There is no mystery about the built chair — only
Let us see if we cannot invest
not only chairs but all
wood work with a new interest, and raise the consideration of it above
the question of its marketable qualities.
is built in the main of wood let us consider wood a moment.
furniture of our forefathers, which was good enough to last, you will
find that the wood was
picked not for its
ease in working, but for
beauty of grain second.
In contrast to
this, the commercial furniture maker, not builder, of today, must
select the easily worked straight grained uninteresting wood for his
which he is lost, and he must veneer to get
grain. He takes no
account of the accidental beauty spot or curl or
knot which the true artsman so lovingly fondles and subdues to his
I was asking a handler of hard woods the other day as to the
value of Delaware white oak, and he said he did not want it at any
price. When I told him that I had heard it was the toughest and best
oak to be had, he said that that was just the trouble—furniture men
would not buy it.
In the old days, better days at least for woodwork,
the woodsman swung his axe against the tree best fitted for its future
use, and with some know!- edge and care for that use. The great trunk
cut to logs in the winter, when least full of sap, was floated down by
stream and flume to the river and then rafted to its destination—washed
and purified from sap, sawed to size, and air-dried.
But the world in
, fired with its ambition to seat us all upon (at
imitations of) palace chairs, has
ceased to care for quality in its
insatiable desire for quantity
. And so the trees give up
their life to
be rushed from log to machine, via the dry kiln, thereby losing much of
its toughness and elasticity.
And this economy is
country that we may fill our houses with woodwork and furniture
in a few years to the scrap-heap.
Remember that it takes no more wood
to make a chair that will last a century than one that will last
perhaps a decade.
And because chairs are cheap we must have so
"Necessity is the
mother of invention"
Yes, but also, alas,
invention is the mother of necessity. And others beside bargain counter
fiends, if all our market be not a bargain counter, clutter up their
homes with the insistent product of "invention."
But to build
our chair — the wood selected, air-dried, if possible, and the run of
grain for strength well considered — what next?
Let us look into
secrets of the commercial chair
, fair as it is to sight.
Find one that is loose in its joints — no uncommon thing.
it apart this is what you find: dowels, dowels, nothing but dowels
is in the reputedly good furniture; in the other you may find nails
Now a dowel looks
strong, is strong, and is so easy just a
couple of holes to bore in legs and brace, a couple of little round
pins, and a dash of glue; just a little varnish or it all;
there is your finished joint. But don't forget the varnish, for, if you
do, a few weeks or at most months of hot and cold, wet and dry, with
which bountiful nature so lavishly furnishes us, will see your joint
resolve itself into leg and brace and dowels once again.
If it were
not for the varnish to keep the damp out the furniture warehouses would
have to keep a furniture gluer on the premises as the hotels do.
now cheap glue and varnish make it necessary to supplant the glue pot
with hammer and nails.
But the joint of
the chair that is
built — do you bar the glue pot and the dowel? The dowel, yes. The
A dowel joint, the end of the brace, is simply cut
clean and true. Holes are
bored in the wood, and likewise in the leg as shown in the cut, and the
strength of the dowel joint is the strength of the glue and no more.
But when you build a joint you cut projection called a tenon on the
solid of the brace, [see cut two] and a corresponding hole or mortise
leg, and when leg and brace are joined, holes
are bored through
mortised and tenoned joint and pinned.
All the glue has to do is to
hold the pin in place, and your joint is there to stay, barring
accident, as long as the wood lasts,
of varnish or change of weather. Then there is the tenon and the wedge
joint used properly only when the joint is to be a loose joint and to
be actually taken apart [see cut three].
But it is too often
dishonestly used as mere ornamentation, or stupidly used in such a way
that it is impossible to take it apart without breaking other joints,
in this table, in which the upper part is framed
together with tenon
and pin and the lower part is loose-pinned [see cut four]
Rose Valley shops have been asked if they would make furniture from
other designs than their own, and have always replied:
the furniture is so designed that it can be properly built, tenoned and
with no mixed construction."
This does not mean that several sorts of
joints may not properly he used in one piece of furniture, but that
they must not conflict.
The ends of a table, for instance,
properly framed up, mortised, tenoned and pegged and glued, and the two
ends joined together, by loose wedge joints.
In illustration of this
the reader is referred to the frontispiece in this issue
. And even the dowel, or, better yet, the loose
tenon, may be
and is used very properly in glued joints like in the tops of tables,
where there is no lateral strain on the joint.
It costs energy
and ingenuity and patience and skill to do all this; yes, and it builds
these virtues as well.
But it costs money
to employ these talents — and
We pay for skill in the doctor, in the lawyer, in
man, without grudging it, and their sole purpose in life is to keep us
alive and gain for us the possession of these things.
Not that the
possession of things is the end of life, but all skill is employed to
secure such things.
But we are not done
with the question of our
We might worry along in a world of sham chairs
as long as
the forests hold out. We might put up with the annoyances of poor glue
and adulterated foods.
But we can't go on or even stay where we are
with a community of sham makers.
We can't get
character as a by-product
of the shoddy mill.
We can't build a
state any better than its
and we can't build chairs or do any other
requiring skill and initiative, without building honesty, skill and
initiative into our characters.
So your built chair
more than a good chair. It is a
message of honesty and joy to the
possessor, and a cause of growth and of joy to the worker.
"made-up" chair is something less than the sham that it stands for,
insidiously and in the guise of a blessing undoing the character alike
of maker and possessor. It and its kindred shams are the symptoms of
that loosening of character that is reflected in the hideous political
and industrial corruption that Lincoln
has shown is at work
undermining our social and political fabric.
When you next look at a
chair [see cut five], look below the varnish, and if you can't find the
pins of honest construction, shun it as you would the evil one of which
it is a product. Very few people would express any doubt of the
principle we have been at such pains to illustrate. When we make an
argument like the present they are liable to concede that it is good
logic and implies honest mechanism.
But then they think of conditions
as they are, of the temptations and seeming necessities that pass the
other way, and ask:
What's the use?
It's of every use
and not only in
building furniture. Go look at your own work and apply the principle
And if you find it involves pretense, or if it
means to you or
your employer the kind of work that stunts and dwarfs, there is no
sacrifice that you can make in changing it that won't pay.