A New Dawn in Working Wood

DSC_0013Today we start a three-day preparation course that prepares the students for a month of intensive woodworking; mostly furniture making because we make three major projects. Some of the attendees I know, but some I have not met, but the word attendee will soon change to friends and woodworking furniture maker. DSC_0413 2Even though with their coming they may have never used a real woodworking hand tool before in their lives, at the end of this course they will have made three major projects using hand tools such as planes and saws, hand routers and plough planes and so on. There will be no dial in chopping with chop saws or round overs with power routers, no biscuit joints and dowels, today they begin with rough sawn board and by this evening some will have cut their first ever dovetails, mortise and tenons and housing dadoes. The challenges will be many and frustration will be replaced with skill and an attitude to overcome anything that heats in the way.
I have often considered this thing called apprenticing. Since starting my own some fifty years ago I knew my steps would lead me to mastering skill and understanding this unbelievable material called wood. I am still in awe at the depth of its fibre. The way we abuse it and still it yields itself to our brutal ways of working it. Who could ever really plumb the inner complexities of its substance and who could ever replace the trueness of its proven worth. Just when I think I understand these things I discover something very new and wonder.
I am making a new table for my chair. It serves, or will, as a drawing table, computer table and a dining table for times when I am alone to eat. I have enjoyed this new design, shaping it and giving it life. DSC_0021I draw every day, three or four drawings a day. By the end of the day I hope to convey what Aldren Watson conveyed through his simple yet complex gift to us woodworkers. The issues of tools and their ways is something more than the magazines can really convey sometimes. Rushing to deadlines, editorial removals of key points can be difficult choices I know. Aldren too got some things wrong, minor I know, but you know, out the whole book, I find only two things I might have persuaded him to reconsider.DSC_0022 I still recommend that every woodworker own a copy of Hand Tools Their Ways and Their Workings by Aldren Watson. If I owned no other, this one book I would want to have with me all the time. There is not but one photograph in it, not even one of the author, and when I talked with Aldren some years ago about that he said, “I couldn’t convey the depth and warmth in wood and woodworking I wanted to share with those that would read my book.” Such is the heart of the illustrator.
DSC_0424The class will be along in about six hours time. I always look forward to first days. This is the day that their lives change all the more as we enter realms they mostly have never known. I listen to the mallets strike chisels and look over from my own bench. DSC_0513The wrists are not so strong and the unknown split waiting to happen hasn’t yet arrived. Soon the tool will start to do their bidding and their confidence levels will increase by each minute, hour and day. Their lives will change for the better and in ways that never happen with machine-only woodworking. This alone helps them to become truly balanced in their work door adding hand skills does nothing more than bring fulfilment in balanced ways of working wood.
DSC_0345I am working on new designs for the three month program starting later this year. My young friends will be making fifty pieces of furniture during that time. Chairs and table as a dining suite, a conference table and some chair side tables nesting as a coffee table centred to a living room. We have beds to make for real living and so too workstations. Who knows what this will lead to. The work we do through this will be, well, uncommerciably shareable, liveably breathable, exportable. Our common goal is to learn from one another, contribute to the whole and all of this in a spirit of generosity. I look forward to changing lives and being changed.

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