|On the Bench I Saw a Holdfast|
A few years ago I was on a cruise ship and I made it a daily ritual to approach the front desk and complain about something trivial, like a pen that didn't work or something. The patient young lady at the desk was named "Lovely" and she was, always smiling at this funky old man who stood in line to complain about nothing. At the end of a magnificent cruise, just before I left the boat, I approached her one last time.
"Good morning, Mr. Edwards," she smiled pleasantly. "How was your cruise?"
I said, "I want to register a complaint!"
I paused just long enough for her to think to herself, "What is it now?"
Then I said, "There's nothing to complain about!"
In my mind that was funny, but I can understand how she must have been relieved that this was the last time she would have to talk to me. She smiled nicely and said, "I look forward to seeing you again." She was one of the most optimistic and happy people I have ever met.
Life is a process, getting through every day with as little pain as possible and as much pleasure as you can create. If you are happy then the people you meet will be infected with happiness. Life is also a great risk. The only certainty of living is that we will eventually die at some point. Knowing that I will be 70 puts a rather uncomfortable limit on the time left to do the things I need to do.
On the other hand, celebrating the past 50 years of living as a woodworker has been very satisfying and I hope that the rest of my time in this business will continue as much as possible with the same satisfaction.
People I meet often say that I don't look my age. My hair is not grey, my face is not wrinkled, and I am still very physically active. I usually tell them my secret rules for a good life:
Go to bed at 9 and get up at 5. Eat healthy organic food. No alcohol, drugs or tobacco. As little social life as possible. Most importantly, work every day at a job you love. Live with passion.
This year I have been invited to return to Williamsburg as a speaker. They are celebrating their 20th annual Working Wood in the 18th century conference, and the topic is "Workmanship of Risk: Exploring Period Tools and Shops." I am honored to be included. My good friends, Roy Underhill, Peter Follansbee and Don Williams will also be presenting, along with staff members of the Williamsburg cabinet shop and curatorial departments.
|This is What Greets the Worker Every Day as He Opens His Tool Box|
For the project we will be discussing an amazing marquetry tool box lid, currently on loan to a museum in England and the property of Jane Rees, a tool historian who lives there.
Her website is: Jane Rees, Photographer and Tool Historian
Jane will be bringing the tool box lid to the conference and she will be discussing its history as well. I look forward to meeting her and listening to her perspective on woodworking tools, many of which I use on a daily basis in my profession. She has been kind enough to send me detailed photographs of the marquetry, and those which I post here are under her copyright protection.
When I "retired" from my career working in High Energy Particle Physics, back in 1973, I made a conscious decision to abandon technology and live, as much as possible, a pre industrial life. Of course I own a car, but I walk to work every day. Of course I own a clock but I never use the alarm. Of course I have a computer but I killed my TV. Of course I have a woodworking shop but I never use power tools. My lumber is naturally air dried over many years.
Early on I was influenced by David Pye, who introduced me to the "Workmanship of Risk" and the "Workmanship of Certainty." Recently I read his book again to prepare for this conference. It still resonates with wisdom and insight.
I have struggled to reduce his philosophical perspective to simple concepts that are more easily transmitted to students who are curious about how I approach my work. There are three elements to working wood: Worker, Material and Tool. The difference between "risk" and "certainty" is in the relationship between these three elements.
In the "Workmanship of Risk" approach the Worker manipulates the Tool against the Work. Using basic hand tools, like a chisel, plane or saw, the Worker learns to control the Tool and takes risks producing the final Work. Learning from his failures the Worker gains a deep sense of pride when the Work is successful.
In the "Workmanship of Certainty" approach the Worker manipulates the Work (material) against the Tool. If the Tool is properly adjusted then the result is certain. Setting a fence on a table saw to 2" produces a 2" board every time. The Worker basically is feeding the Machine. If the Worker wants a better result he purchases a better Machine. Thus consumerism was created by the Industrial Revolution. Bigger, Better and Faster. Also Cheaper!
The pride of ownership replaced the pride of workmanship.
The marquetry tool box lid, which is the centerpiece of this conference, is very interesting. My initial analysis from photos is that it represents several different historic marquetry processes, and was probably made in England around 1800 or so. It shows a worker at the bench, surrounded by his tools and work, drinking a beer. This image is in the center of a sunburst ray of veneer with flowers on the corners and decorative banding around nicely figured crotch mahogany ovals.
I can identify "tarsia geometrica" and "tarsia a toppo" and "tarsia a incastro" and I am researching the images provided by Jane for evidence of "Classic Method" but so far the results are inconclusive. There is also a great deal of tinting and additional decorative lines in both black and brown ink.
I will be producing copies of each of the decorative marquetry elements in this lid for the conference, and the Williamsburg cabinet shop is actually making a full tool box copy to complete the lid.
I can easily relate to the image of the woodworker as executed in the center of the design.
|Working At the Bench|
He is surrounded with the necessary hand tools of his trade: the glue pot and brush, mallet, hammer, planes, brace and bit, compass, try square, chisels, hand saws and the toothing plane (under the beer.) On the end of the bench he quietly admires the result of his hard work and experience: a decorated tea caddy. Tea caddies of this style were purchased by wealthy clients who could afford the elaborate marquetry decoration shown on this example.
|Put Down the Hammer and Pick Up the Beer|
This worker is dressed in fine clothes, representing a good income and his respected position in the professional trade. He would fit right in with the other workers at the shop in Williamsburg or in any shop in any large city at that time.
His face shows the faint glimmer of a smile. His work is done for the day. He is satisfied with the results. His reward is a tall glass, with a nice head of foam.
Tomorrow he will deliver the tea caddy to the client, and get his well deserved paycheck along with sincere appreciation for a professional job well done.
Tomorrow is another day to live and work, take risks, learn from failure and take satisfaction in success. Make someone happy and remember...there's nothing to complain about.