Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Practical Geometry - as described by those who used it, Part 2

The last post  discussed how Asher Benjamin and Owen Biddle presented Practical Geometry in their pattern books in 1805 and 1806.
This post focuses on Minard Lefever, and finally Peter Nicholson, who inspired them all.

Minard Lefever ( 1798-1854) wrote 5 pattern books between 1829 and 1856.
The Modern Builder's Guide was published in September 1833, in New York.
In his Preface Lefever says "...it will be proper to specify the authors whom I have either consulted or made extractions from,..."
One of these was Peter Nicholson.  Because Lefever copies Nicholson's drawings  directly I will post only the latter's introductory geometry.

Lefever writes 35 pages of  descriptions for 21 plates on "Geometry Adapted to Practical Carpentry".
Here are Plate 8  and Plate 20.

Minard Lefever, The Modern Builder's Guide, NY, 1833, reprint by Dover Publications, NY, 1969.

Peter Nicholson (1765-1844) practiced architecture, mathematics, and engineering in Scotland.  He taught and wrote 27 books.  The Carpenter's New Guide was first  published in 1792 in Great Britain. His books were regularly reprinted in the States.

The book reproduced here was printed in Philadelphia in 1830, his 10th Edition with, he writes,"6 new Plates".  The book is 121 pages long not including the Index.
27 of those pages are of - as his title page says - Practical Geometry for Carpentry and Joinery, "the whole founded on the geometric principals; the theory and practice well explained and fully exemplified" on 10 copper-plates.

In the Preface he says, "...it is Geometry which lays down all the first principals of building, measures lines, angles, and solids, and gives rules for describing the various kinds of figures used in buildings; therefore, as a necessary introduction to the art treated of, I have first laid down, and explained in the terms of workmen, such problems of Geometry as are absolutely prerequisite to the well understanding and putting into practice the necessary lines for Carpentry."

His introductory geometry plates match those of Asher Benjamin, Owen Biddle and Minard Lefever, all of whom acknowledge him in their prefaces.

Nicholson's Plate 10 is Lefever's Plate 8.

I will bring this book to the 2016 IPTN Workshops in September. It is fragile.

If you would like to read the titles of Peter Nicholson's books, they are listed at the end of his Wikipedia biography.

Other architectural historians must have looked at the first pages of these books. Everyone cannot have just turned to the illustrations of mantles and window casings, building plans and elevations and ignored the plates on geometry. Why hasn't someone else wondered out loud why so many pages on geometry were included in a book about construction?

Someone must have considered that if Nicholson's The Carpenter's New Guide went through 10 editions and was published in the States as well as Great Britain - as well as being directly copied - that carpenters were reading it, using it, that his information was useful, that maybe we should understand what he wrote.

The builders who came before us used geometry to design and build. The knowledge was taught to the next generation hands-on. Books were not needed.
Boys were 'apprenticed', learned their craft and became 'journeymen', traveling to sites to earn and learn. Eventually these men became full carpenters, 'masters', and were admitted to a guild. The guild system was not always possible in the States. Men quit their apprenticeships. moved west or into cities. The skills and knowledge that masters were expected to impart had to be taught in other ways. Asher Benjamin and others set up a school in Boston. The pattern book was another solution - a way for 'young carpenters'  (to quote Owen Biddle) to teach themselves the necessary construction skills, beginning with geometry.

Part 1 can be read here: http://www.jgrarchitect.com/2016/08/practical-geometry-as-described-by.html

Monday, August 15, 2016

Practical Geometry - as described by those who used it, Part 1

Asher Benjamin, Owen Biddle, Peter Nicholson, and Minard Lefever

What they wrote about Practical Geometry in their pattern books: Asher Benjamin in 1806, Owen Biddle in 1805, Peter Nicholson beginning in 1792, Minard Lefever in 1833.

I want their words to be easily available to anyone who is curious - someone who comes upon this blog or someone who comes to the 2016 IPTN workshops in September.

Remember that the pictures can be expanded - click on them.

Asher Benjamin's,The American Builder's Companion, was first published in 1806, updated and edited through 6 editions to 1827.

His title included the various chapters he has included. The first is  "Practical Geometry".

In his preface he says, " I have first laid down and explained such problems of Geometry, as are absolutely necessary to the well understanding of the subject."

His first 18 of 114 pages are about using geometry to design and build.

I have copied here his Plate I and its accompanying notes.

Asher Benjamin, The American Builder's Companion, Boston, MA, 6th ( 1827) edition, Dover Publications Reprint, 1969. Benjamin wrote at least 6 pattern books beginning in 1797, all popular.

Owen Biddle's book , Biddle's Young Carpenter's Assistant, 1805, was half the size of Benjamin's, easy to tuck into a tool chest. His first 9 pages of 112 are devoted to Geometry.
First comes how to construct a drafting board and attach paper to it, followed by how to make a T square and what kind of instruments to use. Then he says, " I shall now proceed to explain some of the most useful geometrical problems, which every Carpenter ought to be acquainted with". p.4

Owen Biddle, Biddle's Young Carpenter's Assistant, Philadelphia and New York, 1805, Dover Publications reprint, 2006. This is his only book  A respected master carpenter in Philadelphia, he died in 1806.

to be continued....

Friday, August 12, 2016

2016 Preservation Trades Network Workshops, September 9-11, Clermont Farm, Berryville, Virginia

The annual gathering will be at Clermont  Farm now owned by the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Here is the link to the farm: http://www.clermontfarm.org/ Their facebook page has good pictures.
The National Barn Alliance will be there too.  On Friday there will be a barn tour - http://ptn.org/iptw-2016/barn-tour

There will be blacksmiths, lime mortar makers, timber framers, window repair people, masonry specialists, painters, roofers...

 Last year at Shelburne Farm I watched dimensional lumber come out of a log with bark, all by hand. I saw a Georgian cabinet built, and windows become like new.  The pictures are from that gathering.

I will be there to teach 2 sessions on
                Practical Geometry
 which, to quote Owen Biddle in 1805 "every Carpenter ought to be acquainted with".

Or more formally: "Geometry is the foundation on which practical Carpentry is based." Minard Lefever, 1833,

The sessions will be hands-on.
I will have compasses, pencils, erasers and straight edges. And drawings.
I will be helping whoever shows up see the geometry which governed framing and design for churches, mansions, houses, barns. As we uncover the geometry participants will see how design and structure come from the compass.

We will decipher brick houses in Virginia, wood frame churches in New England, houses built from 1680 to 1840. For people who want to see how much they already know I will have the plates from the first pages of the pattern books which present  "such problems in Geometry, as are absolutely necessary to the well understanding of the subject." (Asher Benjamin, 1827) Will they master the problems with a compass and a straight edge?

The pattern books of Asher Benjamin, Owen Biddle, Peter Nicholson, Minard Lefever,  will be available along with posters and handouts on Robert Adam and William Buckland.
And paper for experimenting

I demonstrate twice. There will be  plenty of opportuity for me to watch and learn from the other presenters, to explore the farm and its buildings, and talk with people. I know I will have a great time.

You can come too.