There are many things to be thankful for in life and for all of us it is mostly things surrounding our family, our special friends and our loved ones that make us truly grateful. When one person achieves something special resulting from hard work and great effort we all rejoice together because achievement that costs us is worth celebrating. Many things that I have made cause me to rejoice for the privilege of making them. Mostly they are things from wood, but sometimes too a building, a garden dug and a repair made that blends into the surrounding material world we inhabit. I think we are often proud in the right way. If you write software and develop a vaccine for a pandemic that saves lives, design a chair that fits or a bed for another to sleep in comfort and peace, these are things we can take pride in.
Last week we took possession of five thousand copies of my book Essential Woodworking Hand Tools and when the shipment arrived I opened up the first box to take out a new copy. I felt truly grateful as I thumbed the pages to see the quality and I felt all the more contented as I read just a couple of sentences on two or three pages.
You see, in 1990 or thereabouts, I started to pen my first thoughts on woodworking with hand tools for a class of ten. Little did I know then that I might actually develop and write curriculum for woodworkers learning my craft. As the book in my hands weighed in at almost 2 kilos or 4 lbs, and not quite 500 pages, I thought to myself, how on earth did we do this? I remembered a violin maker once asking me why Joseph and I made a cello as our first instrument together. I asked him why and he said because a cello is the hardest of the bowed instruments to make and get right. I replied, ‘Well, we didn’t know we couldn’t do it so we did.’
Days later, the principal cellist in the Dallas symphony orchestra, Chris Adkins, sat on a chair on a barn floor playing the instrument and he played it for half an hour. When he’d done he handed it back to Joseph and said, “It’s hard for me to give this back. It’s just beautiful to play; so rich and easy!” Chris plays a Guanerri. To say I felt proud is an understatement because Joseph and I made it together.
In designing the two credenzas for the Permanent Collection of the White House, I never actually expected or intended to make them. It would be hard for me to convey how difficult it was to pull everything together to make them in the time allotted, but we did it.
Placing these two pieces in the Cabinet Room of the White House on the eve of President Obama’s Inauguration raised my awareness of just where I was standing. Again, I was very conscious of achieving something I didn’t know I could. Was I proud? I was!
Writing Essential Woodworking Hand Tools is another such task. I just started writing and searching through my hundreds of pages of notes and drawings in my journals. I took nothing from any other document or book or author. I wanted the whole book to come from my living work as an artisan woodworker and furniture maker. I didn’t know if I could do it and I certainly didn’t know I couldn’t do it so I did it. Now I couldn’t have done it without my son Joseph’s help. This was yet another ‘together-effort’ as was the cello and the White House pieces.
It was a joint effort to give it our best shot. What did we want? We wanted a hardcover, cloth bound book with Smith-sewn stitching because we felt the book would become timeless for many a thousand woodworking enthusiasts long into the future. It was a reference manual that has never been written and the drawings were made with my own pencils at the workbench where I have worked for over 55 years. To say I agonised over every word is no exaggeration. Every single detail mattered. Still, today, I read the words and I cannot believe I wrote them. It was a work from the heart of a man maker who’s done little more than work with his hands at a workbench to follow his calling. I hope you will enjoy my Essential Woodworking Hand Tools offering as much as I have had in the writing of it.
For now, the only place this book is available from is our website (https://rokesmith.com/shop) where we ship worldwide!