Discovering success

It’s not always a simple thing to measure success, especially in our present culture where many producers drive the large corporate wheel and it’s impossible to identify the individual production of each participant. Life for many today, whilst disguised behind terms like team players and such, seems more like being on a production assembly line rather than an individual thinker evaluating his and her minute-by-minute input. Perhaps that’s why making something from raw wood or a piece of damp clay, some reeds from the riverbank with our hands means something.

The workshop finished at 5pm this evening and we swept shavings of success from the workshop floor. It’s a customary practice and I’ve done it about 46,000 times since I started work at 15 years old. I sweep up several times a day and the big clean up is the last one when we go home having put the tools in the toolboxes and shelves. Tonight was no different as we swept and tidied and put the lights out before closing the workshop door, content.

I think all too often cultural pressures to produce the goods and meet economic targets skew how we view and gauge success rather than the flexed muscle and that unique work feeling we seldom allow time for, the sense of wellbeing.

A smile connects from one side of the bench to the other. A hand reaches over to pass the brace and bit and one new friend guides the other by eye as the other bores the hole in the seat for the new leg. One man asks another how to change the plane depth. The other helps. Two days ago the other didn’t know either. Now many people know. Symbiosis? No, not really. More sharing the experience of shared discovery. It’s a vibrant success in industrious creativity that was once common to most people being rekindled.

It takes confidence to land a plane on the wood and  use it effectively  and it’s not just a question of toughing it out or muscling it through. You can’t manufacture confidence and you can’t have it without some degree of experience. After two days the waste bin was full of shavings, chunks and chips that came from the cutting edges of 8 chisels, 8 gouges, 8 planes and 8 spokeshaves working fulltime over two days. Whereas gauging success by created work has obvious benefits, I don’t think many would consider the shavings covering the floor signs of success.

We cut mortises and carved spoons with traditional gouges. Dovetails came from saws and chisels and spokeshaves rounded over the legs of a traditional three-legged stool.

We had a great time learning from each other the best ways to work with tools and wood. I think we all enjoyed new measures of success.