Simplicity, hard work and harmony with nature. When furniture is made with such care, it’s easy to see why it's more desirable than ever.
Amish furniture has continued to grow in popularity since first reaching the shores of America in the late 1700s. It’s coveted for its uncompromising quality and durability while symbolizing what it means to be made by the hands of true craftsmen.
Whether you’re just discovering Amish furniture for the first time or have a house full of it, maybe you’re curious to know more about how it’s made and what makes it so special!
The Amish in America
The Amish movement began with a split in the Swiss Mennonite Church during the 1600s. By the late 1700s and early 1800s, many who wished to break from the Mennonites in Europe had immigrated to the United States and settled in Pennsylvania and parts of the Midwest - places that would be removed from technology and industry taking over the modern world.
These close-knit communities focused their lives on the ethics of integrity, self-sufficiency and hard work. The result was furniture that was designed creatively and with handcrafted quality and beauty. Originally, Amish furniture was made in the Mission and Shaker styles. But that is certainly no longer the case as it comes in everything from contemporary to midcentury to traditional!
The Amish Way of Life
Many of us live in a world dependent on modern conveniences, but the Amish have stuck close to a simpler way of life. This uncomplicated lifestyle focused on cultivating community has allowed them to become experts in livelihoods that can accommodate - such as farming and fortunately for us, carpentry. By becoming masters at handcrafting high quality furniture they are able to make a living and provide for their families doing what they love.
So…are they allowed to use electricity?
The Amish do not reject all electricity but use it selectively depending on how it might serve their community and if it aligns with their values and beliefs. This is often shop and project dependent where a mix of power and hand tools will be used. They do not tap into the electrical grid but rather use generators for compressor-powered tools (also called pneumatic tools) to save valuable time while maintaining high standards of craftsmanship.
How Amish Furniture is Made
The woodworking skill for which the Amish are famous is handed down from previous generations. After about the 8th grade, adolescents are brought into the fold of farming and carpentry to begin learning the trade and contribute to the family’s income.
Photo by Deepak Trivedi on Flickr
Amish-made furniture is constructed with the use of solid woods - the hardwoods of red and white oak, maple and walnut are popular as are some soft woods such as pine and cedar. The wood is handpicked by its craftsman with particular attention paid to the grain and unique aspects of the wood that will add to the distinctiveness and beauty of each finished piece.
The techniques utilized by Amish crafters focus on doing things by hand without the use of added objects - like screws and nails. For as long as they’ve been making furniture, dovetail joints and mortise and tenon joinery have been used to fuse pieces together seamlessly and durably. To ensure that the finished pieces will last without warping or cracking, the raw lumber is open air seasoned or kiln-dried before the craftsman begins building. All intricate detailing, sanding and finishing work is completed by hand, usually in many steps to ensure perfection.
Amish furniture craftsmen don’t seek to just build furniture, but rather create heirlooms that will be passed down from generation to generation.
Fun Facts About Amish Furniture
- Amish furniture is rarely marked by its craftsman. The value of humility and community over individualism means they’d rather not call attention to themselves.
- An Amish craftsman will specialize in a single piece (chair, table, dresser, etc) to master their skill.
- Power tools used in Amish furniture making came about when food safety laws required them to refrigerate the milk they sold. Gas or diesel powered generators ran their refrigerators and eventually the tools for woodworking.
- Amish furniture is sustainable.
- The wood comes from trees selectively cut from managed forests when needed instead of from clear-cut forests.
- It’s made in America with no need to transport long ocean distances to its final destination.
- It’s made to order - no warehouse or storage space needed.
- It is built to last, and last, and last!
- No off-gassing due to toxic glues or materials like those used in particle boards.
- Amish workshops don't like to waste anything. Scrap wood is used for smaller builds, jigs, and other projects, on down to sawdust for livestock bedding.