I think this is more important than you might think. I don’t altogether think it matters whether the wood was being processed by machine or that it was being worked with hand tools. The processes are in no way the same or even linked particularly, but the synapses somehow snapped everything to attention at some start point for us all and understanding that its conversion from a tree to a table seems quite significant, so I say remember what started you off.
It wasn’t the noise of spinning table saws or the magic protective qualities of a SawStop. The dust masks and face shields, ear plugs and special glasses weren’t alluring fashion statements and neither could you associate Bosch and DeWalt with what you really felt stirring you inside.
My woodworking was stirred in me by my shaping some mahogany with a spokeshave and planing the faces with a well-set, newly sharpened #3 Stanley bench plane by my woodworking teacher Mr Hope. The others in the class seemed bent on destruction except for one or two like me who were fascinatingly cutting their very first dado. They drove nails into benchtops with mallets and stabbed chisels up and down to make dumb patterns amongst the nail heads. Such was the way of the woodshop. For some it was a way of escape from authority hiding behind the noise of the tablesaw being used by the teacher and then for the other handful of boys it was an escape from the nonsense of maths and English language.
What mostly sparked my interest was the association of tools and wood with order, measurement, sharpness, accuracy and such things as these. For the first time I understood that everything had an order to it when it came to craft work and that understanding the order of the tools, the growth of the wood and the fact, yes fact, that hand tools could produce the exactness it took to make something really finely crafted and beautiful. These were the things that touched my palate when I was 13 years old. From then on I ducked and dodged every math and English class I could to go somewhere else to work at craft work. So successful was I at this that I stayed under the radar for two whole years and split my time between woodworking, metalworking, art and craft and these teachers all welcomed me where the others seemed always to be frustrated. this work undergirded my future as a crafting artisan and nothing and no one ever stopped me from making with my hands for the past 53 years to date.
When I left school maths and English language suddenly made sense in the work I was doing. I readily learned maths at the workbench and so too geometry and technical drawing, reading and creating technical drawings and designing pieces. Soon I was self employed, married at 22 I had my first mortgage and at 23 my daughter was born. At 23 I started my own business and since then I have invested my whole life in craft work working pretty much within one foot from a bench and bench vise. I use the same tools I began with and never once did I regret my answering my vocational calling despite some unsavoury choices and partners along the way. My love for woodworking and craftwork as a whole has been altogether wonderful. The most important element that helped me the most was my determination to NEVER listen to anyone who said you cannot make your living from working with your hands in this day and age. I would listen respectfully to what they said. Don’t get me wrong, but what I heard them saying was that THEY couldn’t make THEIR living from working with THEIR hands so why should YOU be so arrogant to think you can? They never turned me because it was my vocational calling and that means you live through the hard times because you are married to this thing called craft.
What started me off was indeed the multidimensional world of trees and the wood we took from the growing of them. The fact that there was a stability in the provision they brought to my life. The certainty if you will of a self sustaining provision that flexed to cleanse the very air I breathed and mopped up the spillage from sickening consumerism. I could understand these things much more than social studies and the biasses and blindness of a teacher so ready in condemning Luddites for shunning modernity in mechanisation. A person who simply picked up information, processed it and packaged it systematically and then passed it on to me to consume. I pretty much understood that this person never worked outside of going to school, college and then back to school. No, I am not into Luddism in any way as I am disqualified by my liking machines and industry too, but I do see how education can be fashioned to determine the outcome of how most young people fit into the economies as collateral input. How lives are quantified by their value to a socioeconomic system of input and output and I am glad I found a way to in some measure, not the whole, stay under the radar as I did when I progressed through school. Perhaps today I am as disqualified as I was at 14 when my then headmaster told my parents, ”I am afraid I must tell you that Paul is ineducable. He can never be educated.”