I think it was in my mid years when I crossed a line, stopped apologising, determined my course. It was a day when I stepped off the production line, placed my machines second, pulled my hand tools to the fore and wondered how I could live without them, my workbench and my woodworking. I couldn’t. Crossing the line was to shrug off the fears and the doubts, the naysayers and gloom and doomers. You can make your living working wood, I told myself, you just need the guts to try, and I did.
The tools I use are not fancy. Oh, I own some fancy models, bought them along the way. By tools I don’t mean machines, I’m talking about tools. The men I learned from would have laughed at me had `i called them tools. But of course that’s changed, I know that. I know people have adopted the term for their machines. I just like the clear distinction because I relate to them differently than most. Machining wood and skilled working of wood.
My ordinary tools are unfancy really. They are lightweight compared to some. Some have plastic handles even and I still like them. Sandvik saws in the 60s were amongst the best made. Good Swedish steel. Anyway, they are some of the best tools I’ve owned. I pick them up and feel only affection for them. You do that when you carried on using a handsaw and hammer when all around you reached for air nailers and compressors, skill saws and cordless stuff. Not really sure why I like them so, not for nostalgia that’s for sure. I can’t tell why but I like it when my tenon saw cuts the tenon cheek and the shoulder and I refine them with planes like hand routers and shoulder planes. They somehow speak to me of ancient skills that seemed always to keep pace with a man without driving him harder and faster than he wanted to go. I am glad my age will never use a computer to send messages to a router to cut a dovetail for me, in place of me. Glad. I like my skill. I enjoy my being skilfully disposed to work. When they told me in 1980s that I could not compete with Walmart in the USA, I said you got it the wrong way around, Wally World can’t compete with me. I was right because back then Walmart boasted stickers on all of the products made in the USA with Proudly Made in the USA. Within three years all of the stickers were gone, replaced with Made in China. I was still there making 25 years on. My sticker said British made in America. Yep, enjoyed my life making with a few hand tools and some machines for the donkey work.
My cluster of hand tools are still lovely to me. They take care of my needs. I’m often asked about other tools,. You know, Japanese saws and such, Japanese chisels. Of course they work well and they are lovely too. If they weren’t there would not be lovely Japanese craftsmanship would there? Anyway, I sharpened some tools today, a saw, two planes. They weren’t really dull at all, but then I enjoyed using them afterwards. I remember things from my past when I work like that, quietly on my own. I remember Jacks hobnailed boots on the concrete outside and then on the wood boards just across from me as he swept the floor in readiness for some painting. Billy arrived with a tray of one pint pots filled with tea. We’s sit and chat about everything. Prompts from the newspaper mentioned issues and from that sparks flew. The men ranted a little. “One day we will be earning £20 per week!” Merlin said. In 1970 we were. I put my tools in the toolbox I’d made in the evenings after work, behind the timber racks and hidden from sight. It was my last day and I left to go to work for another company. I would miss George and Jack, Billy, Bobby, Merlin and Keith. It was my turn to leave and I started working for another furniture company for more money. £22 a week.