The wonder of tools

Hi
I have been wanting to share a personal story which ends with a question to see what kind of replies folks have.
The story starts like this: A few years ago I took up an interest in old time banjo. I read a few books about the history of the banjo, and bought a few CDs, an open back banjo, and learned to play a bit (earlier than that I was infatuated with "acoustic-blues" guitar, but that story is over 15 years long). I decided it would be "a good project" to build a minstrel-style banjo. For one thing, the task seemed more approachable than building a guitar--at least for a "first" project! ;)
I started with Compiano and Natelson's text on guitar making and found a newsgroup concerned with building such banjos. I spent dozens of hours reading about processes involved with building banjos that we're similar to the banjos those used in the middle part of the 19th century. Along the way, I became aware of what an interesting thing woodworking was/is (as the typical reader here is well-aware, their really are 2 different contexts). Then I read The Plane Book (every sentence, studied the pictures)and The Sharpening Book. And I found this newsgroup which I read every day, bought The Bandsaw Book, The Table Saw Book, at least 10 books on woodworking from the used book store and the library, subscribed to 3 woodworking magazines. I picked up two more for myself this Christmas including Woodworking and the Router: Revised.... . That's not to mention the Grizzely, Rockler, and Lie-Neilson catalogs! All of the activity I described in less than 2 years! Currently, I am an apartment dweller, so I've just picked up a few hand tools--I'll probably buy a tablesaw, drill press, and router when I can provide a good home for them.
I "played" with wood and metal and electricity in the garage when I was young, and I took all the shop classes my high school offered. Except for working on my cars a bit (rebuilt carb, installed radio,etc.), that's really all of the "practical" experience that I have. I think the single most important woodworking lesson I learned in high school, over 25 years ago, was about safety. Since high school, I've done considerable work in math and computer science. Familiarity with the processes used in those discipines I expect will contribute to my doing better woodworking. For instance, since high school, I've acquired the patience to build a prototype, and the idea of building a finger-joint and a dove-tail joint just for the education that comes from working at it is appealing to me. I don't expect to cut a dove-tail joint perfectly the first time. I don't think I even have the right saw ;)
Tools...even math and computer science are tools...taking a step back, even musical instruments can be viewed as tools, but for me I think the latter are really instruments of curiosity. I have a guitar, (digital) piano, banjo, and most recently picked up a fiddle--in fact two, the second in need of my resetting the soundpost.
So I have provided you with some evidence that I may have possibly picked up a tool affliction... So I ask you folks, who have been at this longer and may even have a tool affliction worse than I do, what is at the heart of a tool affliction? I have some thoughts about this, but I'd prefer not to affect your answers. Comments obviously invited! Thanks for reading.
Bill
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Bill wrote:
<snip>

There are dozens of regular contributors to this NG and that will yield dozens of answers to your question. All of them will be valid, and most will be well thought out.
The most obvious answer is that one has a tool affliction, or a desire to acquire yet another tool, to get a particular job done that the present tools are inadequate for. The most obvious and the most practical.
It is, of course, much more than that. Is the targeted tool new or used? If new, does it do something new, if that's possible? Or does it do something that's familiar to the craftsman, but better - or in a different and more efficient way? Does it take the craftsman into an area he/she has only dreamed of before but couldn't with existing tools?
If old, does it have rich history and/or sentimental value? Was it owned by a loved relative? Or even a relative that wasn't loved, but knew how to make the instrument sing?
For either old or new:
Is it shiny?
Is it sexy?
Does it do (or claim to do) sexy and shiny things?
Is it wonderfully engineered so that it's not only a joy to use but a wonder to behold?
Does it make the new owner smile?
There is no single answer to your question. Answering yes to one or more of the above approaches the heart of a tool affliction.
There is artistry here. Yes, there is function, but form is so vitally important to the entire aspect of it. Function is more easily defined and quantified, but form, being subjective, allows a lovely freedom to admire the beauty, simplicity and/or complexity.
--
Tanus

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"> Bill wrote:

Great post! Thanks.
Bill

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Sun, Dec 30, 2007, 8:45pm Bill snipped-for-privacy@comcast.net (Bill) did sayeth a lost of stuff that mostly confused me - so I snipped it all. <snip>
You don' gots no harp?
So, did you ever actually make a banjo then, or not? I need to get back on mine, but all I read was the Foxfire book that had a chapter on banjos. It'll be fretless. And open back. And have pallet wood, plywood, and some wood from trees on my place. And a bit of yellow paint somewhere on it, in the back I think. Then I'll probably have to learn how to play the bloody damn thing. Maybe that's why I haven't finished it yet. LOL I suppose once it's finished I'll build a case for it.
If you're serious about making a guitar, non-electric, here's all the information you need to know. http://www.cigarboxguitar.com/build.html
JOAT If you can read this you're in range.
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Bill,
You asked:

I think this is slightly idosyncratic to the individual. When I had money (working full time), I couldn't wait to buy the next tool. I acquired all the main machines (table saw, drill press, router, etc.) but I didn't acquire the knowledge on how to set them up and use them properly. Still don't. My table saw sat in 3 garages until this year when I could be set up properly by master woodworker. The drill press has yet to cut a hole in wood after 4 years. I've used my router, but I got 2 more recently. All haven't seen a bit in years.
So for me, tools were like a magic sword that would bestow master craftsman powers to me the minute I would turn them on. I'd be a Norm or a Krenov or hell even a Scott Phillips. Didn't happen. No magic flows from the tools. It is something that happens within the individual. A good tool is a good tool and just that. But I didn't understand that until now.
Now I await the "perfect day". Whatever that is and my tools still remain in their ready state. Sometimes I go into my shop and I honestly feel that they are hungry for me to JUST DO SOMETHING! I need to listen to that more often.
MJ Wallace
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Bill,
You asked:

I think this is slightly idosyncratic to the individual. When I had money (working full time), I couldn't wait to buy the next tool. I acquired all the main machines (table saw, drill press, router, etc.) but I didn't acquire the knowledge on how to set them up and use them properly. Still don't. My table saw sat in 3 garages until this year when I could be set up properly by master woodworker. The drill press has yet to cut a hole in wood after 4 years. I've used my router, but I got 2 more recently. All haven't seen a bit in years.
So for me, tools were like a magic sword that would bestow master craftsman powers to me the minute I would turn them on. I'd be a Norm or a Krenov or hell even a Scott Phillips. Didn't happen. No magic flows from the tools. It is something that happens within the individual. A good tool is a good tool and just that. But I didn't understand that until now.
Now I await the "perfect day". Whatever that is and my tools still remain in their ready state. Sometimes I go into my shop and I honestly feel that they are hungry for me to JUST DO SOMETHING! I need to listen to that more often.
MJ Wallace
Thanks for your very thought provoking post. Particularly the part: "No magic flows from the tools. It is something that happens within the individual". It is interesting to think about what it is that can "happen". Perhaps someone would be willing to try to expand on this notion. A motivaton for this being that the better idea we have of what's supposed to happen, the more we can cultivate it. A few weeks I was speaking with my wife, and I asked her to look carefully at of our little tables (I paid $3 for it at a garage sale). Then I asked her to describe for me what she might view as the "best" similar table--how would she change it, what would the new table look like? She refused to play along...but I thought it was a good exercise. I was trying to relate some of the "wonder" that is available in woodworking.
Titus wrote: There is artistry here. Yes, there is function, but form is so vitally mportant to the entire aspect of it. Function is more easily defined and quantified, but form, being subjective, allows a lovely freedom to admire the beauty, simplicity and/or complexity.
The thoughts expressed by MJ Wallace and Titus both validate my use of the word "wonder" in the name of this thread.
Bill
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Tanus, I'm sorry for misspelling your name in my previous post. I could be wrong, but I doubt you are related to that roman emperor... Corrected version is below.
Bill

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Bill wrote:

That's ok Bill, but thanks for the correction. No, I"m not related to any Roman Emperors AFAIK, but I haven't studied my genealogy that far back.
This nick is Egyptian, although I have no affiliation with them either.
They, however did do some work with wood, so it works. sorta
--
Tanus

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Bill,
You asked:

I think this is slightly idosyncratic to the individual. When I had money (working full time), I couldn't wait to buy the next tool. I acquired all the main machines (table saw, drill press, router, etc.) but I didn't acquire the knowledge on how to set them up and use them properly. Still don't. My table saw sat in 3 garages until this year when I could be set up properly by master woodworker. The drill press has yet to cut a hole in wood after 4 years. I've used my router, but I got 2 more recently. All haven't seen a bit in years.
So for me, tools were like a magic sword that would bestow master craftsman powers to me the minute I would turn them on. I'd be a Norm or a Krenov or hell even a Scott Phillips. Didn't happen. No magic flows from the tools. It is something that happens within the individual. A good tool is a good tool and just that. But I didn't understand that until now.
Now I await the "perfect day". Whatever that is and my tools still remain in their ready state. Sometimes I go into my shop and I honestly feel that they are hungry for me to JUST DO SOMETHING! I need to listen to that more often.
MJ Wallace
MJ,
I highly recommend Bill Hylton's: Woodworking With The Router: (Amazon.com product link shortened)00106120&sr=8-3
The book can be had for less than $20. It would give you plenty to think about, and even more to do! As you may already know, the author is a real advocate of building your own jigs, router table, etc. It's wonderfully written and has lots of photos too--in fact, so many that I often get confused by them when they appear before they are referenced within the text. This morning I was reading about building fences, and he assumed I had a jointer handy, however that is an exception, --for the most part his assumptions are mostly minimal. Until I got this book I didn't even realize why or how much I needed a digital caliper! ;) Anyway, I wanted to mention the book. Do with the information as you please.
Bill
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| ... | | So for me, tools were like a magic sword that would | bestow master craftsman powers to me the minute I would | turn them on. I'd be a Norm or a Krenov or hell even a Scott Phillips. | Didn't happen. No magic flows from the tools. It is something | that happens within the individual. A good tool is a good tool and | just that. But I didn't understand that until now. | | Now I await the "perfect day". Whatever that is and my tools | still remain in their ready state. Sometimes I go into my shop | and I honestly feel that they are hungry for me to JUST DO SOMETHING! | I need to listen to that more often.
A phrase my father coined for this phenomena is "people try to buy skill with their next tool purchase." It was something he said when I was a little kid and he still says it... more than a few decades latter. He had served an apprenticeship and worked as a tool and die maker early in his career... it took me years to fully appreciate his sentiments.
I finally gained the appreciation while working in Colonial Williamsburg, VA's crafts department in my late 20s. There I saw craftsmen create wonderful furniture, guns, smithed and cast silver, leather goods, wheels, iron ware, etc., with tools that seemed so very crude to me when I started... wooden planes with hand forged irons; hand forged reamer bits, twisted, hardened and tempered on an open forge; handmade drill bits; houses made from pit sawn and hand planed boards, etc. It was while working there it became clear to me that handmade, truly handmade, didn't have to mean crude... I certainly learned a lot about skill and how to gain skills while there.
There is a notion I call "a critical mass of knowledge" where once you learn certain core skills you can take on just about anything successfully. Put another way, you learn how to learn and how to solve problems. This not to be confused with being able to speedily blast through every project, rather it is about understanding how to approach the puzzles of making the project.
Perhaps that voice telling you to "just do something" should be listened to.... so what if you make mistakes if you learn from them. Analysis paralysis and thinking you don't own the right tools doesn't do you any good and doesn't gain you any new skills.
John
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Your father had some wise words
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