Furniture for the Craftsman: a manual for the student and machanic (1914)

Aug 22, 2012 by

In a million years I never would have guessed I’d find interesting a book on how to make furniture.  Previously watching paint dry would have sounded equally as exciting.  But after coming across FURNITURE FOR THE CRAFTSMAN: A MANUAL FOR THE STUDENT AND MECHANIC first published in 1914 I have to once again humbly say I was so wrong. I sit on chairs, I eat off of tables, I put my glass of water on my night table, I use furniture every day like everybody else. I also previously never gave a shiny thought about how that furniture came to me (unless it was something I bought at Ikea and had to assemble…leaving me with left over screws and a door that never quite shuts..). Anyway, FURNITURE FOR THE CRAFTSMAN: A MANUAL FOR THE STUDENT AND MECHANIC by Paul Otter has given me new appreciation into what goes into designing and creating furniture.  Never again will I take my little beautiful nightstand for granted!
Here’s a small excerpt to give you a feel for his writing: “The draw knife will again be required in removing the edges of the end pieces. The full sweep of the line from under the arms to the termination by the curve above the foot will be molded evenly on both edges to a half round. This will make a contrast to the foot, or ‘bandy leg’ below, which is rounded off from a square edge at A, Fig. 68, in an easy sweep to a shade off onto the surface at B, keeping full width of blocks at C, this work, of course, being carried out at both sides of the end. We remove the square corners of the glued-on blocks in a decided manner with the draw knife, thus reducing them in a roughly rounded condition to that of the side line. Then take a gouge and mallet and cut away the superfluous stock intervening of the glued-on blocks between A and B quite down in a slanting manner to the middle surface. With a pencil mark from top of toe a curved line illustrated in the foot, shading out at B. When such a line is to be marked for a number of pieces a pat- tern should be made of zinc, with a check or stop at B and at the floor line. This being slightly bent in conformity to the roughed- out part, the line may he marked out quickly and with accuracy. As the original sample is being constructed, this is a part of the work where the eye, and a decision as to what looks right, must be exercised. Using more care with the gouge, cut near to the line, both legs being worked away in this rough state. Continue with the spoke shave to round off the bottom portion under the marked line, almost in the same manner that a lathe would do it, shading off the rounding at B. Here we shall have to resort to a chisel, as the shave cannot be worked. This is to be followed by a coarse half-round wood rasp, using the flat side for the under part of the leg, and the round side to be brought into use on the upper and curved surfaces, where the shave and scraper will not go. Having satisfied yourself that the leg has been worked into a trim, evenly balanced form, finish with the cabinet scraper and sandpaper. If the glue joints are good, the joint should be very little in evidence. The arm, which has been fitted and scribed underneath, where it rests on the end, is now to be treated to a low round on the face, and the nose rounded off in keeping with the flowing line underneath;  then, as shown in the illustration, it is carved out underneath on the outside, shading out as it nears the back. The serpentine edge of front board is shaped off with shave and scraper; this leaves no square edges on the construction except on the back framing. A convenient holder for shaping arms, legs and other irregular parts with the spoke shave and scraper is shown in Fig. 73 of the illustrations. The outline of the wooden yoke and the length are optional. The one shown is in use for many purposes, Fig. 73.— Holder for Shaping. and consists of a 3-inch piece of stock, sawed to shape, having a long mortise in one end and a number of holes piercing it for a loose pin. A hard-wood stick, tapered and elastic, notched as shown, and provided with an extended metal prod, is adjusted in the mortise at any place desired and secured by the pin passing through it. At the other end of the yoke is a projecting, metal stop, and, as shown, underneath another hard-wood stick is recessed and secured with a loose pin, and the other end tapered to slip in the notches. The piece to be shaped is set on yoke, against the stop, with the notched stick secured in proper hole; it is then pulled forward, both ends are sharply dug into, and held in that position by the swinging stick underneath by slipping the wedge end into a notch. Having completed the shaping of all parts, the work should be carefully glued up. A temporary clamp or squeezing device may be arranged on the floor in gluing up the back framing. Three or four bar clamps are a necessity, with several smaller steel or cabinet makers’ clamps at hand to avoid any bungling in bringing the work up tight while the glue is hot. Too much cannot be said concerning the importance of having good, fresh, hot, easy flowing glue, and in real cold weather the parts well warmed when clamped together. While the trick of dragging screws over a bar of soap may be known to many carpenters, it is worth doing in all hard-wood work, as it makes them drive very easily and quickly when gluing. There is great satisfaction when all parts are united in a solid construction by good joinery and glue to run your hand over the work and feel that it has beauty combined with utility, or note, as a whole, where some part might be improved by making the line or surface easier. It is just as important for the joiner to inspect his work from a distance as the artist finds it of value to step back from his picture to note the distance effect of his painting. Arbitrary lines or detail expressed in a drawing may have to be modified by your better judgment when viewing the form complete.”   If you want to know how to build a desk this weekend, I have found just the book for you. If you also feel like being humbled a wee bit, read this and see if you can make some of this furniture you so willingly place your feet upon.  Until next time, enjoy, and Keep Reading!



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