Wednesday, March 03, 2010

compare, a chisel and a plane

If you compare a chisel and a plane, you will find that they each share the same geometry at the cutting edge, and yet they are designed for different tasks. You will note that the frame surrounding the blade of the plane holds it in a fixed angle in relation to the working surface. Given enough strength, super human attention, and uncommon skill you could do with the chisel what you do with the plane, but then for most of us mortals, getting the plane to make perfectly smooth surfaces on wood, is challenge enough.

My point here is to explore David Pye's concept, workmanship of certainty vs. workmanship of risk and you can see that the evolution of the same cutting edge from simple application in the chisel to complex application in the plane is intended to bring greater certainty in a particular operation, replacing the need for skill with a more complex technology. The same can be said for the entire history of tool development. Almost all technological progress is aimed toward the elimination of skill as a necessary component of development. Another example is the biblical story of David and Goliath. David killed Goliath with a rock and sling, whereas any nincompoop with a rifle could have done the same thing.

If you read the latest woodworking magazine, you will find it filled with devices and techniques intended to make things easier, better, directed toward the elimination of risk.

And yet, it is risk, not knowing the outcome, working against the odds, putting forth effort, and accomplishing things that express mindfulness, effort and skill, that make life and the things we make most meaningful. And so, what this boils down to is that at least some good measure of what we do should be done the hard way. Choose your tools wisely, that they allow for the development of your skill.

In wood shop today, the 2nd and third grade students worked on making toy airplanes, and the first grade students worked on boats. We use a paper folding and cutting technique to help develop the designs. The children love taking the basic idea and then personalizing their projects through use of their own imaginations.

1 comment:

Ron said...

What a delicious paragraph:

And yet, it is risk, not knowing the outcome, working against the odds, putting forth effort, and accomplishing things that express mindfulness, effort and skill, that make life and the things we make most meaningful. And so, what this boils down to is that at least some good measure of what we do should be done the hard way. Choose your tools wisely, that they allow for the development of your skill.

I'll be writing on that on xprogramming.com. Thanks!