Friday, August 28, 2009

the idea of self-identifying tools.

Mark Mazzo's blog, The Craftsman's Path picked up a concept of mine here earlier to begin a discussion on tools that Self-identify." I should probably take a moment to clarify what I mean by “self-identify.” And should state that there are times when in woodworking the markings of tools add interest. For instance, I like looking over a hand planed surface and finding the “ligature” markings of the hand plane at work. I will look at a surface of a piece of wood that self-identifies as having passed through a planer (you know those little marks that you try to sand or scrape away?), and find that far less desirable, regarding it as unfinished. In making a piece of rustic furniture, I will find the markings of a large circular saw on rough lumber to have formed a desirable texture. But in observing an “antiqued” surface in which I can clearly recognize the particular screws, nails and implements of distressing used, I would find it less interesting than a texture that has earned its own abuse.

I guess some of it boils down to the question, “who’s in charge here.” I would rather see the surface textures (if they aren’t intended to be near perfect) controlled by some form of random act rather than overt deliberation.

I find it dishonest when someone routs dovetails and then uses a marking gauge to mark them, implying that they were hand cut. I have no problem with the use of a router to cut dovetails, but I would desire that the craftsman at least be honest about it.

The main point is that simple is best. Every tools leaves its mark, and simple tools leave the most interesting marks. As a box maker, I get asked a lot about the “lock miter bit”. And it is one of those tools that states, “production and expedience”. Someone not knowing how it works might feel intrigued until they realized that it was a technique intended to be fast and easy. Do I want my work to say “fast and easy” or are there more interesting stories to tell?

Anyway, the lock miter bit, regardless of how you feel about it, for me is an example of what I mean by “self-identifies”. And I need to be clear that self-identifying is not always a bad thing… The question then, is the tool used telling the viewer the right thing about the maker, his or her intentions, and work?

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