HANDWORKER: Yes, I know the argument, and it is certainly plausible – in fact, it is its apparent soundness that makes it dangerous. It sounds a fine thing that a man is left free to do more skilful work. But you forget the lost skill that used to go to cutting out timber. Have you read The Village Carpenter or The Wheelwright’s Shop, in which the cutting out of boards and even veneers by hand is described? It was the patient, accurate, hard work of these men that gave them their skill. A slip meant that not only hours of their own time would be wasted, but that the time of others carrying out subsequent operations would be spent unnecessarily. These men really understood the saw.
But that is not the worst part of it. The real trouble lies in the fact that once a man has installed a circular saw he doesn’t keep it just for ripping out. After a while he does his grooving on it; then his rebating; next he finds that he can work mouldings (of a sort); tenons follow as a matter of course; and, lastly, the saw belonging to his kit of hand tools is used merely for odd cuts here and there, and for any job where the circular saw is not convenient.
Herein lies the danger. A man soon loses his old skill; and the youngster, what of him? He will never have the opportunity of acquiring the skill. I doubt whether many boys to-day could cut a tenon accurately. I remember a job we had to do some thirty years ago. We had to make a large oak window frame about 15 ft. square with intersecting cross-rails and stiles. The parts were rebated at an angle and moulded, and all the joints were double tenoned. Every joint was cut by hand. Two men cut the tenons whilst others got on with the mortising. It fell to my lot to fit the joints, and I can still recall the way those joints went together. The stuff was about 5 ins. in section, yet after cutting the shoulders and scribes the parts went together comfortably hand tight with scarcely any fitting. Those men had used the saw since they were boys; and their skill was almost uncanny.
Now once you have a machine it will, in the long run, come to do practically every job, so that the man at home, instead of developing his skill and enjoying the exercise of it, soon merely feeds a machine and loses the entire value of his craft. I know that he may exercise ingenuity in the setting up of jigs and so on to carry out certain operations, but he will lose that wonderful combination of skilful hand and keen eye which is the great value of craftsmanship.