Sunday, February 28, 2010

when is a handle not merely a handle?

When it is a pendulum. I have been working on drawings based on earlier photos I shared in the blog, and these illustrate particular subtleties in the use of a chisel for operations like cutting dovetails. Often in the use of tools, craftsmen either receive visual cues by watching others or learn over time from their own experience, that are not taught through language. I read one craftsman's opinion that all chisels should be ground short, so as to be easier to handle, and in examining his opinion, I wondered why so many chisels were so long. Was the length of a chisel just to waste metal and to give the buyer the impression that he could resharpen it over and over again for the rest of his life? Or did its length offer some less obvious contributory value in its use?

These days, you won't find kids out in their back yards doing what I did as a kid. Lacking structured learning opportunities and lacking electronic indoor distractions, we played with stuff. A stick balanced in the palm of the hand brought sensitivity to gravity. In the same way, a chisel held low, allows the hand to sense that it is vertical, or not, thus providing sensory cues for its most effective use.

A craftsman develops skills both spoken, consciously applied, and unspoken, outside the conventional realms of discourse and consciousness. And so it is important to note that words are truly not enough. Discourse only engages a portion of the brain. Skilled craftsmanship in schools should be as widely and as thoroughly promoted as testing and accountability if we are to construct a more meaningful culture for our children and ourselves. I call it the "strategic implementation of the hands."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So what did you find out? Why are chisels so long? I do know that in cutting dovetails, the length of the chisel ends up being a visual cue for cutting as close to 90 degrees as my old eyes will allow.