During the past week I’ve been privy to a couple of different looks at woodworking. One that is an example of the way woodworking was in the past (what we’ve given up) and another that indicates just how far we’ve dropped in our expectations.
While evaluating an old building in Louisville, I found a stair return missing from a set of steps leading to a third floor. The fact that the return was lost was not a big deal. What stood out was how the balusters were attached to the stair tread. The opening photo shows how this was done in the past. The bottom end of each baluster was cut into a dovetail which was then set into a socket cut into the treads. Quality workmanship? You bet!
Today, we purchase balusters that have small round tenons at the base. These tenons fit into holes drilled into the top face of the tread. I think it’s fascinating that we have moved away from dowel connections in better quality woodworking because we know that connection is not going to hold, and we know that there is a better solution at hand. In turn, we have accepted using that weaker method on an area of home building that undergoes rigorous stress on a daily basis. If this were the joinery technique from the get-go, do you think there would have ever been a time when sliding down a bannister was OK? How far we’ve slipped!
To drive that point home, take a look at the pile of garbage I walked past at the right – literally, it’s a pile awaiting the local refuse collector. Particle-board cabinets are what many of us have in our homes today. Yes, it is a less-expensive alternative that makes home ownership available to many. But is it a better value? To that same end, there is no way that furniture made of the same material (particle board) is a better value.
When did you lose sight of quality? Maybe we should re-think getting more for less. Of course, many of you who are reading this post are in agreement. That’s why you’re here. Now all you need to do is spread the word.