Wednesday, November 25, 2015

M&T Celebrates Pre-Industrial Methods

This is Part Two 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.


2. M&T celebrates pre-industrial methods. We believe that authentic reproductions are best created with authentic tools and methodology. While powered mechanization is more economical for quantity production, we believe working wood “by hand” is both efficient and viable when building single objects. Because the vast majority of furniture makers are not direct competition with factories, we believe there is much for us to learn from pre-industrial methods.

Hear me out: I know that the vast majority of furniture makers today use machinery at least for stock prep. It doesn’t offend me. I can appreciate the labor saving and precision that planers, jointers, and tablesaws offer folks. When I make furniture, however, I have decided to reproduce not only the furniture, but the methods used to make it in the first place. And this is not just purist snobbery. I am on this path based on a conviction that we have a lot to learn from rediscovering historic methods.

I believe the mechanization of furniture production during the Industrial Revolution created an unprecedented norm for workmanship. Because it was easy for a machine to smooth the wood on all four sides while thicknessing, the standard of surface refinement has changed. Consequently, when a new woodworker today entertains the idea of using hand tools they walk into it thinking, “Oh wow. All that planing and sawing to get the stock to size must take forever!” And it would. If you are trying to build furniture like a machine with hand tools, you’re insane. The amount of work and agonizing precision in making sure every single member is perfectly dimensioned exactly the same is enough to make a guy batty.


The truth is you don’t need four square sides to make tight joints. In most components, all you need is one flat reference face and one edge square to that face. The bottom and back side can be hatchet marks for all we care. Sometimes it is. (Lest you think I am talking about merely poorly executed “country” furniture or rustic-chic reclaimed pallet pieces, I’m not. The finest and most elegant high-style museum pieces have backs, bottoms, and insides that would make you choke.) Putting the effort where it mattered and ignoring the areas it didn’t is how they built efficiently. Examining piece after piece coming through my conservation studio as well as personal examination of objects in major collections has confirmed in my mind that this economy of labor was a universal value. For me, this realization was revelatory. Suddenly, I felt like I could do it the way they did it, in an attainable amount of time, and end up with a product that looked just like the originals. win-win-win! This historical approach to building efficiently by hand is liberating enough to make you put your tablesaw on Craigslist.

To clarify, Mortise & Tenon Magazine is not unaware of the fact that many of the contributors utilize power tools in their stock prep. What’s unique about this publication, however, is that machinery will not be a highlighted aspect. We will not have articles on how to gang cut tenons on a new tablesaw jig and there are no “must have” router bit articles here. The emphasis of M&T is an unabashed celebration of pre-industrial woodworking.

7 comments:

  1. I've got to say that (along with yesterday's manifesto point) this is one of the most exciting things about this magazine to me. I have nothing against machines or the people who choose to use them, but hand-tool woodworking has been a process of discovery to me in a way that my table saw never was.

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  2. James Stenhouse / Stenhouse CustomNovember 25, 2015 at 8:27 AM

    I think most of the woodworkers out there today are, to an extent, hybrid woodworkers, utilizing hand and power tools. My reasons for reducing power tool use are two fold. I work by myself and have a valid concern about safety in the shop, I'm also a member of the SCA and reproduce medieval period furniture with period appropriate methods and tools. What i've discovered is that the Modern methods of joinery aren't so much an improvement as an adjustment. The more intimate aspect of hand tool use gives you a different perspective and understanding of the material we work with.

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  3. I echoe the words of the people above. I started out on the woodworking path using power tools and poor quality hand tools with poor results. It was less working with wood and more offering a piece of wood up to a dangerous spinning blade. I also think that a better finish can be sought using hand tools. Planes and scrapers offer a much nicer finish than an orbital sander. I only wish this magazine was available in the UK! Fingers crossed...

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  4. I echoe the words of the people above. I started out on the woodworking path using power tools and poor quality hand tools with poor results. It was less working with wood and more offering a piece of wood up to a dangerous spinning blade. I also think that a better finish can be sought using hand tools. Planes and scrapers offer a much nicer finish than an orbital sander. I only wish this magazine was available in the UK! Fingers crossed...

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  5. I love the humor!! "This historical approach to building efficiently by hand is liberating enough to make you put your tablesaw on Craigslist." You crack me up!!! All kidding aside, eagerly await the arrival of your publication, (I can't bring myself to call it a "magazine". It seems so much more...)

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  6. Thanks for teaching me something in this post...I hope the magazine will offer similar nuggets of very valuable information that is not available anywhere else, I find most magazines nowadays don't contain much new information.

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  7. I in person wish to use transportable mud collectors with my routing table. they're nice for removing saw mud because the router cuts. There square measure several router plates accessible.

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