Thursday, March 15, 2007

By learning hand skills... "... they will become qualified to decide between what is good and what is bad work, and thus avoid the misfortunes which befall the ignorant and credulous through the impositions of knaves."

This quote from Otto Salomon is one that I love because it describes what happens in museums when curators know more about the classification, left brain aspects of their work than of the actual making of things. We are watching a dramatic intrusion of fantasy into the understanding of how things were traditionally done, due to the current lack of hand skills and practical experience in the general populace.

One example is the understanding of the original use of half-models in boat building which was the subject of an article I wrote for Woodwork Magazine, No. 90, December 2004 called "Making Sculpture from the Half Model". Another example was when a friend of mine invited me to stop in his antique store to examine a chair made in the "17th Century".

I picked it up to look at the inside of the seat stretcher, and noticed huge spots of rotary planer tear-out. Now if you know anything about woodworking, you would know that they didn't have power planers in the 17th century, and if it were planed by hand, there is no way that a hand plane and operator, or even a large plane pulled by a horse (they did that, too) would apply enough force to remove such large chunks. You would never plane against the grain... you would know better. When the plane meets any level of excessive resistance, you turn the wood around and plane from the other direction.

"The planing machine was one of the many wood-working devices invented by General Bentham. His first machine, patented in England in 1791, was a reciprocating machine, that is, it worked back and forth on the boards to be planed. But in 1793 he patented the rotary form, along with a great variety of other wood-working machinery.

Bramah's planer, patented in England in 1802, was about the first planing machine of the Nineteenth Century. It is known as a transverse planer, the cutters being on the lower surface of a horizontal disc, which is fixed to a vertical revolving shaft, and overhangs the board passing beneath it, the cutters revolving in a plane parallel with the upper surface of the board. The plan­ing machine of Muis, of Glasgow, patented in 1827, was designed for making boards for flooring, and presented a considerable advance in the art."

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