This morning I freaked out a bit. Tomorrow I head to Dictum GmbH’s classroom at Niederaltaich Abbey, and I realized that I’ve forgotten my universal translator.
The universal translator has nothing to do with transforming my English to German (the class is taught in English with German curse words and American showtunes). Instead, the universal translator is a tape measure that has both U.S. Customary Units (inches) and metric.
This way I can translate my drawings and instruction into metric without asking (for the thousandth time): An inch is about 25mm, right?
So I stopped in a hardware store in Munich named Suckfüll. It was a small store, smaller than your neighborhood ACE or DoItBest, but it had a shockingly good selection of woodworking tools. As I was looking for tape measures, I stumbled on traditional beech try squares (where both the blade and handle are wood) in several sizes. And miter squares that were also 100 percent wood.
The last time I saw that in the U.S. was never.
A little farther down the aisle and there was a complete selection of Two Cherries bench chisels, more than I’ve ever seen in a Woodcraft. Next to that – a full selection of carving tools. I turned around – wooden jointer planes and smoothing planes. And a full line of wooden-handled screwdrivers.
Lest you think this was a woodworking specialty store, the rest of the place was filled with typical hardware store stuff. Light fixtures, extension cords and small appliances.
Sadly, the only thing they didn’t have that I really wanted was Suckfüll T-shirts.
“Perhaps that is the most precious part of the gift a handicraft like woodwork can bring with it, and as our power to concentrate deepens so will the quality of our skill. Fortunately for us constant repetition will always bring a skill of its own, it being another mystery of living that there is in man something which adapts itself with wonderful readiness to any action or set of actions repeated over and over again. Whether we are learning to use tools, or play the piano, or to swim, tumbling and floundering along till we think in disgust we shall never master the thing, the process is always the same. Almost unawares we find that ability comes, our muscles have learned to co-ordinate, our fingers the trick of it, and we progress with an increasing sureness of touch till we have the mechanics of the thing within our grasp. And it is possible to end there, having achieved just the competence we wanted. But with anything creative, any kind of craft, it is also possible and greatly rewarding to go a great deal further. Sometimes as we contemplate it that awkward self of ours comes to life on another tack, tugging at us with the thought that we’re just ordinary fellows with an ordinary handyman talent and any finer flights of workmanship are quite beyond us. It is the child again, crying distrustfully: ‘I can’t. It’s too difficult,’ and we need to say to ourselves, just as would to a child: ‘Come on. Snap out of it and try.’
“It is here, I think, that what I have called ‘the eye of the vision’ will help us most. Let us cease to worry about our own skill or lack of it but keep instead our imagination fixed on the kind of work we aim at achieving, holding firmly to a mental picture of what our next finished piece is going to look like, colouring it in fancy with all the detail of a perfect finish such as we have most admired in the best specimens of craftsmanship that have come our way. The man running a race keeps his eye on the goal and not upon the feet which are taking him to it and we should be wise to do the same. We need to see the goal with the eye of vision in order to keep our interest and enthusiasm alight: more men have failed from lack of imagination than from lack of skill. For skill, regarded only as the technical ability to do a job, although never unsatisfying, can be of purely limited interest. But regarded as a means of creating beauty through a standard of workmanship aiming at perfection, it gives us entry into another world. It is a world full of human interest, linking us in fellowship with all the craftsmen past and present, in whose work we see evidence of the quality we seek, extending through them our knowledge not only of how things are done but why they are done and how people have lived and furniture changed in a changing world. It helps us to enjoy fashion and yet be above it, in that, arriving at our own judgments, we choose our styles as we will. That many people nowadays have technical ability unblessed with imagination is only too evident in the new hideousness of our towns, but the woodworker who has the true craftsman’s spirit and an imagination attuned to beauty will create at least his home surroundings according to his liking, keeping alive in his own and other men’s minds the knowledge of what can be done.”
I know this is short notice, but if you can make it, you are guaranteed lots of fun, hard work and the general mayhem that is building a workbench in five days. Of course, there is also beer to be had by all at the bar next door – after class only (sorry). The sign-up page is here.