Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Day with Thomas Day

On this most recent of Saturdays, I was invited as part of a group to tour the Thomas Day exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of Natural History. Our guide was Jerome Bias, a local historian and fellow HOW group member. Jerome worked hand in hand with the museum to make the Thomas Day exhibit a reality and has even authored an article in the April 2010 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine.

Thomas Day was an amazing free black cabinetmaker in a country and time full of repression and segregation. Yet, against all odds, this man owned the largest cabinetmaker's shop in the State of North Carolina. At it's peak, his net worth was over $40,000 and he had 21 people working for him, including: white apprentices and slaves.

Born in 1801 to a master carpenter in Virginia, Thomas Day and his older brother John Day Jr. both became skilled, learning the trade from their father a master cabinetmaker and farmer. John Jr. led the way to Milton, NC soon opening a cabinetmaker's shop, assumed to fund his his education in religion. Thomas followed his brother to Milton at some point and inherited the shop when John Jr. returned to Virginia in 1825.

His work is unbelievable, ranging from roughly built church pews to flawless reproductions of patterns found in catalogs of the day. (Some of his pieces are so precisely executed that there are absolutely no tool markings, not even in the hidden areas.) He also embraced technology in the quest to streamline production methods, using steam engine to power some of his tools.

 My buddy, Mark, joined me on this visit to the Museum and as a semi-professional photographer, I'm sure he has some much better pictures to share. I will post them when he shares them with me. :)

Thomas Day died in 1861 and we are blessed to have such wonderful pieces of craftsmanship to remember him.
Get out and make stuff!


  1. Would it be possible for the Caswell County Historical Association to add your great Thomas Day photographs to our online collection?

    See: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ncccha/sets/72157594376026027/

    Thanks and best regards,

    Rick Frederick

    Archivist and Webmaster
    Caswell County Historical Association

  2. Rick, you have my blessing to post these pictures in your online collection. I am truely honored. :) I should have some more posted soon.

  3. Dan, what a great share. I was fortunate to meet Jerome at WIA last year and talk during dinner. He is a pretty fascinating individual in his own right. Thanks for posting all of these pictures. I really love the side chair posted in the 4th or 5th picture. Beautiful splat and such simple clean lines. Perfectly American in other words. Do you have more pics of that treadle saw? I have not seen one of those before and I am intrigued!

  4. Shannon,

    Totally agree, Jerome is a great guy. He's in my HOW (monday night) group and has so much hand tool knowledge that I feel myself going cross-eyed when I'm trying to intake all the information he is giving. He brought this break down work bench a few weeks ago that was my original concept drawing, until I made the quick one out of plywood. He solved issues that I just could not figure out mentally. Now that I have seen his, I'm dreaming up a new bench that is a hybrid of his and Bob Rozaieski's from Logan Cabinet Shoppe (I want to try the crochet to see if I like it, so I may have to put a post in locally to see if anyone has one.) Of course it will have to be mobile and able to fit in my car, which is towed behind the RV..ie, 4 feet long, max.

    I loved that chair. It was one of my favorite pieces (hard to really narrow favorites down to just a few). I'm reminded of the elves in the Lord of the Ring series (<-huge nerd) and have been wondering if I could eventually make one for myself.

    I finally moved Mark's photo's over to my computer so I'll load some of his in a new post soon. He has a few different angels of the sash saw you were talking about.

    Thanks for the comments!



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