A Journeyman’s Story

I made this box a few years ago for two reasons. The first reason, simple enough, was i needed a box for my tools. The other reason was I wanted to experience the task of making a project from start to finish with just hand tools. But on this project i learned more than just the joints of construction. It took me on a journey.

IMG 2936resize150In earlier times woodworking wasn’t just a hobby, it was a trade. To learn the craft was not easy as it is today. There were no tv shows, internet or books of abundance like today. To learn the craft you had to become an apprentice for a master in a shop. To become an apprentice was not easy. For one thing, an apprentice did not get paid. In some cases the family of the apprentice would pay the master, weather it be money, goods or livestock.

To be fortunate enough to be picked by the master, the apprentice jouneymanwork for 7 years without a single penny. The master was often rough and harsh on the young lad. It wouldn’t always be a wondrous learning experience. In some cases, the master would purposely sabotage the hard work of the young apprentice. This was the case especially if the young apprentice showed a true knack for the craft. Why would the master do such a thing? Because the master was sharing all this trade secrets with the young lad, and one day that apprentice might become the masters competition.

Finally 7 years approach. The last job the master assigns the maturing apprentice is to build his own tool box. The apprentice does his best work on this project. He incorporates all his training into this one single box. In many cases, the outside of the box is plain but the inside would have intricate craftsmanship features. Lastly, the master pays the mature apprentice in the form of good quality tools for his box. What follows next seems shocking, but was the custom of the times. The apprentice was done with the master and it was time for him to leave.

Now with no place to work, he was on his own. He would have to go to house to house or town to town and look for work. He now was a “journeyman” looking for work where he could find it. His tool box was the ONLY thing he had to show potential clients the skill and craftsmanship of his training.

One day with enough clients and work, the young journeyman might open his own shop and become a master himself with an apprentice of his own. Today, when i teach classes at public venues  I take my box. I show the students or audience the different joinery, and tell the story of the journeyman. I trying to connect the past with the modern age and hopefully instilling appreciation for the craft along the way, never forgetting this is an honorable trade we are following.

Go dance now people !