There is a calling to craftsmanship. It does not come with age, education or wisdom.
Rather, one finds a desire to slip the bonds of automated complexity and return to a point where a man or woman could design, construct and take pride in a work that may be as simple as the three-legged stool or complex as your great grandmother’s intricate quilted blanket—an heirloom that will be passed from generation-to-generation with often no thought to the hours spent selecting the cloth or ensuring each stich was a compliment to the last passing of the needle.
So it is with woodworking. The ability to shape a seemingly lifeless beam into a piece of furniture, functional art, or utensil—bowl, box, broom, or spoon—at first appears a mundane task. Best to escape to the confines of one’s computer or television before squandering hours creating sawdust that may do little more than win the ire of a significant other. Alas, an opportunity lost. A bit of solace and more than a small sense of accomplishment when the final product slips from one’s hands into a resting place.
Daunted by the prospect? Think someone will scorn the lack of an “IKEA finish” to your labor of love? Tremble not. Craftmanship communicates in a way that transcends the skeptic and avid software programmer. I am often taken aback when wandering through office cubicles by the pictures and accumulated knickknacks that bespeak an admiration for an ability to transform a plank into a toy, tool or treasured show piece for the living room. Think of that shaker rocker you once so admired, or the Nantucket chair your neighbor painted a bright blue after hours of sanding in the garage. These are the objects modernity honors, even while upgrading to Windows 10.
But many of us hesitate at the thought of plunging into this world of sharp edges, arcane tools, and planks that look good in the lumberyard but seemingly serve little purpose once delivered to the backyard. I have met more than one aspiring craftsperson who hesitated at the thought of exposing fingers to the saw, spending money on equipment he or she would never employ or, worst of all, having to wrestle with a “professional’s assessment” of the proper wood for a proposed project. (Some of us find it easier to order a bottle of wine in a snooty restaurant than select a cut of lumber at the nearest Home Depot or Lowes.)
Here is where the discovery of craftsmanship comes to the fore. A learning of the skills that made ocean voyaging possible, rendered the Guttenberg Bible a reality, and provided and hearth for people across the globe. Rest assured these skills do not appear overnight and certainly are not resident in the DNA. Your great grandmother’s needle skills were not passed along with her red hair. Those were a learned talent that reached fruition only after significant practice and cautious tips from a practitioner of the trade.A note of caution. This craftsmanship thing is contagious and can consume your spare hours. The computer will lose allure and television accumulate dust. Your garage or basement may become a collation of tools and planks that make no sense to others. But there within you are in danger of discovering what so many have stumbled into before—the reward of knowing you have found the skills and know-how to bring the inanimate to life. The ability to reach an inner peace while remaining productive. Thus comes the reward of craftsmanship.
Eric Anderson is a retired Air Force officer who can be found puttering in his shop when not scribbling on the keyboard. A new resident of Port Townsend, he is an avid sailor,
struggling carpenter, and would-be writer.