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Woodworking in Estonia

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by Ants Viires

We first heard of this book over a decade ago from Jennie Alexander, one of the foremost experts in greenwood woodworking in the nation. So after much effort at the time we managed to snarf up a copy of a late 1960's edition that was translated, without permission, under CIA auspices. It was one of those weird cold war stories that is explained in this new edition's introduction.

The book is a favorite of many woodworker's and is according to Roy Underhill “one of the best books on folk woodworking ever” and covers the entire woodworking history of this small Northern European nation from pre-historical times through occupation by the Germans and Soviets up through Estonian independence.

This is the first authorized edition in English, properly translated containing more than 240 crisp, original photos and line drawings, proper photographs and drawings. It represents some serious research both in the literature, but more importantly, out in the field, where at the time this type of woodworking was still practiced professionally.

The author, Ants Viires, devoted his life to recording the hand-tool folkways of his country without a shred of romanticism. Viires combined personal interviews and direct observation of work habits with archaeological evidence and a thorough examination of the relevant literature in his country and surrounding nations.

While there are certain tools and techniques which seem to be unique to Estonia, the reason why this book is so important is that it is a window into how greenwood woodworking was professionally done in the rest of Europe, England, and the US up until about the Great Depression. So it is very relevant to us here.

The book is not just a dry recounting of tools and objects. Viires records in great detail everything from the superstitions surrounding the harvesting of wood (should you whistle in the forest?) to detailed descriptions of how the Estonians dried the wood, bent it, steamed it and every buried it in horse dung to shape it for their needs.

Viires covers, in detail, the hand tools used by the Estonian, including many that will be unfamiliar to moderns (a beehive turner?). He then discusses all the different products Estonians made for their own use and for sale in the markets, including bent-wood boxes, chairs, chests, tables, sleds, carriages, spinning wheels, spoons, tobacco pipes, bowls and beer tankards.

Like all Lost Art Press books, “Woodworking in Estonia” is produced entirely in the United States. The hardbound book is 304 pages on heavy paper stock. The pages are sewn and then glued with fiber tape to last lifetimes. And the cover is wrapped in cotton cloth with a foil diestamp.

Pages: 304
Binding: HC
Publisher: Lost Art Press

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