If you are starting out in woodworking, a good place to gain an understanding of the history of the craft, and of wood itself are the books of Eric Sloane (1905-1985). Eric Sloane was born Everard Jean Hinrichs in 1905 in New York City. Sloane became enamoured by the life of the early American farmer, and while restoring a farmhouse in rural Connecticut in the early 1950s began to investigate the building techniques they used. At a book sale, he came across an account of farm life in the early 1800s, told by 15 year old Noah Blake. This diary became the basis for his book “Diary of an Early American Boy: Noah Blake 1805“. Sloane had incredible talent as an artist, weaving a visual story around the diary entries. His books are filled with detailed pen-and-ink sketches. He wrote two books related to woodworking: “a Reverence for Wood“, and “a Museum of Early American Tools“.
In a Reverence for Wood, Sloane which explores the role wood played in the development of early America. The book takes an interesting approach, starting from 1965, and winding the clock back 300 years. The book begins with Sloane pulling down the old barn on his farm. Through this process he discusses the “anatomy of wood warpage”, the means of dating an old building, and joint pinning using hand-cut pegs. 1865 sees the logging of the lands, the making of charcoal, and fencing. From 1765 to the American Civil War describes the age of wood, exploring the use of trees as food providers and resources for tools, and shelter. Finally 1665 looks at how native Americans used American birch to build canoes, and the utility of Sassafras and Sycamore. The book ends with a beautifully illustrated glossary of American Trees depicting bark, leaves and fruit.
The second book, a Museum of Early American Tools, covers building tools and methods and is a great book for obtaining an understanding of how tools in America evolved prior to the American Civil War. The first portion of the book deals with the axe – the best tool for coping with the endless tracts of forest encountered by the first pioneers. The remainder of the book explores farm and kitchen implements; and the tools of curriers, wheelwrights, coopers, blacksmiths, coachmakers, loggers, tanners, and many other craftsmen of the pre-industrial age. Below is a sample of Sloane’s ink pen work.
Eric Sloane’s books are a mixture of folklore, architecture and history. In his lifetime he wrote over 40 books, on topics such as weather, camouflage, “Camouflage Simplified”, and a collection of books looking back on America’s past. His skill as an artist is obvious, few if any have come close to the impact.