Document 24: Paul D Otter on "Mechanic", "Cabinetmaker", Craftsman", "Carpenter" 1923

Note to Readers: Layout of chapters is still in flux. Each chapter's narrative is "in progress", and, chapter-by-chapter, will be uploaded as parts are completed. My experience writing books published in paper only translates so far when it comes to writing an "online" book. For me, at least, the change in format, especially the idea of being confronted by a video screen of text and images, rather than physical pages of text and images, requires learning anew a host of techniques that applies in traditional publishing. The saving grace of digitized publishing is, however, that unlike the paper format, nothing is carved in stone. With the digitized format, numerous variations in style, organization, and so forth, can be tried, until arriving at what seems like a reasonable, fairly attractive set of results. Read More

Opening paragraphs of chapter III of Paul D. Otter's Furniture for the Craftsman 1914 and 1923, pages 67 and 68

(I posted this fragment by Otter 4-26-07, but have been thinking about it/him for some time, largely because his woodworker's manual is so mysterious. I also posted his comments about the Morris chair. Part of the problem with Otter, of course, is that I can't find biographical material on him, which would perhaps shed more light on whether he is dead serious, or is simply a pretentious, but talented charlatan. Perhaps  charlatan is -- as a term to describe him -- much too strong, because throughout hist Furniture for the Craftsman, Otter speaks authoritatively about furniture construction, and he does display definite tastes about furniture, most of which I think I agree. Once you get over his writing style -- with its tendency to ramble, rather than to be direct -- and sometimes tending toward obtusiveness -- in saying that about over embellishment on Elizabethan furniture, what does he really mean? Does he like it or not?

Otter's "Preface" states that this book originally appeared as a series of articles in The Building Age:




IT is gratifying to realize that the period in which the series of articles under the heading: "Cabinet Work for the Carpenter" occupied frequent space in the columns of The Building Age, has been noticeable the period in which taste of the public has been pressed back into the good old mould from which so much of our enduring art was cast. To this subject and homage to the old masters of furniture building, deference is paid in the opening chapter, where a short review is attempted of that portion of the history of furniture showing examples best designed to inspire us for the work to be considered.

Much additional matter has been added to the original articles and all arranged in the form of a handbook in order to meet more general requirements under the title "Furniture for the Craftsman." In addition to the carpenter and the manual training student there is the day-fagged business man as well as many others who are likely to find refreshment from commercial and professional pressure in the increasing skill of doing things and in the joy of their accomplishment.

No attempt is made to dismember or revise this present edition.

Certain styles, detail and finish, may have passed in the interim since the articles appeared in magazine serial, and in the firs, edition; that however is inconsequential to the main though:- - Our times and style tendency. The best remains, or we will say, the elements. Take the "Mission" referred to on page 28 -- it is in little favor in this year 1923. Its prototype the "Spanish and Italian" are much in favor, and yet structurally it is like the "Mission," but more ornate, for the reason that the "Mission" was influenced by the Italian, or properly by the Spanish.

The added chapter on Drawing is not a treatise for the mechanical draftsman, or the architectural student. Rather is it the intimate disclosure of long years in designing room practice.


Chicago, April, 1923. 


I will continue to be on the look out for more background on this guy, and if it looks worthwhile I will post the information here.) 




WHETHER a carpenter with skill in using wood-working tools, or the man, who, following another occupation, knows also the joy of working in wood, he is ever eager, with creative desire, to fashion certain furniture for his own use.

A careful examination of many patterns seen in the stores, or coming under his particular attention, would assure him of his ability to produce work on similar lines, provided a few suggestions or guiding points be given.

Assisted by accompanying illustrations which aim for simplicity of construction, and unbroken character of outline, is the purpose of bringing these articles together for a ready reference, and it is hoped a fountain of inspiration and suggestion.

A commendable feature of the better patterns of present-day furniture is the emulating of the sturdy character and simplicity of treatment of the old cabinet makers, and be it said here that our early American craftsmen created much that we of the present time are forced to admire.

It is true we have misapplied our efforts through the medium of modern tools, but would not the model maker of a furniture plant of today be staggered should an apparition of his brother craftsman of 1700 appear and rudely snatch away the power-driven rip-saw, jointer, band-saw and back-knife lathe, and insist upon the modern man using the tools employed in those days of yore![?] Should such be true and our twentieth century man begin his task under the old way, in the light of a great joke, is it unreasonable to suppose that long before he converted his log into boards the thought would come before him, as he curiously handled and inspected the heavy jack plane, that his would be no easy task in dressing his stock[?]; but he sets to with a will to experience what those "old fellows" must have had to do before they could mark a line. While he catches his breath and wipes the perspiration from his face, a bright, rational idea comes to his mind and he says,

"When I get this stock smoothed up I'll go over my drawings and leave out some of my 'ginger-bread' work and make my detail subservient to the construction, an object for which it is intended,"

and then it dawns upon him that this must have been the idea of the mechanic 200 years back, when he produced the furniture we admire so much today. He did it in a direct way and confined his energies to beautifying only such places and parts as needed it the most.

The literature and history of the times have been very much directed to old Colonial landmarks and customs. [Otter acknowledging the Colonial Revival that was a driving influence in the 1910s and 1920s in determining what furniture people used to furnish their homes of ] This tendency has consequently created good prices for the few patterns of furniture that come by chance into the hands of the dealers and has created a demand for copies. A number of factories arekept busy manufacturing with great faithfulness re-productions of "old antiques."

The mechanic, not necessarily a cabinet maker, can do much in furnishing part of his home with portable or built-in furniture if he will but observe the chaste, simple lines of the earlier work-man. During the era of flashy, overestimated furniture, some years since, there prevailed an idea among craftsmen other than furniture workers that it was a special art and privilege to perpetuate those styles from which we have since turned. So it was, and we are glad of it, for such frailties soon went to pieces and had their short day.

It will be noticed by the aid of the few patterns shown that very little intricacy is attached in laying out necessary draft from which to work. For the height of seats or tables refer to any standard piece of furniture about the house, allowance being made, of course, where a seat is to be upholstered, to build the frame less the thickness of proposed upholstered cushion. The same applies as to casters on chairs, couches or tables. ...