These days no one would make a screw. They come free in packages with other things. Buy a whatsit and a small plastic package of screws comes free, whether you end up using them or not. In my shop I have a a small cabinet of drawers with screws sorted by type. Still, I make occasional trips to the hardware store just to buy more. But less than 200 years ago, screws were a rare thing. Each required the investment of a craftsman's skill and time. Reader John Grossbohlin had worked as a craftsman at Colonial Williamsberg in his earlier life, and he wrote the following:
"I've been thinking about your blog posting on "10% Off" as my Rockler catalog came in today's mail...John, your screws are amazing. So you tell me... What are the values of such things? What are the reasons such things need to be preserved? Is there an intellectual component to making a screw? Is there a developmental component? Do you suspect that John's time in making screws added to his perspectives on the universe? Michael Wiener, in describing his relationship to the Spaulding Boatworks in Sausalito said,
Over time quite a number of skills were lost, or would have been lost, if it weren't for living history museums and individual crafts people. For example, if it weren't for Wallace Gusler, and the support of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, the myriad skills involved in making flintlock rifles with 18th century (and earlier) technologies would have been lost. Wallace redeveloped the technologies by looking at the story artifacts and old guns could tell...
One of the things I learned while working in the Williamsburg Gunsmith Shop was how to make wood screws. Seems like a simple thing until you find out the shafts were shaped and the threads created with files... yes files. There were no screw plates for wood screws as there were for machine screws though a chamfer plate was used to shape the countersink.
I got good at making screws and it took me about 20 minutes to make a screw of about No 8 size 1 1/4" long... larger screws such as used on butt plates took about 30 minutes each. Today we take wood screws for granted as machine make them by the billions each year for pennies per piece. In the 18th century nails, pegs, clenched spikes or rivets would be used instead of a very expensive screw... can you imagine paying for an hour's worth of shop time for two screws?
Attached is a photo of screws I made. You can see file marks on them. The heads are thick on purpose. A temporary slot would be cut in the head, the screw inserted into the desired pre-drilled hole, and then the permanent slot orientation would be determined. The screw would then be removed and the head shaped with the permanent slot. This allowed for lining all the slots up in the desired orientation. Also, screws always had to be returned to the same hole due to variance in the threads and the slot orientation.
I know how to do this work but quite frankly have no occasion to use the skill!
It occurs to me that some specific skills are interesting but of no practical value. This was not one of those cases. I found out that if someone couldn't make wood screws the gunsmiths wouldn't waste any time trying to teach them the far more difficult tasks of gun making. I passed the screw test and was exposed to far more interesting and challenging tasks... after all, making screws was the work of women and children in the period, not something a skilled tradesman would waste time on! A lot has changed over the years but those stepping-stone skills should be preserved. -John"
"... it's important that people learn both technique and values while they're working here. That's my own sort of quiet contribution to the educational component of our mission. I find that kind of learning more to my liking than school-learning. I served a four-year apprenticeship--and then you're ready to start learning."One good thing about the computer age is that it is allowing those of us whose greater skills are hand skills, to take a few moments to explain a few things to those who may never quite understand. There is no better way to shape character and intellect than to become engaged fashioning real things from basic raw materials. Make, fix, and create. Take a straight shaving off a plank. There are two things that most worry those of us who observe modern schooling. Students become intellectually disengaged and lacking in character, missing two distinct components of craftsmanship. We have chosen to neglect the education of our children's hands. DIY (do it yourself) , LIY (learn it yourself), TIY (teach it yourself). Best yet, teach it to kids.
In the photo at left, you can see my finished tie cabinet, inspired by Greene and Greene designs.
As you can see, I continue work on the cherry cabinet, by assembling the cherry and maple raised panel doors and fitting the base molding. While the molding parts are clamped in place, I will use screws to attach them to the cabinet frame, then remove the parts for sanding, and then install them permanently to the cabinet. The doors are ready for routing, sanding and hinges.