To celebrate my birthday, our daughter Faith and I spent the day touring Old Sturbridge Village. We are members, and we visit OSV a few times each year, but we always seem to find something we haven’t seen before. This time, it was easy, the new Cabinetmaker’s shop was completed this year and opened last month. I decided to explore some of the woodworking tools and techniques and compare them to the tools and techniques I use in my shop. I’m relying on the photos and captions to tell this story.
Construction in the 1830s was very often a woodworking endeavor. In colonial New England, most of the buildings at this time were made from wood.
Regardless of the fact that this is a historic recreation, modern laws about workplace safety are in effect. This scene has played out at our house on several occasions.
We have been waiting for several years for funds to be raised to build the new cabinet shop. The building was built in a period style, but with modern techniques and a few modern features (like heat).
The lathe is powered by a leather belt and treadle, but the work piece spins between a drive center and a dead center, just as it does on my lathe. Lathes were important to make tool handles, chair and table legs, spindles and stretchers for chairs (see mid -height left side)
Every tool on this workbench can be found in my shop. There are three hand planes – theirs have bodies made of wood, mine are steel. The have a mallet, I have an almost identical mallet. They have a vise, a square, a marking gauge and a a hold-down “dog” – I have all of those same things. Note the project on the left side of the bench (the box)
The image on the left is the box being built on the workbench at OSV. The box on the right is one that I made when I was learning how to use a router attachment to make precision slots for the inlays along the sides of the box.
Water powered shingle saw (see next photo)
The earliest power tools
The sled was pulled by oxen to drag logs from the forest to the sawmill. The tools on the wall in the back are familiar. My drills, saws and mallets are different in appearance and the way they work, but I could not work without them.
An even earlier version of a wood lathe. Powered by the operator’s foot, but a more direct connection, which required more strength from the operator. Still, the operation of turning that spindle is the same as it would be in my shop.
The lathe tools on the wall are identical to three of my lathe tools. From right to left, they are a gouge, a spear point chisel and a skew chisel. These are used in every turning project. Other than the quality of the steel, there is little difference after 190 years.
Before the invention of the shingle saw shown earlier, this is how men made shingles. They split a narrow segment of a log with a froe (lower right) and squared it off with a draw knife (upper left).
The split rail fence is interesting. Once the wood rails are split off of logs, no tools or fasteners are required. This was important, since nails were still being cut by hand. An interesting fact, if the rails were broken, by weather or animals, the wood was reused. Using the tools in the picture above this one, a Cooper would make staves for barrels and buckets. New England Yankees were a thrifty bunch.
The cooper, making a small bucket. This image was taken during a visit in the summer of 2020. We visit OSV often, the benefits of membership. There is too much to see in any one visit..
This holding pond stored water that was used to power the sawmill, the grist mill and the carding mill. I love the colorful reflections.
This is why Faith gets better photos than I do. She works for the best shot.
That’s it for this week. I hope to return to OSV for a few more Mondays to explore the technology of the day and to point out the differences and similarities to modern techniques.