You can always hear the nostalgic words, “I love the smell of wood.” as people come into the workshop throughout the day. The next comment will usually be something like, “I loved woodworking in school as a boy.” For most of the men saying that, that was sadly the last time they worked with wood. Woodworking for them was over the day they left school. Woodworking is of course different than mathematics or English language in that it stimulates senses the academic subjects have nothing to connect to. You don’t hear maths or smell geography. You can’t touch reading except in the mind and so wood carries with it a that sense of awareness many crafts do. Leatherwork was wonderful for me. The smell of leather and glue and leather dye. Metalwork had it’s own fascinating smells and so too sewing and fabrics.
Woodworking textures my world every single day and for at least 8-12 hours of any day. Sometimes it’s outdoors as I walk through the woods or past fields bordered with walnut trees or massive pines, redwoods, mighty oaks and hazel trees. I like to see the leaves in full, matured green yield day by day to take on reds, golds and yellows as they move through summer’s end and on into autumn toward winter. There’s a gentleness in things that yield to circumstances they have no control of. I see it in people sometimes when circumstances seem so unstoppable. In many ways I was glad that woodworking stopped in schools when it did. Each generation of “educational specialist” dumbed down the art with their own lack of work knowledge and a curriculum designed to make designers not makers.
Here in Britain we have somehow managed to cleanse ourselves of the dirt and grime of working and export that aspect of effort to another continent. Why on earth we ever trust politicians to make decisions I will never know. One minute we cram people into universities so they can “get a good job” and forget the hefty bill at the end of it, the next we say we have too many with degrees and we need to apprentice them. Morrisons the supermarket chain is the biggest apprenticing company in the UK, but it’s not skill they apprentice people in but supermarket work. Yes, I know, we have people skills and life skills and cash-out skills and stacking skills, and of course these are important, but where are the jobs we once had that people aspired to?
I am so glad that our courses do change lives. Incrementally we see changes people make to adjust their lives to become woodworkers. It’s not just men then that will say I love the smell of wood but woodworkers. It’s not just older men in their sixties but younger people uniting with them and energising their future with thoughts of wood and leather and steel. They will still love the smells woodworking has, but instead of leaving it in the dim and distant past they will make forays to plumb its width and depth and breadth whenever time permits. They’ll smell a welcome from wood most days as they put away their laptops and work at a bench tucked in some quiet place in the heart of their home and discover a sanity they never knew existed.
Tomorrow people will arrive that I never met. My ambition is to change their lives and my own by their being in my workshop for nine whole woodworking days. We will do little more for nine hours a day than talk about tools and wood and its working. We will become friends and coworkers with vision and energy and the air will be filled with smells; pine one day and then oak the next. The floor will fill with shavings ankle deep some times and then choppings from mortises. Who knows where this new path will lead to.