The weeks pass with surprising speed and I build every day. Truth is, there are but a few days when I didn’t make and that’s been throughout my 55 years full-time woodworking and furniture making. Maybe 30 days off sick in the whole time too.
I take only short breaks, breathers really, and rarely eat between meals or even snack. An apple or tangerine, a banana, is food on the go. I drink mostly tea, some coffee, and then water. I listen to music sometimes, occasionally, during the day, but just for a short spell here and there, not more than ten minutes. Music interrupts the senses, distracts them, detaches me. I need the constancy of interplay through what I sense to inform me in my processing. I depend on more than the five. I need all the others too. These gut senses stop me. They make me think. They tell me more than I see. They defy logic. They feed true information I need to work with to my brain. That’s the other side — the right side in the sense of being the correct side. I nourish these thoughts. I nourished them as soon as I left school behind to allow my senses the freedoms that had been stymied by school classrooms, dull and dulling teachers and low-grade subject matter. I needed the senses to build up my then malnourished being. I need that unspoken of, unseen, unknown solidity of gut feeling to strengthen me in my craft. I began to build muscle and sinew to the finest degree; muscle that remembered, recalled, refreshed my ways of working. This came to me by just the working I do so that the neurons surrounding my senses as transmitters served and serve me at a supercharged level.
I think men of the past, those who worked the way I do, always relied on such information, as did women artisans in other crafts I suppose. I have come to know one or two women woodworkers in more recent years but none with long-term exposure to the craft. I’m talking about the days before devices of plastic, glass and metal invaded the earlier world of more peaceful working. An engineer in a shop I know has music on all day. Rock of some kind.
The machines spin and spit off the waste into barrels and the computer mercilessly directs its minion slaves 24/7 — as does the music! Such soulless work comes from a brain programmed to work off a rotary cut. It’s fine work that defies the need of the human hand to do anything beyond its ability to tap keys and load metal into hoppers.
In my world of low machine presence and high demand handwork, I am saved from tedium. I am never bored and never use the word for anything except airport lounges, passenger flying, and from time to time driving along American highways from Texas to Nevada. Oh, and machining wood for days on end. I’ve done that too.
I just swept my shop for the sixth time this week. Bored? Boring? Nope! In my sweeping, I think and plan the work that will start as soon as the shavings are bagged. This week I hand planed enough surfaces to fill two 55 gallon drums. That’s almost 15 cubic feet, a little under half a cubic meter. It may not seem much but it is. I will often do three and four times that amount in a week. Why not use a belt sander? I might! There, that shocked some of you. Almost all of my power sanding, if I do any, comes after hand planing surfaces I can use a random orbit sander for a small fraction of the time I might had I not had skilled ability with hand planes. I often look at furniture and see feathering of adjacent surfaces to get a good joint line level but they are often never level. The hand plane delivers this in a matter of a few strokes. From this -paned surface you can go straight to 250 grit.
You must develop the ability to respond to the core senses we are all in danger of losing the use of. No one ever mentions that, yet if you are to become truly skillful, it will not be through the use of machines but the use of your body, your mind and your soul sensing information through your hands. Your dependency on sense and sensing can only increase through working with your hands, listening, responding, and working according to your senses beyond the big five that are really quite small compared to the other 20 plus. It is not the de-sensing machines and devices that help. This sensing I speak of here can only come from using what’s hidden and protected deep, deep inside the very core of your being. It’s a continuous process second by second minute by minute day on day. I don’t care that people have always told me you can’t make money that way or this way. They’re wrong and I don’t work for money anyway! Soulless money-making has no currency in my world of making but I can still sell what I make to those in need of my work. You, we, all have core senses, many of which are undefined but they are there for us to own, it’s just a question of listening or indeed releasing your body to depend on them. You alone must decide what you want for your life as an artisan. Skill is always high, high demand. There is no escaping this.
My friends, woodworking is an art. The chisel cuts create art that falls to the workshop floor after standing proudly tall from the cutting edge and I sweep it away to start my fire. The textures from every tool and every piece of wood are always very different — a million differences every day. The kind of woodworking I do demands total engagement yet it is never a hard taskmaster. The process for me is equal to the outcome in a finished piece. That being so, I design the process and the way I work my wood to match the lifestyle I live through. This is all part of the process. No one part can be separated from the other because this is not a factorial process but my way of life. Many woodworkers I have known and still know set up a mini-factory in their garage and call it woodworking! Mm, mm, mm! Dull, uninteresting, possibly even boring perhaps!