Carving over a bench hook

The Historic Trades at Old Salem

This summer I had the chance to take a week long road trip and travel around to a lot of historic sites in Virginia and North Carolina. One of my favorite stops along the way was my visit to Old Salem Museums and Gardens in Winston-Salem NC.

Interpreters in the Joiner's workshop inside the Single Brother's House Shop
Interpreters in the Joiner’s workshop inside the Single Brother’s House Shop

I first learned about Old Salem while having dinner with Thomas Jefferson at Colonial Williamsburg. (No joke).

Window sash, drill bits, and chisel rack
Window sash, drill bits, and chisel rack

I also heard good things about it from Glen Huey’s book ‘Furniture in the Southern Style’ which draws upon some pieces from MESDA (The Museum of Southern Decorative Arts)

Carving over a bench hook
Carving over a bench hook

During our visit, my wife and I had a great time exploring the historic area and visiting the many shops and buildings.

Great traditional bench -- note how the shoulder vise is cantilevered out and there is a set of dog holes in the skirt as well.
Great traditional bench — note how the shoulder vise is cantilevered out and there is a set of dog holes in the skirt as well.

As always, the most exciting part for me was visiting with all the craftspeople who work in the various historic trades.

Full chisel rack
Full chisel rack

In the Single Brother’s House there were a series of workshops housing various trades that were vital to the community.

Molding planes
Molding planes

I felt right at home in the Joiner’s shop and if my wife would have let me I would have spent my day at the workbench talking to people….

Joiner's bench with angled legs and wedged tenons
Joiner’s bench with angled legs and wedged tenons

The workshop had a great assortment of jigs, fixtures, tools and unusual benches. Look at the great wedged tenons on the bench above. (Also check out the floating shoulder vise and skirt board with dog holes on the bench further up. Looks like they did not see as much use, but an interesting idea)

The shoemaker plying his craft -- in this case making a leather bucket.
The shoemaker plying his craft — in this case making a leather bucket.

The single brother’s house was where young men of a certain age could learn the craft and ply their trade before they got married and moved on to their own homes. In the shoemaker’s shop we had a great chat with a shoemaker who was making a leather bucket which was one of the many other wares a shoemaker would make for the town.

Some wares made by the Potter in his shop
Some wares made by the Potter in his shop

In the potter’s workshop you could see on display a wide variety of earthenware dishes, cups, and other ceramic objects. Most interesting to me were the ceramic tile shingles which you can see in the restored village.

Other trades on display were the gunsmith, apothecary, tailor, tinsmith and gardeners.

If you’d like to learn more about the craftsmen and women who work in the historic trades at Old Salem you can read more here.

If you are ever in the Winston-Salem area I highly recommend visiting Old Salem and checking out the workshops.

2 thoughts on “The Historic Trades at Old Salem”

  1. Great post and nice pictures. Old Salem is on my short list of places to visit. I took a class last month at Roy’s and one of the joiners from Old Salem Village, Jerome Bias, was in the class with me. Really good guy.

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