Sløyd or snikring as the general term for Norwegian Woodworking?

There has been a while since our last post in English and I might inform new readers that our blog has a category for English posts. Some of you might have tryed to use Google translate to read our Norwegian or Swedish language posts? Then you know that there is some problems with the translation of the woodworking terminology from our Scandinavian languages to English. I frequently use the word «snikkar» that could translate to woodworker. In definite form plural i would write «snikkarane» that means the woodworkers. This was translated by Google translate to «sneaky guys» which have a very different meaning. Recently there have been an update to google translate and «snikkarane» are now translated to carpenters. Despite theese problems I do hope that you non Scandinavian readers are still with us.

The term «snikkar» could be used in several different ways. It could mean a woodworker in general. It could also mean a person with certificate of apprenticeship in the sorts of woodworking that compares to both joinery and cabinetmaking as theese two woodworking diciplines are regarded as one and are both included in the term «snikkar» or «snikring». To make the confusion total, the term «snikkar» are commonly used to describe the modern day carpenter, however this should be called «tømrar» as this was the traditional Norwegian term for a carpenter. The etymolgy of the word «snikkar» might be from the low German «sniddeker» that means a person who cut (whittle) wood.

Ripsawing the front of a smoothing plane with a frame saw. Photo from the blog Strilamaksel by Trond Oalann

We also have the term «sløyd» in Norwegian. That could mean woodworking in general and have also been used in that way. We have the modern use of this term from Swedish «slöjd» that are used as a word that could be translated to handicraft. In Norway is Eilert Sundt considered to be the first ethnologist and started to focus on craft and training in craft as an important part of the upbringing of children. This was around 1850-60 and it seems like it was a corresponding conception in the other Nordic countries. This was the basis for the introduction of sløyd as a school subject and also the Swedish school for teachers at Nääs in about 1870. This school was started by Otto Salomon with the financial support by his uncle. Otto Salomon published the important book «The teacher’s hand-book of slöjd, as practised and taught at Nääs; containing explanations and details of each exercise» in 1891. According to Wikipedia: Sloyd (Slöjd), also known as Educational sloyd, is a system of handicraft-based education started by Uno Cygnaeus in Finland in 1865. In Denmark we had a similar way of thinking that resulted in a educatonal system called Dansk Skolesløjd that was established in 1886.

Trond Oalann are making a dovetailed tool chest based on intstructions in the book «Sløidlære» by Kjennerud-Løvdal, 1922. Photo from the blog Strilamaksel.

In Norway we had Hans Konrad Kjennerud (1837-1921) who is known to have introduced the subject sløyd in the Norwegian schools. He was educated from Nääs in 1880 and was the driving force to introduce sløyd as a subject in the education of teachers. There have been many following Kjennerud and the subject sløyd have been very important for many generations pupils since. This has also resulted in a lot of interesting litterature. When I search for litterature in the subject «snikring» I find that most of the Scandinavian books seems to be written with at theoretical focus more than practical. There are very few instructions in how to do the practical work. I believe this is because of that most of the apprentices in «snikring» had done their training in the «basic skills» in their sløyd lessons in primary school. When I read some of the older sløyd books I am suprised by the level of the work the pupils where supposed to to in primary school. I have come to that we have to search books for both «snikring» and sløyd to find information in writing about the traditional Norwegian woodworking. I have in my last post written about how the autor A. Stubhaug explains ways of working wood in his book: Arbeidsteknikker i tresløyd. (This link might be only for Norwegian IP adressses?)

Trond Oalann working in his workshop. Photo from his blog Strilamaksel.

A fellow woodworker and blogger, Trond Oalann, has also got interested in the early Norwegian sløyd books. He has written several blog posts of his woodworking projects based on the instructions in the four books «Sløidlære» av Hans Konrad Kjennerud and Karl Løvdal. The books where probably published in 1922. He posts about making his own horn handeled smoothing plane based on drawings and instructions from the book. He write about how to adjust the sole of your wooden plane. He write about how to flatten and dimension a board with handplanes and a lot more from theese important four books. You should follow his blog Strilamaksel to read his interesting and well illustrated posts about his work.


About Roald Renmælmo

Snikkar med fokus på handverkstradisjon og handverktøy. Universitetslektor og PhD stipendiat på NTNU i Trondheim. Eg underviser på tradisjonelt bygghandverk og teknisk bygningsvern og restaurering.

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