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John Hemmings & the Joinery

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This chair, probably made in the Monticello joinery, is a copy of French chairs used in the Monticello house. Jefferson may have commissioned this chair for use at Poplar Forest, where John Hemmings created interior woodwork and for which he made other furniture.
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Arm chair, probably made by John Hemmings, mahogany, ca. 1817.
Thomas Jefferson Foundation

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In the well-equipped Monticello joinery, John Hemmings used fine woodworking tools. He used a jack plane for the initial dressing of lumber after it was sawn with a pit saw or water-powered saw mill. A hand saw was for fine cutting.

Jack plane.
Collection of Robert L. Self

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A plow plane had a set of interchangeable cutters or ‘irons’ of different widths and was used to cut various sizes of grooves. The adjustable fence determined the location of the groove was from the edge of the stock.

Plow plane.
Collection of Robert L. Self

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This object, made for Jefferson’s youngest granddaughter, shows some of Hemmings’s woodworking signatures: the way the shelves are attached to the sides of the cupboard, the double-bead molding on the shelves’ front edges, and the curved molding on the door frame.

Hanging cupboard made by John Hemmings, walnut and tulip poplar, ca. 1820.  
Thomas Jefferson Foundation

"John Hemmings was a carpenter. He was a first-rate workman, a very extra workman. He could make anything that was wanted in woodwork." - Monticello overseer Edmund Bacon.

Jefferson established a Joinery on Mulberry Row to produce the distinctive architectural woodwork for his house. Here joiners (highly skilled carpenters) made doors, windows, and decorative finish work, such as cornices, mantels, balustrades, and railings. Beginning in the 1770s, Jefferson engaged a series of white joiners, including James Dinsmore and John Neilson, who trained slave apprentices. John Hemmings (1776-1833) succeeded Dinsmore as head joiner in 1809, making fine furniture for Jefferson, including cabinets, chairs, and tables.

Some of Hemmings’s woodworking signatures include: the way shelves are attached to the sides of a cupboard, the double-bead molding on shelves’ front edges, and the curved molding on door frames.

John Hemmings, who could read and write, often spelled his name with a double m, while other family members used a single m.

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