Saturday, August 17, 2019

old dogs, new tricks?

Yesterday I shaped the cross members that attach the table top to the base. It was a job quickly done that relied upon past experience doing similar work. I used the band saw to make the angle cuts and used the jointer to clean up the flat surfaces and remove the marks from the saw. Now with routing, sanding, drilling of holes and the application of Danish oil, the parts will be ready to install.

You know the saying, that you can't teach old dogs new tricks. It's not true. You can still learn to do amazing things. But old hands and old minds do not learn as quickly or as easily as the young.
Sir James Crichton-Browne was called the last of the great Victorians. His views on the relationship between hand, brain and body are described in Gustaf Larsson's book "Sloyd,"1902 as follows:

"The eminent English scholar and scientist, Sir James Chrichton Browne, tells us that certain portions of the brain are developed between the ages of four and fourteen years by manual exercises alone. He also says, "It is plain that the highest functional activity of these motor centres is a thing to be aimed at with a view to general mental power as well as with a view to muscular expertness; and as the hand centres hold a prominent place among the motor centres, and are in relation with an organ which in prehension, in touch, and in a thousand different combinations of movement, adds enormously to our intellectual resources, thoughts, and sentiments, it is plain that the highest possible functional activity of these hand centres is of paramount importance not less to mental grasp than to industrial success."

Again he says,"Depend upon it that much of the confusion of thought, awkwardness, bashfulness, stutterings, stupidity, and irresolution which we encounter in the world, and even in highly educated men and women, is dependent on defective or misdirected muscular training, and that the thoughtful and diligent cultivation of this is conducive to breadth of mind as well as to breadth of shoulders."

"The nascent period of the hand centres has not been accurately measured ... but its most active epoch being from the fourth to the fifteenth year, after which these centres in the large majority of persons become somewhat fixed and stubborn. Hence it can be understood that boys and girls whose hands have been altogether untrained up to the fifteenth year are practically incapable of high manual efficiency ever afterwards.

"The small muscles of the eye, ear, larynx, tongue, and hand have much higher and more extensive intellectual relations than the large muscles of the trunk and limbs. If you would attain to the full intellectual stature of which you are capable, do not, I would say, neglect the physical education of the hand."--Sir James Crichton-Browne
Fixed and stubborn. Those are good terms, but depressing ones. We think of stubborn as being an attribute of mind. These terms may explain why a few readers of the blog take some offense when I wander slightly off from the favorite subject, woodworking. But woodworking is not an isolated thing. As much as we might like our shops to be a refuge and a retreat from the woes of the world and the occasional horrors we learn from it, woodworking also offers the power to engage deliberately and creatively  in making the world a better place. We do that through the making of useful beauty, and sharing what we do and what we learn with others.

As we transform wood, are we not also capable of transformation? As we reveal beauty in the wood, can we not show the same in ourselves?

Make, fix and create. Share with others

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