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Notes from the Paynesville Historical Society. . .

Woodworking is one of man's oldest skills

By Dolores Hislop

Woodworking is one of man's oldest skills and before the time of production machines, there were many trades that involved woodworking. Among them were cabinetmaking, making barrels and casks, wheelwrighting, furniture making and repair, wood lathe work, shoemaking, and others. Just about everything depended on the skilled craftsman in wood in the early years of Paynesville.

Woodworking involves only a few fundamental operations: planing or shaving, boring, scraping, cutting, or splitting. Planing is done by the plane, the spoke-shave, the draw-knife, and sometimes the chisel. Boring is done by auger bits and drills; scraping by scrapers and sandpapering, cutting by knives, chisels, and saws, and splitting by knives and axes. Of course, all of these operations are actually done by specific tools of the woodworker. I will tell you about some of these tools in this article.

The early residents of Paynesville first had to cut the wood for their homes which involved getting the wood cut into lumber. The wood was called roughsawn and very irregular in shape. The wood needed to be made uniform to use and needed a specific tool. The plane that was used for this purpose was called the Jack or Fore plane, about 15 inches long. It could remove thick pieces of the wood but took a lot of force to use. The person took short strokes to smooth the wood so it would be ready for the next phase.

The next plane used to finish smoothing the wood was the Try or Trying Plane which is about 22 inches in length. It is longer than the Fore plane and produced a uniform surface. It is used by walking the length of the board and planing it over and over until smoothed out. The craftsman needed to walk in a steady pace as any time the plane would stop, it could gouge into the wood, making it necessary to start the planing process over again as the wood would be marred.

Planes that were used to make interior wood finishing and cabinetmaking that were longer than the usual lengths, are called Jointers. The planes were made in a number of lengths from 26 inches to almost a yard long. It could be a heavy plane to use and produced a smooth surface on the board. It was also used to make square edges to join boards together so had a double use.

The fourth plane that was used was a short plane used for smoothing small areas of boards or if a board had a knot in the surface, and simply called a Smoothing Plane. The plane had to be very sharp and can be used for precise work. It is used for the finishing of the wood item visible to everyone and could be used to get rid of any marred area of wood by the woodworker.

There were other planes in use by woodworkers; however, these four were the usual ones used in the 18th and 19th centuries. Young men apprenticed with woodworking shops to learn the art of using planes and other tools of the trade. It could take up to seven years before it was felt they were skilled in the art.

Other planes were also important to the finishing of the house. Moulding planes were also used and are named for what they did. Shaping planes, called hollows and rounds, made one basic shape so many were required to do various decorative work. The work of these planes and craftsmen shows up as we look at the designs that were created. The Simple planes are really moulding planes that made beads, coves, and other moulding shapes found in houses. The Complex planes were generally owned by craftsmen who did work for people who were richer and wanted more fashionable work on their house or furniture. We can appreciate the use of these planes when we examine older furniture with their elaborate curves and shapes.

Working with wood also involved cutting so other tools as Spoke shaves were used. They are small wooden tools that resemble a plane with handles that outstretch like wings. Shaves were used for carving and came in different sizes and were used to reach into areas to remove excess wood. It was an important tool in the chair making process as it could get into tight corners and can work by either pushing or pulling. Scrapers were also used to smooth rough areas. Drawknives were used to shape and round wood stock for general use, as axe and other tool handles, yokes, and the work was then finished with scrapers and shavers.

The Woodworker also used a Shaving Horse which was made of wood, with a wood vise to hold the item he was working on, and a seat for him to sit on.

This is only a brief description of what you can see in our Woodworking section at the Museum. The planes, drawknives, saws, and other woodworking tools, also a Shaving Horse and an early lathe are on display. It is a very good collection of early Paynesville tools of the trade so we can appreciate the work that went into our homes, cabinets, and furniture. The fast work done now with the modern tools makes one appreciate the hand labor that went into each item that was fashioned. We invite you to come and spend a little time enjoying the Museum and see what your friends and neighbors have given for everyone to enjoy. It is a collection of history right here in Paynesville. The Museum is a cool place to visit on these hot days. You may want to bring along a light jacket for your comfort.

Article information from: Antique Woodworking Tools by Michael Dunbar, Antique Tools, Our American Heritage by Kathryn McNerney, and information found in the Paynesville Historical Museum.