Finding Rest–Discovering Patience
Last night at around seven I finished the very last tweaking of the second bedside cabinet. It was the furniture wax on the drawer sides and the gentle push with my fingertips that gave me the inner satisfaction that only comes in three words: “It is finished!” I can’t really explain the feeling of contentment this final minute brings. It’s much deeper than warm, wider than satisfying. In days past there was a term we used in the building of anything but mainly in the building of churches and cathedrals. The term? Bring the building to rest. What did it mean? Well, until a certain point, building in stone with all the vaulting of roofs, flying buttresses and equalising the opposing force until keystones were finally placed to take the weight and strain of the great mass transferring down to the foundation stones, scaffolding was used for support. Dismantling the scaffolding, brought the whole building to rest on craftsmanship. Any flawed work, a stone misplaced, that hidden chink in a weak block would evidence itself somewhere there and then or later. When I finish my pieces, small-scale I know, I bring them to rest. Time came when I needed to go back to a piece 300 miles away to make a repair. I learned from such things. Experience.
Delivering a piece to a customer, to an office or home, to my own house or one of my children’s is a special time of wonder. You wonder whether they will like it, whether it’s going to fit size-wise or aesthetically, will it look right, be fit for purpose but then too change the personality of the room, the entryway, the whole property even. Taking my granddaughter’s first real bed, her cot, was very special. I had made the prototype which went to my house and then the oak finished piece to her house. there was nothing like the deep sense of purpose and love that came with this one event. It was as if I was creating a nest of protection. I had researched the whole of EU requirements for cots to make sure every element was compliant with law but not because of the law itself. It’s important to go beyond the law and use the much higher standard of love as your guiding light.
Everything from gardening to cooking, washing dishes to ironing is crafted when it’s done with care and patience. It’s not so much what we do but how we do it that makes a difference. The attitude of let’s get this done and over with denies the crafting of life. I turn over the compost heap to aerate it and allow air deep into its fibre of it. It turns from waste to compost I can use more readily when I take and make the time to do such things. Applying the work I do in my furniture-making to life itself makes a difference to my own attitude in doing things I don’t like doing.
A man came into my workshop once to use my equipment, benches and machines. Everything he did he threw, dropped, kicked. He changed the whole attitude of the environment within an hour and no one said anything because they didn’t really understand that it was the spirit of the man that changed everything around him. I met him at the door as he arrived with his materials, sat him down at a quiet spot and gently said I was afraid he might not be able to use my shop any further and that perhaps he should take his materials away. Shocked, he asked why. I explained that his attitude towards the work was infecting everything and that it was a shame because it could have been so different. He was all the more surprised by the revelation that not everyone saw work the way he did. From that minute on he never threw another board nor did he kick one. We got on famously after that and the atmosphere in MY workshop went back to normal.
Any master in his own workshop must have control over any and all attitudes. I remember my foreman as an apprentice back in 1965 sending a craftsman home without pay for the day because the man lost his temper. He never argued back, did not curl his lip, but picked up his lunch bag and left. The next day he came back, told the foreman (and the other men) he was sorry and ashamed of his bad attitude and went back to his bench. Anger management worked in this way without the undue involvement of others and no HR department. This was the warning and the conclusion of it patiently delivered.
“The attitude of let’s get this done and over with denies the crafting of life.” What a powerful sentence. Thank you Paul for sharing what you have learned over the years.
I know contractors and the like rush to get the next job so they can make more money. For me and individual not a contractor, I feel myself rushing when I get to the point where I can imagine installing the crib in my graddaughter’s bedroom. Then I am so excited to give it to her that I want to rush. That’s when I really have to use. my experience and meditative patience to take my time to the end. I just have to remind myself as excited as I am to share the result, if I just take a little more time it will be a better result. It may take me an extra day or two, but what’s that compared to the years of life it will see with someone else?
Great therapy from working with our hands and heart. In the US unfortunately we have been removing such hands on training from schools. I also have wondered if such activity might be a great calming and positive reinforcement for many who are incarcerated.
I do painting and decorating work. I see the results of “get it done” and it feels anything but peaceful. I listen to calming music and take my time to make sure I do it to the best of my ability.
I also love the idea of “bringing to rest”, so powerful.
My dad used to say “ get control of your emotions “ when we would get upset that things weren’t going the way we expected. It took me a long time to understand what he meant although he tried to help me in his own way when things got difficult for me.
It wasn’t until I retired that I took up gardening because before “I didn’t have the time”.
Now I realize that it would have been just the thing I needed when I was working and I wish I had started it earlier. Now I’m going through a slow transition to hand woodworking, it’s much more fun to listen to shavings coming off a hand tool than listening to the roar of power tools. The work I do has more meaning and I’m a better person for it.
Thanks Paul. When you wrote the satisfaction of saying “it is finished” it brought a big smile to my face. I keep a woodworking notebook (partly based on you and partly based on my work as a chemist). When I am done with a project, at the end of it I tally up the hours spent and write “FINISHED” in all caps. It has always put a huge smile on my face. Glad to see I’m not the only one who has a little ritual.
Not completely related but thought you might find interesting. The vast majority of the potential medicines end up not working and are canceled. Even if it fails, folks really worked hard. As such, I’ve always try to hold some sort of celebration, a wake as it were, when the project is canceled. I think it helps folks be acknowledged and brings closure that something that has had folks quite busy working hard for a few years, if not a decade.
What! No comments about no dig gardening?
Sorry, I couldn’t help it. The Charles Dowding no dig method lets me get back to my woodshop faster! I just spend the time I would otherwise be weeding in harvesting and planting more veggies. I know I won’t sell you on the method Mr. Sellers, but I might get a few other proponents from other gardening enthusiasts in this woodworking crowd.
Thank you for the tips and advice with respect to cane making. That was extraordinarily helpful.
Glad to see the garden, I have been wondering what was going on there, it has been some time since seeing anything about it. Finishing a project often brings me sorrow because quite often there isn’t anything to make for awhile. Some time ago I made a patio multi-potted plant stand with mortised joinery that my wife loves, guess it’s time to make some up for presents for family and friends.
Hi Paul. You’re article raised a question in my mind. You are using through tenons in this build and have done so before with your bookshelf in cherry wood. I’m making a scullery cabinet in oak and was going to try these, with the wedged dovetail in the tenon. Will that work ok in oak or am I at too much risk of the wood splitting?
Works in any wood. Make the tenon as tight as possible. That’s the trick, then it cannot split.
Just come through! Thanks so much. I will give it a go! Alan
Hi Paul. I tried to leave a message earlier but not sure if the system accepted it? In it I asked whether the through tenon you use, with a wedged dovetail, will work on oak as well as cherry? Or will it likely split in the oak? I’m making a scullery cabinet and was going to try the split dovetails that you used in your bookshelf item. Thanks. Alan
I’m sorry about a few comments I’ve left on a previous post. I appreciate your gracious reception and sincerely apologize for any negative impact they’ve had.
This past year hasn’t been the best, but there are better ways for me to manage my frustration and setbacks. My Dad used to be a carpenter, and I’ve been getting into it over the past few years out of necessity. I’ve been following articles here and there about woodworking with hand tools, and I wasn’t expecting to get gut punched by reading an heartfelt poem early in the morning.. so I lashed out. It wasn’t appropriate, and I’m sorry.
Thank you for sharing your content and experience. This post made me miss working with my Dad.
Harry, Thanks for taking the time to write. I think words can irritate as much as offer balm when people are going through something difficult for them. Woodworking for me is therapy because I am so confident that this or that will just about always work for me. I am sure it is less therapeutic when the outcomes can be less certain to those on the learning curve. I always have hopes for those like yourself who will in a year or two discover what I have enjoyed now for decades. I think the important thing is to keep encouraging one another as we travel. Though woodworking is pretty well sure for me, there are many other issues I have to face in the day to day I must tackle and woodworking helps me.
Well said Harry, praying you’ll have a better year. Oh for a few more hours with our departed fathers, so much to ask and listen to…
This is a beautiful post. Thank you.