I see dead people

WR ROMMI 1891I see dead people in the Piedmont Pine Coffins workshop. Their tools, anyway.

It’s an honor, and fitting really, that I should make coffins with the weathered and worn tools of dead woodworkers, those artisanal all-stars of a past age. May the expertise of their ghostly hands guide me as I strive to craft something worthy. That’s my intent every time I begin a coffin, pet casket, or urn in the workshop: That I might build something worthy of a life on this earth.

Some of my tools are new, mind you, but many I get for good prices at an antique tool store I’m lucky to have nearby: Ed Lebetkin’s Tool World above Roy Underhill’s Woodwright School in Pittsboro, NC. Here’s a nice description of Ed’s store.

For those of you just joining the blog, welcome. For the rest, a reminder that it was the Woodwright School where I learned the bench and hand tool skills for building the simple pine box coffins that Piedmont Pine Coffins offers. With Ed’s store and Roy’s school so close at hand, you might say that my choice of Chatham County as the site for this business was so fortunate as to be providential. I heart Chatham County.

Back to “I see dead people.” In the photo of the roughly 125 year-old tool above, you’ll see a maker’s mark: W.R. Rom. Mi. 1891. Lebetkin tells me that it belongs to a cache of tools from one Walter Rutkowski from Romulus, Michigan, in 1891.

Maker’s Mark

Why the maker’s mark, why the inscription? My understanding is that the first “gate,” the first “trial” of a craftsman back in the golden age we here lionize, was to make yourself a set of tools. If you could make the tools well enough, went the thinking, you could easily handle the lower skill level needed for most projects.

With all this talk here of stores and schools, you can see that contemporary thinking has changed. So far, I buy my tools — like the dovetail marking gauge in the photo — and ramp up my skills in the process of using the boughten tools. But it’s all for the good: All in the hopes that I might make something worthy of a life on this earth.