|Nineteenth Century Crafts and Craftsmen|
|From James O'Hara|
|Introduction||Carpentry/Joinery||Shingle Making||Metal Smiths|
Undoubtedly, there was considerable agriculture carried out by the people of Metzenseifen,
both for their own consumption and for sale in local markets. However, the two villages
had a wide reputation for their craftwork as well. There were no major manufacturing
facilities or factories.|
Craftwork was done on a "cottage industry" basis. A master craftsman would set up a shop and staff it with a few journeymen and several apprentices. The apprentices were young men or boys, either from the master's own family, from other families in the town, or from neighboring villages. They provided unskilled labor for the master, and he, in turn, taught them the basics of his craft. When they were sufficiently skilled, the apprentices would leave the shop to spend several years traveling (or journeying), spending time in the shops of other masters, learning different techniques and gathering experience until they became qualified as masters in their own right.
The major crafts practiced in Metzenseifen were woodworking, (or joinery), shingle
making, and metalsmithing. By the beginning of the 19th century, metal work had
been practiced for over 400 years. (The first hammer mill was established in 1376.)
By the middle of the century, there were 109 mills in or near Metzenseifen, producing
agricultural tools and the like for export.
The following material is provided through the kindness of William Tomasch,
who was born in Metzenseifen and lived there for some years before immigrating
to the United States.
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Jakob Tischler's shop usually employed two or three journeymen joiners (men who
had successfully completed an apprenticeship) and four or five apprentices, who
were learning the trade.|
They manufactured almost anything from wood, including doors and windows, bedroom sets, tables and chairs, and coffins.
One specialty was a large kitchen cupboard or chest, called a "Dolmerei", which was a popular piece found in almost every house. The Dolmerei had several large drawers on one side for storing such staples as flour, beans, peas, cornmeal and farina. The other side had a cabinet of shelves for dishes and cups, and possibly several small drawers for silverware.
All of this work was done manually, without benefit of machinery. Rough-sawn boards were smoothed by hand, using wooden planes made by the craftsmen.
Decorative molding was made with a plane whose blade had been modified to cut the desired shape into the wood. Other modified planes were used for rabbeting and grooving. (These handmade nineteenth century planes are now a popular collectors item in the United States.)
Cutting the wood was done with a "Spannsaege", or spansaw. This type of saw is still in use, particularly in Europe. It consists of an H-shaped frame with a saw blade mounted between the bottom legs of the H, and a rope loop across the top. A short wooden handle is inserted in the loop and twisted to tension the blade. The third picture shows another kind of spansaw in use.
Everything the shop produced was made to order. Nothing was manufactured for stock, with the exception of coffins, since they were required almost immediately after a death in the village. Coffins were made in advance, complete except for the final finishing touches, and were stored in the shop. The apprentices and journeymen put this stock of partially completed coffins to good use. Frequently, these men came from villages outside of Metzenseifen, too far to return home each night. There was no room for them in the Tischler house, so they came up with a practical solution. They would place a straw-filled mattress in the bottom of a coffin and sleep quite comfortably there.
This practice led to one amusing incident recalled by Wilhelm Tomasch from a
story told by father: The Anna Story.
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The area around Metzenseifen was well forested in the nineteenth century, and a
sawmill was established at least by 1640, possibly earlier. This mill produced
all of the rough sawn wood for the joinery and carpenter shops.|
A related wood working industry, which did not require the mill, dealt with the making of shingles.
Unfortunately, the methods used by the shingle makers were extremely wasteful. They would go into the forest and select a prime pine tree.
The tree would be felled and then "tasted", which involved cutting a piece from the trunk the length of the shingle. This was split and the grain examined to see if it was acceptable for shingle making.
If it was, the trunk was taken back to Metzenseifen to the shingle maker's shop.
If the grain was not of sufficient quality, the trunk was left to rot on the ground. Sometimes, three to five trees would be felled before an acceptable one was found.
The abundance of good timber and experienced wood workers resulted in a town of predominately wooden houses.
It remained that way until the great fire in 1898. The houses were reconstructed from brick, produced in a kiln owned by the town, which reduced the threat of future fires.
While the houses were mostly brick, the roof construction used heavy timbers and the locally produced shingles, since no suitable substitute for these was available until 1930. At that time, a roofing board called "Eternit" began to replace wooden shingles. Eternit was a thin composition board made of asbestos and cement. This material was quite light, strong and fireproof, and came in squares of approximately 30 centimeters that were laid in diagonal courses. These roofs had a life expectancy of thirty to fifty years. The only maintenance they required was a cleaning every 15 years or so to remove the buildup of moss. The widespread use of Eternit put an end to the manufacture of wooden shingles in Metzenseifen.
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The other major craft was the production of metal articles in the hammer mills.
A hammer mill was a basically a blacksmith shop which used a drop forge
(a type of large mechanical hammer) for the heavy cutting and shaping of the hot iron or steel.|
These mills were characterized by a steady "punka, punka, punka" noise when in operation, caused by the rhythmic striking of the hammer against the hot iron.
William Tomasch's uncle owned such a mill, and he would take him along on occasion to watch how a "Kratz", or shovel, was produced.
A Kratz was a pointed spade that could cut into the ground easily, and was used for planting potatoes and other vegetables. (A link to illustrations of a Kratz and other implements manufactured in the mills can be found on the Home Page.)
The following is William's description of how a Kratz was manufactured. There were usually two teams of metal smiths at work in the mill. The master smith and his helper would be at one fire and a similar team at a second fire.
The faces of the men were black with the soot and ash from the fires, and they worked without conversation. The noise of an operating mill was too loud to permit spoken discussion or direction. This meant that each team had to be aware of what the other was doing and, since they shared the use of the hammer, each team had to anticipate the next step in the other's progress.
The master of each team would direct the work of his helper by motions of his head. Each particular motion had a specific meaning, and the helper had to be able to recognize each of them and act accordingly.
The master began manufacturing a Kratz by placing a "stobeisen", or iron billet, in the fire. He put more coal on the fire and the helper began pumping a "Plospalk" (bellows) made of leather until the both fire and the iron became very hot. When the end iron billet was red hot, the master took it to the hammer, which the helper was holding in the raised position. The master placed a shearing chisel shaped like a cleaver on the hot end of the iron and signaled for the helper to release the hammer. The hammer dropped and the chisel cut off the hot piece of iron. The billet was placed to one side and the cut-off piece was placed back in the fire to be reheated. The piece was handled with a large pincer, or pair of pliers, which probably had been hand-made by the master.
After reheating, the master flattened one end, and split the other in two pieces. The split was shaped into a round socket for the handle. The piece was then reheated and the split was hammer-welded together. After one final heating, the blade was flattened into the rough shape of the Kratz, with the welded socket and the metal around it making a triangular reinforcement at the center, strengthening the tool.
After the final flattening, the excess metal was sheared off to form the finished shape, and the master's mark or symbol stamped on it with a steel die. The tool was then sharpened and finally, protected with a coat of lacquer.
During the depression in the 1930s, the smiths could not always afford to buy the stobeisen. Instead, they used salvaged railroad rails, which had to be cut to length by hand with cold chisels. This involved a tremendous amount of labor, since the rails were steel rather than soft iron like the stobeisen. The sections were used in manufacture just like the stobeisen, but with the advantage that the steel would take and hold an edge much better than the softer iron. This expanded the smith's line of products to include knives, cleavers, hatchets and the like.
While the majority of the metal craft involved the manufacture of agricultural and household tools, the smiths were capable of much greater precision.
During one of the Hungarian uprisings against the Austrian government, the town produced guns for use by Kossuth. As one example, William Tomasch's great great grandfather, Jakob Boehm, produced and delivered guns worth 80,000 gulden. Unfortunately, the Hungarians never paid him a groschen for his work!
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