David Savage delivered a fire-and-brimstone lecture to the students in his Rowden workshop on the business of the craft during tea one morning and then left the bench room with a flourish.
One of the students turned to me and asked: “Are all British craftsmen this eccentric?”
I didn’t know how to reply at first. Later that day, however, the answer came to me: Actually, all really good instructors are like that.
During my two weeks at Rowden in the deepest, darkest Devon, I got to interact with a type of woodworking student that is rare these days: the long-term pupil who wants to make a living at the craft and has invested his or her last cent to pay for the instruction.
You might expect them to be 100-percent joyful to get to work under such expert tutelage for six days a week over 12 months. But that’s not exactly what I encountered.
Instead I saw the same wariness, skepticism and frustration that I experienced while training as a newspaper journalist at Northwestern University. During my four years, I nearly despised my instructors and still call my torturers by name 25 years later. Roger Boye. David Nelson. Richard Schwarzlose. Leland “Buck” Ryan.
They seemed to delight in trashing my work, telling me I should drop out and never offering a word of praise during four hard years.
As it turns out, they were giving me an education that I couldn’t appreciate until I’d left the school and worked professionally. They knew something: The writing business chews people up, and the only way to survive is to be the best – both technically and ethically.
You can’t deliver those sorts of lessons to hobbyists during a one-week class. It’s a miracle that my students had the drive to work 50 hours straight on some mind-bending piece of woodwork. I couldn’t beat them up because I was just so grateful that they cared enough to attend.
So what about the hard lessons? Who will deliver them?
In my shop, it’s me. Nothing is good enough unless it’s better than what I’ve done before. I sharpen my eye for good work by visiting museums and furniture exhibitions. So I have to raise my own bar and jump over it.
Most days I wish David Nelson were in my shop telling me my work was like a puddle of dog urine. I could then seethe and fantasize about putting Nair in his jockstrap.
But those sorts of fantasies aren’t so healthy when you are both the torturer and the victim.
— Christopher Schwarz