Monday, 27 February 2012

Just a thought.

  I read a post by wood working hobbyist, Steve Brenam, about his devotion to hand tool use. He is one of a growing group that now use hand tools only. Some do so to harken back to the old days and others due to lack of space or lack of funds for expensive machinery. I believe most is due to the latter.

  When I was younger I would have dismissed him as some kind of nut. Why use muscle power when a machine can do the grunt work. Why go back to hand tools when so many embraced machines at the turn of the 20th century. Machines are faster, bigger, louder, painted that nice green colour, and look so cool in the shop, Yes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  "So what have you built lately", they ask?. Umm.... this little jewelry box and a coat rack answers the hobbyist.
  Speedy results are not required by the hobbyist. Oh, to think of all the time I could have been wood working instead of waiting for machinery. Today I use machinery for heavy work and I like my hand tools as well. I use whichever will best suit the job at hand.

  Getting back to Steve, he is a wood worker and wood working is a craft where one uses their hands to create unique articles made from wood. Makes sense doesn't it?
Steve believes in learning, doing and teaching someone else what you have learned. He does a great job of that with his blog.

  I came upon Steve's blog through a link from another blog written by Oldwolf. I came across the Oldwolf through a Google search, not sure what it was, but I liked his honest writing style and modest demeanor. Oldwolf (his blog) has a strong interest in carving. He started blogging about his journey from beginner to where he is today. His knowledge of the craft grows steadily and his work gets better all the time and he uses mostly hand tools much like Steve. Oldwolf has a few small machines in his little work shop as well, but no heat for the winter months. This year to work during the cold months he moved his hand tools to his house and set up a workshop in part of the dining room. His wife must really love him and his work.

  While furniture for instance can be made from wood, it is not always wood working but manufacturing. There is no craft in manufacturing. Manufacturing is all about compromises in order to attract as many people as possible to your product. Damn you Ikea.

  When I was in high school I always enrolled in cabinet making class. The room was full of machines and very little hand tools. This led me to the belief that machines were a must. Why would school teach me something that is not true? So naive. Silly really, how much time do you have to work on something large in school. Not much. Which brought me around to thinking of the year I taught shop in a high school and also instructed local college night courses on cabinet making there.

  This was a beginner class and the college night classes always had full enrollment. I taught them how to use all the different power tools as they constructed pine blanket boxes with most coming together quite nicely. On one of the last nights a student came to me and said their project was a failure. "It's a little crooked and uneven in spots", he said. I looked it over (he just lacked patience, the hardest thing to learn) and told him it was wonderful job as it had been brought to completion. After all, that was what he came for in the first place, to create something with his own hands. "Was it enjoyable building this", I asked him. He thought for a moment then the smile came back to his face and he said, "Yes, it was".  I believe anyone can work wood. If you were fortunate enough to have attended grade school you were given all you need to do this. Most just need some instruction in the physical use of tools and the courage to try and fail, learn from the mistake and try again. If that student continues he/she will improve just like everyone else does.

I think the college is missing the mark here for the beginner anyway. Not one of these students had aspirations to go and work as a cabinet maker. They just wanted to build something for themselves and have the satisfaction of telling others that they made it.
  You may be able to see the hook here. If they want to continue they can sign up for the next course and build another project of their choice. Good for the college coffers but not beneficial to the student in my opinion. It is difficult to complete something properly if you are constantly under the gun for time. Hell you might as well stay at work for an extra four hours one day a week for the next 10 weeks.
  Wood working should be relaxing and allow you to find out something about yourself. More like Oldwolf and myself. Do you think Oldwolf might have been a little discouraged had he taken the college course. I bet he would. Not because of his ability but by thinking the tools may be beyond his means as they are for many people. Classes like that really give the wrong impression about wood working.

  Some students could not attend all classes due to family or work. How do you complete your project if you do not have machinery at home???? A class using hand tools would be a better option for the beginner and students could purchase hand tools and work at home if they really wanted to continue with what they learned. Hand tools don't require a huge shop, just a corner to set up a work bench and enough room to swing a board around.

  You know all this brings me around to the epidemic of school boards mothballing shop classes. I believe they are doing a great disservice to many students. I don't think I would ever have stayed in high school with out shop classes. Academically I passed but I didn't feel I was learning new things.
  Just expanding on the old and it became more abstract and I couldn't see myself using say, Algebra at the grocery store checkout. Or correcting the cashier's grammer by using squiggly underlines and such taught in English class. Maybe I'd take some grocery bags in each hand and jump up onto the conveyor belt, swinging the bags around wildly to gain attention and launch into a soliloquy about the effect of too many hormones in our food, and the economics of shipping our raw goods to China so they can manufacture things and send them back to us for our consumption whilst burning tons of fossil fuels in the process further polluting ................... ahh, we've all heard that before.

  I'm going to collect my thoughts and put it on my next blog post. I'm not done with this yet. I going to put it out there and see if we can make a case for hands on studies.

As always, thanks for reading.

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