It’s been good to watch John grow. I have lost track of the number of apprentices I’ve worked with through the past 50 years but it’s always been my greatest reward watching them come, work hard and then become their own man as it were. The shop will feel empty for a few weeks even if a new apprentice arrived. No apprentice ever replaces a former one because they are always of course unique beings and therefore irreplaceable when you live your work in an alternative life-changing reality. I talked with a friend today who may be the new trainee. She tells me of people in her spheres of woodworking who repeatedly advise her that hand woodworking with hand tools won’t pay the bills because you can’t compete. Of course they can’t really advise her because they wouldn’t understand lifestyle woodworking using alternative methods and systems to the traditions of machines. If she comes she won’t replace John because she isn’t supposed to.
You see hand tools isn’t just old but very new and, to those new to it, innovative. That’s what makes what we do so ultra fascinating and new. Not many woodworking machinists know hand tools or know about them at all, and especially is that the case in commerce. It’s funny how that they always feel so equipped and informed to advise people like Lea that methods used by people like me don’t work too well and you can’t make your living from it using those methods. Don’t you think that that’s, well, somewhat biased. Machine woodworking using machines is really not new at all but old, very old even. The Shakers at Hancock, Massachusetts date back to the late 1700’s and they used machines throughout their work including circular bench saws, bandsaws, planers, thicknessers and indeed mortise machines. Most were driven by water and they used water turbines to drive the shafts and they took the power off a central line to drive the individual machines. They were highly productive. But they also ran hand tools alongside their machines and the evidence of hand work is always in every piece they made. So tell me why hand tools and machine work can’t work or hand work alone can’t work? Whether the machines are driven by waterwheel, water turbine, steam, air or an electric motor, the machine is now and has been for two hundred years and more a traditional method of working wood.
The interesting thing for me is to see just how many woodworkers are becoming increasingly more fascinated by the methods we teach. Most of what I teach I have developed through trying to find out. Every day I find things out that are new to me Things I suspect others knew but never passed on. I teach the future to new woodworkers emerging who will carry on the awe-inspiring work that I do and may well make a living from what I teach in the future years when things become local again and communities start making things with their hands and enjoy it.