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JOEL Joel's Blog

Samuel Pepys DIY


Samuel Pepys DIY 1

Woodworking's leading injured party, Roy Underhill, just sent me an entry from the diary of Samuel Pepys - the entry of February 7th, 1666, to be exact.

"It being fast day I staid at home all day long to set things to rights in my chamber by taking out all my books, and putting my chamber in the same condition it was before the plague. But in the morning doing of it, and knocking up a nail I did bruise my left thumb so as broke a great deal of my flesh off, that it hung by a little. It was a sight frighted my wife, but I put some balsam of Mrs. Turner’s to it, and though in great pain, yet went on with my business, and did it to my full content, setting every thing in order, in hopes now that the worst of our fears are over as to the plague for the next year. Interrupted I was by two or three occasions this day to my great vexation, having this the only day I have been able to set apart for this work since my coming to town. At night to supper, weary, and to bed, having had the plasterers and joiners also to do some jobbs." - Samuel Pepys, Diary, February 7th 1666

My sense from the description is that Pepys didn't hit his finger with a hammer; he caught it on a nail. And of course, in the 17th century tetanus shots did not exist. People understood that washing the wound in wine or brandy (alcohol) was a good idea, but didn't have the basic concepts of cleanliness and sterilization in mind, and so their results weren't as good as what we expect now. These days, if you get cut or have a cold or just about any injury, you expect to recover fully. One of the reasons Covid-19 has been so traumatic is because the idea of a random flu having no cure and the potential to kill just doesn't fit the modern narrative of science curing everything without any real sacrifice on our part.

There are many sacrifices and behavioral changes we make for the sake of public health, but once time passes, we get used to them and most of these changes become ingrained in our behavior. So it's only the new restrictions that raise an eyebrow. When New York City required all buildings to connect to a sewer system in the late 19th century, there was push-back. Wearing seatbelts which wasn't common when I was a kid, but now it's now pretty standard -- and and car fatalities have dropped significantly as a result. But even now there are many people who don't wear them, and consider wearing them a restriction on their "freedom."

In Pepys' time, the common cold could be fatal; minor cuts could get infected and become gangrenous; and major operations were more fatal than not. Before the time of the diary, Pepys had an episode of gallstones. He had an operation to remove them, and because the risk was so high and his recovery successful, Pepys marked the anniversary day (26 March 1658) of the surgery in his diary many times, grateful to God for his good health.

Pepys' Diary, is a fun read. As a New Yorker, I had no trouble relating to his lifestyle in London. Human beings haven't changed much. Nor has the desire to eat out, go to the theater, and hang out with friends. But sanitation certainly has! The constant minor injuries Roy has always mentioned in his shows are no big deal now - but in Pepys' time it they could be fatal. By the way, Pepys was very interested in woodworking; I have written here how he was a subscriber to the first English woodworking magazine.

Speaking of urban life, New York City has re-opened, albeit with many restrictions. We have just resumed manufacturing, which is great. Our showroom is not fully open. Throughout the crisis we were open for shipping and curbside pickup. Now we're doing a little more, chatting with customers outside. We're still on reduced hours - closed on entirely on weekends and open an hour later at 9 AM weekdays. We're not quite ready to resume the full showroom experience - we have many logistical issues to work out first.

Note: Roy's school like all schools in this country shut down for the spring. Roy's is reopening, with new restrictions in place to enforce social distancing. Most woodworking schools we know of shut down and are now plotting their reopening. But after losing a quarter of the year's revenue, all of these schools need students to come back in droves -- or the schools won't survive. Please, schools are all putting recommended social distancing rules in place and for all practical purposes they are safe. Please support your local woodworking and craft schools. Unless the students come back, the schools cannot survive.

Stay safe!

Join the conversation
06/24/2020 Art K
huh, I thought I was the only one hanging out with Pepys during the lockdown...
06/24/2020 AndyT
Joel, you are so right.

Here he is on Wednesday, 24 October 1660: he fancies doing some woodwork and has bought a box of tools:

"...and so home, where I found a box of Carpenter’s tools sent by my cozen, Thomas Pepys, which I had bespoke of him for to employ myself with sometimes..."

On Tuesday 24 March 1662/3 he nearly buys a ruler but the price is too high:

"Thence Sir J. Minnes and I homewards calling at Browne’s, the mathematician in the Minnerys, with a design of buying White’s ruler to measure timber with, but could not agree on the price."

But by Tuesday 14 August 1666, the itch for more tools needs to be scratched, and there's another delivery at the Pepys household:

"Up, and comes Mr. Foley and his man, with a box of a great variety of carpenter’s and joyner’s tooles, which I had bespoke, to me, which please me mightily; but I will have more. "

So here is early evidence of what we all know - one box of tools is not enough - special rules can be expensive - and if you get a second box of tools, it's still not enough!

If you want to read more, here are links to the days mentioned.
06/25/2020 Cara
So apropos is Pepe’s work, and this post is to this time for me. I teach some at the Woodwright’s School. We taught our Sloyd Class on June 13,2020. Watching Roy teach is truly inspirational, he teaches educational Sloyd, and I teach organic Sloyd Louth greenwoodworking. . Roy has separated the bench’s with 8’ plastic sheeting barriers. Masks are worn, small class sizes and masks and shields are worn. A truly strange time we find ourselves in.
As I see it
Roy’s work is more pertinent now than it ever has been. We now live in a world where many folks have no connection to the natural world. Hand tool woodworking and greenwood opens up this connection to our environment and keeps those who follow the path whole.

Yes the tool addiction follows, after a time you have a collection of fine sharps that can make most of what you desire. I find myself trying to make due with what I have, as that is a good philosophy, especially at this point, but I also want to support the tool makers and sellers if there is something special I’m thinking I need. Now is the time to support the folks you want to be here in the future.

I have been to Brooklyn to your well stocked show room. it amazed me what a great selection you had in such a small space. After seeing what you all are doing I kept going back for more. High quality tool selections encourage my addiction.

Thank you so much for providing a great service. Love my bit sharpening tool! I bought one for Roy too. Thanks so much.

My sincere thanks for your service. Plan to check your web offerings soon.
06/25/2020 Jeff
Hope everybody at TFWW is doing well—looking forward to my next visit!
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The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the blog's author and guests and in no way reflect the views of Tools for Working Wood.