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Carpenter, the noble trade of working wood

Carpenter, the noble trade of working wood


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The history of carpentry began when hand tools began to be used. The first artisans of this trade were the inventors and users of new tools to work with wood. In the field of construction, the need to build the first roofs and wooden structures for homes gave rise to the profession of carpenter.

We can say that it is one of the oldest arts of all humanity. Possibly we all know the writings of a carpenter from 2,000 years ago, Joseph, the father of Jesus, and the mentions of him in the Bible, but he is by no means the first carpenter. Although little was known about this type of work before this time, a group of scientists recently found in Germany, what is considered until now, the first examples of carpentry in the world. They could be as old as 7,000 years.

Up to 151 oak woods were found preserved in a waterlogged environment and were dated between 5,469 and 5,098 B.C. In the wells found, the wooden architecture used and the technological capacity of human beings from 7,000 years ago can be observed in detail. This study took place due to the discovery of old and enormous oak trees felled by a Neolithic farmer with stone adzes (a tool for roughing wood consisting of a small ax with a curved blade perpendicular to the handle).

Next to the carpenter there has always been the figure of the apprentice, generally a son or another young person to whom knowledge, tradition, and art can be passed on. For this reason, this noble trade was passed from generation to generation until today. Although it is true that like everything related to the human being, it has evolved and has nothing to do with the first carpenters, who did everything manually, unlike today, which due to the development of technology is used more machinery, for its ease and speed in the production process.

“As the history of carpentry developed, the members of the guild were able to meet back in the 13th century and over time form an organization to regulate the profession. This led to the creation of a union of carpenters in 1881.” Genius of Japanese Carpentry. Secret of an ancient craft. Brown Azby. Editorial Charles E. Tuttle

The manufacture of furniture and decorative objects in wood had great development in Europe, from the Renaissance, especially in Italy and France. It reached its splendor during the Rococo, in France, during the 18th century, at that time the complexity and refinement in the manufacture of luxury furniture, achieved a degree that was no longer surpassed. Originally the term cabinetmaking was applied to the manufacture of furniture with fine wood, such as ebony or mahogany.

In Mesoamerican cultures, the satisfaction of these needs was associated with religious, social and economic factors, which is demonstrated by the difference between the furniture of the population in general and that of the ruling and religious class.

The chroniclers of the Indies left some assertions in this regard, for example, Francisco Javier Clavijero states in his “Ancient History of Mexico” that the bed of the townspeople consisted of one or two bark mats, while those of the rich were They “added fine palm mats, cotton canvases, and interwoven feather fabrics. The pillow of the poor was a stone or a piece of wood and that of distinguished persons was made of cotton… the poor did not use tables, they ate on mats that were spread out on the ground, their seats were low stools made of wood or bark, or of a certain kind. species of reeds which they called “icpalli”.”

Currently the trade of cabinetmaker consists of the artisanal production of furniture, apart from industrial mass production; as well as in the restoration of antique furniture, elaborated according to the guidelines of the 17th and 18th centuries. Google & Oxford Languages

In Mexico, there is a great carpentry tradition, among the Mayans, for example, the craft of carver was not only one of the most appreciated but also one of the most dangerous. There was a belief that, because of their work, the carvers could contract a serious illness and die, it was also thought that both the carver and a member of his family could fall under a curse. That is why it was not easy to persuade one of the artisans to make an idol or handicraft.

To make each piece, a suitable wood was sought, commonly the ceiba trunk that the Mayans called “the tree of God”. When the list was ready, the carvers, priests and the old people of the place called “chaques”, temporarily locked themselves in a hut that was surrounded by a fence until the work was completely finished and only the person who made the work could enter this period. order, same as he was responsible for providing him with food and drinks.

To purify their work, during the modeling process, incense was constantly burned to the gods of the four directions of the world, and while they were carving they smeared blood periodically as they took shape. At the time of retiring to rest, they kept their work in a large urn in order to reduce the danger, perhaps for fear that they would come to life and cause them harm. When the figure had been completed, it was placed on a grid that was built for this purpose and the sawdust with which, like men dedicated to work, they had previously been filled, was removed.

Several purification and consecration ceremonies followed, and at the end the idols were wrapped in cloth and placed in a basket and given to the person who had ordered their making. Payment was made in local currency (cocoa, bills, etc.), as well as gifts such as deer or poultry.

A living example of this art is found in Tlaxcala, which with its pre-Hispanic past offers endless knowledge and tradition, enriched by European influences, which can be appreciated in its timeless crafts. Because unlike the industrial product, in the handcrafted piece, the artist puts a note of personality in each step he takes, uses ancestral materials and techniques, and summarizes centuries of history in his work of art.

In this state, the Nahuatl and Otomi languages have a very strong presence and where the community spirit is still based on the indigenous organization. This largely explains the fact that the work is not only shared among the family, but also, on many occasions, with the whole town. The techniques are learned from parents and grandparents, but they are also transmitted between people who do not have family ties. Thus, while some family stops producing when its members change jobs, there is never a lack of someone who takes up the tradition and gives it their own seal.

In the development of all cultures, carpenters’ apprenticeship went hand in hand with their own experience, and with the help of an apprentice, this noble trade was passed from generation to generation.

Undoubtedly the wood carving demonstrates the great manual skills of the Tlaxcalans and manifests the pride of the artisans and their roots since within the main themes pre-Hispanic ideas are carved, their history, coats of names, portraits, ornaments, furniture, utensils, etc Among the main woods used are ocote, sabino, palo duro, cedar and “tlaxixtle” (amelanchier denticulata is a native and emblematic plant of Tlaxcala) which for years was very significant for the economic development of the state.

In the region of Tlaxco, Don Miguel Ángel Márquez Sánchez together with his children, produces wooden crafts in his workshop, there the works that can be found are toys such as spinning tops; beauty accessories such as earrings or bracelets; ornaments such as jewelry boxes or vases; furniture and various other products. But, without a doubt, the most curious thing is the “tlaxcomóvil”, a car built entirely of wood from a Volkswagen Sedan engine, an example of ingenuity, creativity and art, this handcrafted piece took three years to build.

With the exception of the drive, suspension, braking and electrical system, this device is made entirely of wood: handles, steering wheel, wiper, seats, hood, doors, awning, headlight bases, glove compartment, engine lining and trunk. The first change in the vehicle was to cover the base of the gasoline tank with wood and the rest of the modification was made with “ayacahuite” or pine planks, which are bolted to the metal structure of the former beetle. The vehicle is fully functional, attends exhibitions, cultural events and is also rented for parties, weddings and fifteen years.

Another of this artist’s creations is an interactive model that shows how wood was made before electricity existed, as well as learning about the original tools with which this was achieved. With the support of dolls made of wood, operated with some attachments that combine pulleys and wooden gears, it shows from the felling of the tree, the manufacture of tables with axes and the furniture that was made without nails, they were armed with a glue called “glue” (strong, translucent and sticky paste that is generally made by sewing hooves and pieces of skin, and which, dissolved in hot water, is used to glue), dowels and wedges. This piece is in the “Carlos González” Museum.

“Speaking in general about people, it is a bit difficult for someone to understand that this is art, that this is beautiful, that this is creative, you don’t have time for leisure, this work requires all your attention and patience” . Miguel Angel Marquez.

In this family carpentry, the basic techniques are used to achieve a wooden craft. One of the essential processes used is sawing, which can be done with both manual and mechanical tools. As for the first, the hand saw is one of the most used. This is very practical both for making cuts in solid wood and chipboard. Of course, they also use the electric machine, although, yes, with protective glasses to avoid accidents, as wood chips can jump into their eyes.

A second technique is screwing or nailing, indicated to assemble the different pieces of wood. In practically any job that involves the use of wood, the assembly of the parts is necessary. To undertake this task successfully, the first thing is to mark where the screws or nails will go in order to avoid mistakes. Depending on whether nails or screws will be used, a drill or other tool is used.

With the woodworking project completed and all the pieces assembled, the next thing to do is sand it down. This technique is essential so that the object is smooth and totally uniform. The sanding process ensures the elimination of splinters that could cause cuts and other inconveniences for users.

Finally, every carpenter or fan of this discipline knows that the finishing touch is varnished. The varnish is a product that not only provides a shine and a professional finish to the set, but also protects it from woodworm and other problems that could deteriorate it over time. After applying the varnish, you will have to wait several hours until it dries completely.

Amado Márquez, Don Miguel’s grandfather, was the one who started carpentry at the beginning of the 20th century, today his grandson and his great-grandchildren continue with this life project. Don Miguel remembers that in May 1971 he was at the CIME (College of Mechanical and Electrical Engineers, A.C.) studying his first semester when he decided to withdraw and continue with the family activity. And although his family was very disappointed, he does not regret that decision, because he has always liked carpentry and, despite the difficulties and difficult times, he has never thought of changing his profession.

Today Don Miguel Márquez has more than 50 years dedicating himself to carpentry, that trade that he is passionate about… “my grandfather was a carpenter, my father was a carpenter, two of my sons are carpenters and he is the fourth generation of carpenters in the Márquez family”. They began working in the trade making furniture and repairs, today they work in the production of handicrafts.

MADEM Carpentry
Furniture Crafts and Wood Designs
Gabriel M. Hernández nº 12 Fifth Section
Tlaxco, Tlaxcala. Mexico. C.P. 90250
Telephone: +52 241.496.00.53