Bridging the gap
One thing I have learned through my lifetime as a lifelong lifestyle woodworker is the value of drawing out my work, looking to the past for a present generation. This means copious note making and measuring the details of life meticulously and searching out for the many small nuances a particular craftsman had and left behind in tool marks such as plane and chisel cuts or saw marks. Even the chips on the floor tell a sentence in a story. From these I tell whether the plane was square on, inline, pushed and lifted to feather the out-cut or a full through cut. I must say that I like the workmanship that predates mass-making beyond slabbing the tree into boards.
You know, where hand planes skimmed off the saw kerf of frame saws and circular saws leaving slight undulations in the surface and vernacular evidence where I could relate to the man, his wisdom in workmanship and of course the fact that say two hundred years ago he was sharpening on local stone or slate quarried from an open cut a few miles from his bench. Life you see for a man like me and them was unfancy. A walk on cobblestone setts to work sparked from the hobnailed clogs in the dark of early morning and in the shop the same clogs clunked on the wooden floor in an era unknown to concrete, plywood and pressed fibreboard. It was an era of real, earthy life when a man planted seeds in early spring and covered the rows with straw at night and opened up the rows at first sunlight to heat the dark soil through the day as he worked wood he’d cut with his own hands. His kids worked with him; I mean alongside him. I recall a lady saying to me, “no man should ever teach his own son and no son should ever work with his father.” That’s the silliest thing, but I’ve heard it said by others too. How narrow a mind on the one hand and how reckless a father who didn’t train his own son and raise him to respect the world he brought him into.
Working together was for me one of the richest rewards of being a dad. I cannot remember once where my boys and I did not enjoy working together, alongside one another in the evening. The stove filled with warmth and glowing hot was a magnet at different points throughout the winter time; snow outside and steam on the windows in. Those of you who have sons and daughters will have a greater struggle than I did encouraging your children away from computers and role playing instead of real living but it can be done. I cannot remember once forcing my kids to come and work with me. More the reality was getting them to stop and walk home with me at 9 and 10pm. At home I would hear something scratching as I lay in bed and realise, no, it wasn’t a mouse, it was sandpaper as one of the boys sanded a spoon or a cutting board.
Life is changing but relationships very much matter
It is a different world for us today and especially so for you young parents, dads especially I think, to switch off work you do to make a living and switch on living for working with your children. If you start early with them they will not only have the rich rewards of working with you, they will wait for you to come home and walk out to the shed or garage, stoke up the stove and start the real work of building bonds in the next generation of woodworkers. You’ll be building relationships that never die and character that stands true to a loving relationship you most likely won’t get through the isolationist confusion of a computer keyboard.
My dad and I bonded late on in life when i welcomed him into my workshop and in reverse taught him to make things with his hands. See, my friends, there’s more to working wood than mass production, machines and wearing self protection. Drawing and making notes is often making your mark on human lives. Passing on what you know by sharing what you have with someone very close to you can change their lives and yours.
Parents don’t have to lose their children as they grow to adulthood at all. The thoughts and memories I have watching my children planting potatoes, picking tomatoes, making their first table, chicken coop, a cello, a coracle, a cold frame perhaps their first canoe or just a wooden spatula we still use in the kitchen after 25 years have now panned out in pure gold. Start them young. Remember the ancient proverb from times past to “Raise up a child in the way they will go and when they are old they will not depart from it.” Enjoy your kids. It’s up to you to dig a little deeper and find that there is more to woodworking than meets the eye. What was the single most important ingredient in all of these photographs? Hand tools, hand work and real, real woodworking.