Thursday, May 26, 2016

Thank You

I got into woodworking seriously in the summer of 2004, when I took my first workshop at North Bennet Street School. My last commission wrapped up about 10 years later. In that time, I worked for Rockler, and Woodcraft. I went through North Bennet. And then 7 years of running my own business, during which time I got to make some really cool custom furniture for some very nice people. All in all, not a bad run.

Almost two years later, I've had a couple of abortive attempts to reboot this blog, and finish talking about that last project... and a couple of others. But it's slowly turned into one of those things I keep meaning to get around to, and feel bad that I haven't... and I think that means it's time to tie it off, for now.


My writing about woodworking started out on, and morphed into this thing you're reading now. Along the way, I ran into a guy named Chris Schwarz, and talked about my experiences selling over-rated newfangled widgets while I was learning traditional craftsmanship at school. He told me I should write a book. I wrote a lot of material, but the real point of the book kept getting away from me, and it never came together. Maybe it'll crystallize now, who knows. But I can't thank Chris enough for his encouragement.


If anybody asked me what's the most important lesson that I've learned, I'd be split.

Lesson number one in the shop has always been that the fundamentals are fundamental, and every time I revisited things like sharpening, planning/ drafting, process, layout, and accuracy, my work improved by leaps and bounds.

But as important as I think the fundamentals are, I think it's equally important to stay inspired, and aspire to always try to build something that's just beyond your grasp.

If I was going to send someone on a guided tour of woodworking awesomeness, it would start with names like Greene and Greene, Chippendale, Sheraton, Townsend, Goddard, John and Thomas Seymour. Some of the designs and work from these men were the ego pieces that I aspired to when I was in school. I think I'd include a sampling of British campaign furniture... and Japanese Tansu. (stacking, and step-chests) More recent American designer/ builders like Wharton Esherick, George (and now Mira) Nakashima, Sam Maloof, and even Wendell Castle would be on the list. I think it's really important to learn about Chinese furniture joinery, because it makes the humble dovetail joint look like finger paint, and about the work of the Roentgen shop, which is simply astonishing. Those would have to be on the tour as well.

(To be fair to the rest of us, The Roentgen shop had something like 200 craftsmen in house, working in a variety of disciplines, from joiners to marqueters, and including people casting and chasing the absolutely gorgeous metalwork, and they had clockmakers on retainer to build some of the mechanical niftiness. They also violated a lot of guild guidelines in the process.)

I do wish that the glossy rags would focus on work like that a little more, just once in a while, even if it was only a review of an exhibit at a prominent museum. I think it's important for people to understand just what heights human ingenuity and skill were able to achieve, without electricity. I think that would put more recent work in proper perspective.

But then there's other work by craftsmen like Sidney Barnsley... or Garry Knox Bennet. I find Barnsley's work to be utterly visceral, and it grabs me in a way that the American Arts and Crafts designs don't. And when I hear or read from hobbyists who are taking themselves too seriously, I really want to see how they'd react to Garry Knox Bennet.  It took me the better part of a year or two to realize that I just... love his work. It's powerful and whimsical, colorful, and it doesn't take itself too seriously.

And if I wanted to say anything with this blog to date, it's that I think that it's important to both aspire, and to not take yourself too seriously. John Ruskin made the point in his writing that only a craftsman who can forgive himself for his mistakes will be able to reach greater heights. Nobody's perfect, and I think we're all capable of a lot more than we realize.

Thank you all for reading.