The Mechanic's Companion by Peter Nicholson 1850
Before digging into the period book review of The Mechanic's Companion, a few thoughts of my current thoughts on Mr. Nicholson's Opus.
There is a modern misinterpretation of The Mechanic's Companion (as has been the same for Joseph Moxon's Mechanick Exercises). Modern reviewers and yes, even modern woodworking authors often present Nicholson as being a technical text for the practicing craftsperson of the 19th century. Nope.
Witness this one line from the period review; "The book is principally intended for the service of young men coming from country to town, who will find many operations here, with which they have not been familiar."
Therein lies the rub. Nicholson was written for the aspiring young man of some means. Books were not for the lower classes, much less your average apprentice or journeyman. Books were often sold unbound, then bound to the buyer's preferences and at his cost. I have no doubt that many apprentices and journeyman did save up to buy a copy, but not that many. Odds are many a master of the shop had a copy on his shelf, both to display his intellectual knowledge and for the benefit of his staff. Maybe.
“More than a century has elapsed since Moxon’s ingenious work on the building art, called “Mechanical Exercises” was first published. It long continued useful and popular. The present state of practice allowed very well of a similar work with improvements. Mr. Nicholson has followed the steps of his predecessor; and treats separately of the arts enumerated in his title page. The book is principally intended for the service of young men coming from country to town, who will find many operations here, with which they have not been familiar. The readiest way of performing these, must indeed, be learned from practice; but a work like the present may tend advantageously to lessen that ignorance of which they are sensible, and to place them more on a level with their fellow workmen. The arts concerned in building are sufficiently connected with one another to justify a wish for acquaintance with more than one; and when directions are given, it is no detriment to be able to give them in language understood by the workman. We doubt whether Mr. N. has fully executed his intentions when he proposed to compile lists of the terms used in each art. From a practical man we should have expected a vocabulary of which a future Johnson might avail himself; - it is to be expected from a practical man only; for neither Greek nor Latin can assist in this matter. Many a good classic scholar does not the difference between “carpentry,” and “joinery,” but let him contract for a house, expecting to find all the wood work completed and finished, though he bargains only for the “carpentry,” he will soon find his knowledge improved by experience. Mr. N. should have had still further compassion on the ignorant. He might have introduced his treatise on carpentry, by a few words on the nature and quality of woods: he notices only oak and fir; why not elm, beech, &c. with others used in turnery, of which art he also treats. Attention to the properties of things, whether materials, or implements, carried throughout his volume, would have materially improved it: a knowledge of the goodness of tools, is of the first importance to a workman; and is undoubtedly one great cause of the excellence unanimously attributed by foreigners to productions of British skill and industry.
The plates of this work are useful: they describe tools and operations, which some acquaintance with practice will render beneficial.
Those clauses of the building act which relate to each trade are separately transcribed, and placed after each division. This may preserve many workmen serious evils, who inadvertently might undertake private jobs.”
Upon completion of his four year apprenticeship, he worked as a journeyman in Edinburgh, Scotland, and London, England. While pursuing his journeyman tasks, Nicholson secured a position as a teacher at an evening school. He did so well in this new profession that he left cabinet-work and began his new career of builder (architect) and author.
At the age of 27, Nicholson authored and engraved the plates for “The Carpenter’s New Guide”. He went on to write “The Student’s Instructor”, “The Carpenter and Joiner’s Assistant”, and 24 more titles on architecture and related subjects. During his lifetime, his books were essential to the libraries of beginning as well as experienced builders and architects. Nicholson’s books were predominantly intended for use by the practical carpenter and builder more so than by the theoretical architect. His hands-on experience in the trades as well as his unique aptitude for mathematics prepared him for his career as a self-taught architect, builder and author.
• Ok, so now you've slogged through the period review. Here is a link to a preview of my Toolemera Press reprint of the 1850 edition:
If I still have your attention, then yes, a few years back I published a reprint of Mechanic's Companion, available through Amazon (my Amazon Publishing Affiliate Link) or most online book retailers via the ISBN: 9780983150008.
Buying my reprints, stickers, prints, etc. pays for the costs inherent in publishing, for which I thank you.