Is it elitist to have standards these days? Do we really want the all-inclusive, everyone is a winner, no one fails approach to education?
I think not. It takes time and effort to get practiced at something. It’s why we stand and cheer for great guitarists, the batsman at the plate who delivers in the clutch, the nimble fingers of the carver. It is not just their skill but their determination to improve that skill that we applaud. Some folks word harder than others. Some have the gift of talent but even then the dedicated ones work hard to improve their talent and to increase their skills.
I say that I’m glad we’re elitist then. We don’t everyone to feel it’s their right to be great just because they wish it. We welcome everyone who wants to work with their talent. We welcome everyone who wants to struggle and fail and try again to improve. It’s the hard way which is why it’s not for everyone.
I can get close but when do I quit? It’s a concept that still flits about my bench distracting my attention at times. Is the work good enough? Precision can be both a mantle of pride and a chain mail coat that can drag you down. The decisions to be made about how precise the cuts or joints, edges or finish are, can be as difficult as their execution sometimes. These choices make for slow and slower work that few people recognize. Or want to recognize.
Perhaps there is an accumulation of choices that give a piece this quality of precision. The way a drawer opens, the consistency of a hand planed edge, how the inlay feels under your fingertips. Precision then is fluid in its delivery at the bench. It can mean one level of work for one part of a piece and something completely different at another more visible or more touched spot.
Or do you insist on precision throughout every job, inevitably slowing yourself down for this laborious effort? And without complaint for it imbues your work with a spirit that shows through. I still need to remember that precision is not perfection. The balance point needs to be found where I can get close with my precision. Close enough to feel proud of the work without being burnt out by its requirement of effort.
Join us Nov. 16th for our DESIGN: Open House on Precision. Wednesday evening from 6-7:30 pm we will be discussing the idea of Precision with David Biespiel, poet and Director of the Attic Institute, A Haven for Writers, in Portland and Rhys Thomas, performer, juggler, and science teacher extraordinaire. Check out jugglemania.com.
What a topic! Precision. Who needs it most? A writer, a juggler, or a furniture maker? Are there different aspects to precision, different types of it? Precisely.
It’s free. Sponsored by Base Camp Brewing as always and it will be good fun. Join the conversation.
Mastery Graduate Matthew Kanomata’s Dovetail Chest
I admit to a slow comprehension. The geometry of the table saw made no sense to me. Mostly because I was so afraid of its power to slice me in two. A good trade-off I thought, trading caution for comprehension. But eventually I came to understand its angles and how, like a matador, to be close to it without danger. It was an understanding of the beast that got me there. Knowing how the back half of the blade is always the more dangerous part in rotation because it can take things and with power spit or spin them at you.
Same thing occurred with my jointer. I did not understand its geometry. I fussed for years over my jointer fence trying to understand its secrets to cut so perfectly out of square. Years, until I discovered that the fence had a warp to it, that I could ignore its squareness up to a point for edge laminations, and that I need only set it out of square to get the squareness I was after.
So simple, these things. Understanding came slow but it is oh so important to me now.
Precision is a topic I get involved in. How much precision today? Just a dose? A smidgen? A dash of precision on my way to completion? Or is it time today for that bone cracking precision that stops time, stops the world, that makes me check and recheck until I’m about ready to throw the work away? And I make a cut and I can see that it’s 1/32″ off. Grrr. And I take a deep breath and dive back into the clear water to get it right.
Standards are changeable with the weather, mood, and economics. Precision isn’t always precise then. Some days it fits like a glove. Some days, you’d rather eat bait. Pick your moments, pick your spots. Decide how it feels once you’re done. If you’re happy with the results of your persnickety-ness then it’s a good choice. If not, cut yourself some slack. Do your second best piece ever.
I find myself being quiet at the bench these days. Hours go by when there is no voice heard, no radio bleating, no podcast informing. I need the blessed silence to knit back together from the constant barrage of media. Like this blog.
Stop reading. Go to the bench, be quiet with yourself. Practice your skills.
Band saw. This is an important tool for me. I use it daily. It has two switches on it. One I use all the time. It goes on and off. The other is a panic button and I tell myself and my students, stay away from the panic button, unless! you have panicked. Then by all means, push it. I replaced the main switch 6 years ago. This should last another 20 years or so. Nope. Now the saw works intermittently. Something wrong with that switch.
So I call up the manufacturer and the tech guy tells me, Oh you’re supposed to use the panic button because otherwise, [insert words electrical], you fry the contacts. Dang it. New switch in the works because I thought I was doing it right. Still my fault. Oh well. I’ll remember next time I go to turn off this machine.
Lesson: Ignorance is curable.
Photo note: this machine pictured has only one switch. It never breaks.
We start these jobs and we have it all figured out. I will mill up this wood and it will be perfect and straight. I begin to cut. Oh wait, that board warped a little. Too small now. And, holy crap, this one twisted like it was electrified on one side. Toss that.
Okay, we mill up our perfect wood.
Next we lay out our joinery. Wait, is this side up or down? If I cut here what does that do to this there? Wait. Where did I put my brain? I need to figure this stuff out. We lay out our perfect joinery and commence to cut.
On the wrong side.
Mill up another stick. [I realize of course in writing that I am not describing your perfect world, only my own, on some days. On some days it’s worse than this.] I cut my perfect joinery next and start to fit tenon to mortise. Shave, try, fit, shave, fit, try, shave, fit. Too small! Fix problem, move on.
Get the dang tenons fitted and start to put together the legs and rails and get into a groove finally after a warm-up of only four or five hours. Progress being made. Cut wedges, need to cut wedge slots, start shaping parts. I need my spoke shave which is as dull as my elbow. Take time to sharpen. Always sharpen. Shape parts.
Good day. Grand day. Gonna get a lot done today. Except it’s almost over. Picture perfect day not counting the mistakes.
Okay, it’s not a triangle yet. Let those legs head out another foot or two and we’d get four of them. Triangles are inherently stable. Which is why we build in rectangular forms, mostly.
A paradox explained simply: Human, All too Human.
Join us for the Rogowski Stool: Aug. 22-26. It will be mind boggling fun.
The world is a parlous place. That means it’s scary as hell out there some times. People see their jobs disappear to a cheap replacement or fall victim to the banner of progress. In other words, they’ve been replaced digitally or in-house to supposed experts, or to someone just plain cheaper to pay.
Fear not. Become a woodworker. If you can work with your hands, I guarantee that you will have work. It may not always be the work you want. It may not fill your sails with the winds of prosperity. But you’ll be doing honest work with tools. Work that will tire you out and give you a sense of accomplishment. Work that will always pay. Just forget about buying that fancy new car.
Oops, did I just delete that last sentence. Cain’t do that as a woodworker. No deleting allowed. Mistakes will be made of course, but you will get to see the fruits of your labors every day. Hard to put a price tag on that kind of satisfaction.
Excuse me, I have to go build something for myself.