Experience tells me not to crave the past and what was, but to embrace the unknowns in an unknown future can sometimes be difficult. The future, for me at least, will always be the adventure I enjoy — the future to unknowns that seem all too often to defy predictions. In my world, changing the future is after all as much up to us as it is mere happenstance. Without the ‘us‘ in this there is little chance of us shifting from the former abuse of what we grew up with, in, into the better future. It’s been that way since I wasted my years going to school. I am so glad university never held any promise for me . . . no security, no sustainability, no hope. My hope defied the status quo. I’m so very glad that maggot on the hook never enticed me. Of course, university is for the majority and the majority need qualifying to work. I have no problem with that. For what I now have there is no university or college or teacher or lecturer that could have given me a thing. I like this also. My mentors and teachers were workmen. All of them, men working hard to provide for their families! They were working men that bent their backs and legs and arms all the day long that never balked at getting their hands and their faces and their clothes dirty.
They didn’t wear jeans as a trend but as a working clothes. A tear was a tear from a catch on a nail or a splinter of wood that snagged them as they worked. They were thinking men, thoughtful men working from experiences that they passed on. These men knew no gym work, never ran for fitness and never wore lycra yet many of them rode for miles to work on vintage steel-framed bikes, wore baggy pants and cloth caps and heavy jackets and coats. This was their resistance training, they just didn’t know it, as was planing and sawing and lifting wood and such throughout the day. There were no showers at work to ‘freshen up’. It was just what men did.
But, of course, times change. It’s a very different world. Whereas many would love the life I have had, others are also very happy working with and in the exciting new technologies emerging and are no less the person they are for wearing work-appropriate clothing fit for purpose.
In those days we wore surgical maths to catch the dust before our lungs did for about eight hours every day all week, every month? Why? Our millionaire boss refused to put in any dust extraction. Some days the fug of makore dust and several other hardwoods was so thick we could barely see three meters and less ahead of us let alone one another. But this was the world I grew up in and it was fine. I liked woodworking enough to get through it. I heard someone say recently that they hated to have to wear a mask to go into a shop to buy something. It made me think! With COVID-19 constantly raising its ugly head everywhere, surely the naysayers who cavalierly walk around saying there is no COVID can see the writing on the wall. surely they too can wear a mask for ten minutes.
Twenty years ago they laughed at me as I demoed dovetails at woodworking venues throughout the USA. What they didn’t know was that I wasn’t an amateur but a proficient master. They left me alone after snickering behind their hands and nodding to one another. Little did they know then that a quiet de-industrial revolution was taking place by a lone woodworker from the UK. Back then I was the only one out there in the face of the giants of the woodworking machine world. The new target audience for them became the amateur market and they successfully persuaded all amateurs to embrace the more modern and efficient strategy. Machines were flying out the door in all of the US Woodcraft stores and so too Rockler. These were the two big sellers there then and of course, there are many others out there and online now. Thousands of them!
Of course many are still laughing . . . all the way to the bank. It’s not just the router you buy but the accompanying battery of bits and support components known as accessories. Jigs and guides to cut a single dovetail are as ubiquitous as the must-have and go-to router bits. But how much of what was then did they truly need? My estimation is maybe 10%, and that is being generous. Many newer gurus have finally accepted the ethos of my early days that the rewards of handwork far exceed the use of so-called power tools. For 55 years I have worked in both world but its making by hand that is my ultimate reward. All of the projects we have made over the past ten years came from hand tools like chisels and planes. In many cases the chisels that lasted and outlasted all others were the cheapest. My Aldi chisels are second to none as are my £20 Spear & Jackson saws and my Stanley number 4 and 5 bench planes without retrofits of thick or cryogenic steel cutting irons. You don’t really need anything more. I’ve proved it for decades. Woodworking? Just do it!
When I made the floor lamp last week I felt really proud of what I had achieved, but then I thought back to the shoe tidy and the hall stand, to the spice rack and the laptop desk. Who would have thought that such beauty could be made by “Just a bunch of amateurs!” following a few video courses online in their garages. But thousands of you are now doing it and doing it with ease and confidence. Just as a piece I design on the back of a bike as I ride gives me pride, so to you guys flexing your muscle at the bench when you take an oversized piece of oak to a bandsaw or a handsaw and rip it down to near size and plane it by hand. You are all my pride!