Of all the things I have done in and with my life, I feel I am left with one thing I am certain of and it’s this, I know woodworking at confidence levels. I don’t know it through the reading about it, I know through the doing of it every single day in some measure or some way and mostly that’s full days of ten hours and more on the normal 6-day week I’ve worked since 1965. That’s roughly 160,000 hours I suppose.
If I look at myself I am far from being what some might call a confident man. I mean inside myself I am less certain than I might appear. In an airport or train station, underground tube stations and such, I stand and stare at schematics many times longer than most might. I liken my uncertainty in places elsewhere to using my cell phone or MacOS Mojave computer. What I do with these is the tip of the iceberg of possibilities. In London I am always uncomfortable and readily lost but not by the streets or buildings, more by the sense of not understanding the spaces and the faces and the promptings, the quickness of movements, things passing, dragging, pushing and then there those bright lights, the diverse sounds where my filters don’t work too well at all.
My confidence is being with wood and hand tools. I lift the saws, ping them with my finger and thumb until a ring passes from the bending and flexing arc to my ear. I feel relaxing. I feel relaxing come to me in spinning a plane end for end and upside down, around in my hands and feeling balance come to me in the doing of it.
When I look into the grain of my wood something happens to me that I cannot readily explain and I am again resting in the resolve of certainty. I engage with the wood, any wood, the plainest wood, the wood others reject as trash wood and I read the tree it came from: I read the the leaves in my mind’s eye and then the length of the grain and the growth rings or the configurations of grain I know by memory from looking and searching in the woods and woodlands, the parks and the gardens where I go every day. I imagine the leaves and the shape they have, the veins and the serrations, the number of them to a stem. Then there is the stance of it standing there in my mind. It’s rootedness and its expression, the bark that skins over its inmost parts. The flowers are in my head, recorded numbers of petals. The truth of it is that trees seem always to be marvellously reliable, solid things that make the days bright and clean.
Somehow they tie me to my craft more than anything else in the world because they are so well proven to be so irreplaceable in the same way bees and other pollinators are. The dirt under my feet in the woods. seems to be ever changing but the result for me is the reality of wood. Wood, my hand tools, my workbenches and the ability to make makes me sane in an otherwise insane world.