Author Topic: Saw technique on period furniture  (Read 15037 times)

albreed

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Re: Saw technique on period furniture
« Reply #30 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
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Bob Mustain

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Re: Saw technique on period furniture
« Reply #31 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.

Adam Cherubini

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Re: Saw technique on period furniture
« Reply #32 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

jacon4

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Re: Saw technique on period furniture
« Reply #33 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.



Adam Cherubini

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Re: Saw technique on period furniture
« Reply #34 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.

jdavis

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Re: Saw technique on period furniture
« Reply #35 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

Adam Cherubini

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Re: Saw technique on period furniture
« Reply #36 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

jacon4

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Re: Saw technique on period furniture
« Reply #37 on: February 05, 2010, 04:57:01 AM »
WOW, nice boat, i want one!

albreed

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Re: Saw technique on period furniture
« Reply #38 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
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jacon4

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Re: Saw technique on period furniture
« Reply #39 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

 


Jeff Burks

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Re: Saw technique on period furniture
« Reply #40 on: February 20, 2010, 04:08:53 PM »
I thought I would pitch in to this discussion with a scan of an article 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.

Jeff