There’s an ancient song from my childhood that my mother sang that goes something like this:
When you’re smilin’, when you’re smilin’. The whole world smiles with you…
And as I was planing my wood I started to sing this:
…and when you are planin’, when you’re planin’. The whole world planes with you.
Sawin’ does the same but I am not talking skilsaws and air nailers here. Imagine hand drivin’ a nail into a board in the middle of Trafalgar Square or suchlike that. I think maybe the whole world might just smile. That kind of piqued-interest would likely follow each hammer blow or plane and saw stroke as would the mind’s recording system in echoes ricocheting off the brick and stone walls. We should not forget that these sounds have indeed gradually lessened to the point that at some time soon they will all be gone; replaced with hoards of metallic, mechanical minions.
I have had such show-stoppers happen to me when I went to trade shows where all present were selling and buying machines and related stuff and then the “punters“, as the sellers disparagingly called them, were there only to catch the bargain that really wasn’t there. In the midst of chaos and noise, a single handsaw saw stroke penetrated the cacophony with its barely discernible sound, and by this, its stark contrast, though still and small a voice struck out in the wilderness as the plaintiff cry of a curlew high above over the moorlands. This harmonious soul has rhythm and synchrony in a world of discord and it is this rhythm that I have grown so much to love. So much was my presence felt there that people stopped in jaw-dropping amazement, their faces expressing abject unbelief as they moved in one accord to the subliminal rhythm and movement of what I speak.
There was indeed always something about these visible actions, the combining of sights and sounds, that drew others into the world of the maker, even when they were not and could not actually do it themselves. I saw this time and time again, year in year out, wherever I worked, but in my workshop, the barriers came down. I have seen people mesmerized by snakes, the eyes of snake and man both fixed immoveably on one another. Nothing can part the magnetic forces This type of work intrigues passers-by to the point of slowing them and even stopping or causing them to change direction and purpose. In fact, people are so drawn to the kinds of manual work of which I speak that sometimes they find themselves simply staring, in total bemusement.
For 25 years my open-workshop policy to my shop drew people of every background, age, gender and ethnicity. They were free to wander into the safe zones and stand to stare, ask questions and touch the wood as they wanted to as I mostly continued undisturbed to work. It’s not really a British thing to do, open up yourself to open doors, so I did it–I try not to be too British. It can hamper your style. Too much exclusivity and preclusivity undervalues life itself for me. Life is always about sharing and all the more when you have skill. I love having people around my workbench, whether they are woodworkers or not. I would rather catch up on any time loss early next morning or after normal working hours for an hour or two. Remember I hate TV with a passion.
Cutting my two-minute double-dovetail and teaching someone’s youngster to use a spokeshave somehow translated people from the other world into an otherworldliness of the most magical transportative type. Escaping from my adult world took me back to the world of a child. The songs we remember and then recall as we work are not so much melodic and musical but songs written without scores, breves, quavers, semiquavers, crotchets minims or demisemiquavers. Such is the mesmerising power of ordinary handwork that becomes so extraordinary.