steps ourselves, using the same tools they did, something magical happens. All of the sudden, your understanding of that piece is immensely enhanced. You feel like you know the original as well as if you had made it. (Every maker knows this feeling. When they see their finished product, they can only see each step of the process and how well each particular aspect was executed.)

These protruding wedged pins in this dovetail joint are an interesting Germanic construction method.

This principal works at two levels: it works for object-specific study and it works for period craftsmanship in general. As I discussed in yesterday’s post, working wood “by hand” is a completely different animal. I don’t care if you’ve worked in a high-tech cabinet shop your whole life. If you’ve never chopped all the mortises for a piece or resawed your stock with a handsaw, you are going to have a hard time comprehending what the original maker went through to produce the piece. But it’s not always about learning “how hard” it was. I was surprised to discover that many of these tasks are not nearly as arduous or difficult as they were made out to be. You learn which operations take the most time and then search for ways to expedite them. When you constrain yourself to the tools available to the artisans of yesterday, more often than not, your solutions were their solutions. Those are the epiphany moments.

This research methodology does not supplant traditional documentary and genealogical investigation but should be seen as a compliment. It is the conviction of M&T that this kind of research should be explored in deeper ways. We want woodworkers around the country to engage in this kind of historical study. This is an invitation to experiment with us. Throw out your digital calipers, dust off that foreplane, and sharpen your handsaw: Let’s do some research.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

UK and Europe Stockist!

I'm so happy to announce that Classic Hand Tools will be stocking M&T for UK and Europe! They're aiming to be ready to take pre-orders December 1st along with the US orders on our website.