Sunday, July 12, 2020

the knife

It is interesting how some things come to us in the night. Do you wake up in the night with things on your mind that are related to what you're to be doing the next day? 

Last night I was thinking of educational Sloyd and how difficult it can be to contend with grain during the use of the knife. In early sloyd model series, one of the challenging models was that of the scoop, a common tool carved from wood. 

The challenge is to get a clean cut where there's a reversal of grain. You can use a chisel or gouge, or a knife with a hooked blade, but there's no ideal tool to make the task easy without the intense application of mind and without hands well-trained and practiced for the task.

The following was translated for me from a book written in early Norwegian by N. Christian Jacobsen,
I Sløjdsagen Et Inlæg
"The knife is that tool which a child most naturally and easily grasps: it is simple to have at hand and can be used for both this and that. It is a tool with which much work can completely be done, and without help from another. Yes, nothing more on this need be said; the knife is above all else the tool of ordinary dexterity, that is to say, sloyd’s tool. 

"But it is with the knife as with smoothing: it is not appealing to start with when the mechanical saw comes before it. The knife makes large demands on thought and on the hand. The saw can be operated mechanically while the knife requires a freedom which consists in developing one's own effort. In hand skills in particular the knife is especially suited for the development of the sense of form in right-angle and curved forms. 

"What counts with the knife is to be able to freely put it to use through a multitude of hand movements, under which the aimed at form must be brought into clear focus, and the nature of the wood and action of the tools steadily observed. This compels to continual consideration and continual search for the desired form lying in the material before its emergence. – N. Christian Jacobsen, Kristiania (Oslo) January 1892"
I'm grateful to Barbara Bauer for her translation, and Christian Jacobsen, one of Otto Salomon's favorite authors suggests the complexity of one of our most simple tools.

It's amazing how academic life often revolves around the acquisition and regurgitation of information rather than demonstration of direct learning. The consequences for society are disastrous. We are carefully trained to undervalue the contributions of those who've labored long and hard to develop skill.

The photo shows a simple pin hinge inserted in a tiny box. It was one of my planned accomplishments for yesterday in the wood shop. How can such a simple thing be challenging? Would you not just simply take such things for granted? 

In order for the hinge to operate smoothly, the pin has to be positioned exactly on both sides. In order for that to be done with success on a number of boxes requires having the  right tools available, having the tools set up properly (measurement, measurement and measurement again) and having a feel for the process. For an exploration of the ways mind is applied in fields that we've been trained to think of as mindless, I recommend a book by Mike Rose, The Mind at Work.

Make, fix and create...

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