Making an accurate reproduction means re-creating something exactly the way it was centuries ago. But if it hasnt changed at all, is it really a reproduction?
Styles, construction techniques and methods, finishes and a host of other things are done differently today than when some of the pieces we attempt to accurately reproduce were originally made, especially with furniture. A modern re-creation, to the greatest extent possible, should mirror the original. But what if something is made today pretty much the same as a hundred or more years ago? Youd think that would make a reproduction project easier. But for me, it simply seems to make the reproduction aspect of the project pointless.
For my first book of Civil War reproductions, I wanted to include some projects for re-creating period-correct tools and camp implements. And although I did include a project for a 19th-century bucksaw, I abandoned ideas for others. The reason was that the wooden portions of those items just havent changed much. The metal parts, maybe, but metalworking was beyond the scope of the book and its projects.
I got an email a couple months ago from a reenactor whod bought my book looking for advice on how to make some period-correct shovel handles. A shovel project was one I had considered and then rejected after my research showed there was really nothing to re-create from the past, as the photo below from the Library of Congress shows.
While the means of attaching the blade to the handle were somewhat different, the wooden portions of common shovels (as well as the axes in the photo) just havent changed appreciably since the Civil War. My advice to him was to go to his local hardware store and just buy a long-handled shovel off the rack, then strip off all modern brightly colored paint from the metal and the poly finish from the wood. The result would be about as period-correct as anything he could make from scratch.
Like many Civil War reenactors, he wasnt pleased with the answer and proceeded to argue his case over a series of follow-up emails. In the end, he let me know that hed continue his search for accurate wood handles. I guess I have at least one unhappy reader out there.
The bottom line is that if history itself hasnt changed a certain aspect of woodworking over a period of 150 years, why should we?
Till next time,