I’m almost done with my new coffee table design for the Sellers’ Home living room series seemingly coming together from nowhere piece by piece. By that, I mean that the design is finished in my head and now on paper but as yet not quite fully made. We have videoed the first few episodes though and this week I laminated, laminated, laminated. Therein is the first clue! I have the sixteen mortise holes cut and twelve tenons fitted so far, but the four remaining come on the ends of laminated rails and that is clue two. Clue three may be something that you have never seen before so don’t strain the grey cells too much. It pivots from a fixed point and replaces a drawer to hold pens and pencils and a notepad. Why? Well, it goes with my rocking chair where I plan to work my sketchpads, write (as I always do) in notepads and then at my laptop. I have used a rocker as a working chair to work from for 25 years so far. It’s unlikely now that I will change the habit (especially with the new design that fits and supports my lifestyle).
Sometimes my work is a little sloppy in that to complete sections in time for the next video work I must push myself so as not to lose a day because of ten minutes. A haunch may not be perfect but the outcomes make no difference to the appearance or structural strength and the longevity of the finished work. In a way, this puts me back in time with the Victorian craftsmen who had to produce many drawers in a day to satisfy the demands of an austere master and so we see that the dovetail saw sailed past the demarcation lines every time. Therefore I make no apologies!
Cherry seems to me mostly a joyous wood to work. It is like many fruitwoods in that it has both a pleasing texture to touch beyond the plane’s final stroke and then the grain seems always to take gentle meanderings as if by a brook in a wide, low-lying valley. I trace my fingers along lines of growth rings and fine myself amidst meadows filled with wildflowers. This is the time when its canopy covers the dome with pompoms of pure pink and white and the bark shimmers in its burgundy coat.
The panel of four planks begin to level and the floor around my bench is ankle deep before I sweep and fill yet another large bag for the third or fourth time today. I spent time shaping the legs and shaving them with my spokeshave. The wood glows and the cherry shavings are the softest of all woods even when thickly taken from the board. But it’s the final fine skins that wrap around my wrist and fingers and cling to the plane by the static create by my planing that are the softest down. They curl en mass and roll in the breeze from an open door until they rest, piled beneath my workbench. Why cherry does this to me I don’t know but this wood is like no other.
In my making, I think of my decision to use mainly hand tools all those years ago. This was one of those rare points where you recollect a punctiliar decision – a point of positive wisdom that everyone else sees as stupid. To do what I did this morning with a hand plane by machine would deprive me of all that I felt above. Were I to make and sell this coffee table as a hand-made piece I would make at least £1,000. I would take five days to do it and I would have felt no anxiety but only utter peace. I would have a beautiful piece of work I would be proud of, sell to a very pleased and appreciative customer, reflect each day on the beauty of my work and my working and put the £1,000 into my bank account to pay my bills. Were I to do this by machine, I would likely make one and a half of the same coffee table, sell them for the same or similar price and they would look exactly the same as my handmade one. The customer would be unlikely to see the difference and would most likely not care if the one was hand-made and the others machined through and through. I would put £1,500 into my bank account and pay the bills the same as before. But, to me, it’s the bit in between that matters the most. The waking in the morning, knowing that I would soon be exercising my whole body for several hours AND engaging all of my senses in the process of knowing and working, is part of my “good morning” to myself. The Greeks use the word ginōskō to describe something far more than to simply know something as we limit ourselves in a single use of the word.
One Lexicon says that it is: a prolonged form of a primary verb; to “know” (absolutely) in a great variety of applications and with many implications (as follow, with others not thus clearly expressed):–allow, be aware (of), feel, (have) know(-ledge), perceived, be resolved, can speak, be sure, understand.
ginōskō: to learn to know, come to know, get knowledge of perceiving, feel, to become known, understand, perceive, have knowledge of, to understand to become fully acquainted with.
My neck and shoulder muscles will begin to bulge beneath my shirt with every stroke I take and every piece of wood I lift. Over many hours in any day, I will repeat this stroke, stroke on stroke and pull and push, lift, place and lower. My upper arm muscles too, “big guns” I am told, will work the planes and the saws all day long no problem It’s the bit in between starting and going to the bank that I cannot take to the bank or hide under the matress and nor would I. I do have to pay my bills, as we all do. I have done that since I started work at 15.
What you get from power equipment is good in its sphere of mass-making or to help out now and again when your strength wanes. This is a provision for all of us at certain times. It’s not what you get though, so much as what you must miss, and I say this because it cannot exist with power equipment. What pulses through the brain, what takes us beyond our own finiteness, what pulses through the veins, things such as these, mean much more than we might realise and we don’t need to put titles to them, we just need to acknowledge and accept that we feel better when we make with our hands, when we overcome opposition and fears, self-doubt and when we fight for what we believe in.