Everyone Should Cultivate Manual Training

Does this mean we should neglect our intellect? Absolutely not.

In fact, the opposite. We should strive to cultivate both mind and body to become the most perfect specimen we can become, daily.

I came across this passage while reading a bit this morning from Amateur Joinery in the Home (1916) by George and Berthold Audsley and thought it would be worthwhile to share.

There is a lot of good advice here but the above sentences stuck with me while taking the morning walk. “One never knows when life or limb may depend on the expert use of the hand and ordinary tools.” This could be applied to so many facets of an interesting life and is the basis of human survival that has put us where we are for a million years.

I have been using the down time afforded us by the events of 2020 to catch up on an ever-growing list of books and articles I have been amassing for decades. When I was working in archaeology full-time, the hundreds of pages of reading most weeks necessary just to keep current pushed many other interests into side avenues. I hope you all are using your time in a way that works well for you. In the mean time, this book is available for anyone with an interest in tools and working with their hands. It may even inspire new projects.

Click here to download a pdf file of the book. Amateur Joinery in the Home.

The World is Your Workshop

In Britain and Ireland, the Romany Gypsys and the Traveller community are often associated with low-skilled work such as scrap dealers, horse traders, musical entertainers, or more nefarious activities outside the societal norms.  However, there were plenty of skilled craftsmen and craftswomen providing goods and services to people around the country.

Below is an image of a couple, working together making footstools outside their vardo while another couple looks on from the comfort of their wagon.

Gypsy carpenters making small and large stools for market. From an early 20th century postcard.  Source: Romany and Traveller Family History Society.

Other Gypsy families were blacksmiths, basket weavers, or similar occupations that could be taken on the road, required little stock or overhead, and could be performed independently or with a minimum of family help.

Gypsy Basket Weavers on Skyros. Source: http://from-hand-to-hand.org/.

There is more to wandering people than the romantic or demonized images we carry.  People are just people after all.

Gypsy Blacksmith. Source.

Gypsies France 1930s-1960s

Encampment on a pitch somewhere in France, early mid-20th century.

Home Carpentry

As usual, an interesting old find posted on the Lost Arts Press. It’s worth a read.

“It is doubtless the timidity of woman which restrains her mending instincts. She dreads the saw and the chisel as treacherous tools that inevitably inflict wounds on the user… Moreover, she can never grasp the difference between a nail and a screw, and regards the latter as an absurd variety of nail which can not be driven with a hammer unless the wielder of the hammer has the muscles of a man.”

Lost Art Press

parrs_gentlemans_tool_chestThe woman who indulges in carpenter-work seldom does much harm. She contents herself with trying to drive nails into the wall, and with experiments with mucilage. She drives her nails with great caution, and when she has loosened an inch or two of plaster she becomes alarmed, and resolves to let her husband assume the responsibility of inflicting further injury on the wall.

She has a profound faith in the value of mucilage as a substitute for glue, and hopefully attempts to mend china and furniture with it; but mucilage is as harmless as it is inefficient, and it is only on the rare occasions when it is used to mend the wheels of the clock that it does any permanent injury to anything.

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Joining Techniques for Building Houses, Barns, etc.

From Cassell's Carpentry and Joinery by Paul N. Hasluck, ed., 1907 edition, an excellent resource.

From Cassell’s Carpentry and Joinery by Paul N. Hasluck, ed., 1907 edition, an excellent resource.

A selection of simple construction framing joints for building construction.

These are all really just mortises or forms of notching.  These simple techniques can add a lot of value to your repertoire.  The internet shows so much excitement when these things are seen in Japanese joinery but let’s not forget that this technology was world-wide common knowledge just a century ago.

Carpenter, 15th-16th Century

Prior to power sawmills and corporate lumber production, much of the carpenter’s project time was filled with simply making trees into boards. Most illustrations I have found of preindustrial carpenters feature someone hewing, planing, or chiseling with the occasional scene of sawing a board to length or width.

An image is just as much about what is chosen for inclusion as that is left out.

I love to ponder the details of old illustrations and paintings to really see what the artist was trying to show us. These images are no doubt biased in what they choose to show; and for good reason. There is a semiotic tradition in Medieval illustration to choose certain symbols to denote specific trades or historical characters and it should be remembered that the illustrators are not necessarily experts with the trade they are depicting.


If I were to let my hair and beard grow out a bit, I think I could pass for this guy.

Here we have the same carpenter from a previous post dated to around 1414.

The foreground holds a familiar skirted six-board chest with iron hinges and an escutcheon plate around the presumed locking mechanism. Either he is building these or perhaps it holds his tools. Beside it is a nice little cabinet of similar construction. He is working on a simple European bench with through-tenon legs, popular since the later Iron Age. His board is secured simply by four bench dogs.

Only four hand tools are shown. The frame saw, plane, chisel, and mallet. No doubt his dividers, straight edge, and winding sticks are in the box.


Just for fun, here’s another carpenter from about a hundred years later hewing a board to size with a bearded broad-axe. The work sits on a pair of saw horses with the typical tenon legs. Also, note the iron dogs used to secure the board to the horses. Living in the era of screw clamps, we don’t use these as much but they are still occasionally found holding boards while being glued like so:

clamping dogs

And finally, a late 16th century carpenter cross-cutting a plank. I like this image as it depicts more tools, though in less detail. Chisels, hammers, and a square hang on the wall, a plane sits in the background, and the broad-axe sits on the floor next to the hewing stump. The frame saw hasn’t changed at all. I don’t know if the supprt under the board is unique but it appears to be stepped to hold planks at graduated levels. Pretty nifty if you ask me. And finally, a couple of details about the clothes; I love the sagging stockings and the patched elbow of his shirt. Definitely dressed for work.


The Status of the Apprentice

Lost Art Press


Let the boy learn a trade. Watch him at his work and at his play; study his likes and dislikes; place him in a position where he can exercise his talent— if he has any—or his creative genius. Place him where he can learn a trade for which he is best adapted, mentally and physically, and if in after years, he chooses to follow any other line of endeavor, business, law, polities, literature, the stage, the lecture platform, or whatever he considers himself best adapted for, he may do so.

Then should his efforts prove a failure he has always a trade to fall back upon which will at least give him a chance to earn more than the pay of a day laborer. This argument was much in vogue years ago, and we sometimes hear it today, but the obstacles placed in the way make it impossible of achievement…

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