Machines in the Workshop, Part 5


Part 1 is here
Part 2 is here
Part 3 is here
Part 4 is here

HANDWORKER: Are we not approaching the matter from different angles? You regard the operation as nothing more than a means to an end. I do not agree. If we were speaking of the trade in which the pro­duction of so many pieces of furniture is all that matters there might be some­thing in it. For the home woodworker the case is entirely different. My belief is that, although a man may need, say, a sideboard, this need is more or less incidental to the fact of his making it. The real reason which sets a man at work is the interest in the work itself, the expression he is able to give to his ideas, and the desire to construct something useful and beautiful. In using a machine he is robbing himself of half of his pleasure. He may make the job more quickly, but he will have lost a great deal of satisfaction. It is like a man in a motor car. He will glance at fifty times as many things as the man who is walking, but it is the latter who really sees more.

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13 Responses to Machines in the Workshop, Part 5

  1. davidknight5 says:

    I love the final quote about the man in the motor car versus the man walking. So true, for men and women!

  2. Salko Safic says:

    Finally getting to the crux of it.

  3. leeboyz86 says:

    I see both sides of this discussion, In this piece I think Handworker is taking it for granted that those who build useful pieces of furniture in their home shops are more motivated by the art and skill of production than the outcome. I think there will be just as many who enjoy the work, but also want to get that sideboard completed and in use as efficiently as possible. I admire and respect those who develop the skill to produce beautiful and useful furniture entirely by hand. Clearly, for many of them the object is not the result, but the process. I am just beginning to learn and I am in my late 60s. I have no illusions about ever becoming a truly skillful joiner. I want to make the attempt though and while doing so, produce something useful and attractive that will outlive me. Being a realist, that means working with power tools along with my 100-150 year-old saws, planes and chisels.

    • “…I have no illusions about ever becoming a truly skillful joiner…”

      Its not an illusion at all…You can do it at any age!

      Let the materials and tools teach you what you need to know as much as books and the Talking Heads like me that do it for a living…

      If I may suggest…start with the more simple folk styles (what some wrongly call primitive) systems of woodworking. I think too many get sucked into looking at some advanced historical (or modern piece) and fail (as beginners) to understand one is better served taking small steps first. We still have apprentice (and beginners…ha, ha) split a lot of wood and/or start there wood working from the forest source first.

      Green woodworking (in my view) is the only place to actually start to learn about how to make anything from wood…This is the foundational knowledge that begat all other woodworking knowledge. I started here and never really left, as there is a world of charm, simplicity and pragmatic application that just can’t be found in the more advance modalities…be it a table or a timber frame structure.

    • holtdoa says:

      A slightly different view. I think many of us want “good” furniture and what we can afford is pressboard crap. I get a lot of satisfaction from the act of making an item, but the biggest payoff for me is having an item I could not otherwise have (or afford).

  4. charlie says:

    If you do social media, a fancy hand tool in every picture makes you look like real craftsman.

  5. charlie says:

    If your making one, have some fun
    Making many, machines a plenty

    Great discussion, they were smart in 1938

  6. Made me laugh out loud and shake my head when I read using machines takes half the pleasure away from the process. I wouldn’t be in this craft if it wasn’t for mwachines.

  7. In this post there was a section that made laugh out loud and shake my head. The section mentioned using machines takes half the pleasure away from the process. I wouldn’t be in this craft if it wasn’t for machines.

    • holtdoa says:

      I think anyone who says there is no satisfaction from machine work has never, after dozens of attempts, finally produced a good lock miter joint! (only to realize that it isn’t actually strong enough to do the job you wanted…hey I didn’t specify how long lived the satisfaction was!!).

  8. “…Making many, machines a plenty…”

    “…I wouldn’t be in this craft if it wasn’t for machines…”

    These are the views and notion of a Machinists and contemporary modernity…not that actual way of it…

    I personally see the time between 1850 and 1950 as the actual death of Craft, with little to admire at all.

    I don’t (respectively) see much smartness reflected during the time period between 1930 and 1950, as this was the modern apex (and ignorant in my view) shift of….Material through tool…and not the more traditionally effective and logical modality of…”Tool through material.” With the later you build knowledge, skill and understanding of wood, with the former, you have the Industrial Revolutionary influence of mass production and being able to force material (and labor) to bid the will of the Industrialists and start the Consumer Culture of “buy and through away” we have today…

    The wars between these time periods destroy a wealth of oral knowledge that will not be fully felt for a few more generations to come as we piece a lot (not all) of it back together. This notion that hand tools are slow seems to always come from folks that have less than 10 years of experience behind them and/or have never made a living with them. Do I use power tools…yes…do I have to depend on them to make a living from wood…no…as the work would be what it is if it wasn’t for the hand tools we so depend on…

  9. Lee B says:

    Reminds me of an essay by Thich Nhat Hanh called “Doing the dishes to do the dishes”

    It described the familiar feeling of a person who’s doing the dishes, but they’re thinking about having a cup of tea. Then they’re having a cup of tea and thinking about going for a walk. Then walking and thinking about something else they want in the future and so on. His point was that focusing on the future and getting to that next thing robs us of the enjoyment of what we’re experiencing. It’s not that there’s anything so terrible about doing dishes, it’s just that we do them so mindlessly, thinking of other things, that we can’t get done with them soon enough.

    We might approach a task focused on getting it done so we can move on to the next task, then complete the project so we can begin the next one, but then our heart is always set on something that’s just over the horizon.

    It goes back to the handworker’s original question of where do we draw the line. I think there’s an equilibrium to focusing on the nature of the work itself. Something is only tedious if we’re ancy to be done with it. Once we start leaning towards seeking greater volume and efficiency, there’s nowhere to draw the line.

    Of course, if you’re a professional woodworker trying to support a family, it’s about more than a sense of mindfullness and enjoyment, you’re almost certainly going to use power tools and that’s just reality. The modern economy definitely chose the path of exponential growth and productivity gains, probably for the same reason we don’t tend to enjoy doing dishes. It’s our hardwired instinct to always be trying to improve our lot in some material way, but I think there’s a more enlightened way of approaching things that’s worth striving for.

    • holtdoa says:

      That sounds like the premise for an episode of ‘The Big Bang Theory”. Are you implying we will get to eat pumpkin pie with Elon Musk?

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