Vehicular Manslaughter

While reading over some of the things I’ve written here at Wooden Thumbs it occurred to me this isn’t like any woodworking blog I’ve ever read before. Those I’ve read had a different feel to them. They were more tactile. This one seems more cerebral to me.

It’s probably due to the way I think. Next to my chair, the one I’ve been living in for the past month or so, I keep a small sketch book. When I get an idea, I sketch it out in general, and then in detailed, exploded views. Because I can’t stand or walk I have to work sitting, if I can work at all. Sitting in a chair at a little Workmate 400 I’ve had in the shop for years didn’t work. When I saw someone working at a Japanese planing board I thought I’d give that a try. The board is only a few inches off the floor and is very simple. No face vise or tail vise so you have to figure out ways of holding the workpiece. This requires thought. No amout of electricity takes the place of good thinking.

Hundreds of years ago people worked wood without those types of vises. They had viseless workbenches. Some people still use them. Not because they have to, but because they are either history buffs or some other reason. A little research proved to me that anything you could do with a vise could be done without a vise. The problem is how to hold the workpiece. If you want to make something, you have to have something. BK and I have an ongoing discussion about this. She is goal oriented. I used to be goal oriented until I found it unrewarding. Now I’m process oriented. If I don’t enjoy the process it doesn’t matter to me how well or poorly the project turns out. If I didn’t enjoy the process it probably turned out poorly.

Working wood with hand tools is all about process. Nearly everything you do with a solar powered hand tool can be done more quickly and efficiently with an electrically powered machine or tool. There’s a mindset that comes with either way of working wood. Due to my mental attitude, the way I think, solve problems and relate to myself and others, I work in a certain way. This blog is a vehicle to share my journey in using hand tools to work wood, the traditional way. Wooden Thumbs is the vehicle, but sometimes it’s more than that. With the ratio between wood and thinking about wood being so out of balance you may feel run over by the ideas. That may make this seem like vehicular manslaughter.

As an example, Thomas Self wrote a book titled, Joinery: methods of fastening wood. His bias is toward power tools. It becomes apparent in the introduction where he says,

But I am no purist who believes work needs to be done as my grandfather did it to be authentic. The cost of handwork is gnarled fingers and stooped shoulders, and it is only appreciated by those who have later, easier options.

That I don’t like what he said is due to his mindset and mental attitude. He goes on to say,

Dovetails can be made beautifully with machines and templates, with far greater ease and with great precision. Too, they don’t require the brain-spraining effort of laying out the individual pins and tails properly that hand cutting demands.

Perhaps Mr. Self is already as smart as he wants to be, already knows all he wants to know. I, on the other hand, am not. Once upon a time an elderly gentleman said of himself,

I’m a self-made man who quit too soon.

That stuck with me and I determined not to be one. I’m not interested in authenticity for the sake of authenticity, though I do appreciate knowing how something was done. That’s only a small part of the soul of woodworking. I’m interested in much, much more.


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