Act I, Scene 1. A man is in a wood-shop using a traditional hand tool on a piece of naturally fallen Ohio cherry. He is wearing a hand-made leather wood-workers apron and sweat drips from his brow as he works with a draw-knife to hand cut the main support leg for a table top. The work is hard and can only be done using a keen eye and an innate sense for what pieces of lumber will work best for that particular item; nothing is left to chance. The custom in this shop is one of respect for hand tools, tradition, hard work and a high attention to detail. All of the wood in this shop is selected for specific pieces and parts of furniture to be built; the selection process is not random.
Act I, Scene 2. A man is in his wood shop and presses the ignition switch on a diesel generator which will power his Moulder. This is a machine that can slash the time it takes a man to cut an item for a piece of furniture by 90%. It’s highly efficient and very cost effective. The man is going to watch that machine produce 100 furniture parts today for one of his friends to use on a large dining table order they are filling. Tomorrow he will be planing lumber to pass on to yet another neighbor to be used in some rocking chairs they are making.
I’ve described two different scenes in two different shops. One is an Amish shop and the other is T.Y. Fine Furniture. Contrary to popular belief most Amish furniture is produced by a cooperative of Amish woodworkers in state-of-the art, high tech wood shops. The quality is essentially a notch or two above the assembly line construction of wood furniture that one would see in a Walmart. However, it is several notches below the heirloom quality level of TYFF and this difference is reflected in the cost and the life of the items. If you expect your furniture to last for hundreds of years TYFF is the builder you will need.
Most American consumers have a fondness for Amish made; the term evokes a sense of quality, honesty and integrity. Many Amish made items are indeed stunning in appearance and quality; however this is often the exception over the rule. After many years of being in and around wood-shops and handmade furniture I have come to the conclusion that, in most cases, the actual construction methods and materials used in Amish made furniture don't live up to the allure and mystique that has always surrounded this particular style of furniture.
HERE you can see the support leg described above, in the finished product.
For true heirloom quality artisanal furniture the only option in Ohio is T.Y. Fine Furniture.
by Wes Miller