The sun setting over the New Legacy signs really meant something to me as I drove home last night. It meant a new legacy would now unfold that would be inclusive, inspiring and inviting. At last here we have something that represented creative training without exclusivity. We had created a place, a sphere of creativity and training, where skill could be passed on to others hitherto denied the possibility of studying under someone from a background as a lifelong working craftsman. Year after year both major western continents have shut down woodworking shops and indeed all craftwork shops in public schools. I know that that’s strongly lamented by most but it probably could be one of the best things that ever happened even though the short sighted politicians and their advisors shut them down for the wrong reasons. Trained woodworking teachers are usually not the best teachers because most teachers are trained to teach not work wood as crafting artisans. We should recognise that in view of the demise of woodworking apprenticeships, and the fact that schools never could really teach with proper credentials, centres like New Legacy provide the new-genre training for new-genre woodworkers. At last, I breathed, as I drove past the new signs pointing to the 2nd New Legacy School of Woodworking, at last we have a way of reaching people that seek true skill and mastery. All that I have been given can now be deposited in others and what I have doesn’t end with me.
Watching the students slowly filter into the workshop, mingle amongst the benches, looking at the tools, touching the benchtops and tweaking the vises I realised once more what commitment they had made to gaining mastery. How vulnerable they were in the statements of their lives simply being there. It was as if they understood they could now become something quite simple yet quite profound; they could become artisan woodworkers and this first day of class carried with it the dynamic that could make that happen. Seldom do we realise that big things often start with the very one small step others might despise. For these woodworking friends this was a new beginning.
Making a Shaker candle box seems more appropriate here than anywhere I have ever taught my class on dovetailing this unique little box. Here we are in the heart of what was once the epicentre of Shaker community life. The methods I am teaching encompass all of their methodology to encapsulate the essentiality of order. Sharp tools, layout practices, accuracy and technique all seem to elude new woodworkers so we spent the first hour discussing these issues and focussed first of all on the essentiality of sharpness. Each day I will expand this in practical realms as I alter saw teeth, reshape plane irons and teach techniques handed down since the early days of the Shakers and far beyond. We’ll continue to cut and shape wood to form joints and round over edges. With chisel tips we’ll remove waste from pins and tails and also form the recesses for hinges. By tomorrow we will not only have made boxes, but understand the angles and layout for dovetails. We will relate to wood differently than we would by machine. We will no longer say a machine is a tool but will know what the difference is between a tool and a machine. Where some say so emphatically that woodworking machine are tools, we will all know that that can never be.