The Victorian Hobby Woodworker
For as long as there have been white collar jobs, there have been hobby woodworkers. I can see King Tut’s accountant coming home after a hard day of counting the gold and virgins obtained from the last raid into Ethiopia yearning to lose himself for a few hours in his workshop. The Royal Governor of Virginia probably whiled away a few hours with chisel in hand after ordering the removal of the powder from the Williamsburg armory. (angering the populace and increasing patriot sentiment throughout the town, and possibly pushing them to openly declare independence thereby shocking the congress into action one July in Philadelphia)
I think you get my point. The explosion of woodworkers today is driven by the armies of office workers penned up in their cubicles by day yearning to make something that you can touch, and possibly break a sweat along the way. As I will illustrate, this is not a new idea.
This little beauty is a hobby saw from the Victorian period. We have more of these than I can count at the Steppingstone Museum. The industrial revolution brought many advances including mass produced tools. Along with this, we saw the addition of free time to the average Joe. It wasn’t necessarily the dawn to dusk grind to survive anymore so people found themselves yearning for a creative outlet to use up that time. This saw is treadle driven, but lightweight and very compact. The tiny table and throat of the saw doesn’t make it practical for anything but knick-knacks but you can see how someone could have a good time in the parlor making tiny fretwork to adorn their home.
This little lathe is of the same ilk as the above scroll saw. The treadle pedal (that’s fun to say) is missing and the belt needs repairing, but you can see the diminutive size would not make it very useful for major project work. However, I can see a candlestick or two being turned for enjoyment. This particular model may also have been a salesman’s model. It is the mini-me version of a larger lathe we have in the collection and this leads us to think a salesman may have carted this around door to door to demonstrate the latest “wonder of technology” Regardless, I can also see someone sitting by the fire on a cold night making that perfect Christmas gift for a loved one.
Working around all these treadle powered tools does make me appreciate the simplicity of hard work and the enjoyment that comes from building something yourself using your own power. So respect your table saw and be thankful for the work it does for you, but maybe you might want to pick up a handtool and build some muscle too. Just imagine that when all our natural resources are used up and we need to go back to treadle power just to turn on our lights how well prepared you will be.
If you haven’t read it yet, The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi is an interesting take on a post energy crash world where the treadle computer is an everyday occurrence.