Some of you expressed surprise in my using machines for long and extended days for manufacturing. That was a past life for me. One day I rebelled and said never again. I will never go back there.
In the same way some lament lost family, lost countrymen and lost comrades, I lament the sense of wellbeing many may never know without my working to share what I have been so blessed with. I know I am not the only one, and that there are many ways to reach a goal and not just mine.
Perhaps this song will help amplify my concerns as you read.
The thoughts I express in my blog are not from the standpoint of someone working wood part time and standing at a machine for an hour or two a week or a month but those of a man feeling a sense of lostness and searching for a door of escape when day after day and week after week and even year after years he stood feeding a machine with wood.
You see I’m not really an amateur in the sense of part time, nor a hobbyist in the sense of not having to earn my living and support a family. I am and always was a man who worked hard, diligently, full-time, most time to support and provide in a single wage. It was a joint choice between me and my wife. We both chose that. It wasn’t that my wife didn’t work it was that we were indeed hard working partners facing a lifetime conjoined together in this thing called life and we wanted to spend as much time in our lives jointly together without selling ourselves to a company. Guess what??? It worked. We’ve spent our lives working together and living together and travelling together, raising our five children together and guess another what??? We neither of us went to to higher education, neither of us had a career and we both feel a sense of wonder and fulfilment, contentment and happiness.
When I worked the industrial world it was a small step toward working on a machine, but it was a gigantic machine none the less. The condition of wanting to be seen as a man is a powerful force. I then went and bought my own small bandsaw I liked. Then I bought a DeWalt radial arm saw and several times almost lost a hand. What a dangerous machine that is. As I gathered more machines I became industrial, respected, admired. I mass made things and step by step I started losing my love for work and for my craft. I suppose this is a true thing here, I never felt more lost and alone than when I was standing at a router table shoving wood into it. Eyes covered with protective lenses, ears isolating me from life, the dust mask and the noise separated me from life itself. Spindle moulders hummed all the more with a monstrous power compared to routers and the air moved rapidly surrounding the machine air I was breathing despite my mask. I ached to take it all off. I recall days when my lungs coughed up black stuff, when I was a younger man because the bosses only gave us a surgical mask. Idris Owen was a wretched man, a conservative MP and a massive snob of a man who was a disgrace of a man and to his father’s hard-earned name. He drove in in a Rolls Royce Silver Cloud and would not buy masks or any extractors for the men at work. There were days when the shop was so thick with dust; oak, mahogany, even asbestos, we could scarcely see one another. One day I rebelled and said I would never work for another man again and apart from an odd time of shortage I have stayed within an engineered lifestyle I put together piece by piece just like the pieces of furniture I build; solid, dovetailed, tenoned and pegged. I bought oak from small mills and shared conversations with the millers on purpose so I would know his family, his wife and his children. I saw them born and I made many a casket for their parents and even their babies stillborn. I dovetailed the corners and created a place of peace and rest at the close of their lives. I’ve made these things alongside the fine pieces where I sometimes see President Obama leaning on them or standing by them in the Cabinet Room of the White House. I don’t like to think that some people are on a conveyor belt that they can’t get off that has nothing to do with woodworking at all but has the same soul-destroying effect. But indeed I know they are and they are searching for the same way out I was once searching for and found. Many are following the blog these days that search for their own way out. The keyboard lost its spark after just a few months in the “real world” the nerve endings were sending signals but they ignored them at first. The aching wrists and the fingers and then the fabric became scratchier on their wrists, soon painful. Before long they had something called carpal tunnel syndrome. A syndrome??? An abnormal coincidence of events occurring at one time. You know what? Going off the amount of emails and messages and texts and such that I get, there are thousands upon thousands of people who know something’s very wrong and they cannot, they cannot make the change. But that’s why we say what we say and do what we do in anticipation that one day change will come and we are paving the way in thought and deed and it will mean much to many and they will step by step have found changes that made the difference to their wellbeing and they will be building skills that are outside the remit of mass-manufacturing and mass-media and mass-education and mass-sterility. They will be creating a life they can live in and live with and share with and create an alternative reality.
A man said to me last week when I had a nine-day class that he could no longer work because he became ill from computerised living. Imagine that. He could not work. He found that he had tight breath the whole day long for fears and realities of industrial pressures inside him. How would he survive? Earn a living? He kept going until something snapped. The day came when he could no longer function and he felt he had failed on many fronts. He had to face family and friends, colleagues and associates, bosses and so on. He was highly gifted, highly skilled yet this day brought him to his knees. I know people that feel this way but they have children and wives and family and friends and they must keep face. There is no alternative for them you see because politicians and educationalists and global industrialists don’t understand what makes a man and a woman tick. The carrot-danglers leading the world rarely understand, can never understand, but they have the stick and the string of a different kind of compulsion and enticement and some never see it until it’s too late. They don’t understand that there is a ticking clock in every person and that something inside them says I must be worth something more than this, surely!
So I write my blog not to compare a machine to a hand tool but to question why choose a mass manufacturing method if you really love woodworking? I write it to say you will find greater levels of fulfilment if you do it yourself whether you use a machine or your hand skills. Do I care if some prefer machines to hand tools. No, I just never liked my life as a machinist and saw that about 80% of woodworkers felt the same way, felt intimidated and even felt like they should push themselves to accept the machine as some sort of badge of merit if they could just conquer the anxieties and intimidation. You see they just couldn’t find the mentor to show them the alternative and that’s why I do it. It’s because I think it brings healing to many a weary soul somewhere, anywhere, that just spends every day bored to death feeling they are mindlessly punching keys on a keyboard, or stacking shelves or pushing stop and start buttons on an assembly line and I do it in the hope that it does have deeper meaning to some who can see that it’s nothing to do with speed and efficiency but quality of life and love and care. I post to inspire and write to encourage and know you think about these things yourselves.