Tuesday 21st March 2017
It’s hard to believe but in 2013, starting in January, I traveled 12 US states to demonstrate my belief that hand tool woodworking could feature a thousand percent more highly than it did if we could seriously consider what we wanted from being woodworkers. I knew from my experience living and working in the USA the pulling power of hand tool woodworking always caused the aisles around my booth to clog like a log jam within minutes to each of my demonstrations and that didn’t happen with the so-called power-tool sales outlets that were there purely to persuade attendees to a contrary view of my own. Every time I would demonstrate they saw that the progressive way of the machine-only world paled insignificantly every time I pulled out a hand plane and a tenon saw. Such is the power of hand tools. But it’s my view that America was on the one hand possibly the hardest place to change people’s minds. You know, that such methods as hand tools, being archaic, had no place in the modern world, but then, on the other hand, sticking firmly to the beliefs I had that they were just as viable to the majority of today’s woodworkers as they ever were, I saw a willingness to entertain the idea that the old ways were necessarily just old fashioned ways. That being so, I continued pressing in to row against the tide and soon I couldn’t move much around my show workbench with each of my 45 minute demonstrations, which I did on the hour every hour—it worked. 12 states, 12 shows 36 days out of a 96 on the road tour, and then being in hotels and hire cars the trip I took was quite a trip. Whereas it’s unlikely I would do such a thing again, my reasons for the tortuous endeavour were different than all others vying there for an audience. I didn’t go for pay or money from any source, I wasn’t selling a thing, not buying a thing but only to change people’s perspectives about my craft and the art of hand tool woodworking. Whereas I agree that the USA is mostly about buying and selling, that’s mostly superficial. Yes it is a lot about getting the job done and getting it done yesterday, and I like that, it’s also that Americans are lovers of craft work of every kind. Beneath or beyond the surface of productivity and progress is a penchant for craft; for art of every ind and for skilled workmanship. And by that I mean true craft. Something that costs you. If it wasn’t for this I would not have left the UK to be there.
On this tour, fighting blizzards in January, low visibility and long hard days of driving, I chose to do something to prove a point. I was inspired to make a workbench as I traveled the states that I could give away at the end of the tour through a drawing from hat at the last show. When people knew this they wanted a piece of the action and volunteered their labour into the mix. The drawing was for under 25 year olds. With each state the bench grew. They and I planed and chopped, sanded and glued. At the end of the show the raffle took place and we gave the bench away to the new owner. As a consolation we gave away a second bench, the one I was travelling with. Happy owners all round!
The camaraderie for me was as much a part of the process as anything. Others traveled from state to state each weekend to continue in the work. We became friends and every so often they’ll drop me an email or message me asking me when I will be back to do the same. Woodworking always has had a unifying factor and that has been to share skills and knowledge, lend a hand, teach one another and much more beyond.
Today of course our audience is bigger, much bigger and it continues to grow. It’s also become very different but the need is ever there and I am glad we are able to continue passing on the good news that the tide has changed. Who knows what the future holds?