Today’s guest blog post is by Dan Miller, one of the volunteer woodworkers at Carillon Historical Park.
In 1658, Richard Franck wrote”… the true creator is necessity, who’s the mother of our invention.” This is still true today as it was in 1658. By profession, I am an architect. As a hobby, I am a volunteer woodworker in the Early Settlement area of Carillon Historical Park and I demonstrate woodworking skills that were a part of early Dayton.
My current journey as a maker began in 1987 when I was introduced to blacksmithing at Carriage Hill Farm, a living history farm showing what life was like for a farm family in the 1880’s. I moved from the blacksmith shop into the woodshop where I demonstrated woodworking until 2012 when I took a step back in time and began demonstrating woodworking as it was done in the early settlements of the 1800’s as our country expanded westward. I was preceded in this journey by my great-great grandfather who was a blacksmith and my great grandfather and grandfather who were carpenters and woodworkers. Today it is an honor and great privilege to use their tools and continue the family tradition.
The process used today, is no different from yesteryear. The craftsman saw a need and crafted a tool, device or appliance to meet that need. The goal of the inventor-craftsman was to make a life process easier and more efficient. Whether it is making or modifying a drawknife to make a specific cut, or designing a three-dimensional scanner, the process is still the same – see the need, meet the need. An 1800s example of this is the woodsman of the early settlement. To be efficient in how he cuts down a tree for splitting and hewing logs, he needed a specific axe to make his work more efficient and more productive. He would go to the village blacksmith and have him forge the type of axe head that was needed for a specific job. He would then find a piece of ash or hickory and fashion a handle that was perfect for his height, weight and the task. The axe head would tell someone the region where the woodsman came from, while the handle was as unique to the woodman as our personal signature. You could look at an axe and know who it belonged to.
The challenge of being a craftsman from the 1800’s in the 21st century is why does it take so long to make something by hand when a machine can make it faster and in greater quantity. Eventually it was the blacksmith and woodsman that created the tools and machines that made their jobs obsolete. Please keep in mind that the tools and technology used by the 18th and 19th century craftsmen were the cutting edge technology of their time. An example of this is the self-advancing post drill. In the early settlement, boring a hole in a piece of wood was accomplished by an auger or a brace and bit. It was a long and laborious task to bore a hole in a piece of wood. By the 1880’s the “modern” woodshop was equipped with a post drill that was powered by an arm crank that was equipped with a ratchet that advanced the drill as the large wheel was cranked.
Most of what I make today serves as a demonstration piece to show visitors what the life of a craftsman was like in the 1800’s. Of course, when there is a need to repair something at Carillon Historical Park, it is my job to meet that need. My first project for the ladies in the kitchen was to make a rake they could use in the garden. My latest project was to take the handles on the bake oven door and make the rough corners more comfortable for the ladies to grasp and to repair the handles that were beginning to crack.
My encouragement to current and future makers is first of all, not to forget your heritage. Carillon Historical Park is a place where we can learn of our manufacturing heritage. The inventor’s laboratory of today, was the blacksmith and wood shop of years gone by. Secondly, know your material. Have a personal “feel” for what you are using and don’t lose the touch. For me, each piece of wood I shape and form has a particular feel to it. The wood grain is different with each piece and I need to use the tool in a different way to shape the wood into its final form. As I stand in Newcom Tavern at the park and run my hand over the rough cuts of the hewn logs, I stand in awe of Robert Edgar whose labor and craftsmanship went into the building of the tavern in 1796. Finally put your heart into your work. I leave you with this quote:
“He who works with his hands is a laborer.
He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman.
He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.”