The Village Carpenter: The Classic Memoire of the Life of a Victorian Craftsman, by Walter Rose; Linden Publishing; 2012, paperback, 146pp.
In the ongoing battle to do everything faster and more efficiently, it’s sometimes worthwhile to stop for a moment to see how far we have come. Sit down with “The Village Carpenter,” and that’s exactly what you’ll do. This is a time capsule back to woodworking craftsmanship in the Victorian Age, and it is refreshing, eye-opening, and inspiring all at once.
Author Walter Rose, who was born in 1871, takes the reader on a journey to the English village where generations of Rose’s family have been involved with the crafts of carpentry and woodworking. This is a time and place where critical technology was knowing how to precisely sharpen and set the teeth of a handsaw, not program a CNC router. It is a time where tradesmen could be measured by the state of their tools and the skill with which they used them.
But this is not some homage to the romance of woodworking in the misty past. The focus of much of the book is on practical day-to-day woodworking. We’re not talking so much about high-end heirloom furniture as we are in crafting a window sash to work properly or sawing out planks from a log with a pit saw. There’s discussion of repair of wooden machinery and the important role the local carpentry shop played in the life of farm and village, tackling such everyday tasks as repairing gates, making ladders and animal troughs.
Originally published in 1937, this memoir has recently been faithfully reproduced and reissued by Linden Publishing.
From a business standpoint, today’s harried shop owner will be fascinated by the discussions of wages, wood costs, and common business dealings in the Victorian shop. And the woodworker with a reverence for old tools will chuckle about the talk about “new” metal manufactured planes competing with wooden smoothing and moulding planes and the like. You can just picture a spirited discussion over a pint of ale in the local pub, arguing about which sharpening stones or hand planes are superior.
There is a lot of humanity in these pages, emphasizing the human connection to craft in general and woodworking in particular. This is the kind of book to read slowly and savor like the quiet music of flattening a board with a well-tuned hand plane. Yes, there are lots faster ways to get the job done, but Rose reminds us that once there was more to the work than just work.
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