When I show a picture of what seems the chaos of my workspace it’s not to say this is how I work or indeed to justify others in their untidiness, it’s simply to say I have been exceptionally busy making and that I have had just about every hand tool in the shop out and they can’t go back in place because I keep reaching for every one of them minute by minute. I am surprised though that some, maybe many, take this as confirmation that, well, it’s okay to live like this. It’s not! Definitely not.
Sometimes I find it frustrating that some seem justified in what is often a continuum of untidy squalor. I thought I should write of it here because my open transparency is nothing more than me declaring that after even only one hour I must, must, tidy, and reorder my creative space. I sweep my shop floor and benchtop every hour or so because I generate shavings and sawdust from my handwork that machinist woodworkers don’t because they don’t very often use such tools and nor do they create the type of shavings that I do.
Tidiness and cleanliness are important to me. Untidiness is never an option and it is always a clear indication of being generally undisciplined. I have been in the workshops of many others who obviously leave or keep their workshops in bad condition for years on end, if not forever. This is not the case for me. When my bench looks like the picture above I immediately clean up and I never procrastinate on the issue. Mostly it’s following a period of working diligently for an hour or so of in-the-zone demand. I don’t want to break into my thought patterns nor my systematic way of working that might sever the thread too soon; to break off would take a lot of clawing back to maximised effectiveness. I have seen students I taught put back every tool on the bench into tidy rows after every single use of the tool only to pull it out again two seconds later. It’s grossly inefficient. One woodworker folded his knife blade away every time he put it down. Said he couldn’t live any other way. He was the only one that didn’t finish the course but only got half way through. Did it matter? Not to him and not to me. We were both happy.
George and I were up to to our shins in shavings when George said, “Sit thee down there lad!” and I sat.
“See that broom? he pointed to a wide broom leaning against an opposite bench.
‘Yes!’, I replied.
“What do you think it’s for? he asked.
‘Sweeping!’ I said.
“Good lad, Paul! You get the job because you’re so sharp you need no instruction.”
I smiled with self satisfaction and George saw it.
“Look, Paul! Let that be the last time I ever tell you you need to sweep up. If I have to do that again then I will be neglectful and irresponsible. Do you understand?”
‘Yes, George.’ And I swept many times a day and especially if I saw him kick the shavings with his feet.
Being an artisan means to put in order anything that is disorderly and choosing the exact moment to do it. Don’t wait for the accident to happen because that is always a costly lesson. I don’t identify with dumb and cute expressions like, ‘A tidy shop means nothing gets done!’ or “Oh, I feel so much better seeing your shop like this!” Of course, a shop can get untidy for a short spell, that’s par for the course. Especially is this true in a confined space such as the four square metres I am confined in. There is no way I could make three rocking chairs by hand in three weeks, film four or five videos of the quality we do in the same period, write 10,000 words, post Facebook and Instagram posts and so on if I wasn’t highly self-disciplined, high self-demanding and highly organised. Make no mistake, the man with a tidy shop is not the man who never made anything it’s the man who as a 15-year-old made up his mind 56 years ago that no one would ever need to tell him again to sweep the shop and keep things in order. Taking initiative is an amazing gift!