The Amateur Carpenter

Just a few thoughts on amateur carpentry by Bill Nye (not the science guy…a 19th-century journalist and humorist). “The Amateur Carpenter” appears in Nye’s Remarks, which was published in New York in 1887. It makes me smile. Below the transcription, I’ve included a few pages from the book, which is available in its entirety here.

The Amateur Carpenter.

In my opinion every professional man should keep a chest of carpenters’ tools in his barn or shop, and busy himself at odd hours with them in constructing the varied articles that are always needed about the house. There is a great deal of pleasure in feeling your own independence of other trades, and more especially of the carpenter. Every now and then your wife will want a bracket put up in some corner or other, and with your new, bright saw and glittering hammer you can put up one upon which she can hang a cast-iron horse-blanket lambrequin, with inflexible water lilies sewed in it.

A man will, if he tries, readily learn to do a great many such little things and his wife will brag on him to other ladies, and they will make invidious comparisons between their husbands who can’t do anything of that kind whatever, and you who are “so handy.”

Firstly, you buy a set of amateur carpenter tools. You do not need to say that you are an amateur. The dealer will find that out when you ask him for an easy-running broad-ax or a green-gage plumb line. He will sell you a set of amateur’s tools that will be made of old sheet-iron with basswood handles, and the saws will double up like a piece of stovepipe.

After you have nailed a board on the fence successfully, you will very naturally desire to do something much better, more difficult. You will probable try to erect a parlor table or rustic settee.

I made a very handsome bracket last week, and I was naturally proud of it. In fastening it together, if I hadn’t inadvertently nailed it to the barn floor, I guess I could have used it very well, but in tearing it loose from the barn, so that the two could be used separately, I ruined a bracket that was intended to serve as the base, as it were, of a lambrequin which cost nine dollars, aside from the time expended on it.

During the month of March I built an ice-chest for this summer. It was not handsome, but it was roomy, and would be very nice for the season of 1886, I thought. It worked pretty well through March and April, but as the weather begins to warm up that ice-chest is about the warmest place around the house. There is actually a glow of heat around that ice-chest that I don’t notice elsewhere. I’ve shown it to several personal friends. They seem to think it is not built tightly enough for an ice-chest. My brother looked at it yesterday, and said that his idea of an ice-chest was that it ought to be tight enough at least to hold the larger chunks of ice so that they would not escape through the pores of the ice-box. He says he never built one, but that it stood to reason that a refrigerator like that ought to be constructed so that it would keep the cows out of it. You don’t want to have a refrigerator that the cattle can get through the cracks of and eat up your strawberries on ice, he says.

A neighbor of mine who once built a hen resort of laths, and now wears a thick thumb-nail that looks like a Brazil nut as a memento of that pullet corral, says my ice-chest is all right enough, only that it is not suited to this climate. He thinks that along Behring’s Strait, during the holidays, my ice-chest would work like a charm. And even here, he thought, if I could keep the fever out of my chest there would be less pain.

I have made several other little articles of vertu this spring, to the construction of which I have contributed a good deal of time and two finger nails. I have also sawed into my leg two or three times. The leg, of course, will get well, but the pantaloons will not. Parties wishing to meet me in my studio during the morning hour will turn into the alley between Eighth and Ninth streets, enter the third stable door on the left, pass around behind my Gothic horse, and give the countersign and three kicks on the door in an ordinary tone of voice.

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