Old furniture, dating as far back as the 1700’s, is still highly regarded and sought-after even today, with all of our technological advancements. These woodworking masterpieces have essentially made their appeal timeless by combining all of the features we admire, and they do so with a sense of balance and harmony that can only be achieved by a human touch.
A key difference between the furniture of times past and the produce of today is the method of manufacture. Today, even most high-end furniture is made in a factory using an array of powerful machinery to do the work. This means that the manufacturing process plays a key role in design choices, where ease and efficiency of production take priority over esthetic considerations. The once beautifully refined and wonderfully decorative furniture of the Queen Anne, Victorian and Chippendale styles, to name just a few, have now been replaced by the so-called modern design, which attempts to imply that the square, simply “clean” aesthetics is the choice of our time. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely such design started as an artistic choice, as clean, elegant design characterized by graceful straight lines may be found, for example, in beautifully refined Federal-style pieces. Rather, most modern design stems from an inability to reproduce the works of the past and as an attempt to increase profits by simplifying design. When one looks into the history of woodworking, the reasons for this become clearer.
The old craftsman had no electricity, bolts or screws. Nothing but their own hands and simple tools to do the work. A close connection with the wood as well as a development of individual skill was necessary in order to produce high-end results. The great benefit of these traditional methods would result in a high level of artistic freedom. The skilled worker was free to work the wood in any way he pleased, be it a curvy cabriolet table leg, a delicately carved violin head-stock or hand cut dovetail drawer joints, which can last for hundreds of years. Now compare that to the rigid capabilities of a woodworking machine, where “square and straight” are almost a necessity. In a factory setting, production of complex shapes using machines requires careful machine set-up and many operations will still need to be done by hand, whether with a machine or a hand tool. These modern methods which allow for fast mass production cannot by any means reproduce the amazing designs found in the best of furniture, hence resulting in the development of the over-simplified, modern design.
It’s understandable that the employment of master craftsmen by a large company might render the high end-furniture prices inaccessible to most. Nowadays, the production of magnificent hand-made furniture has become a specialized, yet still highly sought-after niche market, with modern design in this case being of refined taste. Today, the innate human drive to create articles of beauty, objects which reflect in their presence a sense of a human accomplishment, has led to an ever-growing and enthusiastic community of amateur woodworkers. It is this which has made woodworking hand tools of the highest caliber widely available today. However, along with this availability follows an array of woodworking “gimmicks” promoted to help woodworkers around skill-related issues, with all kinds of unnecessary “problems” invented which one of their products can solve. This is of course profit-related, so the best of woodworking know-how remains harder to discover and learn. The truth is that there’s no substitute for real skills learned, skills which unlock the doors to true woodworking capabilities and the utmost of joy in the craft.
Here at Restorno we are offering a great opportunity to examine many antiques and learn from their clever yet practical construction. We are excited to be opening a woodworking school this summer, which will offer hand tool woodworking and restoration classes. From basics to advanced, and for all age groups.