The Heritage Skills website is about showcasing the trades and skills of a bygone era, either through the written word, through images or via video. Craftsmen and women all over the world are creating beautiful and functional items that, for the most part, go unnoticed by the majority of the population. While some believe that many trades and handicrafts are quickly disappearing, it's probably more correct to say that the skills are still there but that they are hidden and harder to find given the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

For instance, there is a vast collection of videos up on YouTube, but most of them have no formal linking structure to speak of. No thread. No cohesion. They are just up there on the internet for everyone to see -- that is if they can find them in the first place! Here at Heritage Skills we hope to bring together a vast collection of videos on such trades as coopering, wheelwrighting, blacksmithing, woodturning, bowmaking, lutherie and many many others. It's quite a large undertaking of course, and we're always open to general public submissions, but it's something that we feel is necessary to do to help preserve the skills, trades and handicrafts of the past.

The Wheelwright's Shop

The header image for Heritage Skills comes from a painting by Edwin T. Billings, albeit a little compressed to fit a bit better. The scene is from his father's wheelwright workshop in Deerfield, Massachusetts from around 1860. Billings was not a well-known artist of the time, and it is quite possible that he earned his living primarily as a portrait painter. We have included an image of the entire painting below for visitors to see.

In the painting there are three craftsmen, and it is quite possible that the older man standing by the workbench measuring the squareness of the felloe may have been Edwin's own father. An almost completed wheel sits to the side of him waiting for it's remaining three felloes to be fitted (two spokes for each felloe). The man to the far right is planing what appears to be a panel of some sort, and it's likely that the shop doubled as a general repair workshop for coaches, carts and buggies.

Tools and half-completed items line the workshop -- a side-axe on the tree stump, drawknives and spokeshaves on the workbench, chisels and bit braces hanging up in front of the window, saws and felloe patterns hanging on the walls. On the high shelves to the back we see wheel hubs, various boxes and even a wall clock. Each work bench has its own, specialized, wheelwrights leg vyce. A combustion stove, along with glue pots heating, is off to the right, and in the center of the workshop there is the trying platform in which the wheel sits, awaiting completion. Once square, the felloe would have two holes bored along the inside arc to accept the tenons from the spokes. After all the felloes have been fitted to the wheel an iron tyre would be made fractionally under the diameter of the wheel, heated up on a fire and then hammered onto the outside surface of the wheel to lock in all the components. Being made of iron the tyre would also be longer wearing.

Curiously the man sitting in the middle of the other two gentlemen seems to be reading or is otherwise preoccupied. Could this be a rendition of the artist himself, having a private joke at the expense of the others? We may never know the answer to that, but it does not detract in any way from the overall beauty of the painting.

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