My shop, no matter where it may move, provides a feeling of “home” to me. It is one place I can go and everything outside vanishes from it’s sense of comfort and freedom. I can look around at the large boards of lumber and dream up of new things to make, new challenges to overcome. The smell of fresh wood brings me back to previous pieces I’ve built and the experiences involved in them. The scent of hard maple reminding me of a summer building workbenches with my friend or black walnut from which I made my first chess set on my spring pole lathe. While my memory doesn’t always serve me as well as I would like, when I am in my shop I remember every moment associated with it.
I am fortunate to have a father that let me use his tools when I was young. I’ve spent countless hours in the garage doing everything from using a jigsaw and orbital sander to make swords and learning how to sharpen my first chisels and planes. I got excited to have friends come over and split logs for the coming winter, and while most stayed inside, I spent my winter evenings in the cold of the garage practicing how to turn on a spring pole lathe.
Don’t think that every minute in the shop was fun, because there were many times I spent time trying to repair old furniture that just wouldn’t cooperate. Parts would break while trying to disassemble for a glue up…….
I can’t think of much more to add to this list.
Although my memory once again fails me, my thoughts looking back on my years of goofing around in the shop are by in large positive. Even in those times where things didn’t go as planned or a job wasn’t as creatively rewarding as others, I learned how to solve the problems at hand and gain knowledge I would not have attained otherwise.
Not only does the shop remind me of jobs I have done or skills I have gained, but more importantly, the friendships that grew there. Time spent splitting firewood, shaving down longbows, building workbenches, building a bellows and learning to forge, sharpening our new tools and helping build a jewelry box for a friend’s fiance have been things that have brought us closer together and given us stories to tell. To this day those stories continue to come as well as new challenges that give us ways to collaborate and grow as friends.
Sure, things don’t always go smooth, but at the end of the day I am glad my shop can be a place with good memories. Isn’t that what makes a place home?
In my opinion, one of the greatest attributes that set humans apart from the rest of creation is our ability to create. When I look at huge skyscrapers, take apart an engine or research new technology, I find it amazing that we are even capable of these things. The fact that we can observe the world around us and study how it works so that we can use it to create things of our own is mind blowing to me. In a small way, woodworking encapsulates all of this.
From experience in the shop we know which species of wood will be most flexible, tough, soft, mellow or bright in tone and light or dark. Knowing how these woods will work we can then use them most effectively to create whatever we have in our minds. Whether it is a chair, table, violin or timber frame house they are all possible tasks with a little creativity and understanding of our medium. In this craft anyone can express their imagination with a little hard work and create something they are proud of.
I can’t help but ponder over every step, layout line, saw cut and reference edge when I am thinking up a new project. Before I even touch a piece of lumber I have already built the project in my mind a thousand times, and when I am done it looks just as I pictured it days, or even years back when the idea first entered my mind. I can’t help but say, thank you God for giving us minds that can create in some small way like Your’s.
I believe that what makes working with hand tools so enjoyable and relaxing is the unchanging nature of the craft. Whether you were building furniture centuries in the past or for decades into the future, wood is still wood. The material stays the same, and the rules for shaping it stay the same. While technology may be improving the steels we use to cut through wood, or the machines we may use, the rules and techniques remain the same. Run a blade against the grain and it will tear; cut with the gain and the blade will glide through the wood leaving a brilliant surface. Green wood will always be softer to cut and bend with little assistance. Dry wood will always be tougher and less susceptible to warping. No matter where you are and what you make, the material is the same.
I recently spent a few months away from the craft due to moving houses during the winter. After the move my time was devoted to other hobbies and just staying inside where it was warm. As the spring air moved in I could feel a part of me was missing; a sense of comfort and home. It had been too long since I worked in my shop. As I began to organize the new shop I could feel that missing part of me return. My creative mind began to stir again and that sense of being at home came back.
Even though during my time away from the craft I learned about new things and changed a little as a person, the work I enjoyed before had not changed. The new shop still smelt of an assortment of fresh cut woods and my tools still affected the wood as it had before. Nothing had changed and it was comforting; the quite sounds of a plane cutting through wood on a rainy day, the sound of birds chirping while sawing through soft pine, the gentle crinkling sounds of my feet walking on the shavings of a hard days work, the soft glimmering surface of hand planed walnut. No matter how much we change or the things around us change, our connection to the craft won’t. As for myself, I find that comforting.