Beginning in the 1850s, factories mass-produce window sashes, doors, mouldings and furniture, seriously eroding the business of artisanal joiners. The village joiner, however, not only survives but prospers at the end of the century. He is successful because he turns his hand to different types of woodwork in order to earn a living, whether a customer requires a window sash, a cradle, a rocking chair, a cupboard, a porch railing or even a coffin. If he is very skilful, he may also produce finely finished pieces of dining room and drawing room furniture made from expensive woods such as walnut and butternut. While much of his work can be done in his workshop, the joiner also goes to different sites in the village and on local farms to install finished woodwork, to build houses and outbuildings and to renovate others.
Two developments during the second half of the 19th
century contribute to the joiner's versatility. Firstly, sawmills and drying kilns produce large volumes of good quality wood at affordable prices. Pine is used most often for doors, window sashes, moulding, cupboards and chests, while oak, cherry and maple are stronger and better suited for some pieces of furniture. Secondly and most importantly, both the hand tools and machines available for woodworking improve dramatically. Factories produce cast iron and brass tools that are more durable than traditional wooden ones, and are increasingly sophisticated. Machines that perform repetitive, detailed work have existed since early in the century, but they too undergo improvements in terms of power and precision. Gas or diesel stationary engines power planers, drill presses, circular and band saws, mortisers and tenoning machines that all greatly increase the joiner's efficiency. Although costly investments, these machines quickly demonstrate their worth.