Friday, December 03, 2010

Today in the woodshop

There are advantages to being a self-employed craftsman, teacher and writer in that I am always shifting between various layers of interest, being called to change locations, or tasks at hand. As a piece of work progresses in the woodshop it goes through stages, each calling for a different skill. When I begin a piece, I select the best wood which usually involves digging through stacks of lumber and evaluating the qualities of each board and what it can be used for. Then I begin the task of cutting parts to rough size, jointing and planing them to prepare them for cutting to final dimension. Each step is well rehearsed, but not without some head scratching and decision making. Sometimes I have to adjust my plans to meet the circumstances of tools and materials. And so, each day, each hour, and each minute are a balance between the known and unknown, creating both a sense of comfort, and continuously expanding interest.

In yesterday's post, I had quoted Bob Barsanti's article, that "Parents, coaches, and teachers need to work as craftsmen and artisans, not as millworkers on the night shift," and the idea of craftsman as a metaphor for teachers at work, or children at learning and growth, serves well. An experienced teacher in a classroom might see some similarities between the crafting of young lives and what I am doing in the woodshop. Every board must come to its perfect use, and with teaching kids, none can be discarded as scrap. So perhaps an even better metaphor would be that of goldsmith rather than woodworker. While institutionalized education may not recognize or value all the qualities inherent in the materials, the goldsmith of children, knowing the precious qualities of his or her materials would let no filings go to waste.

There is a problem built into the system through which we train kids. Regimentation. Just as it kills spirit on the factory floor, it can do the same in the teaching of kids. In my wood shop, I can shift gears as easily as shifting the body, taking breaks in position, but also breaks in mind and mindfulness. I can feel inspired to write some newly shuffled thought and make the quick trip to my desk, putting sanding aside, to jot down a note on the blog, while the sanding task I had abandoned waits patiently for my return that comes with renewed interest and vigor.

Today, I'll be sanding doors and preparing the hangers for the insides of a cabinet. I will also put contrasting wood pegs in the corners of the bridle joint doors to add a greater touch of Greene and Greene design. A craftsman's life is filled with little things, that take little or no time at all, but that add up to finished work, step-by-step. And I feel that the metaphor of craftsmanship holds the key to many wonderful things that are lacking in today's distracted culture. Make, fix, create,  sow(plant), sew, nurture, care, and care for. The artist may work to make something different, the craftsman works to make things better. Not a bad way to make a life.

In the meantime, Roy Underhill is hosting his 30th season of the Woodwright's Shop on PBS, and has included a segment on Sloyd. I have the pleasure knowing that  my own articles on Educational Sloyd in Woodwork Magazine and writings about Sloyd in this blog have awakened a renewed interest in sloyd in the broader woodworking community. Roy's program "Who Wrote the Book of Sloyd" is described as follows:
"Sloyd, the late 19th-century Swedish system of learning woodworking was intended to develop skilled, industrious and morally upstanding citizens. We’ll give it a try, and hope it’s not too late for us!"
It will be the 7th episode in the current season, and Roy will surely awaken an even wider range of TV viewers to woodworking education. No wonder Republicans feel threatened by PBS and want to cut funding. First we restore a sense of the dignity of all labor, and in the slippery slope of feeble minds, the next thing we're talking about is socialism or worse.

As you can see in the photo above, you can see my progress in adding Greene and Greene styled pegs to lock the bridle joint doors. The pegs are functional in that they add to the great strength of the joint, but are decorative in that they are not required. The walnut square pegs will  be ebonized to turn black before they are glued into place in keeping with the Greene and Greene style.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11:27 AM

    Progress indeed!
    I look at students as you see boards. Each one has good qualities, even if sometimes they do their best to hide them.