I’m not alone using my hands to make a rich and more meaningful life, in the last few years I’ve noticed an increase in the interest of hand tool woodworking. I guess in essence people are just looking for a way to slow down, to unwind, to discover that Zen. Woodworking helps to get in touch with our genetic past, after all it’s what we’ve been doing for thousands of years; building things with our hands. This has only stopped ever since machinery replaced our hands in the last 70 years or so. By making things with your hands you get deeply involved that requires processes of knowledge, skill building, critical thinking, risk taking, and creativity. The things you do, the way you work, the things you make changes you profoundly, we are defined by what we do.
When you’re sitting behind a screen manipulating numbers all day or you’re sitting behind the wheel of your truck, taxi, delivery van whatever a feeling of vague uneasiness grows inside of you, but when you’re using your hands making something that uneasiness subsides. You feel like you actually did something, you enjoy the build process because you’re contemplating the possibilities of each step of the process and your being fully immersed and engaged in your project. You could have taken an extra shift and earned enough money to buy instead of making it, but you didn’t build that chair or side table to save time or money, slowing down was the point. So it doesn’t surprise me that this increase in resurgence of hand tool woodworking has had an incredible hit. People are choosing hand tools over machinery even though the machinist marketers are uneasy about it all. Machinery represents the mass productive society we are all trying to evade even if it be for an hour or two in a day. Being a hand tool woodworker or carver, turner, marqueter etc. it’s an experience that serves its own reward.
As an amateur maker you study the objects and the materials that are made, reproduction furniture makers study the antiques till it’s imprinted into their minds. You gain an insight into how things were made and you get to see what the original maker could not see if the construction methods he chose would stand up in time. Being an amateur maker you no longer desire to go to Target, Ikea, Kmart or Super Amart. You tend to keep things and fix it if it gets broken instead of replacing it and, if you do need to buy something you will look for an item that will last a long time. You’ve freed yourself from consumerism of a throwaway society, you have broken the shackles, the stranglehold of the marketers. Your truly free and you have more money left in your pocket because of it for your next project you have lined up.
In almost all walks of varied life amateurs have the freedom to experiment, to expand their knowledge and progress. We have the luxury of time while professionals don’t, ever wonder why a long time serving amateur hobbyist seems to know more than a professional? Well now you know why. Professionals build what the market dictates, they use the products that were sold to them by sales reps, they never dare to venture off to experiment or even learn to cook their own varnish. Most shops don’t even own a hand plane and most shops won’t use anything else other than particleboard and MDF. I once worked for a furniture factory and we were making reproduction Chippendale furniture out of MDF!!!! Even the cabriole legs were out of ridiculously soft material that was Balsa wood. Are you kidding me Balsa wood! We decked out 400 rooms with MDF reproductions and Balsa wood I bet they charged top dollar for crap.
In my shop I always took the time to learn new methods, to experiment with different finishes and this is still ongoing in fact I am in conversation with Bob Flexner about a discovery I made hopefully more on that in another post but none of it impeded on my daily work. It’s called time management and if you don’t have time you simply work over time to make that time otherwise you will end up clueless like the rest of them. You see misleading labels on products everyday like Danish Oil, Danish who, what have the Danes got to do with it, and Tung oil finish there’s no Tung in it except their own lying tongues unless it reads 100% pure tung oil you can safely discard anything else, and what about Liquid Hide Glue by Titebond is it really hide glue, I don’t know I truly don’t know it sure acts like it, looks like hide glue even has a similar smell but is it real animal protein glue? As far as I know animal protein glue is made from, well; animals but Titebond liquid hide lists cyanoguanidine (used in the manufacture of plastics and pharmaceutical) and ammonium thiocyanate and this I got eventually from the horse’s mouth their tech team two years ago. Geez what a mouthful. Not even sure what all that means, is it a fancy way of saying made from animals? Hmm probably I forgot to ask that bit.
Tung oil finish or furniture polish that nourishes your timber. Please give me a break. Please note this word used on that minwax can ‘vitality’ the English definition from the dictionary is ‘the power giving continuance of life, present in all living things:’ I’m sorry to say but that timber died when it got cut down. There are no branches growing out of it just because it expands and contracts doesn’t mean you need to slap on some oil of Ulan to nourish its dry ‘skin’. It’s not like a whole tree will form out of it in your living room and what about the feed-n-wax what’s next baby food for timber for all its nourishing needs, but marketers assume we’re all stupid and the less savvy ones fall for it and a whole new market has just been created.
But that’s marketing for you and they haven’t given up on you yet, just because you gave up on them, they are out there doing their best to destroy that peaceful Zen you have created in your new amateur creative world. They see this new movement on the rise a new market potential so they tease you with shiny new tools and machinery with words” like repeatable accurate cuts every time” They prey on your weaknesses in dovetailing and offer you jigs and throw in new words of “speed and efficiency” “professional quality joints” “amaze your friends” “work like a pro” They manipulate the government into passing new laws by replacing all table saws with saw stops because they are genuinely concerned about your safety, now aren’t they such nice care bears.
But you’re a hand tool woodworker you don’t need tablesaws, you have a beautiful antique Disston, you don’t need a jointer you have hand planes, what about a thickness planer well even I have to admit to that one, it sure does come in handy when your sciatica plays up. But generally all your hand tools are either vintage or antique so there’s nothing that they can tempt you with at least not until the tool makers start replicating antique hand tools but it’s ok because when you see their prices the desire to own one just dwindled away into the mist until it’s a faded distant memory. Every now and then though from time to time when you’re reminded with a new catalogue you just received so generously free of charge in your letterbox and as you’re drinking your coffee sifting through the pages of Lie Nielson or some other top tool maker a single tear forms in the corner of your eye and you are gently reminded of how beautiful this tool would look in your cabinet. But when you pick up your pre WWII Stanley or your wooden jointer you seem to miraculously forget that shiny new tool of $700 or that beautiful looking rabbet plane of $1500 or even that kerfing plane of $1735 because your plane works just as good or dare I say better. Besides, if the antiques were good enough for the old timers well it’s good enough for me right. I’m not really mocking tool makers just their prices, I know there are labour costs involved and boy do I know about that but I also know somewhere in there is a markup price and that could be as low as 20% – 300% and that’s something we will never know which one it is.
So as amateur woodworkers we achieve more of self-reliance therefore we are more free, free from marketing exploits, free from the throw away mentality, free from the “norms” of society, that is what is considered the “norm” today. Your new amateur lifestyle has boosted your confidence, things you would have shied from prior to entering the craft. You have gained a new self-confidence with new skills and have a more positive outlook on life, you meet with likeminded people and share your experiences with them including your projects enticing others to make as well and to share with you what they have made. You start learning from each other and from your own mistakes. It’s a whole new and very closely tight knitted friendly and supportive community you’ve just entered.
You’re not afraid of new challenges because you know with perseverance you’ll eventually get it done. Your so hooked now that you want to devote even more time to your new found hobby but life always seems to get in the way and that’s a blessing in disguise. When you’re in your shop you will value your time and utilise 100% of it, that’s the blessing I see.
Despite my 5 day a week new job and a day and half of woodworking I have taken the extra step of preparing the next generation of woodworkers when the time comes for my grandkids. I’m writing my own journal, a full descriptive book on what I have learned throughout the years of working the craft and will continue to write as I further progress within the craft in the hope that it will serve them as a good reference material that will aid them in their pursuit of knowledge of the craft. I know there are plenty of books out there but this one is from grandad, I wish my grandad left me a book but he sadly died just after the second world war. He not only worked just with hand tools as it was the norm in some European countries then but he owned a workshop employing over 20 people all working wood with nothing more than hand tools and he still made time to teach it in schools and export his furniture throughout the country and supply other European nations as well. This was all before the war btw during the war he was at the front So this is what prompted me in starting a journal. I have written useful things like the type of timbers I have worked with, their strengths and weaknesses and what are hand tool friendly and what are not. Simple things like working out the linear meterage price of cubic meters and then there’s going to be projects galore a full step by step instructions on every project that will pass through my hands. How to guide for finishes and how to make your own finish. As for tools he or she won’t need them as they will have all of mine and that will be a massive savings. If tools are ridiculously priced now imagine what they will cost in 10 or 20 years from now. So this is the plan for now, no one gets squat till I kick the bucket till then the tool rules are:
Don’t touch ‘EM
Look at ‘EM
Well ok a peep.
As Tom Fidgen say’s “Make everyday a masterpiece.”