In North America, Amish furniture, homegoods and other products are often appreciated for craftsmanship, attention to detail and materials. Typically, Amish communities reject many modern technologies, especially if those technologies are for the sake of convenience.

This includes something as simple as a zipper, when a good old button will do. And this is especially true for things like powered tools. Lawn tractors are replaced with draught animals. Cars with horse-drawn buggies. And things like a circular saw or lathe must be powered with antique technology.

Enter the line shaft, which is a complex array of belts and pulleys that a 19th century sawmill or woodshop would use to power table saws, band saws, sanders, shavers, planers or any other rotary or reciprocating equipment. Pulleys would typically be mounted overhead, or behind walls or under floors, and would be connected by belts. Workers would be able to select which tools or equipment to engage with individual brakes, clutches and couplings.

The end results was a completed functional woodworking shop, with capabilities comparable to the equipment today, albeit powered by steam engines, a water wheel, windmill or eventually, a single electric motor.

The Amish continue to use line shafts for many of their wood sizing needs today. Most notably, The Daily Independent recently covered the construction of a new line shaft being built in Greenup, Ohio, by a local Amish cabinet maker.

To contact the author of this article, email kharrigan@globalspec.com