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.

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