Creating your creative workspace

Can two worlds unite

The new school of woodworking is really an unfolding work designed to help others find, no, more, discover the substantive merits and fulfilment of woodworking handwork. There should be no doubt that people generally believe that machines are advanced developments that enhance work and craft; that with each new machine developed to tackle tasks we are somehow improving on craft work when in actuality what we are accepting is a shadowing substitute. Machines merely displace skills they cannot replace. We often, albeit unwittingly, welcome these innovative developments without realising that, instead of enjoying working wood, we are now protecting ourselves from working machines that work wood. Safety becomes the core issue because all woodworking machines are extreme and highly dangerous. “But these are the new generation of advanced methods for working wood. They come from decades of inroads into dynamic machine use.” the argument goes. In reality they are little more than cleverly devised products engineers designed that scored highly with in an intent to dumb down the need for skill that unites with a high-demand work ethos that says we have to get the work done and get it done yesterday. We, on the other hand are simply woodworkers who want the benefit of recreational work beyond our regular jobs. We like the process of working wood by hand, or at least the idea of it. We simply don’t yet have the developed skills we need and that’s mainly because of the invasion of almost a century of being told we cannot get it. I am telling you, along with thousands of others, that you can get it, possess it and have it for the rest of your life. It’s all about finding the balance.

The Journey

For over six or more decades now, writers and videographers have presented something to us that we could simply choose either of two ways to take a journey. One would be to drive, keep dry, cool and get there fast. Saving time was the critical factor and benefit and that made us financially prosperous too in that efficiency is measured primarily in terms of financial profitability leading to success. Then on the other hand of course we can walk our way to the destination and feel the breeze, smell the flowers, enjoy a more relaxed pace. The comparison then is that on the one hand we can enjoy the ease and the speed even though we are encumbered with safety issues and safety equipment the network of which essentially separates us from total connection to our work. On the other hand the journey or the actual process itself gives coequality to the completion of the project. Dare we say it? We like the actual work. We like the sweat, the strain, the flex of tool and wood. It’s here that we thankfully start taking control as we adopt hand tools as essential to our work and decide further still that we too, regardless of background, can master skill and technique in hand work that then positively complements the work we do. We can choose then and only then to get off the conveyor belt if we want to. This for me becomes the dividing line between workmanship and production work. It becomes workmanship of the highest regard. I think it’s well worth thinking through and striving for and it doesn’t take years to develop and establish skill but weeks to cross the great divide between the two distinctly separate worlds of hand versus machine. Balance is the key.

New Choices For All

Thus this week begins an unfolding path into discovery as I said. Preparing to present New Legacy at the Saratoga Springs venue of the Northeastern Woodworkers Association show this weekend is a prelude to my month-long stay here in New York. It’s the continuation of a joint effort to establish a proactive workplace conducive to training woodworkers of every skill level and part of a plan to develop an artisan’s workplace we can refer to as my creative workspace. Taking these steps we establish new levels of controlling that aspect of our lives we reserve for recreation of a different kind. It’s our experiential occupation if you will that’s no different than skiing, rafting, canoeing or backpacking.  Here we begin to develop unconverted space gradually by thinking through the thought processes until we knew exactly how we wanted it to be. My personal workspace within this sphere of creativity has evolved through many years of hand tool (and machine) woodworking. The one I have in the UK is the one I like the most. It’s highly personal. I rarely change it because it so works for me. No one else can work in my workspace when I am there. You cannot share your bench or your vise with others. You’re not supposed to. Each must have their own personal workspace wherever possible. They define it

Freedom to Work

With my workspace in order I am freed to be creative in my work. It’s not a workstation. Workstations are for production workers who switch out at shift change with other shift workers. This is a highly developed yet profoundly simple space and therefore developing a creative workspace becomes essentially personal, suited to person, task and tool. Mine accesses machinery from time to time, but revolves functionally around my hand tools and my workbench and vise. Rather than anyone think I don’t like machines I am an expert wood machinist. I have used them since 1965 and I know them all inside and out. I like machines and I like the ease they bring to many tasks of my work. What I do not like is to spend more than half an hour to an hour a day using them and I never ever let them dominate my quest for skilled and creative work. On the other hand I am an expert hand tool specialist and know every type of hand plane inside out too. I understand every plane there is to use and have used them all at different times for extended periods—many decades in most cases. I feel the same way about handsaws as well, scrapers, auger bits, chisels and many more. I have used both machines and hand tools for almost five decades every day. I decide things surrounding their use that others rarely think of. In my workspace I don’t need pegboard with sharpie lines drawn around each item so I know where the tool goes back to. Neither do I need storage cabinets crammed with jigs and equipment and zillions of router bits to make my joints and reproduce products. That’s uncreative workspace!

Deciding a Future

Over the next month we will be focussing on my creative workspace once more. I believe this core centre is so essential to good work it must be carefully devised to encapsulate the personal exactness you want to own. Without it you will be dysfunctional at best and hopelessly floundering without it. I think that this should be both freeing and fun!

5 comments on “Creating your creative workspace

  1. Looking forward to your additional comments about creative workspaces.  I’ve come to the conclusion that this is really a critical area to be a good to great artisan.  But I have little personal experience in establishing the right environment.  Thanks for addressing such a wide variety of topics relative to us new-genre woodworkers.

  2. Paul, I enjoy reading your insightful and informative blog. After many years of recreational woodworking (on and off) your thoughts on the subject have renewed my enthusiasm and given me much food for thought. For what it’s worth, a few thoughts of my own:
    First, you seem to be beating yourself up over the ‘machines vs. hand tool’ thing – apologizing almost for admitting to the occasional use of a planer or bandsaw or whatever. Tools ARE machines….machines are tools.

    Your skill and craftsmanship is self evident and awesome – but I must presume to take issue with you when you imply (directly or indirectly) that machines are a substitute for skill and therefore require none. Just as with a dovetail saw, hand plane or chisel, acquiring sufficient prowess with a router or a tablesaw without maiming oneself takes time and patience.

    I can produce reasonably good dovetails by hand, but since I don’t do this all that frequently, it takes me a while. It also takes me a while to set up my dovetail jig, but I get good results because I have acquired a level of skill with the router/jig combination. You really can’t just plug the thing in, point it in the direction of a chunk of timber and produce a chest of drawers. It’s a machine, yes, but you have to learn how to use it  properly to get a good result – same as with hand tools. I am proud of the outcome whichever method I use – my friends and family are impressed because they can’t do it at all! 

    Don’t get me wrong – I love using hand tools- the feel and sound of sharp plane skimming off a shiver of wood and the thrill of a chisel shearing end grain encapsulate for me the joy of working with wood; and I own planes, saws and chisels which I cherish as artifacts in their own right.

    Work, recreation…Machines, hand tools…as you say yourself, balance is the key.

    Regards, Brendan

  3. I have a small basement workshop of almost 200sq/ft. It has a solid door but no windows. I am curious what you suggest to make the shop more comfortable?

    I have installed lights that are close to daylight brightness, and I have 4 banks of lights that should be more than enough light. In fact, I have to turn off one or 2 banks at times because it does seem to create a little bit of glare.

  4. Rereading this blog I suddenly realise I have to refocus..from the inside…feel…it is in the distance between things and the place in the space surrounding me…to get to the joy of working..

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