A Year Soon Passed
It’s a little over a year now since I started working with Hannah. She’s practicing her craft and has made many projects ranging from smaller boxes to clocks, her workbench and then all things in between. From the beginning she’s proven herself willing and teachable and that she loves every element surrounding and core to her woodworking. She saw the significance of sharpness when she first saw my chisel slicing into paper and wood on that opening hour of class when I always teach the sharpening workshop.
She watched quietly from her side of the bench and discovered the association of sharpness with accuracy and sensitivity and claimed it as her own when I told everyone that if anyone is not prepared to sharpen and keep their tools sharp all the time they should become a machinist—Hannah took that on board and began mastering her sharpening techniques from day one and has never looked back. Since her first class I invited her to come watch and help in each of the classes I’ve taught since that November 2016 introduction to hand tool woodworking. Little did I know she’d love it so much.
Physics and more
It’s a remarkable thing when any apprentice understands the physics of her and his materials, the methods and tools used to work it with. It’s not common at all, and especially is that so today when men and women are demoted to become merely part of the assembly line foisted on them by the manufacturers owning the flat-pack empires. In Hannah’s case her understanding of mechanics is more tacit and intuitive, she looks at something with parts, spins it around and gets how it works in seconds. Her ability to get inside the mechanics of things and understand them differently is not the case for most of the people I come across and perhaps more so now in those of her generation. This means that I haven’t had to undo the kind of baggage others might more generally come to me with resulting from their former experience and training elsewhere. This alone has had a profound impact on her growth spurt as she understands things all the faster and my work has been made so much easier.
To say Hannah is a natural woodworker understates what’s taking place within her. She discovers many elements of woodworking for the first time without much explanation and somehow it seems even to surprise her. This alone triggers her ability not just to find things interesting but to be more totally immersed by fascination in the experience. This mental stimuli unlocks and unblocks any log jam from the biases of culture and educational institutions. It allows the release and flow of chemistry in the brain that previously disallowed moving into the spheres that might previously have been seen as gender specific. She has to prove nothing to anyone, no one, but climbs over any and all inhibitive precepts and perceived obstacles she and others might have had about her choice of woodworking. It’s become understood now that she has a vocation and she has no choice but to answer the calling on her life. Why? It’s simple enough. When something becomes your personal vocational calling, not a term anyone wants to hear in this day and age, you simply cannot nor should you or anyone else supporting you ignore it. She knew this and she pursued progressing this as a goal from the first minute we met.
As part of her quest Hannah sketches and draws most things most days as I do also and always have. She makes the detailed elements pop off the page with her pencil on paper; drawings, notes to herself, ideas, thoughts, considerations. This alone is something I encourage in any student becauseI feel that if you haven’t drawn it you haven’t seen it. If you haven’t drawn it you can’t fully understand it. Because she feels she must understand all elements to her foundation in woodworking she is prepared to put in the graft. She makes herself understand each task she’s about to take on together with the tool she is about to use, the methods, the techniques and then to the diversity she finds in the material in front of her too.
Today Hannah’s hands move more swiftly than most I’ve met. At first I confess feeling a little uncomfortable with this as it is quite an unusual characteristic, but I adjusted my perspective when I saw that she rarely made mistakes resulting from her faster movements. It doesn’t altogether matter because in her work she is always accurate with both her actions and her placement of the tools, her decision to sharpen and then to shift her stance. Because of her sensitivity she senses so much through the tools into the wood she’s working with and she readily adapts and adopts both the tools and her stance as she rarely falters in the movement she’s decided on.
Hannah and her ability to conceptualise results from the cognitive ability she has with the mechanical. This couples well with her ‘aha‘ moments and when I think many people might hide or disguise their amazement, they become very evident and valued with her. To me she makes all such things clearly honest somehow, which I suppose is how revelatory information best impacts an individual life. The ‘aha’ light-on is the needed ingredient of fascination that centres the information to make it absolutely yours. There is an innocence to it we all love it in that we acknowledge we did not know something and suddenly a puzzled area becomes so complete we feel an empowering like no other.
After a year in training we’ve reached a stageI pretty much where I leave Hannah to her work once I’ve made my suggestions as to stages and phases leading to ongoing development. Though I do chip in when I’m needed, I see her now thinking ahead about the different phases and she usually talks them through with me. If of course the whole concept is something she has no knowledge of then we will formulate ideas together to develop a course of action.
Currently under construction is Hannah’s new tool chest. To give you some idea of her skill levels to date, these dovetails below are her first multiple large scale dovetails. She has only made three or four boxes with dovetails so far but she is so comfortable with the concept and the work she never falters. Gluing up was her greatest challenge but she will always remember the difficulties and the success in the outcome through perseverance.
She’s working with lime and cherry for contrasting woods and she’s loving it. At the moment she has just fitted her recessed hinges and is about to start fitting her recessed lock. With no type of power equipment to date she has sawn and hand planed and ripped the wood to size as needed and never baulked at the work set before her. Now she will start the two drawers and she’s looking forward to that.
Increasing knowledge comes in many ways. From many observations we’ve discovered many methods and used different woodworking techniques across a series of projects. We made time for trips to junk shops, charity shops and secondhand shops which in turn meant our crawling under pieces and flipping them over to see different features used or incorporated by the makers. From IKEA to the timber yards and wood suppliers, the V&A Museum in London and then some long and in depth discussions everyday at our workbenches.
Hannah continues to work hard and diligently to accomplish her ambitions and expand her own knowledge to gain more mastery through her research and understanding. This kind of enrichment comes from a passion I have always nurtured and indeed ventured forward with throughout my own work life. It’s a powerful force that without it it is difficult to proceed. I don’t mind sharing my work with people like Hannah because it is after all her entitlement and her future. Much of what we do too helps me with my woodworking masterclasses work.