Spatulas arrayed on the kitchen floor…
It starts with a spatula, or something like a whirligig, usually, woodworking with hand tools, I mean; for children. It’s how I started my children working with hand tools in woodworking. You know, you’re three or four years old and your dad’s a furniture maker. You want to be with him when he’s working in the shop. Future means nothing to you. You have no concept of future or what it means. Existence is minute by minute and you have no plan. On the other hand your dad might, even does, if he’s a planner and something of a visionary for you. At the beginning of the journey the path is yet an unwrapped and mostly unmapped passage, uncharted for most, but then, 25 years pass and you look back on things made and you see those diverse lines of progress each of your children took. This week it was spatulas for me, unpacked realities of things made by my sons, and then wooden boxes that quickly followed alongside them.
These punctuations pinpoint singular events that add up to progress. Seeing the things made by my boys showed the steps they made, the shifts and changes in skill levels, refinements in dexterity, added complexities, more self high demands they worked towards and then outcomes in concrete (wooden really) terms. I’m glad we did what we did, but I say all this to say don’t miss it with your own children and grandchildren. It is, after all, narrow window, and especially so in the digital world where so many lose their children a such an early age. Funny when you think about it, digital and digits, a digital world using the digits to touch buttons instead of creatively shaping things. I think that there is room for both provided you don’t miss that illusive thing called the narrow window of opportunity.
Unpacking my boxes after living 23 years in the USA had unexpected surprises this past week. I hadn’t really scoped everything when I packed our goods into storage in 2009 and then, more recently, readied them for shipping here to the UK, but this week I found time to relish and cherish moments.
For some the only record of 23 years will be photographs, drawings from school, a toddler shoe cast in copper or bronze. Of course we had many of those too. No, for me, my eyes traced a more three-dimensional path from tool cupboards to gathered boxes, spatulas and spoons to key racks and a plethora of hand made things in steel, bronze, clay, oak splines and of course hand made home made tools like wooden rakes, space rockets and violin and cello moulds.
I am not sure who made what but for sure the spatulas spoke to me as much as anything because all of my boys at some point or other made spatulas and gave them mostly as gifts for Christmas, mother’s day or birthdays. This beginning is the reason I made the video on How to Make a Spatulas for YouTube. You can see videos to get you started here. The spatula is something I developed mostly as a teaching aid to get kids off the couch, out of the house and into the shop. I wanted something they could do using their first tools on something that would lead them into the art of shaping wood. Shaping wood is a first-level project not because it is easy but it requires basic understanding about the structure of wood grain. These formative steps automatically progresses an understanding of how you must work grain using its natural properties to your advantage.
Making a spatula following the instruction I give in the YT video uses a range of woodworking techniques we are in the process of losing. The reason I wanted to preserve them is because these very techniques are the same techniques and methods you use to carve and shape the neck of a guitar or a violin.; that’s if you want to make such things by hand. Stepping stones like this build and reinforce the intrinsic skills and knowledge you need to become competently skilled in woodworking with hand tools. It’s a relational approach schools have long since eschewed, primarily because schools generally train young people for the workforce and who is it that sees building hand built musical instruments or any such thing as part of the workforce anyway.
As you can see above, the spatulas have been well used
So, anyway, I unpacked a dozen or so boxes from their cardboard enclosures and skimmed the undersides for signatures and dates. Joseph was probably the most prolific maker because he had the longest span in the workshop with me I think. Nothing preferential, just opportunity. Certainly he started learning from around three years old until around 20 when he came in every day for many, many hours. Aber did too, but because he was younger things were just different for him. His career path as a design engineer at Rolls Royce now means that he’s positioned himself with RR in Berlin Yup! He’s the one that made the rocket ship and flew his first aeroplane at 14.