David Savage, author of “The Intelligent Hand,” is in the hospital and not doing well. Before he leaves us, I want to get something off my chest.
I met David in person in 2014, but I had known about him and his work for many years. On this side of the Atlantic Ocean, David’s designs (which are incredible) never get a lot of press. But on occasion his articles about hand tools, business and the craft cross the sea.
His blunt, some would say “pungent,” tone rubs many people the wrong way. He rattles manufacturers when he states his opinion about tool steels (he hates A2), the state of tool manufacturing (fairly sorry) and honing guides (also not a fan).
I loved his columns in The Woodworker and Furniture & Cabinetmaking magazines. While I disagree with him on some points (and who cares about points?), I admire his courage to say what he thinks, which is based on long experience. He doesn’t equivocate. And he does not give a stuff (his words) whether you like it or not.
I was eager to meet him. When the chance arrived in 2014, I was teaching a tool chest class at Warwickshire College. David drove up from London to meet me for an early dinner. When I told the students and instructors my plans with David, they were quick to warn me. The short version: They’d heard through the grapevine that David is difficult, wickedly opinionated, pigheaded, even rude.
I walked to the restaurant and found David outside. We shook hands, and within five minutes I knew he was going to be a friend for life.
No matter what you’ve heard from others, David is a lovely man. Generous to a fault. Self-deprecating (also to a fault). Terribly honest. And has no secrets (that I could find).
While all that is important for you to know, I also want you to know that my relationship with David fixed me (I can’t think of a better word) in many ways as a human being.
Like David, my writing has always attracted strong detractors, ever since my first piece was published in my 8th-grade newspaper (a profile of a bunch of snobby homecoming queen candidates). Throughout my career, I’ve been baffled by the hate letters. It’s one of the big reasons I shut down my public email – I was weary of the steady diet of threats (mostly beatings, but one Klan death warning), threats of lawsuits and people who wished ill on me, my business, my family.
I’ve compared notes with fellow writers. Except for the political columnists, I have a way-above-average hate magnet. To be honest, this criticism eroded and sometimes shredded my psyche. I’m sure this was the intent of the detractors. And I was a loser in the battle.
David was the first writer I ever met who had the same hate magnet. But he was better than me. He did not brood. Instead, he carried on with his life and work. He didn’t back down, compromise his ideals or even mellow (“The Intelligent Hand” is evidence of that).
Having observed David for the last four years, I now have the courage to follow his example. His business and his creative spirit survived bankruptcy and becoming radioactive in his own trade. (Side note: David said that after his bankruptcy, one of the first people to call him with words of encouragement was John Brown.)
After spending 16 days with David in Devon, I rewrote “The Anarchist’s Design Book,” and it became a book with a much sharper edge. A book that was much closer to my thoughts as a woodworker. This summer, as I edited and designed “The Intelligent Hand,” I felt the last of my inhibitions fall away. (Thank you, David.)
Because of him, my next book might be a monster. And now I don’t give a stuff, either.
I don’t have the words to fully state my gratitude. My thanks will be in the form of my next book. I only hope he will be here to read it. Who knows? Crazier things have happened.
— Christopher Schwarz