Woodworkers: Architects of Society

The small man-like creature peered over the bushes at the animal below. The bough in hand had good heft, ready to be swung as a club. It had been found earlier in the day, and with a bit of work had been fashioned to the intended purpose.  It was effective, if he could get close enough to swing it before the animal bolted.

What was needed was something with range, throwable. A straight thin branch would work, sharpened at one end.  In time, the forerunner of the carbide-tipped tool came into being, with a sharpened stone affixed to one end to improve its effectiveness.

And thus, through necessity, the age of the woodworker began.

Through every stage of the development of the human race, from their earliest precursors to modern society, woodworking has been an integral part of the process.

Necessity through the ages often appears to be combat-related, but only because an image of a trebuchet or catapult is more interesting than a wooden bowl, spoon or bucket!

But whether it is warmaking, or winemaking, woodworking has been there.

Even during the industrial revolution, and beyond, when steel had taken over as the material of choice, one of the most skilled group in the manufacturing plant were the patternmakers – woodworkers of impressive skills who could take a drawing of a component and fabricate it out of wood, including taking into account the pathways that the metal would flow when filling the eventual cast, and how much shrinkage would be experienced so the final product, and not the pattern was to the correct dimensions.

These patterns were not destroyed in the process, and were retained for each time a new mold was created. The railway workshops had many shelves full of these patterns, particularly from the days of steam.

A number of woodworking tools still in common use today were developed in this time, and where the terms “patternmaker’s vice” and “patternmaker’s bench” come from.

History is also full of the direct influences of woodworkers.  Ships that sailed to the new world, canoes from the islands resulting in the spread of populations across Polynesia, decisive battles in history, including the use of wooden cannons.

Literature too, including the Trojan Horse during the battle of Troy as told by Virgil in “Aeneid” (trans John Dryden)

By destiny compell’d, and in despair,
The Greeks grew weary of the tedious war,
And by Minerva’s aid a fabric rear’d,
Which like a steed of monstrous height appear’d:
The sides were plank’d with pine; they feign’d it made
For their return, and this the vow they paid.
Thus they pretend, but in the hollow side
Selected numbers of their soldiers hide:
With inward arms the dire machine they load
And iron bowels stuff the dark abode.

The Christian bible too, has many references, including of course Noah’s Ark, and of course reference to Jesus being a carpenter.

There are societies that survive today, that are heavily influenced by woodworking, including the Amish and Mennonites, particularly with their traditional barn raisings.

I often think this is how we should be building the quintessential Aussie shed.

The Shakers have also been very influential on many modern furniture designs.

The movies (& TV) have obvious also caught onto the woodworker’s influence, whether they particularly meant to or not, from Evan Almighty, through to The Lord of the Rings, The Witness, The Simpsons and NCIS to name but a few.

And in this day, as modern media takes a stronger and stronger hold, there is a new generation, including The Wood Whisperer……

and yours truly.

So throughout history, from the daily grind, to combat, literature and religion, the woodworker has been a pivotal influence on society.

So the next time you need to justify a trip out to the shed, remember, it is your duty, for the good of future society, to maintain all the ancient, medieval and modern traditions of woodworking, lest society falter and fail.

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