“I’ve heard my teacher say, where there are machines, there are bound to be machine worries; where there are machine worries, there are bound to be machine hearts. With a machine heart in your breast, you’ve spoiled what was pure and simple; and without the pure and simple, the life of the spirit knows no rest. Where the life of the spirit knows no rest, the Way will cease to buoy you up. It’s not that I don’t know about your machine – I would be ashamed to use it!”
— From The Chuang Tzu, Section 12, tr. Burton Watson
In my early days at Popular Woodworking magazine, we would draw up the projects we wanted to build for an upcoming issue and present them to the other editors for review and comment.
On the one hand, it was a great idea. After years of the process I learned to receive criticism with grace and now look forward to it.
On the other hand, there are cupholders.
When presented with a design, a group of woodworkers will complicate it until it is unbuildable, unsittable and will require custom titanium hardware made by a water-jet cutter.
And that’s just for the birdhouses.
So I also learned to keep things simple. I’m always trying to take things away from a design instead of adding them. But last week I forgot that lesson.
Right now I’m building a traveling tool chest for an upcoming article that’s also a prototype for future classes. I spent two days designing the thing in SketchUp and was convinced I had created the Tardis of tool chests. It was a traveling chest that could hold a full set of tools, including full-size handsaws instead of the shorter panel saws. Plus a full working set of full-size planes.
On Saturday night I glued up the dovetailed carcase and I saw the folly of my design. While it might hold all these tools, I could see that the chest’s proportions were going to be totally wrong at the end. Ugly even.
I walked outside and stared at a tree for a good five minutes.
Then I came back inside and redrew the chest using the same proportions and principles I’ve used since I built my first tool chest in 1997. And these are the same proportions used since tool chests first emerged in the furniture record. I pulled some more rough pine from the woodpile and fetched my jack plane.
Anyone need a dovetailed pine casket for an Oompa Loompa? Cause I’ve got a nice one right here.