Or is it? Or perhaps I should ask more, was it in its day?
Imagine going back to an early 1980s computer compared to a smart phone and trying to draw a real comparison. Along with the smart phone and the computers we no use the old models are considered dinosaurs and yet in their day they sped things up momentously. I bought my first pocket calculator around 1970. I added, subtracted and multiplied and it did it quite rapidly.
In it’s day this pillar drill would have been more than adequate but comparing the early calculator with a standard computer would be as unfair as trying to match the drill presses of today with my vintage version of a century past. I don’t really agree with terms modernists use to describe any of my work as fun. You will know what I mean: “taking shavings for an hour just for the fun of it is fun, that sort of thing. But I understand why people say such things. For me shavings have always resulted from working. They are who I am. Comparing my working to blowing bubbles for my children when they were young seems an unimaginable thing so whereas I do find work to be a good thing to do, often enjoyable I have always strongly disliked the describing of machines as “big-boy toys” in the same way my craft of hand work neanderthal woodworking. I do know though that it does indeed aptly describe these spheres of woodworking for many woodworkers. Me? Hand tools, wood, workbenches and such like that, they all mean work to me, but they mean good work and good working. I live in a different world of realness.
The priveleged-by-birth-and-good-luck upper classes of the then so-called Great British Empire advantaged themselves by what was at that time known as the working classes. Working class people of the era worked to create very wonderful works of skill to enhance the lives of the rich and affluent. It was an era that produced exemplary works of art in three-dimensional form. Of course it wasn’t the men and women that were ever acknowledged but those who designed them. Where am I going with this? Well, the landed gentry had things built called follies. A folly consisted of a structure that could be anything from a bridge rising in the middle of a field that went nowhere or a cottage built from shells as a fantasy picnic home for human fairies pretending life. In fact most of it was fantasy; whims were momentarily satisfied in the gentry by the skilled carvings of stone masons and the pristinely sculpted hedges of gardeners. Follies were created and grown from the raw by men and women who were used as cheap fodder to ingratiate the whims of the aristocrats of the era. My craft is of course enjoyable but fun seems the wrong word for it to me because this is not blowing bubbles in the local park for my grandkids or riding a bike downhill with the wind behind me. To describe my efforts as fun seems mostly somehow trite at best. Like those ever so dumb tee shirts with slogans showing a series of progressions from an ape to a man with a saw in his hand or the one that says he who dies with the most tools wins.
But I do enjoy joking with my friends at work and we do find minutes to lighten the load with laughter that’s not about trivialising the work itself. Some days I am doubled up at the bench because ~i remember the day we used a tuning fork in an April video to show how Paul Sellers fine tunes his bench planes according to task depending on the note set according to the tuning fork ping and then the time we told people we had develop an Eau de Paul pine essence perfume from pine we distilled down from our waste wood.
This week Jack’s been in working on his clock and he seems to be enjoying it even when the shoulderline didn’t match the distance between the side pieces and he had to do it over. I joked with him about crawling inside the shoulders to put the glue on. The reason I could? Because his work is so very good and he certainly laughs with me. Usually I will say I never did anything like that but he knows of course that I did. Jack’s a quiet lad. He arrives for work, sets out his tools and his wood and just keeps after it until his task for the time is done. I like his sense of humour.
This week Hannah and I spent some time teaching the teachers who work with autists. the work is going well and again the work was serious and so enjoyable and then hard work too. What we have achieved in a few short months seems even to me remarkable. Support workers have gone from absolute zero woodworking to making and guiding and supporting autist students in ways they never dreamed possible. Truth was I had every confidence that they were no different than the 7,000 students I have personally taught one on one over the decades and now the hundreds of thousands of you online. Hannah has proven to be an exemplary teacher of woodworking as well as a gifted maker. Tell you what too! We always have time to enjoy the seriousness we find ourselves in. Imagine autist woodworking with hand tools taking its root through the seeds we are currently sowing.
So, the contrast? The rich gentry of the past (and the present in some places), those who barely employed us working men and women to fulfil their fantasies, would likely know very little of what I speak. Not all of them, just the majority of them. When I looked at what was achieved with such gifted and caring individuals it made me so happy inside. Hannah and I drove home after an enriched afternoon of working with our charges and yes it was a tad draining, but we smiled and chatted most of the way, contented that we had done our best and that our best produced success because it met head on with people who really cared.
I count myself amongst the most fortunate of people being able to do what I do with people I have grown so very fond of who are much more than mere fun to be with. I just love them all to bits!