Back To Basics: Spotlight On Traditional Timber Joinery And Craft

Back To Basics: Spotlight On Traditional Timber Joinery And Craft

Rediscovering the Lost Art of Timber Joinery

I’ve always had a deep fascination with the skilled craftsmen of bygone eras. Those wizards of wood who could coax the most magnificent structures out of humble logs and planks, using nothing but their own two hands and a few well-worn tools. It’s a reverence that borders on awe when I think about the level of mastery they possessed.

Now, don’t get me wrong – today’s woodworkers are incredibly talented in their own right. But there’s just something special about the techniques and artistry of our ancestors that I can’t help but admire. The way they could blend form and function so seamlessly, creating pieces that were not only beautiful, but also incredibly sturdy and long-lasting.

Which is why I was absolutely thrilled when I had the chance to sit down with Craig Bentzley, a Pennsylvania-based woodworker who has made a name for himself by specializing in 18th-century furniture reproductions. As I listened to him recount his journey into the world of traditional timber joinery and craft, I couldn’t help but be inspired by his passion and dedication.

From Humble Beginnings to Mastering the Craft

Craig’s story, it turns out, is one of humble beginnings. As a young boy growing up in the 1950s, he recalls “fooling around” with his father’s hand tools, building all sorts of whimsical creations like birdhouses, rabbit hutches, and tree forts. His father, a house builder, was apparently a pretty patient man to let young Craig experiment and “destroy” those tools.

It wasn’t until later, when Craig spent time in his grandfather’s upholstery shop and started combing through flea markets and auctions for tools, that he really began to develop a true appreciation for the craft. And once he discovered the “amazing capabilities of our ancestors to build all this magnificent furniture with nothing but hand tools,” he was utterly hooked.

“There was no turning back,” Craig told me, his eyes alight with excitement. “I was totally hooked. I read everything I could get my hands on, went to every museum I could find, and became completely immersed.”

Blending the Old and the New

These days, Craig’s workshop is a fascinating fusion of old and new. On one hand, he’s meticulously crafting faithful reproductions of 18th-century pieces – blanket chests, tables, small spice boxes, and the like. But he’s not afraid to incorporate some modern tools and techniques into his process, either.

“My power tools are my apprentices,” he explains. “I have some nice Disston D-8 saws, and I’ve ripped plenty of boards by hand, but I can’t make money that way. Rough work gets processed with the table saw and band saw, and I have at least seven routers, though I still dislike them. My power tools do the rough work, but all surfaces are finished with hand planes and scrapers.”

It’s a delicate balance, to be sure. But Craig has managed to find a way to seamlessly blend the old and the new, creating pieces that are both historically accurate and eminently usable in the modern world.

The Art of Timber Joinery

And when it comes to the joinery techniques used in his reproductions, Craig is truly a master. Whether he’s building a piece for a client or repairing an existing antique, he takes great pride in recreating the intricate joinery methods of the past.

“Each piece takes you on a new journey, and each piece has its own tales to tell,” he muses. “Just like now, every cabinetmaker had their own unique solutions to the task at hand. You learn something new with every piece you work on.”

From dovetails to mortise-and-tenon joints, Craig has a deep understanding of the strengths and limitations of each traditional technique. And he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty, doing all of the joinery work by hand using a variety of saws, chisels, and other hand tools.

The Joys of Traditional Craft

But for Craig, the true joy of woodworking goes beyond the technical mastery. It’s about the connections he’s made with other like-minded individuals, and the sense of satisfaction that comes from creating something truly meaningful.

“Besides the actual processes and challenges, I’ve met some of the nicest, most generous people you can imagine,” he tells me. “Woodworkers are a pretty good lot. Too bad the general population isn’t cut from the same cloth.”

And when he receives a heartfelt thank-you note from a customer a decade after delivering a piece of furniture, Craig knows he’s doing something right. “I doubt anyone does that with their auto mechanic,” he chuckles.

It’s a sentiment that resonates with me deeply. In a world that often feels increasingly disconnected and impersonal, the joy of traditional craft and the camaraderie of the woodworking community offer a refreshing antidote. And Craig’s passion for his work is a testament to the enduring power of these time-honored techniques and the skilled hands that bring them to life.

Conclusion: Rediscovering the Beauty of Timber Joinery

As I bid farewell to Craig and his workshop, I can’t help but feel a renewed sense of appreciation for the rich history and artistry of traditional timber joinery. In an age where mass-produced, cookie-cutter furniture has become the norm, Craig’s commitment to preserving and perfecting these timeless techniques is a true inspiration.

Whether you’re a seasoned woodworker or a complete novice, I encourage you to explore the world of traditional timber craft. Immerse yourself in the stories and techniques of the past, and discover the joy and satisfaction that comes from working with your hands to create something truly remarkable.

After all, as the art of timber framing continues to evolve and grow in popularity, it’s more important than ever to celebrate and preserve the rich heritage of this incredible craft. So why not join me in rediscovering the beauty of timber joinery and the enduring spirit of the woodworker’s art?


Get the latest updates on timber construction trends, sustainable practices, and exclusive offers from Timber Building. Subscribe to our newsletter for insights delivered straight to your inbox.

Stay Informed with Timber Building

Contact Us


Copyright © 2023 All rights reserved.