My workbench has always anchored me. It’s the epicentre of my work, the hub from which all of the pieces I ever made came from. The designs for US senators and then too even a US President and the Permanent Collection of the Whitehouse pieces I designed came from no place fancy at all.
Mostly the vise corner of my workbench and then too the jaws of that same vise I have owned and worked from for almost five decades now, when my early works began, has been the core of fusion between my drawn images and the joinered work in the making of pieces. The tip of #2 Ticonderoga pencil, Walmart #2 12 pack sketched and drew 90% of what I envisaged in creating both my rough drafts and my perspective briefs, technical drawings and notes. Imagine that. Never a computer! Me just standing mostly by an old and secondhand rough vise!
From birdhouses to walking canes, sticks and staffs, fancy and unfancy, the workbench is my sanity; my safe haven is where I am held secure and safe. I don’t care if others think its sad, that I am maybe a little mad. I feel settled at the thought of my garage and would feel unsettled in anything much bigger. All I need is there to hand, within an arms reach or at least two strides. My past includes workshops like this, never much bigger and if they were bigger I sliced off a piece, a corner preferably, where I could unfurl myself into a sanctuary. I have shared 40 foot by 80 foot spaces with other men several times and we all did the same. I would never go back to a big shop nor shared space with so many. I like to share with three or four and no more. O
Most of my workshops have been little more than garage sized when I think about it. Unpretentious when I think about it more. I never had to create an image to promote myself with. You know, a background of premium planes and fancy saws that hang like kitchen utensils, knives, pots and pans and such. Neither do I use pegboard. Always hated the stuff. What you see or saw past, present and future is what you got and get. Nor do I have to deliver fast-paced razzmatazz, quick-speak, highs and lows to get people’s attention. I think it is a lived past that prepared me for this point in my life where teaching and training has become intrinsic to everything I do. Men, women and children are learning to work quietly in the peace of their home workshops in garages, basements and sheds. Imagine our quest to deliver the House Full of Furniture coming to life for so
Now the benches are becoming a reality around the globe. People are getting their tools together too, gatherings from shopping eBay, flea markets and car boot sales for secondhand saws and planes, chisels, brace and bits, vintage screwdrivers with oval wooden handles. I love it!. They’re no longer intimidated but confident they can set and sharpen their tools, restore what they need. It’s a wonderful feeling to think that our work has reached a new level and we never pretend anything. I just planed every stick and stem for the oak garden bench. I’m 69 and it was a workout, but you know what? I loved it.
When I think of how I began passing on the skills I have to others through the decades I think back to my early days striding out in the USA. I had no silver spoon in my mouth and no money at all to speak of, but I had the courage of my conviction and that was that any and all could become skilled woodworkers if they had a made up mind. My early efforts remind me of the tiniest pebble dropped into the pond, the lake, the ocean and how the rings have a momentum of energy that reaches to the shores. That’s what my work is doing.
So as I walked into my workspace this morning, my brain tick, tick, ticking, and I felt enthralled. I realised the parts were all falling into place to start phasing in the pieces people need to grow their own furniture. The house full of furniture gets closer every day. I doubt anyone has ever taken the steps we are about to take. I look at furniture styles, some simple, some pretentiously complex–designs for the elite, the pompous and the pretentious. I look at past movements too. The people all gone. Men and women who stood making as crafting artisans. The Shakers and the Craftsman-style, Arts and Crafts movements along with the Roycrofter concept. Whereas these were mostly faith-based or then socialist movements, this is not what we do nor in any way is that what we intend by the work we do. We want the seeds to keep germinating in the lives of all generations yet to follow. What inspires me is the reality that families and individuals will indeed be the ones to keep true art and craft alive. Not the conservationists or the history societies and not the museums no matter the types. They have their place as resources, but it’s those crafting away to train their hands and minds to understand their craft from the inside out. Somehow they believe in themselves: that they really can both develop their skills and create their own heirlooms for family, friends and future generations.
I have always believed in amateurism; in the art of crafting people, even though no one calls it that nor did they ever as far as I know. Amateur usually links to sports or the inept. I could tell you that some of the most remarkable work has come from the needles, planes and fingers of the amateur.
I am putting the very best years of my life into those that follow the work I do. In many cases people often use professionals as holding a high standard of workmanship but I see less and less truly high standards as standard by professionals.
There’s a power that goes with being amateur that no one can buy or get from any other source. There is also a fulfilment you cannot get from any other source too. How do I know? Because I witnessed it so often in amateurs and less so in people referring to themselves as professionals. And I am not saying that professionals don’t get it at all. I am saying that I have yet to meet any amateur that didn’t have that defiant spark when challenged by the impossible and I have met a hundred thousand amateurs in woodworking alone.
So garage in place, benches built and the process of making filmed, tools bought, restored, sharpened, the next step and the biggest one is the house to design and build the pieces for. That’s what I’ve been looking for–a house to buy and build for. I think I have a good idea what I am looking for. It’s not fancy and nor is it big. I’m an ordinary working man with ideas and a creative streak that refuses to stop. Until now it’s been a bit like living as a traveler. A woodworker needs a permanent workshop for long-term growth and settledness. So here I am. YOU are on my Radar!