The Society of American Period Furniture Makers

Tools and Techniques => Period design and construction => Topic started by: Allan D. Brown on October 23, 2009, 02:26:12 PM

Title: Saw technique on period furniture
Post by: Allan D. Brown on October 23, 2009, 02:26:12 PM
I primarily use handtools in making period furniture, and would like to employ historically accurate methods -- as much as I can. I recall reading an article that C Schwarz penned about the three classes of sawcuts. It was interesting, but is that how the 18th C. cabinetmakers approached sawing? My limited education in this field is primarily drawn from forums such as this, much reading and research, and the kind assistance of many of you folks. I sometimes struggle with what I'm actually trying to do -- which is build high quality QA furniture using the methods of our forefathers. I don't want to be sloppy, but neither do I want to waste time chiseling out a scribed line on a tenon shoulder if that's not how it was done originally.

I try not to obsess about tools, and make every effort to keep their number in check. I have a mix of modern handtools (Adria saws, LV router, for instance), very old ones (moulding planes, brace, etc.), and ones I've made myself (squares, gauges, hammers, etc.) so I'm not trying to be a "re-enactor" or fundamentalist when it comes to making furniture. I just want to approach it with a similar mindset: the piece is the goal -- turning it out cleanly and efficiently. Which handtools are used in the process is of far less consequence to me. And using them in a fashion that seeks far too much accuracy is a pitfall I want to avoid.

Your thoughts and ideas are much appreciated.
Allan
Title: Re: Saw technique on period furniture
Post by: albreed on October 24, 2009, 03:51:39 AM
Allan- I'm not exactly sure what your question is,but I think you're striving for the same thing I am- to be authentic but not apply 21st century values of perfection on an 18th century trade.
The best way to educate yourself as to what's appropriate is to look at as much early stuff as you can and play the detective. Tool marks are the evidence for what was done and you need to make sense of them using your knowledge of the craft and the tracks they leave.
Oversaw on the inside of a draw is a good example of the approach many of the early makers took to their work: spend time on the primary surfaces and be practical about the others in order to save time. Many people think they had a lot of time to do things because life was less hectic in the " old days". A lot of this is probably the result of Colonial revival romanticism, and anyone who has read diaries from the period knows this is nonsense. Time is and was money, so any shortcut was used to advantage. I won't go on since I may have missed the object of your question and i haven't seen the article you referenced. Am i on the right track?-Al
Title: Re: Saw technique on period furniture
Post by: Allan D. Brown on October 24, 2009, 09:47:33 AM
Thanks, Al. And you correctly interpreted my poorly-worded question. The magazine article illustrated three types of handsaw cuts one could use depending on the type of joint to be cut. For instance, to get a flush fit at an apron/leg post, one should prepare to saw the tenon shoulder by first deepening the scribe line with a chisel and then create a shoulder by paring a tiny bit off the waste side of the scribe line. This creates a ledge for the saw to ride against, and insures the shoulder is flat. It does make for a nice fit, but takes more time. I wonder if that's how the old craftsman did it.

That being said, I wish I had the opportunity to examine various pieces up close. I have to content myself with images from books and the internet, and advice from other authorities such as yourself. The Texas panhandle isn't exactly full of 18th C furniture.

I would like to build representative pieces with some semblance of speed, and not get bogged down with trying to achieve an impractical level of accuracy. How in the world did the old masters manage to create what they did without having industry/magazine hacks pushing the latest/sharpest/fanciest tool without which their craft would suffer?

Thanks for taking the time to help with this, Al.
Allan
Title: Re: Saw technique on period furniture
Post by: mikemcgrail on October 24, 2009, 11:25:03 AM
Oversaw on the inside of the drawer. For almost 20 years I have sawed my dovetails with oversaw on the inside of the draw front because it was the way I was taught. I always look for this in how-to articles written here and there, but don't recall ever seeing it described. Since the fellow who taught me was more or less self-taught and living in rural western ky, I have always worried that maybe the oversaw was not present on the really fine pieces. He did have bits and pieces of period draws to show me; since his passing and reading the modern literature, I always wonder if he was correct. He had me sawing past the line on the half-blind tails 3/16 inch or so to aid chopping those inside corners. No need to saw long on the inside of the draw sides boy, just sloppy there. Of course, even over-sawing 1/4 to 3/16 doesn't get all the way back to the bottom of the half-pin(if that's a word). For that, he taught me use sort fo a stabbing chop with an 1/8 chisel in the corners.
You can dovetail in a hurry like that. A  hole bored in the waste "chunk" makes a  nice place for the waste to go when chopping. I think a narrow pin size actually makes cutting the tails quicker. The narrow pins in a hard wood like walnut (I think) act about like steel nails when going into a nice piece of softer poplar. You can cut 'em tight pretty fast.
Perhaps this is wrong. It is just the way I was taught.
I am pretty sure the oversaw does not weaken them in a significant way since-
I tried taking one apart one day. Didn't like the wood chosen for the drawer front. Boiled it in hot water with a little vinegar for about an hour. Got tired of swinging the rubber hammer. Easier just to make whole new drawers.
Like I say, perhaps this is wrong, just the way I was taught.
Title: Re: Saw technique on period furniture
Post by: Tom M on October 24, 2009, 12:02:47 PM
I've been on a couple tours with Olde Mill (Winterthur, PMA), and when we've looked at drawers I don't recall NOT seeing the dovetails over-cut .  The tours mainly highlighted PA furniture.  There is a picture in the Keno book of a Newport piece showing slight over-cutting of the dovetails (page 78).  So it was certainly done this way in the 18th century.  How frequently it was done or in what regions I'll leave to the experts to argue.  This is the way I was taught, and seeing it for the first time on a piece at the PMA was very exciting.

The Olde Mill class was a card table, and the day before the class started Bess had arranged a tour of PMA with David DeMuzio (curator) and Gene Landon (teacher).  PMA allowed a similar card table to be viewed in great detail - complete with flipping it over so we could see the underside. I recall Gene specifically pointing out the overcut dovetails on the frame and drawer and telling us we should all do it this way.  If Bess offers any more tours, try and get on one.

Tom
Title: Re: Saw technique on period furniture
Post by: msiemsen on October 24, 2009, 04:49:39 PM
Allen,
My advice, as to sawing, is to cut as close to the line as you can without removing too much material. This takes practice. Always try to get your joints to fit right off the saw. If they are too tight then use a plane or chisel to get them to fit properly. You will find with practice that you will need to remove less and less material to tune the fit of your joints.  Learn and develop efficient ways of working, go slower at first and develop accuracy, then work on speed. Find ways to gang cut your drawer sides, I cut all the same side of the tails first so I don't have to change the angle that I hold my saw at after every cut. You will find that reading doesn't improve your skill as much as practice, talking improves them even less. Stop reading this and go out and practice.
Mike
Title: Re: Saw technique on period furniture
Post by: albreed on October 24, 2009, 05:50:08 PM
Mike and others- There's no right way, but for me the right way is the fast way as long as the work is neat and fits. Most DT's were oversawn because it's faster. Finer federal stuff is not oversawn as often. Dovetailing is a means to an end and not an end in itself for me. I don't measure or make layout lines for the angle of the tails or the vertical lines to the edge of the parts. I lay out the pins with my chisel(s) and start sawing because this is the fast way for me. I recently cut and fit all the dt's for a large box ( a highboy top) by hand in 2hrs. I don't know where that is on the speed graph, but I felt it was about as fast as I can go.-Al
Title: Re: Saw technique on period furniture
Post by: mikemcgrail on October 24, 2009, 09:32:14 PM
  I do also recall seeing lock mortises oversawn, also, but I do remember my mentor just calling that sloppy.
I have an early 19th century mahogany english table we use in the kitchen, I know even the  hinges for the drop leaf mortises are over sawn. Really, though, that seems sort of sloppy too since it can all be done with chisel-they must have really been in a hurry. I think it shows that these guys were under some pressure to produce-a job, to get paid. There are a bunch of these old mahogany tables like this.
 Al, sounds pretty quick. 4 corners, maybe 45-60 pins,plus tails. Seems fairly fast. Wonder what they would have thought 200 yrs ago?
Title: Re: Saw technique on period furniture
Post by: Allan D. Brown on October 24, 2009, 09:37:07 PM
Mike, Mike, Al, et al.
I agree with the benefit of practice. I have no trouble sawing to a line -- and quickly -- and my tenons fit very well with only a minor shave or two. Dovetails, too, aren't a problem for me. I guess my original question lies more along the lines of how our ancestors work...a perennial question indeed. I know that I enjoy the work, and while doing it, can't help but wonder how someone 250 years ago would have accomplished the same task. I've given up reading on other forums...and several magazines, simply because they are littered with posts concerning tools...the latest, greatest gadgets and how to use them. I just want to build stuff, and with the fewest tools I can.

Thanks for your comments!
Allan
Title: Re: Saw technique on period furniture
Post by: dkeller_nc on October 25, 2009, 02:05:42 PM
Allan - Here's one item that I don't see discussed in magazines much.  I've taken apart my share of furniture from the age of handwork for repair - from colonial to 1830's or 40's or so.  When I examine the rails on these pieces of furniture, the ends of the tenons are almost always quite rough, with some still showing the distinctive marks of a rough cross-cut saw.

When one reads some of the modern descriptions of hand-cutting m&T joints, the shoulders on the tenon are almost always laid out with a gauge working from the end-grain.  Clearly, you have to have a square, fairly smooth end on the rail board to make this work.  Yet almost none of the tenons I've taken out of their mortises on old furniture show this refinement.

So, this leads one to a conclusion about how M&T were made a couple of hundred years ago.  Plaing end grain is fairly difficult with a wooden miter plane, and spiffy metal miter planes were at least 50 years away, and mostly stayed in London for the 50 years after that.  So failing a nice, square, highly precise end on the rail to scribe a shoulder line in reference to, one can use the alternate method, which is to measure and lay out the shoulders based on a center measurement of the desired rail length rather than the overall length of the piece.

By doing this, you don't really have to have a precision cut on the two ends of the rail, nor do you have to plane this end grain.  And rough-cutting the rail to length then measuring precisely between the two shoulder lines to establish the rail length is far, far faster.

There's one curious outcome of this thought exercise - you really can't do this very well without a folding rule.  A tape measure just wants to flop over, and it's tough to hold the thing flat to get a good measurement.  Because a folding rule is self-standing, though, it's really easy to mark the desired shoulder-to-shoulder dimension with a strike knife.

Funny how the tools available often set the work methods....
Title: Re: Saw technique on period furniture
Post by: frangallo on October 25, 2009, 07:10:23 PM
Now for my two cents. If you make a square jig that can be clamped to the face of a piece to be shouldered for a tenon, with the block against one face, you can quickly make a square cut and leave a reasonably clean line. After you make the cut, if you have found you were off a bit, the jig can be used to guide a chisel to clean up the errant saw cut. Quick and simple. If you drag a knife against the jig you can create a nice clean line as well, but I don't know if this was the practice of the 18th century cabinet maker. I would imagine that there were a lot of these kinds of jigs around the olde shoppe though. I can imagine there were only one or two decent squares in the average shop, Starrett having come to the surface much later.
A question: When did cabinet makers stop using nails and glue for drawer construction and start dovetailing? I have heard a lot of conflicting information on this.
Fran
Title: Re: Saw technique on period furniture
Post by: msiemsen on October 25, 2009, 08:16:34 PM
Fran, even though you are kind of stealing the thread about sawing I will give this answer, dovetails have been in use for over 4000 years, I saw someone nail a drawer together yesterday.
Mike
Title: Re: Saw technique on period furniture
Post by: frangallo on October 25, 2009, 08:39:43 PM
So, Mike, when did dovetails become the standard for drawer and carcasse construction in America. In my ignorance I have been assuming that dovetailing came on the scene sometime during the early 19th century and wasn't really common until the latter half of the century. While I am a fairly serious student of period furniture, I openly admit that my eyes rather glaze over when discussions of these particulars manifest themselves.
Fran
Title: Re: Saw technique on period furniture
Post by: msiemsen on October 25, 2009, 09:38:32 PM
Fran,
I think that others will find this interesting and have something to add. Let's start a new thread. I named it  history of dovetails.
Mike
Title: Re: Saw technique on period furniture
Post by: Allan D. Brown on October 25, 2009, 11:51:09 PM
David - An interesting observation...and one that really goes to the heart of my original question. I've recently been building two Hepplewhite-style lamp stands. When I laid out the rails, I did exactly what you observed...mostly because I didn't know any better, and because my desired end result was the shoulder-to-shoulder dimension. I laid out the length with a rule and scribed the shoulder lines with a square. I didn't care about the tenons, only leaving enough extra material at the ends to cut them off allowing for the necessary (approximate) tenon length (and they weren't square). I marked the tenon width on the rough edge, and sawed accordingly. i am curious, however, if your observations yielded any further insight as to how the shoulder cuts were made, i.e. if the early makers might have chiseled to the waste side of the scribe line in order to make a more smooth saw cut. I somehow doubt it. All of this reinforces my belief that our modern approach with hand tools is influenced to a large degree by writers and manufacturers who lead us to believe that success is achieved by purchasing the latest/greatest tool and/or achieving a measure of accuracy equal to that of machines/jigs, etc.

I've often thought about making a piece with only the bare minimum of tools just to see how that might push my creativity. As I mentioned before, I'm moving beyond the cult of the "tool" and simply enjoying the process of making less-than-perfect furniture.

Thanks,
Allan
Title: Re: Saw technique on period furniture
Post by: albreed on October 26, 2009, 05:25:57 AM
Allan- the cult of the tool is definitely a barrier in understanding how things were done. I'm a minimalist, myself.
I also have seen tenon shoulders sawn and others cleaned up with a chisel. In chair construction I'm sure they had jigs to reproduce parts without marking. I think a lot of tenons were cut with a mitre box at 90 degrees using a stop to determine tenon length. If you cut both shoulders at once, as in a stetcher on a Chipp chair, you wouldn't have to determine tenon length until assembly, just fasten the piece down and cut the shoulders, and many of these chairs have single-shouldered tenons.-Al
Title: Re: Saw technique on period furniture
Post by: dkeller_nc on October 29, 2009, 11:30:49 PM
"i am curious, however, if your observations yielded any further insight as to how the shoulder cuts were made, i.e. if the early makers might have chiseled to the waste side of the scribe line in order to make a more smooth saw cut. I somehow doubt it. All of this reinforces my belief that our modern approach with hand tools is influenced to a large degree by writers and manufacturers who lead us to believe that success is achieved by purchasing the latest/greatest tool and/or achieving a measure of accuracy equal to that of machines/jigs, etc."

Allan - I haven't noticed any chisel cuts to widen a marked line, but then again I wasn't looking all that closely.  One thing I can tell you is that from my experience taking apart early pieces (1760s or before), there were lots and lots of indications that the object was to get the piece together as quickly as possible, and concentrate the effort on the exterior of the piece.  That doesn't mean that the pieces were made in an unsound manner, just that the interiors are often rough - very rough.  The Federal pieces I've taken apart have been just the opposite - the interiors were highly refined, particularly on the undersurface of tops and the exteriors of drawers.

And, I really don't think the modern teaching is driven by "the cult of the tool" or manufacturers, per se, it's driven by woodworkers themselves that think it's desirable to put film finishes on the insides of case work, and expect factory uniformity and finish on the interior parts of casework.  Modern teachers like Rob Cosman and others are simply responding to their customer's expectations.
Title: Re: Saw technique on period furniture
Post by: albreed on October 30, 2009, 06:52:26 AM
David- I'm with you on primary vs secondary surfaces in period construction. I have a rant on "degree of perfection" that I won't do, but basically it follows what you said about spiffing up insides, bottoms of chairs, etc. If you really want to work like the period guys you can't apply 21st century ideas of perfection on 18th c. work. Like David, I've taken apart dozens of early pieces,and what you find is evidence of speed, which is a natural result of efficiency. I even x-rayed the first chair I copied in 1977 and found a really rough mortise and tenon on the inside, but the exterior was perfect. 17th c. stuff is finished to a different degree than Federal stuff, and the most memorably bad reproductions that I've seen over the years didn't lack good workmanship but did fail to understand this important difference in degrees of perfection and perfected the life out of an earlier aesthetic. Just because we have the technology doesn't mean we have to use it all the time.-Al
Title: Re: Saw technique on period furniture
Post by: dkeller_nc on October 31, 2009, 10:17:52 AM
Yeah - that's partly why I blanch a little bit on the argument that "If John Goddard had access to a router and sandpaper, he'd have used it" as an argument to use modern techniques to reproduce furniture from the age of handwork.  I don't look down on using modern methods to reproduce pieces, but I also don't view a repro made by modern means to be equivalent to one made with the original methods. 

Many of the discussions on 'net boards about "my dovetails aren't picture-perfect, what am I doing wrong?" are, in this context, irrelevant, and generate a lot of angst needlessly.
Title: Re: Saw technique on period furniture
Post by: Bob Rozaieski on November 02, 2009, 12:06:23 PM
I think practices were probably mixed depending on how and where the makers were trained. Looking through Moxon (late 1600s, early 1700s), it sounds like they didn't even saw to the line but sawed fat and pared to the line:

"Then with the Tennant, saw a little without the struck line towards the end. You must not saw just upon the struck line, because the saw cuts rough. Besides, you must leave some stuff to pare away smooth to the struck line, that the stile (that is, the upright quarter) may make a close joint with the rail (that is) the lower quarter."

However, in Nicholson's (about 130 years after Moxon) description of the "Drawing Knife" (not to be confused with what we call the drawknife today), it sounds like he did make a relief cut at the shoulder before sawing:

"Is an oblique ended chisel, or old knife, for drawing in the ends of tenons, by making a deep incision with the sharp edge, by the edge of the tongue of a square: for this purpose, a small part is cut out in the form of a triangular prism, and consequently the hollow will contain one interior angle and two sides, one side next the body of the wood being perpendicular, and the other inclined. The use of this excavation is to enter the saw, and keep it close to the shoulder, and to make the end of the rail quite smooth, for the saw will not only be liable to get out of its coures into a new direction, but may tear and scratch the wood at the shoulder."

While these two references were written over 100 years apart (and while Moxon himself wasn't a joiner but a chronicler of the trades), I don't think we can definitively say that it was done during one period and not during another. I think it was more than likely just two different methods of work by two different masters, similar to how things are done today (e.g. one shop makes mortises with a router and one with a hollow chisel mortiser; one makes tenons with a tenon cutting jig, another with a dado stack).

I don't think there was a single way of doing things 250 years ago any more than there is today. In fact, there may have been even more variation as the sharing of information between regions would have been more difficult with only quill and ink or word of mouth as modes of communication.
Title: Re: Saw technique on period furniture
Post by: RenaissanceWW on January 18, 2010, 04:35:43 PM
Regarding oversaw on half blind dovetails.  It has always been my understanding that this was a particular trait of English cabinetmakers, while the Germans and Continentals stopped at the scribe lines.  That may explain why a lot of the stuff you see in central PA have no overcutting since there was a large German influence, while the Philly area the over cut is more prevalent.  I have read this before and remember Chuck Bender talking about it last time I was in his shop.
Title: Re: Saw technique on period furniture
Post by: jacon4 on January 31, 2010, 06:08:06 AM
"So, Mike, when did dovetails become the standard for drawer and carcasse construction in America"

I say during the William & Mary era, say 1700-1730. Prior to that, most furniture was made by joiners from riven (split) stock and drawers were side hung. The pit saw really killed the deal for joiners as furniture makers in America and opened the door for cabinetmakers with dovetailed construction, not only for drawers but the case as well.

Here is how Wallace Nutting decribes the change that took place at the beginning of the 18th century, his bias in favor of joined pilgrim/riven oak construction shows but he makes some valid points.

"There was no advance made by 18th century cabinetmakers, when they abandoned the scheme of frame and panel universal in the 17th century. Particularly in the great highboys and secretaries, the wide ends split. How could it have been thought possible, in a glued-up surface twenty-seven inches wide, that anything else would happen? The scheme of dovetailing everything was good, but the abandoning of panels was very unfortunate. The scheme was really the adoption of the board construction scorned in the 17th century. The consequence is today that large mahogany surfaces go to pieces, whereas the old oak goes on forever"
Title: Re: Saw technique on period furniture
Post by: albreed on January 31, 2010, 08:21:01 AM
Dovetailed draws were actually being used frequently in the 17th century, although they were still in paneled cases, and Nutting is certainly correct about the durability of wainscott construction.
I may have missed your point, but I don't think pitsawing had much to do with the success or failure of joiners. There wasn't much pitsawing done in the colonies. I think even the Fairbanks house has watersawn floor joists. Maybe Follansbee will weigh in on this-Al
Title: Re: Saw technique on period furniture
Post by: jacon4 on January 31, 2010, 09:17:20 AM
Al,
According to my information, pitsaws were the main industrial tool of 18th century america, indeed, pit sawers were one of most highly paid trades of the day. Although water powered saws were available in urban settings, unless one was within a very short distance, it was much easier to dig a pit and employ sawers to mill boards from logs.

"In early English North America, the pit saw was one of the principal industrial tools. It was a two-man saw (generally) operated over a pit across which the logs to be cut into boards were mounted. The saw was "a strong steel cutting-plate, of great breadth, with large teeth, highly polished and thoroughly wrought, some eight or ten feet in length" (Upham Hist. of Salem v1, p 191) with a handle on either end. The pit saw took at least two men to operate. One stood in the pit - the pitman, who was responsible for raising the saw on the backstroke - and the other was above - the sawyer, responsible for guiding the cut. The workers at a pit saw were some of the best paid in early colonial North America."


Although dovetails have been round for thousands of years ,generally speaking, they really were not  employed in furniture making until 18th century boarded construction
Title: Re: Saw technique on period furniture
Post by: jacon4 on January 31, 2010, 10:11:41 AM
And so, according to this narrative, the golden age of cabinetmakers began, william & mary, queen anne, chippendale, hepplewhite/sheraton. At that point a saw comes into play again, the circular saw, some say invented by Tabitha Babbitt in 1813, a sister in the harvard mass Shaker community.
When the circular saw met steam power around 1850, the age of hand made furniture in america ended. It was a brief 150 years, much shorter than the joiners dominance however, a spectacular period that still inspires today.
Title: Re: Saw technique on period furniture
Post by: Jeff L Headley on January 31, 2010, 03:16:25 PM
Pit saws! I would consider this to be one of the most direct connection to slavery in the American furniture trade other than the actual harvesting of lumber. I would think to believe otherwise would be quite naive.
Title: Re: Saw technique on period furniture
Post by: Follansbee on January 31, 2010, 07:56:16 PM
Did someone mention my name?
I saw parts of this thread, it has now wiggled quite a ways; but that’s the nature of these things. I do have a few comments. I believe that DTs did become common for case work in the late 17th/early 18th centuries…but that’s really outta my realm.

To say that prior to that most furniture was made of riven stock is a simplification. The joined work made in New England mostly used riven oak as its primary wood, but the most common secondary wood was millsawn white pine. Sawmills were operating in New England as early as 1634 or 35 in what is now Portsmouth, NH if I recall correctly. Certainly they were common in most Massachusetts towns by the late 1630s…sawing white pine boards mostly, although we do see some millsawn oak boards now & then in the furniture.

Pit sawing had little to do with New England furniture; it did play in house carpentry and particularly ship carpentry. I can count on one hand the number of documented pieces of 17th NE furniture that exhibit evidence of pitsawn surfaces. And have fingers left over.

For Nutting to say “…board construction scorned in the 17th century” is the most pinheaded thing I’ve read of his in a while. But he was a master at the pinheaded comment. ALL joiners, and many carpenters of the 17th century, either in New or Old England used boarded construction, in some cases, more than joined work. It’s just that their boarded work was nailed together, rather than dovetailed. In England these boxes & chests were almost always pitsawn oak. In New England the so-called “six-board” chests were millsawn white pine. cheap, therefore more common than joined work. They were/are ubiquitous.

For pitsawyers to be highly paid is quite a stretch, unless something happened in the eighteenth century very different from the seventeenth. Pitsawyers were pretty lowly workmen. Crucial, yet low-status for sure. So that history that James was quoting is bunk, says me. (sorry, James) – and the pitman doesn’t raise the saw on the backstroke, he pulls down to make the cut. The top man brings the saw up. Everyone always pictures the pit to be, well, the pits. I have done it a lot. I like the bottom much more than the top. To bring that saw up over your head requires great strength, and you are also balancing on an increasingly tenuous piece of timber. and walking backwards. The pitman has both feet on the ground, and is using gravity to aid him, and moving forwards.  The sawdust only gets to you when the wind blows wrong, down into the pit.

Have any of the 18th c  folks found evidence of pitsawn surfaces on furniture? Seems weird to me.  There, I’ve caused enough trouble tonight.
Title: Re: Saw technique on period furniture
Post by: Adam Cherubini on February 01, 2010, 03:08:18 AM
Peter,

Glad to hear someone else is name dropping you.  I was starting to feel like a stalker!

I've seen pit saw marks on some case Philadelphia pieces.  I've seen them on the undersides of Goddard and Townsend stuff (at that exhibit in the Met a few years back).  I've also seen rive marks on drawer components.  These marks seem to be more prevalent on New England furniture than London or Philadelphia pieces, at least the samples I have seen.

I'm not sure what Allan's original question was.  He was referring to a Schwarz article where Chris was outlining different strategies for efficient sawing.  It seemed logical to me, but I don't see how to attribute the same sentiment to early craftsmen.  And that wasn't Schwarz' intent as far as I could tell.  

My advice to Allan is to do what I think he is already doing- try building without power tools first, and see what you come up with.  In my experience, saws and sawing became the important tools and skills, not planes.  

I like Al Breed's discussion of the cult of tool.  I think I may disagree as I understand him.  For you Peter, I've seen the sorts of saws you use.  I was really hoping I could make you some more accurate saws before I closed shop.  I was wondering if early 17th c saws would have some profound effect on your work.  I even looked into the mech properties of hardened wrought iron (the material I think they used for saws then).  I was looking for a cheap substitute with similar properties.  

That said, we have saws that are copies from Moxon in Pennsbury Manor.  Our saws are steel.    One of my favorites is a saw we call "the bread knife" (you probably know the one from Moxon).  It looks improbable, but works fine.  We've quickly learned how to use it just about as well as a back saw.  So maybe Al Breed is right.  Maybe the focus on tools can cause us to loose sight of the work.  A good craftsman can make anything work.

On sawyers wages, I did some math using the Head account.  I figured when guys entered 2500 feet of board, we could approximate those boards as having an average width of 12" and calculate the cost per bd ft (assuming 1" thick pieces).  What I found was that 2500 feet of one species was generally equal to 3500 feet of another, when divided by the number of feet.  Said differently, the Head account had very similar "per foot" prices for different species.  Accounts from other sources seem to gravitate around the 1d/ft (or a little less) figure for sawn stuff.  Using my $1000/L1 conversion, that put their lumber abour the same price as ours $2-4/bdft.

I then calculated how many feet would need to be sawn by 2 men for each to make 5s/day.  (5s/day seemed to be the standard wage for Philadelphia journeymen almost throughout the 18th c).  I believe the answer was 350 linear feet.  I asked Underhill and Teb Boscana and Garland Wood.  I think it was possible to saw that much, if everything was prepared and ready.  But that isn't real life.  As a result, the prices in the Head account, as I figured it, would have made it hard for a sawyer to earn 5s/day.

Adam
Title: Re: Saw technique on period furniture
Post by: jacon4 on February 01, 2010, 05:55:38 AM
Good Discussion!
So they cheated the pitsawyers on their wages huh, dang, i hate that considering the work involved. Of the 18th century pieces i have examined or collected over the years i have seen both pitsaw & the more vertical sawmill marks however what i mostly see are plane marks on the interior/backs of pieces. It seems they didnt bother with smoother type planes much on the interiors or backs of pieces.

Gee Wiz Peter, easy on the old man (nutting), i realize he got alot of stuff wrong but as far as wide single board dovetail construction splitting, he was correct. Of the 4 pieces of 18th century furniture i have now, every one of them built that way has a split/crack in them, either on the top or side of the case.

Title: Re: Saw technique on period furniture
Post by: jacon4 on February 01, 2010, 07:01:18 AM
Speaking of Christopher Schwarz, i have never seen him post here, how come? I just finished reading his latest book "The Joiner & Cabinet Maker", a really well done account of wood working in early 19th century England. Very enjoyable read.
Title: Re: Saw technique on period furniture
Post by: albreed on February 01, 2010, 07:34:53 AM
Thanks for the input, Peter.
I've looked at a lot of period stuff and seen only a few instances of pit sawing. I have seen some shop-resawn stock, however, where it was evident that they needed some thin stuff and just ripped it. I've seen this on the backboards of a Townsend three draw chest as well as in several pieces from Colchester, Conn. These resawn pieces have fine kerf patterns, as opposed to the rough pit saw marks.
Where I sit now is a mile from the Great Works River, one of the first waterpower sites in the colonies. As Peter pointed out, there were saw mills very early on. In the Piscataqua river area of southern NH and Maine there were at least 40 sites by 1660, if I remember correctly from an article by Richard Candee on waterpower in the region from years ago.
In England there was a lack of lumber and a bunch of sawyers. The sawyers actually burnt down a power sawmill because it put sawyers out of work. Here it was the opposite problem which is why you see little pit sawing except far from the population centers.-Al
Title: Re: Saw technique on period furniture
Post by: Bob Mustain on February 01, 2010, 10:53:21 AM
I love these threads, even when, or perhaps especially when they wander.  I don't have a lot to add but I would comment on Adam's comments on wages.  It is extremely difficult to compare wages and currencies over centuries.  A sawyer's wage may certainly have been very low, but it had to be enough to survive on--or there would have been no sawyers except where slavery reduced the cost of labor and made job mobility impossible.  Once you have mills and transportation, pit sawing rapidly disappears, except when it is impossible to move the logs to the mill and sawing has to be done before the lumber is moved or on a construction site.  What is truly remarkable is the initiative and ingenuity that created the machine alternatives to this kind of labor in some parts of the world and led to progress in so many fields.
Title: Re: Saw technique on period furniture
Post by: Adam Cherubini on February 03, 2010, 07:12:30 AM
My understanding is that powered saw mills were used in the colonies because of labor shortages/high prices for skilled labor.

On comparing wages with folks living hundreds of years ago, it's too true that this is unscientific and hinky.  But if you try my $1000/L1 you will find it extraordinarily robust.

Likewise, my analogy, 18th c cabinetmakers were similar to modern auto mechanics is also instructive.  It seems there are more similarities than differences. 

Adam
Title: Re: Saw technique on period furniture
Post by: jacon4 on February 04, 2010, 03:44:15 AM
Well, according to my info, pitsaws were used to mill logs into lumber when building the Capitol building in Wash DC
http://uschscapitolhistory.uschs.org/articles/uschs_dome-03.htm

Ditto the Univ of Va, according to Frank Grizzard"18. Water-powered saw mills, for instance, were only beginning to find their way into the Virginia Piedmont; hence much of the hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of feet of raw lumber used in the building of the university was sawed by hand, in a pit-saw, by two-men crews. It was dirty, hard, time-consuming work. Wages for workmen were always low, and for slaves lower still (see appendix B). "
http://etext.virginia.edu/jefferson/grizzard/intronote.html

To me though, all this is back & forth over wages, pitsaw VS water powered saw is kind of irrelevant, the important point is the SAW. Whether powered by 2 men, water or windmill, poorly paid or highly paid, at the end of the day it's the advance & availability of these saws ( which were basically all the same technology, no matter how powered)  that mattered.


Title: Re: Saw technique on period furniture
Post by: Adam Cherubini on February 04, 2010, 07:19:09 AM
Mount Pleasant (built c1760) appears to have mechanically sawn timber in it.  It's possible (evidence suggests*) water powered mills were in use in the early 18th c in the Delaware Valley.  I would assume powered saw operations would be concentrated in high population areas.  Wouldn't think 18th c Virginia, or early 19th c Washington DC would fit that definition.

I agree that the saws were important.  Along that vein, of particular interest to us may also be the quality of the lumber they produced.  Unlike modern lumber producers, pit sawyers could follow the grain of the wood.  In fact, it's easier for them to do so.  The resulting lumber would be more stable.  The samples I've seen from Williamsburg indicate that pit saw teams could produce dimensionally accurate lumber.  The surface qualities seem to rival some band sawn stock I've seen.

Adam
* In the account book of John Head, Head purchased lumber (actually, I think he paid for the lumber to be sawn) from a sawyer in Burlington City NJ, approx 25 miles up river from Philadelphia.  He also paid for "horlen" (hauling) the lumber to and fro.

We know there was at least one water powered saw mill in Burlington City along the river bank in the 18th c.  What I've never seen is how old it was.  Some folks have suggested Head sent his timber to Burlington specifically to access the powered mill, which may have been cheaper or produced material of higher quality.  Pit saw operations along Philly's river bank are documented in Head's time, so it's not like the Burlington site was the closest. 

It's also possible Head was patronizing fellow Quakers.  Many Quakers lived in Burlington.  The early 18th c  meeting still stands in High Street in there.  It's possible the journey was inconsequential.  The tide must be a good 3 knots.  I recall jumping off the bow of an anchored Cherubini 44 as a child http://www.cherubiniyachts.com/44_gallery.html and surfacing at the stern!  I can imagine it may have been easy to barge lumber on the river.
Title: Re: Saw technique on period furniture
Post by: jdavis on February 05, 2010, 01:20:31 AM
In Instruments of Change by the NH Historical Society, its noted that water-powered saw mills were being built in 1633 on the Piscataqua, near Al Breeds school, and by 1700, more than 60 had been built nearby. Between 1718-1719, over a million feet of lumber was produced. It would take a lot of pitsaws to keep up with that production.

 From 1770-1775, over 1000 vessels left the Piscataqua for the West Indies, Europe and Africa, carrying 74 million bd ft of pine.

I would imagine that some of that lumber made it up the harbors into Phila, Wash DC, Baltimore, and maybe up river to Richmond. They probably sought to trade lumber for cheese steaks, bribery, inlays, and tobacco, in those respective regions. Well maybe not but its logical that good millsawn NH pine could have made it into regions that didn't have mills.

John
Title: Re: Saw technique on period furniture
Post by: Adam Cherubini on February 05, 2010, 02:41:15 AM
"I would imagine that some of that lumber made it up the harbors into Phila, ... They probably sought to trade lumber for cheese steaks,"

HAH! Thanks for the laugh, John!  I needed that.

Adam
Title: Re: Saw technique on period furniture
Post by: jacon4 on February 05, 2010, 04:57:01 AM
WOW, nice boat, i want one!
Title: Re: Saw technique on period furniture
Post by: albreed on February 05, 2010, 06:18:53 AM
John- Thanks for those stats on sawmills.
Remember that sawn pine boards were one, if not the, major export from the NE colonies in the early years.
If they used colonial boards in England for cabinet work, there's no reason why it wasn't, as John pointed out, sent throughput the colonies.-Al
Title: Re: Saw technique on period furniture
Post by: jacon4 on February 20, 2010, 01:19:38 PM
 I would agree that NH & Maine had many sawmills operating during the 18th c however i dont think that this was the case for most of the colonies. Most colonies did not have vast white pine forests nor contracts from the british navy to develop them.

While its true that this white pine was exported to other colonies, i doubt it made its way inland very much as the road transportation system in america during this period was primative and expensive. According to E Milton Burton "Overland transportation in the eight- eenth and early nineteenth centuries was slow and laborious. On land the usual method was by cart. Only a few logs, even if squared, could be loaded upon a single cart and at best the cart was capable of
traveling only a few miles a day. Even at low wages the cost of transportation must
have been considerable. Therefore, the cabinet-maker used the wood that grew
nearest to him and was most suited to his needs.

In 1740 mahogany was being brought into the port of Charleston in such quantities that the duty on it was repealed. At that time the Commons House of Assembly stated that "it was not the In-
tention of this House to lay a Duty on Mahogany Plank . . . And that the Public Treasurer of the Province do not demand or take any Duty for the same." 3 The duty had been 20 per 100 value. It was cheaper to transport a mahogany log by water from some island in the West Indies than it was to haul a log of some native wood a few miles by cart."

Here is a link to entire article http://www.archive.org/stream/charlestonfurnit006076mbp/charlestonfurnit006076mbp_djvu.txt

 

Title: Re: Saw technique on period furniture
Post by: Jeff Burks on February 20, 2010, 04:08:53 PM
I thought I would pitch in to this discussion with a scan of an article (http://www.carpentryarchive.org/files/50years.pdf) from The National Builder (Jan 1914), which tells the experiences of a man who became an apprentice carpenter in rural New Jersey during the year 1850. Even at this late date the amount of hand work drudgery that was being done in the building trades is quite staggering. He is sure to mention the prevalence of pit sawn lumber still being used at the time.

And just for fun here is a photograph of a 19th century lumber delivery (http://www.carpentryarchive.org/files/lumberwagon.jpg).

Jeff