Practical Carriage Building

Compiled by M.T. Richardson, Vol.1. 1891

Carriage Shops - Large vs. Small

One of the greatest mistakes often made in small shops is in copying the methods and styles of big ones with the idea of putting on the road a carriage having the appearance of being the outcome of the big shop. If the small manufacturers would try to lead, instead of following, the result of their labors would no doubt be a hundred per cent better than it is. There is no reason why they should be afraid to take the lead. A man can shape and put together wood, iron, and leather with the ordinary tools of a shop, if he be a mechanic, in as neat and perfect a manner as the man who works with machinery. In fact, a good mechanic can sometimes make a good job with a few tools. Machines may shape material in a quick and easy manner, but the same work may be done equally as well without the machines, provided the workman fully understands his business. The writer can remember a small shop in Baltimore where all the work was done by two or three men, with no machinery, and that shop had the reputation of doing the best work in the State. In style, durability, and finish it could not be equaled by any other establishment in Maryland, and even in prices the large factories were unable to undersell it. For many years Thomas Goddard, the well-known carriage builder of Boston, enjoyed an enviable reputation in building buggies. All his work was done with primitive appliances, and yet he secured higher prices than any big Boston shop would dare to ask. This goes to show that the best policy of the small manufacturer is in maintaining independence in the production of his work by not copying others. Let him do good work with the aid of men who can bring experience and judgment to bear in every department—men who are not, as most hands are in the big shops, mere machines, able to do only one thing, knowing nothing of what had been done or what would afterward be done by others.

There are facilities possessed by the large concern that the small manufacturer can easily secure, particularly in the paint shop. The finish of a carriage is looked upon by most men as deciding the general workmanship of the whole, provided the style, proportions, fit, and correct adjustment of the parts which go to make up a carriage are as they should be. A good painter is he who can take a job from the smith shop to the repository, through the many operations necessary; and he will be better able to judge of the proper degree of dryness in each coat, of the materials used, and their manipulation, the effects of atmospheric changes, than the man who knows but one thing about the work. The paint shop then is one of the most important places in a factory, and it should be fitted up with every facility for doing work well. It needs a perfectly tight and well ventilated varnish room, a clean paint room, as good a means for heating as can be found (and for small shops the self-feeding stove has no equal), and, last of all, a painter who knows the whole nut, not a city-bred specialist.

There are a few other points I might mention, and one is at, in the hurry to make room in a small shop for other work, there is a great mistake made, and that mistake is the very thing that often spoils the entire work. I speak of the washing of a job when it comes from the varnish room. In large shops a job is hung up and run into the fitting-up in, where irons are put on, top fixed, straps buckled, and it may stay there for two or three days—perhaps longer—before a drop of water is allowed to touch it. In small shops the job is hung up, run on to the washing floor, the hose with a good head of water, is turned on, and all before the varnish is thoroughly dry. The varnish hardens on the outside, but absorbs moisture underneath, and when this moisture evaporates, the outer surface is dulled or made flat and devoid of brilliancy. The large shop job becomes dry before it is washed, and presents a brilliancy far superior to the job the small concern hurried into use by sousing the varnish with cold water to harden it. If the small carriage maker would depend more upon himself, and give more attention to details in his work, he would have no cause to complain that he could not compete with the big factory.— FRITZ SCRIBER.

Advice to Small Carriage Makers I think a good workman need never fail in his business if he will only attend to it himself. If a man starts a shop, he cannot expect to have everything to his mind at the first, but if he is accommodating, uses good stock, does good work, and, last but not least, completes his job at the time agreed upon, the community will soon notice these facts, and his business will begin to improve. A man, to be successful, should be on time, have a place for every tool, and every tool in its place; what tools he buys should be the best. There is as much difference in tools as there is in men. Poor tools and poor lumber a good workman has no use for. I like to select my lumber as it stands; but every one is not located so that he can do this. I think the best ash grows on ground that is rather moist. It can be cut any time between August and March. The quicker it is sawed and stacked after being cut, the better. It should be stacked under cover, in a cool place, where the sun cannot touch it. If timber is seasoned in a warm, dry place, it is liable to be hard and brittle. It is better to take the bark off when it is sawed.—By W.L.P.




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