Starting Right


The modern craftsman is in a far happier state than the modern painter or sculptor, so much of whose work seems to have lost touch with reality. Not for the craftsman the strange, erratic impulses which would bid him present a chair looking like some queer mastodon from the past. He is tied inexorably to facts. The chair he makes must have stability and a measure of comfort because it is made for someone to sit on, and a person who discovered he was expected to sit on some kind of revolving hippopotamus might turn into a very severe critic indeed. So the chair must be made with precision and care, conforming to certain rules which will act as a brake on his imagination – and even a craftsman’s imagination can have its wilder moments – and will keep him, willy nilly, tethered to the world of common sense and reality. And it is good for us to be so tethered. It is the world for which and in which we are working, whose needs we share and to whose ideas of graciousness and beauty we have it in our power to make some contribution. But only if we are willing to work within the framework it imposes.

It is in this way we attain full freedom to do our best creative work. If we make a table, for instance, giving insufficient care to exact measurements and the accurate fitting of the joints, the results will be a rickety article which will inevitably lessen our chances of making a good finished job of it. For who can put his whole heart into the artistic finish of a thing which is constantly lurching under his hand, and will, moreover, perversely defy all attempts at last-minute remedies. It may even be difficult to find the fault, so small may have been the inaccuracies which, added together, have resulted in a piece of furniture in which its maker can feel no pride and which will be a constant source of irritation to everyone who tries to use it. And so he learns to be sure of his beginnings; that he has first to be accurate and careful, combining knowledge and skill to produce a sound piece of work suited to its purpose before adding the finer, decorative touches which will give shape and reality to his imaginings.

It is here, of course, that the amateur so often fails. He is in such a hurry to reach the “nice” work at the end, when the piece will be assembled and only awaits finishing, that he goes through the preliminary stages at best grudgingly, and it is in these stages that his troubles begin.

— Charles H. Hayward, The Woodworker, March 1955 issue (photos courtesy of Jeff Burks)

Check out “The Woodworker: The Charles H. Hayward Years,” the first two volumes of writings from the English magazine while Hayward was editor.


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Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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8 Responses to Starting Right

  1. tsstahl says:

    Lester Smith is either not very bright, or a severely optimistic person.

    This note from Hayward is soooo dead on in agreement with my philosophy.

  2. hgordon4 says:

    Brilliant, just brilliant (the truck loaders, sarcastically / Hayward, seriously).

  3. diceloader says:

    Is that an REO Speedwagon upside down?

  4. Andy Roeper says:

    Impressive that the truck in the last scene does not even appear to have cracked the windshield. Pull it over, buff the scratches and off you go.

  5. Farmer Greg says:

    “Some Queer Mastodon From the Past”: Title of Schwarz’s next book?

  6. mnrwoods says:

    Chris has posted too many of these commentaries from Charles Hayward. As soon as I began reading the article, I could recognize that it was Hayward’s voice. Now I’ll have to buy the books. 🙂

  7. Eric R says:

    Hayward has a very nice way of saying, “Take your time”.

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