I was glad to be a part of this class. I suppose that goes without saying as I am all of the classes I teach and indeed have taught. But there’s a gentleness in the workshop where listening and thought run side by side and mallet blows unite with swipes from the planes that wrap the floor in shavings and layers of wood chips that reveal an honest day’s work without reserve. If a joint isn’t perfect does it mark failure or experience and progress? On paper we could erase it, the computer the delete button eradicates all traces of flawed work to make us look good, but a slip of the saw and one extra shaving leaves a gap and we feel bad. What we expect and achieve are of course often two different things.
It takes time to gain mastery and soon into hand tool work we realise why people give up and resort to machines that sub for skill. We spend hours making jigs to guarantee the exact passage of a machine into wood and so guarantee the good results that eliminate or at least minimise our risk of failure and the need for skill. Actually, this is what I admire and is noteworthy about my students… That’s not what they do. In fact, they never give up. Never. Over the days, when a quiet time came, George made a successive series of dovetails following patterns he learned when he made his dovetailed Shaker Candle Box three days ago. He wasn’t so much trying to get them to fit like most people do. He already had that down. He was trying to get the exact pressure I had told him we were striving for where the wood is compressed by its counterpart to ensure the exact compression within the joint so that it held the two parts in perfect harmony. You see, that’s the difference between machine cut and hand cut. That’s the difference between you using skill and judgement to make the necessary adjustments through and by your physical connection to the real tools as opposed to machines that substitute for such connectivity. Simon, working 4 metres away, took one of my demo’s on making a half-lap dovetail, made his own. It came out well and had the tightness I talk of. You see it all goes beyond just showing off a joint to feeling the pressure on the walls as you press it together. When a salesman offers me a dovetail cut by machine router, no matter the guide maker or router, they always look the same, they look machine made too somehow, but it is more than even that. The joint ‘feels’ machine made and that’s partially the difference. But more than that. The sense of accomplishment is so much less and that’s why learning to master skill is so critical to our wellbeing as crafting artisans. Effort over several days makes the difference and when the work has flaws in it it’s not so much the mark of failure but moving forward and progressing. My students are progressing. They are accomplishing. They are achieving and improving and making things become intrinsic to what they believe in. The discover what they should have discovered some years ago. They discover that they can do it themselves!
Today we start Module III and table making
Once the shelves are glued up we turn to oak from pine and start to discover visible capillaries, medullary rays and cells we might never have seen or heard of before. It’s the time of the mortise and tenon joint and chiselling, chopping and paring in different fashion to methods we used on the last two projects and practice pieces. Now we have learned and gained skill. We know what sharp means and we get sharp tools in a few minutes because we understand the goals. Amazing, the crossover from not knowing to knowing. To get beyond the book of knowledge to the relational knowledge gained only by doing. The wood unites everyone when it costs you something to achieve the right results.