Last Saturday I attended a Lie Nielsen Hand Tool Event at Hearne Hardwoods in or around Oxford PA. I’ve been to several LN events already so I know the drill. The main reason I attended was the chance to look around at Hearne, but I did purchase a new plane, for the kids. The plane I purchased is a #48 tongue and groove plane. I purchased it in good faith, because I’ve only really used it one time. It is quite the specialty tool, and in reality the type of tool that I try to avoid owning. But I like the tongue and groove joint, I use a lot of 3/4″ stock, and I hate making tongue and grooves using a table saw. No matter how hard I tried, I could never get my saw to produce a truly nice fitting joint, at least not without a whole lot of work. I believe that the #48 will eliminate the unnecessary work involved and use all of my energy the correct way. I also purchased a new dust brush, as my old brush bit the dust, no pun intended. Though attending a hand tool event is not the magical experience it used to be, getting that Lie Nielsen box in the mail doesn’t suck, and I was truly excited to open it. Now, once my bedroom remodel is finished, hopefully this weekend, I’ll mess around with the plane and share my thoughts on it.
On another note, the latest issue of Popular Woodworking magazine arrived today. I haven’t had the chance to really check it out as of yet, but I did read the editorial, the End Grain section, and an article about Peter Follansbee. Before I go any further, I would like to point out that my knowledge of Peter Follansbee begins and ends with the three page article I just read, before that, I had seen his name in passing here or there on woodworking forums. According to the article, Peter is a period furniture maker specializing in making early American furniture, as in very early American, as in 17th century. His shop is at the Plimoth Plantation, which is a living history museum/settlement in New England. All of that sounds very cool, and I can certainly respect what he is doing, as well as his woodworking abilities. However, in the article, Mr. Follansbee laments “People just don’t make anything anymore. They have no concept whatsoever of how things are made or how long it takes!”. As I said earlier, I don’t know Mr. F from Adam. He could very well be the nicest, most patient person on planet Earth, but if I’m reading the article correctly, there seems to be some resentment or bitterness towards…something.
The statement “people just don’t make anything anymore…” is a very generalized statement. He is painting with a very broad brush, as a friend of mine would say. I make things, and I understand the building and manufacturing process, as well as the shipping and marketing process. Both my father and father-in-law have the same qualities as I. The guys I work with, all guys in an office, all have an understanding of the manufacturing process, and all have some sort of hobby where they work with their hands. We are an eclectic group. My boss, along with two of my co workers, each grew up on a farm. I grew up in Philadelphia, another guy grew up in Reading PA. Two of the guys grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs, one was an Army brat who went from California to Greece to the Far East. We all come from different backgrounds, and though none of us works in a living history museum, that doesn’t mean we are completely ignorant of the building and making process. As I was saying earlier, I attended a LN hand tool event last weekend. There were many hundreds of people there who all liked to make things. Seems to me that there are more than just a few people walking around who know a little bit about what it means to make something.
If I can offer my two cents, I would say that maybe many of the people that Peter Follansbee interacts with on a daily basis at his place of employment don’t do much building. That could be the very reason they are at a living history museum in the first place, to gain a little knowledge. It would also seem to me that Mr. Follansbee understands very little about how a modern economy actually operates. When he states: “It’s been interesting to see how far we’ve moved away from making things.” he forgets his history; he forgets the switch from an agrarian to an industrial society; he forgets the Civil War, the expansion west, the First and Second World War, the influx of immigrants from the mid 19th to the mid 20th century. He forgets the fact that the ‘artisan’ life style is not sustainable on grand scale in a global market. It appears that he is chalking up those changes to laziness or stupidity. Hypothetically, if the vision of a world of ‘artisans’ existed, it is quite likely that Peter Follansbee would not even be in business. Either the competition would have driven him off, or the lack of demand for his services.
I for one am glad that people like Peter Follansbee do what they do. It is a good thing to remember how things were done long ago; it is a good thing to remember the heritage of the United States of America. Nobody can deny the woodworking skills that Mr. Follansbee has; you need look no farther than his creations; I just could do without the scolding. I could very well be misinterpreting the article. As I said before, I do not know the man at all and he very well could be the nicest person in creation. But, going by some of his other statements which were written in the article, it seems to me that he, like many woodworkers of a certain group, has a superiority complex. Peter Follansbee may be a great woodworker, but that doesn’t automatically make him a great person, or more importantly, it doesn’t make his views and assessments of mankind accurate. The fact that the average person doesn’t really understand how furniture was made in the 17th century doesn’t automatically make them ignorant fools. I can draw up, with the help of a computer program, a 1200 amp, three phase electrical service with panelboards, individual metering, feed through lugs, and it’s disconnecting systems fairly quickly. I can provide approval drawings of the transformers, where they would be located, and their safety disconnects. I do that for a living. I could ask Peter Follansbee to work up a project such as this for me and he might not know what I was talking about. Should I automatically assume that nobody knows anything about electrical work anymore? The truth is that what Peter Follansbee does for a living is a very specialized field, just like electrical planning. The other truth is that what Peter Follansbee does was also a very specialized field back in the 17th century. Just like the visitors at his museum today, a common fellow of 1687 probably didn’t do much chair carving either; that fact doesn’t make them or him useless.
Before I go, I would again like to point out that this is not a personal attack of any kind. The world truly does need more people like Peter Follansbee, but it could do without the condescending attitudes and insults. I am trying to do my best to not jump to a conclusion because I read a three page article in a magazine. I would also ask that a professional woodworker not jump to conclusions and judge people and their abilities after a brief conversation he had with them at a museum; not only would I ask it, I would expect it. If the world really could benefit from woodworking of the 17th century, maybe it also could benefit from the era’s ideals and courtesies as well. And people call me vitriolic?