What Is WoodDorking - Part Of GoodBye - 9

1. Tom Watson Apr 28 2003, 4:42 pm show options
What is woodworking?
I guess it's all sorts of different things to all the different sorts of folks who do it.
To me, it's having an idea in my head, in some form, rough or fully-fleshed, and it's taking that idea, or that beginning of an idea, from its clean and bright little world between my ears, through the loud and dusty confines of the shop and into the life of whatever person will use the fruits of my efforts.
It is the thinking and the making that make me happy in my work.
Do we need space to work in? Of course. But we need not be so consumed by the notion of a shop as to put off our working. (I have an image in my head of the Andrew Wyeth painting, "Christina's World" and see the head of myself or of my fellow woodworkers applied to her body, gazing with such mixed feeling at the shops of their worlds and dreams.)
I started woodworking in a space under the stairs in my boyhood home. I was not allowed to extend my footprint beyond that described by the outline of the stairs. It was dark and it stank. I was always happy there.
I worked in quite a number of basement shops over the years. Lucky me, they kept growing in size.
It was a happy day when I moved into a single-car, clapboard garage, with a leaky roof and a pair of doors that would only close by the judicious application of force via a digging bar.
In a comparative sense, it was heaven.
I worked in that heavenly garage for two years before tearing it down and building an eight hundred square foot shop, with a twelve foot center height and a gaudy eight foot six height at the perimeter.
Was this not heaven? I felt like I was working in the indoor equivalent of Montana.
Nevertheless, two years ago I added a four hundred square foot addition to Montana. Montana had become too small. This gave me a setup area for the libraries, kitchens, etc. that I was building in my professional life. You see, in the eight hundred square foot shop I had to have all of my machinery on wheels, so that I could reconfigure the space when it came time to assemble the work. Building the addition to Montana also enabled me to construct a spray booth. This improved the efficiency and quality of my finishing work to no end but, it did take up a hundred square feet of floor space.
My next building adventure will regain the hundred square feet that was lost to the spray booth and that will be devoted to the storage of finish materials and hardware. That will be the addition to the addition to Montana. You see, it never ends.
We need tools. We must have tools. But there is a danger of the tools becoming an end in themselves. I know. I have a lot of tools, some of which were purchased just because, "That is such a cool tool. If I own that, it will make me a much better woodworker."
I was wrong. So is everyone else who thinks this way.
I know men who have fully tricked out shops full of the latest and greatest of what the world has to offer in machinery and tooling, immaculately engineered dust collection systems, shop lighting that would make the sun itself envious of the brightness and lack of shadow.
But they don't make...anything.
Like most, I started with a hodgepodge of hand tools whose only similarity, one to another, was the rust that coated them.
I made gunstocks with these tools and did a bit of checkering and detail work. It was great fun. But the tool lust was upon me as it is with all of us, to one degree or another.
It was a bright and awesome day when I was given a Sears table saw by a friend of the family whose husband had passed on. It fit in right well with my other tools. It was rusty as hell.
That saw worked fine for me for about five years. I saved my pennies and bought a spanky new Rockwell Contractor's Saw.
Was this not heaven? I surely thought so.
But, visions of heaven are a passing thing and five years later I just had to have a Unisaw. You see, the Sears saw had let me do some bookcases and such for unsuspecting family members and friends, and then the Contractor's Saw had let me deal with bigger stock, owing to its larger blade and motor. I just knew that a Unisaw would let me enter the hallowed halls of the true professional. And, in a way, that was right. I was able to do work a good bit faster (it helped that the newly run, dedicated 220 line did not trip the way the old fifteen amp 110 line did on the Contractor's Saw.)
Surely this was heaven?
Well, some professional peers have pointed out that a real professional would have a sliding table saw with a European pedigree and that would certainly mark me for greatness in the realm of true ass-kicking casegoods makers. Sigh...once again, it never seems to end.
My Neander days began in the late seventies, when hippie carpenters with advanced degrees were getting back to the earth in a big way. The joke among the boutique builder set in those days was, "Which carpenter should we hire? This one seems to be a bit better skilled than the other guy. Yeah, but the other guy has a Doctorate and this guy only has a BA."
I caressed the pages of the Garrett Wade catalog in pretty much the same way I had fondled that trifold center section of Playboy when I was fifteen. I had yellow handled Stanley chisels that were perfectly adequate for the carpentry work that I was doing. But, certainly these hyper-groovy Japanese Boxwood handled slamma jammas would lead me on into new heights of craftsmanship? I bought them. I was wrong. Just like everyone else who thinks this way.
What made me better was making mistakes.
I have always been the first one to say, "I can do that".
I have also often been the first to whimper when it turned out that I really couldn't do that. At least not on the first try. Or maybe the second. And, all too often, the third. Still, things got done. The customer was not usually in the shop to see the various imperfect iterations of their project. I made sure that things were presentable for the client and tried not to show my fearful knowledge of all the flaws that were still there. "That's lovely", says the client. "That sucks", says the little builder, but vows to do better next time.
I still make plenty of mistakes every day. Like everything else, it never seems to end.
So, I've got a nice shop and I have a lot of tools and I have a business making things for people who still say, "That's lovely" on most occasions.
Is this not heaven?
Frankly, it is no more or less heavenly than the days of making things beneath the stairs in my first basement shop. I still come to every project with a bit of fear and trembling - combined with the arrogant thought that 'this time' I'll make a perfect thing.
You see the theme here. It never seems to end.
So, what is woodworking?
I'll be damned if I know but I sure do like doing it, whatever it is.
Regards, Tom
Tom Watson - WoodDorker
tjwatson1ATcomcastDOTnet (real email)
http://home.comcast.net/~tjwatson1 /
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probably something way, way different than publishing books, Tom...
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