Massive hold-fasts that would have made Roubo proud. Note that for the hold-fast on the bench, the arm is at an unusual angle.

Dominy Clock and Furniture Shop

As a preservation carpenter and traditional joiner I spend a lot of time trying to retrace the steps of early craftsmen. While the fruits of their labors survive in pockets — the buildings and pieces that survive; the places where they worked and plied their trades often did not. Thus we often have to look for tool marks, log books, letters and newspapers to piece together the life and work of individual craftsmen.

This summer my wife and I had the opportunity to visit the Winterthur Museum and Gardens in Delaware and visit the Dominy Clock and Furniture Shop exhibit which was an exceptional window in the life of an 18th and 19th century family of craftsmen.

Nice long joiner's bench. Chisel racks in the wall and nice big windows to provide light to work by..
Nice long joiner’s bench. Chisel racks in the wall and nice big windows to provide light to work by.

The Dominy’s were a family of craftsmen from Easthampton New York — out on the east end of Long Island, not terribly far from where I grew up in West Islip, NY. Over the course of four generations and active from ~1750-1850 this family produced fine clocks and furniture pieces that were sold locally and in regional markets. The surviving pieces are now prized by collectors.

Templates in the Dominy Furniture Workshop
Templates in the Dominy Furniture Workshop

Beyond the body of their work the shop is notable for how intact it is. The shop and it’s contents were cataloged and moved from Long Island in 1957 then reassembled and put on display at Winterthur starting in 1960.

Massive hold-fasts that would have made Roubo proud. Note that for the hold-fast on the bench, the arm is at an unusual angle.
Massive hold-fasts that would have made Roubo proud. Note that for the hold-fast on the bench, the arm is at an unusual angle.

The tools, benches, templates, partially completed pieces,  log books and parts of the original shop building survived together.

Traditional style bench full of tools, templates and parts ready to go.
Traditional style bench full of tools, templates and parts ready to go.

It looks as if that last Dominy walked off the job and and could be expected to come back and resume work at any moment.

Peering into the Dominy Furniture Workshop from Long Island, NY you can see the great wheel lathe and workbenches
Peering into the Dominy Furniture Workshop from Long Island, NY you can see the great wheel lathe and workbenches

From the great wheel lathe, to the benches and shave-horse they had a sizable and well laid out shop for the time period. The tools were a mixture of locally made and imported tools.

Lathe setup and ready to by used some more
Lathe setup and ready to by used some more

I was fascinated by the tool marks, storage racks and modifications similar to things I’ve done in my own work.

Shave-horse ready to go. Note the sliding deadman on the bench in the background
Shave-horse ready to go. Note the sliding deadman on the bench in the background

In addition there is also the diminutive Clock Shop which is packed full of metal working tools needed to craft intricate gears and other clock component.

Dominy Clock Workshop at Winterthur
Dominy Clock Workshop at Winterthur

Written to go with the exhibit was Charles Hummel’s seminal book ‘With Hammer in Hand’ (1968). The book can be hard to find and on the pricey side as it has long since been out of print, but is worth every cent. I finally obtained a copy this spring as part of the EAIA’s annual fundraiser auction. The book explores the family, the tools, and the work they did in a way that was enjoyable to read. It paints a vivid picture of what life was like for these skilled craftsmen.

If you’d like to plan your own visit to see the Dominy exhibit you can learn more about it here.

If you’d like to visit on a budget, you can view some online video tours of the gallery below as Roy, Norm and even Bob Vila have segments about the shop.

Roy Underhill Visits the Dominy Shop (towards the end of this clip)

Norm Abram visits the shop and builds a replica clock at the New Yankee Workshop

and Bob Vila explores the shop

Take care,
-Bill

4 thoughts on “Dominy Clock and Furniture Shop”

  1. Bill,
    I’ll have to try and make it up there. There’s yet another interest of mine -Horology tools. As much as i appreciate watch and clock movements, it’s the tools that fascinate me. I have a beautiful catalog from the auction of the Skinner collection with an innumerable number of tools both horological and mundane.one of these days I’ll get around to copying some of them

    Thanks for sharing the info!

    Best regards,
    Albert A Rasch

    1. Hi Albert,
      You’re quite welcome. They have an amazing number of tools in that tiny workspace. It’s well worth the visit. They also have a great research library and staff on site.

      If you ever get around to sharing out a copy of that catalog, let us know.

      Take care,
      -Bill

    1. Not surprising as it has a weathered look that doesn’t match the patina of the rest of the tools in the shop and looks more crudely fashioned compared to most of the other shop implements. Since visiting I tracked down a copy of ‘With Hammer In Hand’ and I need to find time to read through it in detail. It seems like the display has been largely static for a long time — I wish they’d revisit it and maybe expand upon it with that they have learned in recent decades from additional research.

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