We are almost into the New Year and this is traditionally the time when people try and sum up the year behind, and look with expectation to the year ahead. This has been a year of great change and challenge for me. To take stock I looked back, beyond just the last 12 months, and looked around me today so that I can plan into the future. This one is much bigger than just woodworking.
Concept sketches and lettering attempts for what would become a parting present for a colleague and friend.
I think of my family and ask myself, what have I invested here? Will it pay off? Difficult questions to answer, and all too easy to feel inadequate as a parent. Too many hopes and wishes, and not enough tangible stuff. We invest time, effort, love and care and it usually does pay off, but how will your kids remember you? What part of who you are will still live on when you’re not around anymore? If I am not here tomorrow, what would my legacy be?
The resulting carving that grew from the preliminary drawings above, and from the direction my gouges and hands took those first ideas in. This has been the year I decided carving was not beyond me and as always I found I have so much to learn…
I studied humanities and arts, and lived in a world of ideas. Most of my life I was convinced I had little to no manual skills. One day I challenged myself and those preconceived beliefs I held in my head. I held on to that challenge, and kept raising the bar. It’s been one of very many challenges. I try and make my kids believe they can do the same. Turn their world upside down. See what happens.
My daughter back when she was 8 years old, making a robot disguise by repurposing a cardboard box with the help of her little brother.
I would love my kids to savour challenges and find their own way. Not driven by desire for mass acceptance and thoughtless consumerism, or dressed in pretences and facades. And I hope they will continue being silly and creative. And use their brains, senses and hands.
To prove to the kids that their creation was absolutely fantastic, and better than anything out there mass-produced in a factory for shipment in a massive stack of cargo containers, I took them to the woods and we made a glam photo shoot with it. And to prove my point even further, I put a couple of the photos from the shoot on the home page of the commercial photography business that I was running at the time. That’s because creativity matters, and confidence matters, and confidence in your own creativity is golden.
I built my workshop shed entirely by hand from rough sawn timber, using very few hand tools. It was a conscious choice, and served a very important purpose.
A trial fitting of one of the very first joints I cut, a shouldered mortise and tenon in 3″ square stock for the post-and-beam frame of my workshop build. Oh the joy: suddenly, the realisation comes that things are possible! I cut 8 of these joints then, followed by another 28 regular mortise and tenons. And what seemed like miles of tongue and groove…
Going the chisel, saw and hammer way not only allowed me to teach myself the methods of construction and basic joinery. It also gave purpose and focus, and the reason to keep going every day at a time of considerable difficulty in my personal life. The longer it took, and the more effort it sucked in, the safer I felt. What would my children do when faced with such difficulty, I wonder?
My son putting the tongue part of a tongue-and-groove joint in a board that would become part of my workshop door. He’s using a 19th century plane from a matching set that I had bought on eBay for £15. He was 5 years old and still managed to learn and keep perfect form on his grip. I can keep using this plane and pass it to him and the plane will work just as well when he’s 80.
A philosopher and motorbike mechanic Mathew Crawford
in his book, The case for working with hands
, raises an interesting issue. Whilst I disagree with some of the things he puts forward, and have somewhat different views on craft, I find this a stimulating thought: ‘What sort of personality’, he asks, ‘does one need to have, as a twenty-first-century mechanic, to tolerate the layers of electronic bullshit that get piled on top of machines?’
We live in a society increasingly detached from the physical realm. A society where convenience eradicates skill, and with it, the perceived need to use your hands in a constructive and creative way. No, I’m not advocating refusal of technology and invention. Quite the opposite. It’s simply that while we seem to broaden our horizons through the World Wide Web and incredible new technology, we ironically become more and more limited. Never before have I felt so connected to the human race and the diversity within it; yet this connection only highlights the disappointing homogeneity of the disposable lifestyle we choose everywhere, following the same trends and fashions.
No, you can’t get this one in Ikea. A bespoke logo carving in progress, commissioned by a marketing business.
We still live in the physical world and yet we understand it less and less. Using tools, whatever they might be, connects us with this physical realm. Just like being physically active helps not only our bodies but also our minds stay healthy. Its effect is holistic.
I hope through my actions and words I can help my kids see a bigger picture. One in which they can make decisions for themselves, solve problems creatively, not be afraid to be unconventional. Use their hands and connect with their surroundings. We all differ as human beings and that is beautiful. Yet we all share so much. And it is our creativity and the free thought that make us human. I hope this lives on when I’m not around, and I hope my kids will prove that. For that reason, today and tomorrow, and in a year from now if I’m still around, I will keep going with this woodworking carry-on. I hope this will be my legacy.
That’s the plan, anyway.
Do you agree with any of the points I made? Do you have other views? Let me know in the comments below.