Friday, October 03, 2014

chisel, plane, sketchup...

Yesterday I gave a test in wood shop and was pleased to see that all my students passed. I gave a set of instructions and measurements for sketchup and what we are planning to achieve in time is the ability to 3-D print our own personalized lego blocks. In order to do so, the kids could simply download legos designed by others, but where would the growth be in that? Instead we will each be entering the dimensions and creating the forms ourselves. That will involve a long and precise list of instructions that must be followed with great care. Can you see the educational value in that? This is an educational experience for me, too. I have been measuring blocks, and developing the step-by-step instructions.

Computers, sketchup and 3-D printing in the wood shop? Should that come as a surprise? Computers are just tools designed to make processes easier and to require less skill.

The following is from my earlier blog post on March 3, 2010:

 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.

Being able to follow or develop a very precise set of instructions is of educational value whichever kind of technology you choose.

Make, fix and create...

1 comment:

  1. Doug,
    I enjoyed reading your post. You expressed an important point clearly . The workmanship of risk is not just a term, but a way seeking increased satisfaction in our woodworking or other endeavors. I still find it much more satisfying to find my way with a map rather than a GPS. Our society has so many "easy buttons" that we increasingly long for opportunities to engage in an activities that draw upon our skill, things that are challenging. That's just one reason I prefer to make things with an axe rather than a tablesaw.

    David Fisher