“Ebenezer,” continued John, ” I have come to ask you a question for my mother. I want her to buy me a chest of tools, and she says she will, if you think it is a good plan. And I knew you would think it was a good plan.”
“No,” said Ebenezer, “I don’t think any such thing.”
“Why not?” asked John, much surprised.
“Because boys can’t do anything with carpenter’s tools,” said Ebenezer.
“Why, yes,” said John, “I could make a great many things with them. Think how many things you can do with your tools.”
“What you need most,” said Ebenezer, “in making things is skill, not tools.”
“Skill!” repeated John, much surprised. “We could not do anything if we had ever so much skill, unless we had tools to work with.”
“That is possible,” said Ebenezer; “but still, if you have skill, you can do a great many things with very few tools, but without the skill you cannot do anything, if you have all the tools in the world. To give a chest of tools to a boy who does not know how to use them, is like giving a pair of spectacles and a telescope to a blind man.”
Jacob Abbot’s “Boy’s Own Workshop” is a fine little book about a boy named John Gay and his driving passion to build things from wood – everything from a workbench to a pond for his little brother, Benny. Though your 21st-century eyes might find the language stilted and the lessons a bit on the Victorian side, I urge you to give it a serious look. (Dude, it’s a free book.)
If you can look past the 1866-era mores, you will find that John Gay has the heart of a true craftsman. He wants to learn how to do things right – he is willing to sign on as an apprentice with a local carpenter. And he takes great pains to do his work neatly.
And while John Gay is someone we might all identify with, the real hero of the book is Ebenezer, the 18-year-old carpenter who guides John’s education as a woodworker. Despite his young age in the book, Ebenezer dispenses the kind of wisdom that 21st-century woodworkers need.
His patience for the craft rubs off on John. His maxims for workbench design are in line with mine, for the most part. Ebenezer doesn’t think John should build a tool chest – his reasons are interesting. And his lessons on layout are worth the price of the book (dude, it’s free).
If Google Books didn’t have such an excellent scan of this book, I’d would consider republishing it. But there is no need. Go and get this book for your computer or portable reader. It’s just the thing to read as the nights get colder.
Download “Boy’s Own Workshop” from Google Books.
— Christopher Schwarz