Thursday, July 23, 2009

Now you can see...

I am now working on the last of the many mortise and tenon joints used in making small walnut and cherry tables and you can begin to see the complexity of the process. As you know, tables can be made much more simply than this, but unlike my rustic tables, simplicity of construction is not the object in this case. And yet, the message I hope to convey is a rather simple concept.

As you may have noticed nearly everything is concealed from us. As Matthew Crawford points out his book Shop Class as Soulcraft, even Mercedes Benz cars, no longer have dipsticks, as consumers are no longer able to deal with complexity. They want to sit behind the wheel, all personal delusions intact. The thought of something that is oily and greasy, and that might touch clothing would be extremely offensive and might drive them to choose another model or something. All the moving parts are hidden from view, as the consumers are no longer to be trusted with any level of understanding or interest in moving parts. It is part of the process of disembodiment that goes with having attained the delusion of status and prestige.

I want the viewers of these tables to look and see and understand: These things, these tenons, these mortises, these interlocking male and female parts that connect discrete pieces of wood and join them into an integrated, purposeful whole. If I can get my viewers interested, they might find themselves actually touching something.

Before the last parts are cut, careful trial assembly is done so dimensions can be finalized and what you see in the photo above gives a hint of the final object, drawn inevitably closer to sanding and assembly. After a few short weeks in my shop these tables will move into new homes and if they are cared for will last for over a hundred years beyond my own time...


  1. It looks like you're using through tenons? I never thought of that aspect of exposed joinery - to invite a person to think (even passingly, unconsciously) about how the pieces actually fit together and support one another. When the tenon is hidden you can't tell that joint from a simple butt joint (which, to one unfamiliar with the properties of wood and glue, would appear to be just as strong).

  2. Yes, those are through tenons. I have long regarded joinery as being a beautiful expression of functionality and personal engagement. When you see a dovetail you know the work will likely last, and you also know something of the heart, and intention of its maker. As our range of expression has narrowed, so has our understanding. the investment a craftsman makes in quality of work is more telling and more sincere than the empty words and phrases that have come to characterize our current culture.