I don’t live in the past—I only visit—and so can you!

A Thoroughly Inappropriate Book Review—or is it?

A. J. Hamler, Civil War Woodworking. Linden Publishing: 2009. ISBN  13: 978-1933502281

I was looking for an adz and figured that if the CU Woodshop—“Home of the Dream; http://www.facebook.com/pages/CU-Woodshop-Supply/470261515446—didn’t have it, I’d still have a great time wandering around. They didn’t but knew of someone who might be able to help; thanks! Then as I was looking through their book section and gravitated toward this, took a quick glance at what it offered and, hugging it to my bosom, bought it.

At first glance, a Viking reenactor might go, Oh, another Silly War book! It has nothing to do with me! How parochial. How close-minded. How wrong!

Anything that happens in living history, no matter what era, I important to anyone who wants top do living history. We go around in circles, reinventing the wheel, and often different elists for different eras will actually have the same thread or topic at the same time, approaching it from similar directions but totally separated by a thin barricade between them that someone else is doing the very same thing. The different eras—or factions if you prefer—are all earnest and resolute and very very proud that they’re doing this without any input. The fact that they are doing working twice as hard as they have to and duplicating efforts by others seems to be remote and unconsidered. And so they cannot see what something might offer because it is, alas, devoted to another era.

This volume is a dream. I would love to see an author put something tegether like this for the Viking Age, Its subtitle is listed on the cover: “17 Authentic Projects for Woodworkers and Reenactors.” Very true, but I’m afraid that it does not really cover the attractions of this volume. The Projects are neat enough, and there are actually a couple that can be altered slightly and made period for my era. The author has included photographs of the items being used during the American Civil War, something that is powerful and useful and would be impossible for most earlier eras (a Viking-Age equivalent would have to feature photographs of period artifacts, which some have done but too many have not, just noting the ambiguous ”inspired by” in many instances that even notes the original), and Hamler, a veteran woodworker and reenactor for more than fifteen years has the right stuff and approaches many philosophical points in a welcome, forthright and “take no bullcrap” way. For example, in a section on a folding stool, he notes:

“It’s one thing to make sure that a Civil War reproduction is accurate and period-correct, but it also has to be used correctly. The stool in this project is patterned after an original, so I know it’s correct. It would be complete inauthentic, however, if it were used by a private in a campaign scenario. When on campaign, marches of 20 miles a dat and more weren’t unusual, and the common foot soldier carried only what he absolutely needed to sustain him. Officers would have all kinds of comforts carried on wagons, but the only seat a foot soldier would have had was the sea of his pants. Th camp stool in this project is highly authentic, but sometimes the most authentic stool is none at all.” (p. 88)

Bravo! Something anyone trying to present an educational scene should heed, whether that scene is from the ACW or not. That attitude and the projects themselves make this volume useful, but it is the two opening sections of the book that makes it essential.

The first “Stepping Back in Time,” is a collection of wise and exacting essays on the philosophy and reality of living history, including “Authenticity and the Reenacting Community” and “How Authentic Can Your Project Really Be?” The essays are succinct and pertinent and gives such helpful things as the definition of “farb.” They are aimed toward reenacting of the ACW, of course, but any serious reenactor can read it and easily apply things to his own era, and they bring up matters which any reenactor should think about in regard hid own era. Very satisfying. The second section is “Bringing the Past to Life” and deals with period techniques and tools and is perhaps—but not always—irrelevant to other eras but, like the first section, can be applied in many instances to and bring up pertinent thoughts about other eras. It includes 19-century woodworking techniques but also talks about finishings, types of woods and such pertinent matters as cut nails. Also very satisfying. The worse thing is that in the author’s mind, it often seems that he think reenacting to be limited to his favorite era, but such an attitude can be overlooked and should not be duplicated in your own definitions!

But of course, hope against hope that someone will write a book or book dealing more specifically with the eras that you favor!

For buying a copy of this book, talk to your local woodworking shop, bookstore or head on over to the entry on Amazon.

One response

  1. A.J. Hamler

    Thanks for the great review!

    A.J. Hamler

    June 14, 2011 at 20:16

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