Principles Essential to the Woodworker’s Success

There is an old saying that a worker is known by his chips. This old saying must have had its origin years ago when firewood was used almost exclusively and many woodchoppers were employed cutting wood for fuel. Some of these woodchoppers would greatly excel others in the amount of wood cut consequently a swift worker would make many chips in a day’s toil while an inferior chopper would make comparatively few, so we have the saying passed down to us, “The workman is known by his chips.” But in these days, it would be nearer correct to say a workman is known by his tools and slightly more to the point to say a worker is known by the use of his tools.

Oriental Workmanship

They say that workers in Japan use some of their tools in a way that seems awkward and somewhat ridiculous to those of us of the Western world. The Japanese when he uses a plane pulls it toward him instead of pushing it from him. The drawing knife he pushes from him instead of drawing it toward him as the name of the tool signifies. They have odd ways of using tools, that is, it appears so to us, and our ways of using tools no doubt appear queer to some foreign-born workmen. With us as woodworkers our ways of using tools are quite uniform. Occasionally a workman, however, is seen using a saw in his left hand. Some are able to use one hand quite as well as the other.

Character in the making of chips, getting a shop reputation, motion study and its worth as a factor in forming workmanlike habits

But passing along from one worker to another in a shop or factory it would appear that all do things in about the same way in reference to their respective trades. Yet frequently we notice much difference in the quality of work done and much difference in the time that one man takes to do the same work in amount and quality compared with some other men. What is the reason for this difference? Why are not all workmen equally good? Why is it also that one man can do so much more work than another and do it just as well? These are quite important questions for with but few exceptions the worker is paid according to his work and he is known in the office and on the pay rolls by the use he makes of his tools. Therefore, how may a workman improve his work and thereby add to his chances?

Fundamental Principles

If these questions were submitted to a company of workers it would be sure to create interest and many and varied would be the answers given. I as one among the great army of woodworker., will suggest a few fundamental principles. First of all the old saying that a workman is known by his chips is obsolete. Chips or shavings are no indications of a workman’s speed or skill. But a good workman as a rule has good tools. If any man can do good work with poor tools the same man could do better work with better tools. The first requisite, therefore, to good work is suitable tools.

Inspecting the New Man

We notice new men as they come into the shop. It is natural that we should size them up by the tools they display. When a man appears with a substantial tool chest or tool case and unpacks a tine assortment of well kept tools we have at once respect for him even before he does any work. We expect him to be a workman that “needeth not to be ashamed.” How different is our views of the man that comes shuffling in with tools in an old battered box devoid of handles or sometimes with a market basket with a few odds and ends, relics of tools that appear as though they may have come from a second-hand store or possibly a pawnshop. Such a man as this the foreman is sure to look upon with some anxiety and suspicion. He does not give such a man very particular work, for judging from the tools the man carries about with him he could not be trusted to do a neat and particular job. If we would become a good workman and command respect among our fellows we should get together a kit of good tools. A worker is not only judged by the tools he may display but by the way be uses his tools. This is the great test of the workman. Workmen, like the rest of mankind the world over, are creatures of habit and the skilful use of tools by which we may earn a good living is largely the result of habits we form as we take up our tools to use them day after day. Much, however, depends upon the kind of start we get while learning the trade. The skill of the pianist depends on his position at the instrument together with expression as conveyed by the touch of the fingers on the keys. Improper position at the piano, awkward movement of the fingers, or a wrong start in learning has made the development of the performer into a great musician impossible. In a measure it is so with the use of tools. Much depends on the kind of habits we form while learning the trade and our disposition to correct errors and improve as we grow older and more experienced in our work. A man is never too old to learn if he is so inclined. But here is the rub. As we grow older our habits, good or bad, have a tendency to crystallize, to become fixed. As woodworkers in the use of our tools we are apt to get into a rut. We may move along in a monotonous kind of a groove. We become a kind of a human machine that goes neither faster nor slower and grows neither better nor worse except like the machine we are imperceptibly but gradually wearing out. It appears that as workmen we may be divided into two classes, those who from the start manifest a desire to advance by improving every available opportunity to become more skilful and those who having learned the trade manifest no activity to learn more only as it comes to them naturally and ordinarily through the performance of their routine toil. I can illustrate my thought best in this way: There was a cabinetmaker in years past who had two sons. They worked on either side of their father learning the trade. The older one from the start appeared quick and handy with tools but was not careful about his work.

Comparisons of Craftsmanship

When in fitting a set of drawers into a bureau he had to be watched and his work inspected frequently as he would plane too much off from the ends of the drawer fronts leaving too much space or play for the drawers. When spoken to by his father about his work not coming up to the standard he would invariably reply, somewhat impatiently, “Oh, that’s good enough.” His bench was always littered from one end to the other. His tools were never sharp, and as for grinding a plane iron or a chisel it was almost impossible to get him to do it. He was a hard- working fellow and always went at things with a rush. But he never could take time seemingly to do anything well nor to keep his tools in good condition. He indulged careless habits. He had no ideal, nothing to look forward to in the way of improvement. Passing from his bench over to that of his brother, who was younger and serving his time with him, we notice a great difference, not so much in the movements of the young men for they both were quick and seemed to do things by the same method. But the younger brother did much better work and just as much of it. He was painstaking. He made no more motions than the older brother but each effort counted. There were no false motions. He kept his tools well sharpened and arranged in good order. He consulted with his father frequently about the best way to do certain things. It was not enough for him to get it done some- how, but availing himself of the experience of those that had been longer in the business he tried to do everything in the best way. And it is needless to state that this young man forged ahead. He was given the best work. This worker was known not by his chips or the shavings he made but by his well-kept tools and the very skilful use of them. The difference between these two brothers which so affected their work and wages is largely the difference between workers the world over.