Becoming a crafting artisan woodworker

Becoming a crafting artisan woodworker

Should I question my efforts to reconcile lost art with our present world and the mammoth task we woodworkers have in countering the hybrid sterility of passion for working wood with the conglomerate world that pronounces reward from working machines? I think not. It hasn’t always been an easy passage. My goal was never to deny the essentiality of machines in a modern world working wood, but more placing machines in rightful perspective outside of mass manufacturing environs so that they can more assist, not control.

I saw a magazine ad recently. The ad was selling a 10”, tungsten tipped circular saw blade with the quote, “ANYTHING LESS THAN FLAWLESS JUST DOESN’T CUT IT.” A man stands in what looks like a miner’s-pit tackle room staring like a zombie into space and the ad implies that somehow he and this product have discovered ‘the cutting edge’. The ad also implies that this product is somehow made by the age-old and honorable company we once new called Marples, and that this same age-old highly reputable British Company in Sheffield is responsible for now making these saw blades. It states that the company they are purporting to be dates back to 1828. Almost two centuries. Somehow, it says, this saw blade is going to project us into realms of craftsmanship hitherto unknown. To be honest it’s quite sick and deceptively effective. They Irwin Company proves time and time again that it cannot establish its own name and so it piggy-backed on a British Company for its well-earned name, which was its reputation. Irwin did nothing to earn this reputation but simply bought it and uses it is more to dupe the unsuspecting. If their saw blade is a good saw blade, then let it stand the test amongst the best as Joseph Marples did. The Irwin Marples saw is manufactured in Italy and not Sheffield UK.

There are of course many good saw blades for mass manufacturing machines of every kind. Try a Forrest blade. You’ll find it hard to beat and you won’t be in the least bit disappointed.

Of course, we know that it isn’t true that a good saw blade leads to high levels of craftsmanship in the same way the blade itself is not made with high levels of craftsmanship as it boasts. Creating a bolt-on part with carbon teeth probably did not have a man involved much as all. So we must once again put the mass makers in their right place and not be deceived by imagery and unsubstantiated verbiage. On the other hand…

…becoming a craftsman or woman costs us something beyond a good quality chop saw blade.

Keeping hand tools sharp for a full class is quite a trick at first. When the students first arrive they need more guidance. As they progress they capably sharpen, but can in over-self confidence establish bad habits. Because they might not realize that they are establishing bad habits, they don’t know to correct themselves.

Critique is critical to growth

I am grateful for something most of the students have and that is if they see the flaw, they want to know how to correct it. This single ingredient is critical to their growth and it’s this that I look for when I work with them. An excuse always stands between success and failure. Blame creates the escape momentarily and consequences are shifted from personally accepting responsibility for any and all failure to an object they blame. So, as the ones who accept their failure correct their technique move on from success to success, the one who accepts no responsibility gets thicker and thicker skinned and their work becomes duller and duller and less exact. Flaws surround the work and at the end of the day they seem oblivious to the fact that their work has not improved. On the other hand, I see successes in imperfect joints. Each corner progressively improves and shoulder lines meet perfectly squarely. The man or woman seems more contented and they are improving. In the words of the English artisan training the become something we were once known as which is an “Improver.” In my world as an indentured apprentice I entered the realms of an improver and became an improver at the tail end of my apprenticeship before I became a journeyman for two years. After seven years I was considered a master craftsman in joinery and furniture making and also in carpentry. In my class this week we have only improvers. They not only accept criticism willingly for self improvement, they are grateful for the extra help we all need. Honesty to give and receive makes all the difference.

Next series on accuracy

Of all of the things I have learned through the years, the single most important dynamic to good or great workmanship is accuracy. I am about to write about this. I think it will help everyone to grow and it’s a word that comes up dozens of times every day in my month-long workshops. Accuracy is something you become. It at first seems rigid and hard but it leads to flexibility and success. Accuracy and sensitivity are one and the same. We will explore this for a short series next.

One comment on “Becoming a crafting artisan woodworker

  1. I appreciate my drill press and band saw, but they are severely limited
    in what they can accomplish. So wide, so deep, so long, so thick. As
    long as I can work within their limitations, they’re useful. But as
    soon as they meet their limits, they’re powerless tools.

    That’s the irony of freedom. Once you learn to saw a line accurately by hand, for example, you become free to saw any line at any angle(s) you can imagine. But you have to learn to saw first. Real freedom comes as a result of discipline.

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