Hand Tools

Response To:

Jack Dover
Hey John, sorry for the late reply, was looking for good phrasing.

I have this habit to assume that everyone assumes my definitions for certain terms and just go with it as if we have already agreed on a context. So let me clarify a few things before proceeding.

To me it seems that two things were conflated in your post: "finesse-coarseness" and quality. I, however, did not assume that coarse things are always of a bad quality. Probably can't come with a better example, so let me borrow from Pye's: a stone pier is coarse, but is of high quality. A plastic pen is a fine item, but janky in terms of quality. So, the "coarse" part regarding 17th century furniture didn't mean to imply it was badly made.

A few other notes in no particular order:

It seems that by "17th century furniture" we both assume furniture made from riven hardwoods in early American settlements. Feel free to correct me if that's not the case.

I would still argue that 17th century furniture doesn't fit our understanding of "fine". Even on the best specimens we see slipped tool marks, crudely (compared to other contemporary pieces from the same style) made moldings, sometimes pretty rough tearout on primary surfaces and turnings, joints made with zero regards to wood movements and so on. This really reminds me of other styles originating from countryside. And indeed there's a consensus among the scholars that mannerism represents English rural fashion. For that style primary functionality of a piece was the king and pretty much the only defining factor. I don't think that "bulkiness" had anything to do with it, just look at say Dutch court furniture (or NJ kastens) - they're even more "squarish", but just look at the quality of execution. Or we could compare it to other styles of that time and I think most will agree that mannerist furniture wasn't exactly representing top skills of the age. And we can compare it to at least half a dozen of other late baroque styles that were already established at that time - mannerism will stand out with the lowest requirements of skills required.

Another thing that's conflated is Peter's Follansbee and skills required. I admire Peter's work very much, and not just woodworking, but the books, research & publications, presentations and such, one day I'll go for a class. But this is Peter's skills, not the minimal required skill to turn a dozen of stools or boxes. With all the respect Peter is not a 17th century carpenter: he works indoors, with tools of modern steels, not ailed by a chronic illness, not hungry, not harassed by rogue tribes or military, doesn't have to plow during the day and join by night and so on. This might sound like a truism, but what Peter Follansbee does represent Peter's skills, not the skills of a colonial joiner.

Yet another point: we can't judge general quality (and, by proxy, skills employed) by just the pieces survived to our days, it's going to be a text book example of survivor bias. Nobody will debate that some pieces were built better than others, but we can't assume all the furniture was built like this by looking at the pieces we have. Follansbee studies prime specimens that were carefully preserved in museums and private collections, of course they will be crispier than most and of course they are well made, most probably they were built by a skilled joiner. But I just can't believe that every settler was consistently producing furniture of decent quality.

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