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JOEL Joel's Blog

Nail

12/21/2016

Nail 1
I have written previously about TATHS so I won't repeat myself except to say JOIN NOW, but I just got the current issue of their magazine and in it was a link to a free ebook about nailmaking. Called "A Capful o' Nails" it's actually not about nailmaking but about the evils of working in the nailmaking industry. The book, written in 1896 is a fictional memoir about growing up in a family of nailmaker's and how the father became an organizer. So it's not about the nuts and bolts of making nails. But it is a story about the grinding poverty that effected so many industrial workers, tool makers too, just about all the semi-skill trades. In this particular case nailmaking was outsourced to level upon level of middleman until the lower paid people on the ladder were the actual nailmakers who worked out of their homes.

What I don't understand is that the story takes place in the mid-19th century. At this time in the US nailmaking was mechanized and industrial. We stock Tremont nails, which, depending on the model are still make on machines from this era. I don't know how long hand nailmaking lasted in England but you know that if your job can easily be done by machine (or automation, or a robot) at a fraction of the cost of a living wage - it's gonna suck. And it did.
Here is the link to the book.

The picture above is from the 1811 edition of the London Cabinetmaker's Book of Prices. I own an original copy but you can download a PDF here. The book is basically pages and pages of different types of furniture with lots and lots of special cases and tables showing how much the craftsman would get paid for that particular work. It's not the only price book of its kind, all over the UK and US these types of books were pretty common. But this 1811 edition is the most comprehensive and was used, basically unchanged, for at least a half century. The prices were the result of negotiations between the shop master and the union but under the table, and in non-union shops, prices were routinely discounted. The particular chunk I copied (which BTW is printed in beautiful letterpress- all they had at the time - but it is so lovely) is of two versions of knife case both costing far north of a pound wholesale. A huge amount of money for at the time. This is fancy work for rich people.

If you are traveling this week and you are looking for something to distract you, both downloads might be of interest. This season is when we reflect back on the year and the good and the bad. And also our hopes for the future. Both of these book gave me a sense of the past of the woodworking craft. From "A Capful o' Nails" I learned about the struggle of hard working people to survive. From the "Book of Prices" I got a sense of the work involved to make the furniture I see in museums today.


From all of us at Tools for Working Wood we wish you and your family happy and healthy holidays. With peace and prosperity to all.
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12/21/2016 Charlie Keller
There is an obscure but available work, "Nailer Tom's Diary". The diary of Thomas Hazard an 18th century blackxmith whose specialty was nail making. He lived and worked in Rhode Island. My copy came from Dan Wyman Books, in Brooklyn.
12/22/2016 Bruce Lee
A Cap full o' Nails 'Word' version - .doc - is much easier to read than the .pdf version on that site, although both have a lolly pink background watermark (bleck!).
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