Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Cabinet Maker

In the early days of America, the essentials of life kept a person busy. The homeowner or a neighborhood carpenter built simple rough furniture quickly and simply. The country carpenter also made coffins and even arranged funerals. The first real cabinetmakers who made fine furniture arrived in America in 1700 and mostly worked in more populated areas. The cabinetmaking business boomed between 1750 and 1783.

Early during this high-demand period, a man in England named Thomas Chippendale published a book called  The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker’s Director which influenced furniture made in the colonies. The furniture, patterned after the designs in the book, grew to be called the English Chippendale type of furniture.       

One difference between the English furniture making and the American process is the kind of wood used. Of the trees found in America, the most popular one for furniture was black walnut. American cabinetmakers also specialized in oak, maple, and wild cherry. For lesser parts of the furniture like backs and drawer sides, they used pine, white cedar, and tulip. Additional varieties included beech, pear, gum, apple, and sycamore. Imported mahogany from the countries of Mexico, West Indies, and South America also became popular.

Colonial hand tools appear similar to today’s woodworking tools: saws, chisels, planes, gimlets, augers, hammers, files, braces, and bits. Most of these tools came from England. The cabinetmaker used simple machines like a great wheel lathe or a treadle run lathe to make rounded pieces such as table legs. Like today, the cabinet maker utilized a workbench attaching pieces to it with vices and clamps.

Good joints make good pieces of furniture. The colonial maker used many different kinds of joints to fasten two pieces of wood together. None of them used nails.

The earliest cabinetmakers decorated with carvings and paint to make furniture attractive. The later wood workers depended more on stains, shellacs, waxes, and oils for beauty. Some furniture even received padding by the cabinetmaker or an upholsterer.


Fisher, Leonard Everett. The Cabinetmakers. New York: Franklin Watts, Inc., 1966. Print.

Kalman, Bobbie. Colonial Crafts. New York: Crabtree Publishing Co., 1992. Print.

*Illustration not from the Colonial Period

Friday, June 23, 2017


A necessary part of frontier life involved the care of horses. For the horse’s protection, metal horseshoes are nailed to horses’ hooves. In colonial times, a blacksmith would have made the horseshoes, and either he or a farrier would have “set” them. A farrier then as well as now traveled from farm to farm to shoe horses. 

Records show that in 1637, Read More

Saturday, June 17, 2017


In colonial days, people sought help for their illnesses from a man called an apothecary who did some of the same things as the colonial doctor did. Just as people of today respect and listen to a doctor’s advice, colonial people thought highly of apothecaries.

To decide what to do, an apothecary Read More 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Early Craftsmen and Craftswomen

Furniture Makers*

As towns grew, hardworking people continued to seize opportunities to start their own businesses. Although still dependent on England for some supplies, these townspeople made things like guns, shoes, clocks, clothing, furniture, silverware, and horseshoes from beginning to end right in their own shops. Specialized businesses produced all the wares during the 1700s.

In the small towns, people often worked several jobs. For example, a clock maker Read More

Monday, June 5, 2017

Lumber, Grist, and Paper Mills

In the preceding blog the first definition of industry given in Merriam-Webster had been “the habit of working hard and steadily.” The second definition of industry in the same resource is “a group of businesses that provide a particular product or service.” The early industries in Pennsylvania fit this category. As towns sprang up, Read More