You don’t often see a good working pair of shutters on a newly constructed home. Most times you see a pre-fab set of vinyl shutters screwed on to the side of a house or no shutters at all. The vinyl shutters usually have no hardware and often are not properly sized for the windows they are adjacent to. I want to reverse that trend and make sure at least a few folks know how to make a traditional wooden shutter.
I designed and taught an Introduction to Shutters Workshop at the North Bennet Street School this past weekend which was a lot of fun. Beyond my usual hand drawn plans I also modeled this project in SketchUp. (You can read more about that effort here).
In the class students learned how to make a shutter using traditional hand tools and via power equipment. They were able to weigh the pros and cons of each against their skill sets and use what was most appropriate to their project. (Some folks will be repairing a few shutters, others will be making enough for an entire home)
After building the frames, cutting all the mortises and tenons, and fielding the panels, everyone learned about traditional draw-boring. By making and using tapered octagonal pins and driving them through the offset hole drilled into the tenon, the joint is drawn together. This joint uses no glue, is quite strong and can be serviced in the future if a rotten piece needs to be replaced.
We also discussed many design options, regional variations and examined several examples we had on hand. It was a busy two days, but I’m hopeful that we’ll see some proper new shutters start popping up in the area.
P.S. I have several more workshops coming up at NBSS over the next 3 months if you are interested in joining me — there are still a few seats available. Up next is Traditional Molding with wooden Molding Planes in April, Saw Horses and Saw Hurdles in May, and Making a Window Sash in June. You can learn more about each of them here.
A good carpenter can be hard to find. Many of us like to think that in earlier times there were was an abundance of exceptional carpenters, but this sort of lament is not a new phenomenon. Check out the interesting except below from the 1850s:
“The Author’s Experience.
These facts and reflections have been impressing themselves upon the mind of the Author of this work for twenty years past, while he has been serving the Public as a practical carpenter. During much of this time it has been his fortune to have large jobs on hand, employing many journeymen mechanics, who claimed to understand their trade, and demanded full wages. But it has been one of the most serious and oppressive of his cares, that these journeymen knew so little of their business.
Few Good Carpenters
They had, by habit, acquired the use of tools, and could perform a job of work after it had been laid out for them; but not more than one man in ten could himself lay out a frame readily and correctly.
Why Apprentices do not Learn
Now, it is not commonly because apprentices are unwilling to learn, or incapable of learning, that this is so, but it is because they have not the adequate instruction to enable them to become master-workmen.”
— William E. Bell ‘Carpentry Made Easy: The Science and Art of Framing’ (1858)
I think Bell’s comments ring as true today as they did when he wrote the above in 1858. I won’t focus on the lazy workmen uninterested in learning, but I will focus on those who want to keep learning new skills. As with many of life’s pursuits, you’ll get out of it what you put into it, and there is much to be learned if you know where to look.
Finding a good carpenter
Most of the best carpenters and woodworkers I know get the majority of their work via word of mouth and are booking months out at a time and thus don’t have to invest much in marketing. If you’re looking to find one of the ‘few good carpenters’, ask around at a local woodworking school, shop, guild, club or friends and family for referrals and interview your next carpenter.
One of the best ways to learn a woodworking skill is to take a class or workshop.
I have a few upcoming workshops this spring at the North Bennet Street School (details below) and there are some seats available if you are interested in joining me.
Making Traditional Moldings Using Hand Planes @ The North Bennet Street School
Learn to use traditional molding and joinery planes to produce beautiful traditional molding profiles. Learn the basics of tuning and using these planes. Build a basic sticking board, used to hold the moldings you are making. Layout and execute historic profiles. We discuss the history of traditional moldings, examine planes/profiles students bring (optional) and, if there is time, an introduction to carved moldings.
Introduction To Shutters @ The North Bennet Street School
Learn about traditional wooden shutters in this two-day workshop. Using traditional joinery, students build a sample shutter and learn the skills needed to layout and build shutters for custom projects. Discussion includes interior and exterior uses, fielded panels and louvered styles. Students should be able to plane and square up a board by hand and have some experience laying out and cutting traditional mortise-and-tenon joinery by hand. Some experience with tuned hand tools and power tools is required.