Restoration Joinery & Carpentry
In his 1831 book “The Mechanic’s Companion”, Peter Nicholson described the craft of joinery thusly:
Joinery is a branch of Civil Architecture, and consists of the art of framing or joining together wood for internal and external finishings of houses; as the coverings and linings of rough walls, or the coverings of rough timbers, and of the construction of doors, windows, and stairs.
Hence joinery requires much more accurate and nice workmanship than carpentry, which consists only of rough timbers, used in supporting the various parts of an edifice. Joinery is used by way of decoration only, and being always near to the eye, requires that the surfaces should be smooth, and the several junctions of the wood be fitted together with the greatest exactness.
Today most people would call someone with this job description a finish carpenter, but prior to the industrial revolution, the joiner did much more than installing factory made, pre-hung doors and baseboards. In fact, the period joiner toed the line between the modern finish carpenter and the fine furniture maker. The joiner had to actually build the windows and doors to fit the building. There were no standard sizes and no factory made components. Everything from baseboards, to doors, to windows, to wainscoting, to stair cases, to built in furniture & cabinetry had to be built by hand, either on site, or in a nearby workshop.
As all of these joined items were hand made, there was little standardization between buildings. It was very unlikely that the windows and doors and moldings in one building matched those in another, unless the same joiner worked on both buildings with the same set of tools. The style of the woodwork in these old buildings was entirely dependent upon the tools used to do the work. Being hand made themselves, there was variation in the profiles of the tools used to perform the joiner’s work. So the shapes made by one tool were not exactly the same as those made by another tool. Even if two tools appeared similar on the surface, creating a profile with each would reveal minor differences.
Reproducing Period Joinery & Carpentry
If you are restoring an historic house or building, or just want to recreate the look of one, it’s not such an easy task to reproduce the period correct profiles of old woodwork using modern tools and methods. The standard molding profiles sold in home centers and millwork shops today are based upon different geometric shapes than those of the pre-industrial age. In order to accurately reproduce period joinery with modern methods, custom tooling is required. However, the cost of the custom tooling can rival that of the restoration project itself, making such an undertaking a very expensive enterprise. In addition, the high speed rotary cutters and precision guides of modern machines produce woodwork that looks “too perfect”, lacking the slight variations and signatures left by the hands of the craftsman, which are so desired in period woodwork.
On the other hand, by using the tools and methods employed by the early joiners, accurate reproductions of the early work can easily be constructed. I can recreate any early profile, style, or joinery method, and ensure that the new woodwork blends in seamlessly with the old. Using these tools and methods, I can create period appropriate moldings, window sash, shutters, doors, wainscot, and other interior and exterior woodwork. The finished product will have the desired signature of hand work, and will be indistinguishable from the original woodwork.
Whether you’re restoring an historic building or simply recreating the look of an old building, the correct woodwork can make all the difference.