Welcome to the Craftsman Revival! In this series of articles, I aim to share knowledge of craftsmanship and the principles of the Craftsman Revival movement. I want to take opportunities to help consumers to understand and identify true craftsmanship when they see it, and to learn more about what is involved in truly well-made pieces.
One trend that has gained popularity in recent years is the "farmhouse" style. While the desire for handcrafted furniture is admirable, the farmhouse trend has often prioritized aesthetics over the principles of good craftsmanship. What is most important about the trend is that it often sends consumers to the workshops of local craftsmen and women to produce these goods. It is important however, to be able to identify the levels of work in craftsmanship, to both educate consumers, as well as encourage local craftsmen and women to continue to grow in their trade and encourage consumers to invest in local makers. In order to do that, we must have examples of exemplary work to share.
In this article, I want to introduce you to a talented maker who embodies the spirit of the Craftsman Revival: Jeff Davis from Fredericksburg, VA. You can find him on Instagram @Old Mill Cabinet and Woodworks. Jeff is a master of traditional joinery and his work showcases the beauty and durability of handcrafted furniture.
Here is an example of one of Jeff's pieces: a stunning trestle style farm table. This style
relies on the trestle to leg assembly rather than tables with aprons, which rely on the leg to apron joint. The way the trestle is jointed to the leg assembly is crucial to the table's stability. Jeff has chosen to use a wedged tenon to make this joint. Pictured to the left you can see it in the center of the rail, (or horizontal piece in between the legs.) A wedged tenon is a type of joint that is enhanced with wedges, allowing for the natural movement of the wood over time and also providing a rock solid joint between the legs and trestle. This not only adds strength to the joint, but also adds to the beauty of the piece. The wedges Jeff has chosen are a contrasting color, but the contrast only adds to the beauty of the piece. The tenon is the rectangular part, and the wedges are the thin lighter colored strips. Also notice the complete absence of gaps of any sort around this tenon.
In this picture, we can see the top of the table features a true breadboard end. A breadboard end is a decorative piece of wood that is used to stabilize the end of a table top. Notice that the grain is running along the length of the table in the top itself, and across the grain in the breadboard end. For an end piece like this to be functional and stand the test of time, it should be connected with tenons. Jeff has clearly done this, and has also added pins of a contrasting but complimentary color. Not only does this adhere to traditional joinery techniques, but it also enhances the beauty of the piece. If you look closely or zoom in on the picture, you will see these as small lighter colored circles along the inside edge of the breadboard end. Each one of these pins travels through a tenon that is housed within mortises cut in the face of the end of the breadboard. The execution of this technique at this level is an indicator of Jeff's mastery. It's one of the many signatures of a craftsman that I aim to help consumers understand and identify, so that they can truly be appreciated for what they are. The level of precision that is applied in craftsmanship like this is obtained by no other means than outright dedication.
Aesthetically, I'd also like to mention the clean and beautiful curves, as well as the lamination of the legs to add contrast to the piece. Lamination is a process by which thinner pieces of wood are glued face-to-face together to make up thicker pieces of wood. This is quite common, and it in itself shows mastery. Many people do not understand just what it takes to get a rough sawn board truly flat and square, or the methods we use to make up the widths and thicknesses of pieces we need!
Lastly, proportionally, the table makes perfect sense. Things like leg to top thickness ratio matter, how far the top overhangs the legs, width and length appropriate for it's use, etc. etc. etc. All of these aspects of form and function must come together in a way that pleases the eye, and all of these are skills in themselves.
Jeff's work is a prime example of the principles of the Craftsman Revival: the use of high-quality natural materials, traditional techniques and tools, and a focus on the skills of the craftsman rather than just the finished product.