Mortise & Tenon Magazine, Issue 4
Book Review by Terry Chapman
There was always a standing joke around our house when we would see a truck with a big sign
on it that said "Baled Pine Straw, Inc." Inevitably, someone would say, wonder what they sell?
When I first saw Mortise & Tenon Magazine, I couldn't help but think about that old joke
and wonder, what is that book about? Like the pine straw from the truck, this one is about
mortises and tenons and woodworking from many years ago. As little as you think about it,
electricity for woodworking tools is only about a hundred years old. Mortise & Tenon Magazine is aimed
at those of us who treasure and appreciate those times before electricity in woodworking.
The tone of the book is a semi-academic investigation of pre-electrical, pre-industrial
woodworking. Joshua Klein, the Editor-In-Chief has an article in the current issue called The
Artisan's Guide to Pre-Industrial Table Construction. In the article, Klein starts at the
beginning of making a table with hand tools with a particular emphasis on which parts of the
process are important and which can be left to the underside of the table where very few
people will ever see them. What is good to know from this process is the efficiencies built into
the making of furniture at the time. Very few modern woodworkers have to make a living with
their craft and if something takes six months or three years, it is not a major issue. On the
other hand, if the baby needs milk and the only way to buy the milk is to deliver the finished
table, then the maker is going to be real quick to leave the inside of the rails rough planed. I know at my shop,
my habit is to go to the shop for an hour or three but seldom more at a time, and then come back several days
later. My task for any given day might be to plane all the table side rails front and back and then come back in a few
days to cut the tenons. In the time Klein is speaking to, a craftsman would work from dark to dark and have a
system worked out to maximize efficiency and workflow. If one side of a board will always be hidden,
no time will be wasted smoothing and flattening. Baby needs the milk!
All the authors in Issue #4 are well known and well qualified and the subject is furniture built with hand tools. There is a nice article on axes in the workshop, hardly the first
choice of a tool for someone looking at the latest 8" power jointer in the tool catalog. Few of us
pick up an axe first when it comes to shaping a piece of wood. We are much more likely to
head to the bandsaw or the tablesaw, but if an axe and a nice stump are in the house, and
once you learn what the axe will do, there will come a time when the axe is the first choice. It
is really surprising how much work you can do and the tolerances you can reach with a sharp
The Business of Woodworking: 1700 to 1840 by Charles Hummel, is one of those articles you
pick up when you can't sleep. You would think it is much quicker than a glass of warm milk,
but I was surprised at the information included. Hummel details what a craftsman could make
in a day and the amount of time it took to make a particular piece by hand, time frames that we
today look upon in amazement.
Peter Follansbee recommends a book entitled The Framed Houses of Massachusetts Bay,
1625-1725, a real page turner, I'm sure. When I read his article, I can see the appeal to
someone who is all about timber framing. This is important information that needs to be
preserved and I am glad someone was able and willing to do it.
Why does all this interest anyone? I mean, who cares about Traditional Timber Framing in
Romania? Well, I do. We look at old stuff like this for the same reason we do genetic testing
with something like 23andMe.com or ancestry.com We want to know where we come from.
The picture above is where I come from and why I care about stuff like this: that is my Great Grandfather
in about 1885 in the wagon and buggy shop in the back yard of my childhood home in rural Georgia. He's
the one in the middle with the leather apron.
If you too care about stuff like this, you will enjoy Mortise & Tenon Magazine. The current issue, just out,
is #4 and like the first three issues is available at Highland Woodworking. At the very least, look inside the back cover and see what a "Colophon" is, as in
"Mortise & Tenon Magazine is set in Fairfield, a contemporary typeface consciously tethered to Venetian
Old Face Tradition." That gives you a good idea of what you will find here. Highly recommended!
Find out more and purchase Mortise & Tenon Magazine, Issue 4
Terry Chapman is a Professional Engineer (Civil) and Land Surveyor who lives south of Atlanta. He has done woodworking for many years and particularly enjoys bowl turning and making Windsor Chairs. He currently works as Site Development Manager for a local affiliate of Habitat for Humanity and has one son who pastors a Church in Connecticut. You can email him at email@example.com.