Posts Tagged ‘Spiritual woodworking’

Religion, Politics, and Woodworking

23 January, 2009

Now that Obama has been inaugurated, I figure it’s safe to say that we might have a new president.  I’ve perceived that he’s rather controversial despite the fact that I’ve tried really hard to ignore current events these last few months.  I think I’m to where I care a lot more about a thin, wispy shaving coming off of a well-tuned vintage Stanley plane than what people are predicting about the future of our country.  My country, dagnabit, sweet land of liberty!  So far, I still have the liberty to behave that way, too, and to use my energy blogging, podcasting, writing, woodworking, EMT’ing and firefighting, all while being a father to my children.  So that’s the politics end of things.  And then there is the religious…

In a former, not-too-distant past I was, shall we say, a religious leader.  I stopped doing that as a vocation for a variety of reasons, but one thing still sticks: I never quite got over how many people’s behavior would change toward me when they found out what I was.  I’m a shy person, and when someone would suddenly start treating me like I was waiting and watching, hoping they would make a boo-boo so that I could pounce on them, rebuke them and correct them, I get even more shy.  So my relief valve always came in the form of thin, wispy shavings.  That was the religious part.

So, in the midst of a virtual rolling sea of pundits with opinions as firm as said rolling sea, there lies around my ankles batches of shavings, and life is good.  Knowing that the woodworking community is remarkably free of chest-pounding and sabre-rattling (with the notable exception of those of us that are Galoots enjoying the ironic humor in identifying ourselves as part of a subversive woodworking movement.)  Knowing that when it comes down to it, when I meet a fellow woodworker online or in person, the odds are that they are going to have certain characteristics in common with me: an appreciation for a quick wit, an insatiable curiosity about our common activity, probably an interest in history, the desire to exchange concepts, techniques, and lore with others of like mind, and usually the desire to remain focused on this beautiful medium we are blessed to work in, leaving politics and religion out of it.

So, I predict that 2009 is going to be the best woodworking year we have ever experienced together!

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On This Medium

10 December, 2008

I’ve been knee-deep in a project building something I neither have the tools for the skills for.  The wood I’m using is mesquite, which is also an unfamiliar wood to a person used to eastern hardwoods – walnut, oak, maple, cherry.  The thing is, I am awed by the spectrum of colors and variety, even in one species of timber, let alone the variety of species and sub-species!  Ruminate on this with me a minute.

I recently had a long conversation with a Native American friend of mine.  Now, before you think Dan is a kook, let me say that I would definitely not characterize him as being militant, nor anti-American (he has served his country in Vietnam, for example,) nor anti-social (he is a fellow volunteer firefighter.)  He has received honors from his tribal council, and I believe is viewed among them as being a spiritual leader.  Dan spent time explaining to this Methodist how “his people” view the spiritual world – or perhaps, the world spiritually.  In other words, he believes that there is an overarching supreme being (God the Creator), who has created this world and all that live in it to have spirits of their own.  Therefore the trees that you and I work as wood are spiritual beings and are to be respected as such.

While there is a ring of plausibility to this view (I’m not sure that we are going to be able to resolve our boundary issues on things like this in our lifetime here on earth,) the danger, of course, is in personifying inanimate objects such as trees into having “feelings” and consciousness.

The value of this point of view comes when you apply your first coat of oil to the wood you are working on, and its grain, its unique color shouts back at you!  Although I don’t understand the system that apparently is entanglement of branches and roots, I have to believe now that the paper mulberry tree out my window is not simply chaos, but that there is organization to each individual bud and tip.

Even thought I’m not prepared to embrace the religion of the Native American, since my conversation with Dan I have found myself able to enter a deeper reverence for the medium that I’m permitted to work in!  At the very least, how fortunate I am to call myself a worker of wood!  The upside to this is it gives me a spiritual excuse for exercising my Scottish heritage in saving every little offcut… I might need it for another use some day!

The Master

18 September, 2008
     Recently there has been a video floating around of Frank Klaus cutting dovetails (using bow saws) in three minutes.  If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the link, but please note: all safety precautions need to be taken.  Please fasten your seatbelt, look around you and find the nearest exit, double check your parachute, and make sure your helmet and protective eyewear are in place.
      A very long time ago, before there was something called the “New Testament,” God used to show up to the Old Testament folk in strange and unexpected manners.  He might show up in a burning bush, or on a mountaintop, or as a soft, gentle breeze, or in a valley of dry, dusty bones.  In whatever manner God chose His current self-revelation, the ancient Hebrews knew they were in for something big, as in Charlton Heston and Cecile B. DeMille; something that they had no control over, something that would change their lives for the better and would last forever, and something that kind of set them apart from the other tribes of the Ancient Near East.  But they also knew it was something they could only watch, because the Being they were watching was actually DOING things (rather than just talking, like a lot of the other gods,) and because they knew what was happening was just so far beyond themselves.  Sometimes you have to watch stuff and spend the rest of your life processing it in order to understand it.  Sometimes you never understand it.
     I had a similar epiphany watching Mr. Klaus cut his dovetails.  Just every now and then you realize you are in the presence of someone who early on discerned what he or she had been born to do, and acted upon it.  I want to be that way when I grow up.
 
 

 

 

 

A Community of Believers

30 July, 2008

One of the glorious things about being a woodworker today is our ability to be served by the Internet. Through this amazing channel of funneled electrons, we can blog and Twitter and post websites full of our projects and join together with others in songs of praise over the latest Veritas or Lie-Nielsen acquisition, or remind one another to be wary of the dangers of spinning carbide tips.

Recently I read a blog posted by Christopher Schwarz on the Woodworking Magazine reviewing a brand new Veritas plane coming onto the scene, which led me to a link by the Village Carpenter, a person after my own heart, pondering the “certain something” that draws those of us that are hand tool enthusiasts to prefer (to be polite) human powered woodworking over our electric counterparts.

Just so that there is no confusion: My alternative (older) online persona is Texasgaloot, a term derived from the combination of my obvious proximity along with my decade-old membership on the OldTools listserv. I joined that listerv not too long after a number of luminaries on “The Porch” found themselves refugees from the even older Rec.Woodworking. Rather than accept humiliation and defeat at being branded “Galoots” and “Neanderthals,” they accepted the terms as badges of honor, picked up their crispy Stanley No.-7’s, dovetail saws and marking gauges and formed their own group, still going strong (see www.galootcentral.com.)

As I was permitted to lurk on The Porch and learn from folks who started out as teachers and truly came to be valued friends, I began to realize how close-knit the hand tool community really is. One old tool vendor patiently carried my debt as my first marriage collapsed leaving me destitute, despite the fact that I had his tools in my possession. I kept them carefully wrapped and separated out from my users to preserve them in case I needed to return them, but the vendor insisted that I pay him when I could, which after three or four years, I was finally able to do. Try that at your local big box store!

There is a certain peaceful, spiritual connection that exists among those of us that are members of the Neander-community. Although many of us succumb to the stresses of time commitments and wind up using our table saws and drill presses to help us along (too often, myself included,) we reserve the hallowed finishing process of our hard work for our handwork. As soon as I finally get some decent photos made of my shaker night stand, I will be posting them; it is a project I did the initial milling using electricity, but hand-fitting and hand finishing from there on. The piece is now one of those things in my house I can just look at on a bad day, and it takes the knots out of my rope.

As I move closer and closer to my goal of full-time woodworking, I have done quite a bit of research on the advantages of being in business for oneself. I’ve noticed that advocates for entrepreneur-ship communicate a certain undertone, itself with a spiritual component that links me to the Galoot lifestyle as well. Entrepreneurs talk about two things in the same breath: freedom and control, and it boils down to the ability to have the freedom to control one’s life, rather than to abdicate control to someone else. While working for someone, one doesn’t have the ability to stay connected to Twitter, for example, and may only be permitted to check on one’s friends during “breaks.” In contrast to that is the person in business for him or herself, who has the freedom to go broke or be independently wealthy, the freedom to read blogs without concern over getting fired. Such is the sense of control I seek, and I think our woodworking forefathers knew the peace that it yielded.

The parallels are obvious: With hand tools, we have the freedom to hog huge slices of wood off that $50 cherry board, or to smooth it to a polish that shows your smile. We can chop narrow dovetails or take our time finessing a mortise-and-tenon fit rather than adjusting our trunions to micrometer precision. We have the ability to tell the in-laws, “I did that,” and not mean a whirring, spinning, screaming machine manufactured to leave that too-perfect pattern in the wood.

When I was young, my grandparents kept a cottage amidst the breathtaking Finger Lakes in Center New York State. At least a few times each summer my grandfather’s brothers and sisters would all gather, each bringing beans and radishes and fresh corn from their farms. We would have a great country feast, topped off with my grandmother’s fresh-baked apple and cherry pies. I would eat until my stomach hurt, and then the men would gather in the rockers on the front porch, smoke their pipes and tell lies about one another that were so funny my stomach would hurt all over again. The fragrances of the lake air combined with the lingering smells of supper and pipe tobacco in one of my favorite places in the world formed a synergistic aroma the memory of which I would never part with for any price. That was a time when everything was just right in my world.

As a micron-thin wisp of pine shaving curls from my smoothing plane, a shaving that if tossed in the air would have measurable “hang time,” I sense the connection to other woodworkers, past and present. I come as close as I ever will again to that spiritual experience of tasting a slice of Gram’s apple pie.