All In a Day’s Work

From my Journal Entry May 2018

My morning bursts open in my head as I walk the river paths through green fields and to my work. Ideas waken in quick successive twists, curves and curls, spinning, spinning, swirling from my brain reminding me of shavings that twist from my plane. Before the pine scent hits full on I’m synchronising a new design I want to try and a project genesis quickly comes together in multiple dimensions. I look through the workshop door, listen to the shavings crushing underneath my steps. They’ve gathered like the russet brown leaves of autumn do in the darker corners of my bench legs, wafted by gentle breezes until they nestle as giant nests. The shavings seem always to speak in hushed tones of work passed done, the colours of mahogany and pine, of stools and chests, when I’m alone in the quiet. Each one is a colour all it’s own, some like striped springs, coils taut, wide, thin, slack gossamer as the wings of nymphs, catching light in slow eddies of dust.

The scents lift my spirits as motes spin in the early sunbeams and I dread days when tools must go away and work sits idly on my workbench as if to wait say for my return. I stop, walk back to the work left, touch the wood to somehow reassure it of my soon-coming return. Then, as if without thought at all, I trace my fingertips limply to the tools too, tug a shaving from a jack plane throat, pinch sawdust to a pile, and pluck up my old plane firmly. I know these things of which I speak as intimately as I know my own mind, my body. I know how they work for me, loyally, unswervingly. They bring prestige, these unnamed otherwise unknown things called merely tools yet seek no reward but only give my reward in daily bread. I looked to the wall filled with racked wood, stacked and packed tightly, dull yet, not bright and stubble rough to my touch, the brushing of my backhand, my inner arm and my soft and fleshy upper under arm. These tiny pinpricks prickle more, spike me with a million tiny barbs but yet a stroke and two more I take and I see grain sparkle as stars , soft, soft as silk and then my fingertips feel no trace of the harshness known just a minute or so ago. And of the now new golden hues, rich, warm, there’s so little I can say but this, “Even Solomon in all his glory was never clothed as one of these!” My eyes behold in the cherry a depth of beauty few woods have with such subtlety; an inner beauty until now no man has seen.

 

My dovetails were tight today—too tight—too near to perfection yet not quite far enough away to fit right by being just not too tight. I didn’t feel fit to fit them them more just there and then so I walked away and left them there unmarried but close. For a marrying of these two one part must be reduced—perhaps both. Which part is too proud yet I don’t know. I must judge, assess every facet for shine and impressions, pare away the proud highs and judge too my saw cuts to examine myself in the process for the angles must yet match or yet be made to match perfectly as gapless pairings. Rightness can be a difficult thing. A flawed cut means they will never truly match, marry and the evidence of miscuts remain after the man who miscut is long gone.

 

So I left the two apart on my benchtop, one with pins uppermost in the vise, the other lying nearby. I must reconcile one to the other and only patient thought with sensitivity will prevail. The chisel seems to lay there watchfully between the two, keen edged and ready, glinting as a mirror in the soft evening light and surrounded by my abandoned shavings. There for me is a picture I have always regarded fondly and highly. An unpainted art for sure. Proof that craft is the art of work and that work is in the ongoing of a process. So I look the more to record the scene of loveliness. I wait until it’s seared in my mind lest I forget. The evening arrives ad I have yet to reconcile the pins and the tails. I still wait and watch, but more to see that I am ready and the shavings remain as waftings across my benchtop and as yet unswept floor. My eyes drift from the two parted pieces, I lift my plane, uncertain of the grain. Should I swipe a stroke or yet refrain a while longer? I savour the moment until my thoughts gain strength. It’s not a big step at all but there are no guarantees. It might just be the right thing but maybe not too. I have to feel right, not force the issue, make a mistake, a mis-take, a mis-stroke.  

 

The  night seems long to me and I wake to thoughts of reduction. I wake several times and think only of the tight parts. No one else can do this for me. It’s no one else’s task but mine. The distance between seating the parts yet unmarried is but one small inch away, a single stroke with a sharp edge settles the matter, maybe two or three but where to cut to brings  unity? Who knows such a thing? Not me. Not yet. I’m unsettled, cannot rest until reconciliation happens. I’m ready to make cuts now. I have waited for patience, for everything to be in order and for full, bright, clear sight. No sense trying in a half light. It needs the full and bright full light of day. The nearer to perfection a joint comes the greater the risk of imperfection is.

24 comments on “All In a Day’s Work

  1. As a fairly new woodworker I’m slowly learning to not rush through unexpected difficulties. Walking away, shifting your focus, or sleeping on it usually helps me work through stubborn problems.

  2. Hi Paul
    You are becoming quite poetic, is it old age or just naturally slowing down to make sure you do things correctly?
    Yesterday I started reading Andrew Marr’s “A short book about painting” and in a way, he has got me thinking about painting and now reading your blog you have me doing it with woodworking.

  3. Now we are getting into the realms of Wordsworth. Lovely images conjured in my mind as i read this. Even better yet, you managed to conjure up the wonderful smell of wood in all variety and majesty. Thank you for that. I am really looking forward to picking up again in my retirement what I learned as a boy and this piece confirmed that my idle thought from a year ago was the right one. Thanks

  4. When as a young boy about 9 or 10 my Aunts man friend was a big man who would walk down the street carrying a carpet bag and he wore a full length over coat in he cold mornings. One day I stop him and asked what was in his bag. From heights well above mine he smiled and said I carry my tools in there. I asked to see. As he opened the bag I looked and saw what looked like mystical tools, there where tools like I never saw. Amazed I asked what they did and he began to tell me about rabbit planes, spoke shave planes, block planes, and many more. I was so wondering now what he did with them. Well Bob was a man of very few words and he just smiled and walked away for another day with his bag of tools. Later I felt I was learn more of these tools and each day I would wait for him to walk by my home and ask if he would show me how to use his tools. Day after day I would ask and all he would do is smile. Well Bob never did show or teach me about his tools, but now Sir you have shown me and taught me about Bob’s tools and for me now at 69 years Paul I once again feel like I did when I was 9 or 10. And that sir is the best gift of all. Jim

    • Reminds me a quote from Spike Milligan…..English comedian

      “Said simple Simon to the pie man prey tell me of what you have there”…….said the pie man to simple Simon ” pies you twit”

  5. What a nice reflective post – I used to call it procrastination but this post tells me that it is just thoughtful planning!

  6. I have a project sitting on my work bench for this very reason – I know if I continued to push through when it didn’t feel right I would make a mess of things. I’m learning to listen to that little voice in my head…

  7. after a lifetime working with timber, I know and understand exactly what you are saying. Where would we be without timber, in all its varying visions, smells and feel. I am accused by others of not having my workshop floor as clean as they seem to think that it should be, but I rejoice in the smells and the crunch under my boots as I walk in each day. The shavings calm me down and the difficulties of life are reduced to their proper place and I can go through the day in peace. God bless you dear soul and tis true what that quote from the bible says, that Soloman in all his glory was never clothed like one of these. Tis true. And if timber had a food value, then I would eat it every day. Folk talk all the time about so called “success”, but to me, simply to touch and feel and work with timber, gives me a satisfaction and peace that nothing else can. Again, may god bless you.

  8. Paul is the “Rob Ross” of Woodworking. I’ve learned so much from your videos and built several items after watching your videos. Reading your thoughts and stories gives me patience to stop and think about my builds than to rush through. Working with wood gives me a lot of “Me Time,” in which I get to reflect and enjoy life. While working in my driveway and garage two Scrub Jays come and fly by so much now that I am able t feed them whole raw peanuts. It’s amazing how wild birds are able to know that this guy with his dog is not going to be a threat to them. It even amazes my neighbors that never knew these bird existed. Paul Rocks!!! Thanks again Paul.

  9. This is so right on point for me, about the waiting for the right moment. For years my approach to things was to get it done as quickly as possible. That was my job and it had to be that way. Unfortunately, it also translated to my home life. Now that I’m retired, I have finally learned to slow down somewhat and appreciate woodworking as a more relaxing pursuit. Just yesterday I had to replace a leg on one of our outdoor pieces of furniture, and reinforce the surrounding joint. I sat there looking at it for probably a half hour just deciding the best way to approach the problem. Even after I cut the first piece of wood to start the repair I stopped and sat there imagining how it will all fit together. When I was done and the repair was made, I realized it was so much better for the waiting and contemplation over how to do it the best way. Just a couple years ago, I would have rushed thru that to get it done as quickly as possible. It would have gotten done, and would have provided a leg for the chair, but it wouldn’t have turned out as well.

    Thanks Paul, for showing that no matter how long someone has been doing something, or how very good they are at it, it’s always worthwhile to take the time to do the job in it’s own time.

  10. No mater how tricky the problem is to resolve we somehow are prodded by time and a desire to see the resolution to act and then to live with the results. If we guessed wrong we learn to better our results in the future, If we guessed right we take quiet pride. Either way it adds joy to our hours. Thanks Paul

  11. I found myself reading the first paragraph and dismissing it as not for me while one eye was on the TV. A few hours later I read fully in relaxed silence and do you know what, I get it….I really get it. After 40 years in the trade semi retirement has rekindled my love of my job that has always been there, and your words have brought to the surface just why in clarity.
    How lucky our life path has been dictated by tools and timber and those who truly feel deep satisfaction of this choice will fully connect with your words. Thank you Paul
    Clay

  12. So inspirational I love your passion it really gets my juices flowing. And knowing when to step back and what the next plan of attack. I also wanted to know who does your photography?? They are so talented ( picture of the dovetail boards, tools and the shavings ) is incredible.

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