It hasn’t changed

Making an accurate reproduction means re-creating something exactly the way it was centuries ago. But if it hasn’t changed at all, is it really a reproduction?

Styles, construction techniques and methods, finishes and a host of other things are done differently today than when some of the pieces we attempt to accurately reproduce were originally made, especially with furniture. A modern re-creation, to the greatest extent possible, should mirror the original. But what if something is made today pretty much the same as a hundred or more years ago? You’d think that would make a reproduction project easier. But for me, it simply seems to make the reproduction aspect of the project pointless.

For my first book of Civil War reproductions, I wanted to include some projects for re-creating period-correct tools and camp implements. And although I did include a project for a 19th-century bucksaw, I abandoned ideas for others. The reason was that the wooden portions of those items just haven’t changed much. The metal parts, maybe, but metalworking was beyond the scope of the book and its projects.

I got an email a couple months ago from a reenactor who’d bought my book looking for advice on how to make some period-correct shovel handles. A shovel project was one I had considered and then rejected after my research showed there was really nothing to re-create from the past, as the photo below from the Library of Congress shows.

While the means of attaching the blade to the handle were somewhat different, the wooden portions of common shovels (as well as the axes in the photo) just haven’t changed appreciably since the Civil War. My advice to him was to go to his local hardware store and just buy a long-handled shovel off the rack, then strip off all modern brightly colored paint from the metal and the poly finish from the wood. The result would be about as period-correct as anything he could make from scratch.

Like many Civil War reenactors, he wasn’t pleased with the answer and proceeded to argue his case over a series of follow-up emails. In the end, he let me know that he’d continue his search for “accurate” wood handles. I guess I have at least one unhappy reader out there.

The bottom line is that if history itself hasn’t changed a certain aspect of woodworking over a period of 150 years, why should we?

Till next time,

A.J.

COMMENTS

  1. Stuart Simmons wrote:

    In my opinion: the Author and the Reenactor were approaching the shovel from equally valid but very different viewpoints. Mr. Hamler sees the shovel as an object. Form, function, and appearance are the same, therefore the shovels are the same. The Reenactor sees the shovel as an experience. He wants the experience of making the shovel.

  2. Chuck wrote:

    I was thinking of making a replica, rather than a reproduction… ;)

  3. Tony wrote:

    I would tell him to go find an original shovel: at least find one in a museum. That would make him happy. How about the patent drawing for the original Civil War shovel? That would be pretty instructive I would think.

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