The Rhythmic Pulse of Handwork – Not For Sale

DSC_0015The days pass fast with the class and already we are half way through with four days left. Last night we all ate Chinese at the Eastern Orient and today we completed the third project, so tomorrow it’s table making and all that that entails. The conversations we had were interesting. There is much soul searching for everyone because inside we all sense a lostness in our culture and it expresses itself with a definite search in the conversations for something we can identify as meaning. In many ways I feel contented with most aspects of who I am and what I do and this is because I found my calling early on in life. Others feel that too but not many. Perhaps as few as one in ten thousand people. Now even though I did answer the call in my mid teens, that doesn’t mean others didn’t influence me to forsake it or digress from it, but the strength of the call was indeed critical to my wellbeing and not just a sense of wellbeing. I always returned to my craft as a working artisan.

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There is nothing wrong with lamenting that losses we know have taken place, but we must then seek to fill the empty place, the space of occupation, with whatever matters to us. With that which means something to us. You see, that’s what craftsmanship and craft work is. It’s not something just mere, it’s substance and meaning – substantial and meaningful.

DSC_0052John’s tool chest is going well with many finely cut dovetails in oak and mahogany from secondhand furniture pieces. The mahogany is stunningly rich and dark and I see why furniture makers loved working it so much. Watching John’s progress has been so rewarding for me. His skills and confidence are stronger now and he’s unwavering in every cut he makes. The saws and chisels glide through the wood it’s true, but it’s more than that. He never pretends at all, which is what’s refreshing in this day and age. Not needing to prove himself to anyone makes him such a free artisan. Realness is a gift you see. You don’t need to pick through things when friends are open with you, and that’s what has been so refreshing having him here. DSC_0010I sat watching John as I worked from my own bench. He cut dovetails as I cut mine. Atmospheric synchrony between workmen became common to me and I still own that right and will until I can no longer work the way I do. How you explain such a thing to machinists or people who only punch keyboards is not possible without tools and a workshop and a bench and other workers working on their benchwork. Is it some kind of rite of passage? Absolutely. DSC_0002There’s a rhythmic pulse to such work and a resonance many, no, most, will never know unless we take hold of things to make change. It’s a sort of private communion unshared in our new age of pretence and pretend, simulated virtuality and CNC guided mechanisms that so systematically destroy what we’ve felt throughout the last few days. You see I’m conditioned by what I describe, I’m conditioned to it and it’s a condition I truly love to be surrounded in because it has depth and meaning to me. It was woven and knitted into the very fibre of my being before anyone knew what my DNA was or that it even existed. As long as I pass it on two the ensuing generations I will never cease to hear it, to see it or to feel, smell and taste it. You can’t can it. bottle it, but it or sell it. It’s priceless.DSC_0027

Herein is rhyme, reason and rhythm.

5 comments on “The Rhythmic Pulse of Handwork – Not For Sale

  1. It is indeed rhyme, rhythm, and reason! The sounds of the plane across the wood and the wood yielding to the plane going from ruff to finished. A transformation of both the wood and the woodworker, the wood becoming something more and the woodworker as well. The sights, smells, and feel enliven the body, mind, and soul. Keep up the work and keep up the teaching as this is the only way others will come to this realization. I have learned that as I teach and share it allows me, in some small way, to live beyond my years not only in woodworking, but in all areas of life. Blessings Jim

  2. I very much enjoy reading your blog Paul .I went to college to train as a furniture maker after I left school but was unable to find suitable work so re trained as a carpenter (don’t worry I don’t sharpen chisels with a belt sander) your blog is like a window into my dream job. I just can’t see how it could be possible I look on line for things that I could make in spare time , it just seems like there’s so little profit with the price of timber and a society that can’t tell the difference between Ikea or oak furniture land and craftsman made pieces . Any ideas ?

  3. It’s funny Paul, reading about your personal journey is like looking into a looking glass of my own life. I too knew by my early teens, most likely thirteen or so what I wanted to become.
    Now in my late fifties, I have enjoyed every single day of my working life. A day in my office is a blessing.I hope to have many more as I have no plans of ever retiring. (Unless my Clients retire me).

  4. Something to sadden you or make you even more determined to spread your gospel, Paul. I went into a timber yard in Manchester today to buy a large sleeper to make into a new edge for my workbench. Can you cut it in two? I asked. No was the response, as the sleeper is 41/2″ thick and we can only cut to 4″. I was incredulous. Do you have a hand saw? I asked, and I was met with equally incredulous looks. I could not take the sleeper home and cut it myself as it was too large for my car. How sad. Tomorrow I go to the woodwork show in Harrogate and will report if there are any similar disconnects with real woodworking.

  5. It is sadly now a hard thing for anyone to find meaning in life. Our materialism in the west precludes it. It is not simply that we are dedicated to “things”. That is the product of are condition. We can no longer make the leap from the cold hard reality of the world to anything of higher substance. We know all along it’s there, but what it is many cannot understand. Perhaps this is why so many search for social change, etc. You can never make sweeping changes without discarding something good. It is knowing what is good that we have lost and can no longer value. I have found that real woodworking has given me a passion for people. The wonder of my own “Aha moments” that I have experienced following you Paul has sparked in me an interest in perpetuating those same epiphanies for others. This is real woodworking. Finding I can make with my own hands something useful to others with a handful of simple tools helps to fulfill me. No corporate language about dividends or principles of artificial management are present. it’s just me, the tools, the wood,and most importantly the appreciation of the person receiving what I have made. No sweeping change here (except the shavings, of course). But it does change two people at a time- the maker and the receiver.
    Thanks Paul

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