The New York Times fretted last month about America “losing its toolbox” amid a “deeply troubling dilution of basic craftsmanship.” The Times claims Americans have lost their skills and interest in handcrafts. But there’s no better way to rediscover the adventure of building useful things than a timeless classic on craftsmanship, “The Village Carpenter: The Classic Memoir of the Life of a Victorian Craftsman,” reissued this month by Linden Publishing.
“The Village Carpenter” by Walter Rose brings to vivid life a time when men, not machines, created all useful everyday objects — a time when every tool and furnishing was made from materials given by nature, designed by human intelligence, and shaped by the human hand.
First published in 1937, “The Village Carpenter” is one of the best-loved books about the woodworker’s craft. This unpretentious memoir of Victorian carpentry is a superlative work of literature that perfectly captures the woodworker’s love of traditional craftsmanship.
Born in 1871, Walter Rose was the son and grandson of master carpenters, and from the age of 14 he apprenticed in his grandfather’s shop, learning traditional carpentry skills that had been handed down for generations. Writing in the 20th century of a world that had already long disappeared, Rose looks back to a time when skilled carpenters hand-made virtually everything used in the typical English village.
“The Village Carpenter” is a fascinating look at a time before power tools and mass production, when individual craftsman used simple tools and pure skill to transform raw logs into a wide variety of useful, functional and beautiful items. Full of historical detail and interest, “The Village Carpenter” is one of the last personal accounts of the English craft tradition before widespread industrialization.
Everyone interested in the history of woodworking will want to read “The Village Carpenter” for its wealth of information on the tools, techniques and tasks of the 19th-century craftsman.
Rose’s narrative includes:
—His childhood in his grandfather’s shop, where Rose learned to distinguish various types of wood by sight — “knowledge which I gained so early in life that I do not remember how or when I acquired it.”
—The typical hand carpentry tools of the 1880s, which molded to the use of each individual craftsman and had to be carefully looked after: “Ability to sharpen a hand-saw correctly is never attained without much practice and experience.”
—Details of sawpit operations and how large logs were moved and carried without power machinery.
—Typical household items made in the carpenter’s shop: “Who does not remember the joiner-made washing tray of wide yellow pine with splayed sides and ends? Every thrifty wife in our village possessed one, and almost all of them were made in our shop.”
—Farm-related woodwork tasks: “No field for miles around but had its gate that would sooner or later need repair: no farmer who did not need his new cow-cribs, sheep-troughs, or ladders.”
—Repair of wooden machinery, including watermills, windmills and even wooden pumps and plumbing, and how these complex machines that were built and repaired by men guided only by immemorial tradition.
—Detailed information on the cost of wood, wages paid to workmen and the business operations of the late 19th-century carpentry shop.
Written in a plain, dignified and eminently readable style, “The Village Carpenter” reveals Rose’s intense delicacy of feeling for human beings, nature and the pure quality and endurance of the products made by Victorian craftsman, while the book’s many vintage photographs and hand illustrations bring the past alive.
The perfect book for woodworkers, history readers and everyone who takes joy in well-made things, “The Village Carpenter” is a beautiful and deeply spiritual account of what Rose calls “the soul of wood craftsmanship — the creative instinct and ability that will, by the correct use of the tools, transform the mere plank into a thing of usefulness and beauty — possibly a joy for ever.”
Title: The Village Carpenter: The Classic Memoir of the Life of a Victorian Craftsman
Author: Walter Rose
Publisher: Linden Publishing
Publication: August 2012, $15.95 ($17.95 Canada)
Crafts & Hobbies-Woodwork / History, ISBN 978-1-61035-051-8
5½" x 8½" trade paperback, Kindle, Nook, EPUB, 146 pages, 31 vintage photographs, 11 illustrations
Available from woodworking craft supply stores, bookstores, online booksellers and Linden Publishing (1-800-345-4447, WoodworkersLibrary.com).
Source: Linden Publishing
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