I went to the car boot sale yesterday. It was humbling to see items from the 1700s through the 1800s being sold for so little when I could see how much skilled hand work went into them. What was humbling was the reality that I couldn’t work out how many of the things there were actually made even though they were made from wood and I have worked wood for 52 years if I include a couple of years woodworking at school..
Crafts of every kind crop up at car boots. Beautiful blown glass and leather clogs on wooden soles, ploughs, oak butter churns, chairs of every age and every size made from wood in woodlands and on workbenches. Dovetailed chests by the dozen and a few weeks ago I passed up an upturned jointer in beech 6’ long for £200. Looking at a massive (1 3/4″ dia) boxwood screwbox thread cutter made by Thomas Turner was what humbled me. I thought it beautiful, but there is a financial limit and limited space to buy all I see. You see, for me, that’s what I find humbling too. Creativity and creative work space is limited too. We are limited, but living in a virtual world that we know is not quite ‘there’ is always telling us that we are not limited. I am limited in the amount of knowledge I can retain in the same way I am limited in the amount I can do as a craftsman. Absorption can never be limitless and humility for me is finding my limit, accepting it and finding contentment within that limiting sphere. In many ways I feel I have found that in what I do. I cannot extend the hours of my day and nor can I force my body beyond its limits to produce more. In the pre computer age when life was, well, real, virtual was more an unknown phenomena. Yes, your mind could take you where ever you wanted to go but thankfully circumstances of reality constrained you with limiting factors like personal strength, stamina, skill levels and so on. In this, I think, humility rests and a man like myself finds that place reserved for contentment.
Even this tool chest was humbling when I saw the dovetails randomly cut is quite humbling.
When I stand at my bench, pull my tools from their chests and share my creative workspace with one or two others around me, I discover a peace I rarely find anywhere else. This is contentment. In this I lose myself, clocks stop, people pass, I work unnoticed and I do what I am limited to do knowing I cannot do more, make more, earn more. I think that this is what the amatuer in me finds and the amatuer around the world finds. In this is the reward of craftsmanship. Settling for mastering skill that cuts a hand cut dovetail, and tenon fitting to perfection is a place of utter contentedness in the whole of what is being made. I know this to be true for me and for others too. That space of time in occupying an hour or two that has no monetary compulsion, no demonstration for others to admire and and a freedom from all else save shaving and paring and sawing, fitting, heating, bending and creating something we build from real wood. This measure of contentment can be matched by nothing else. Such an ambition, contentment, remains within my very soul. In this I feel absorbed, enveloped by my craft of working wood.