At parties put on by my wife’s co-workers, who are television journalists, people sometimes ask me what I do for a living (and sometimes they don’t – the black beard is off-putting). After I explain the woodworking and writing thing, they follow up with:
Like sports? Nope.
Play golf? Nope.
What church do you go to? None.
Belong to any clubs? Nah.
Politics? Please no.
I then salute them for trying. I honestly am the most boring person in social situations. To be fair I enjoy music and food at a deep level. But that never comes up when the Reds are in last place in the league (information that Lucy has supplied to me).
Here’s how twisted it gets. As a relief from the stress of making furniture for a living, I make furniture. I usually keep a chair or two in parts under my bench that I can pull out when I have a few minutes at the end of the day. Working out a crazy angle or joint gives me immense peace.
It’s a guilty pleasure. These pieces rarely make me any real money – I give them away or sell them for the cost of materials. But I honestly think they keep me out of therapy and off medication. And I can honestly see how our craft helps people who suffer from PTSD, depression, addiction or worse.
I know it sounds like I’m warming you up for a book like “Shopcraft as Soulcraft,” or some such. But scratch that idea. I don’t think those “why we make stuff” books are for people who actually make stuff. Those books are intended only to create more thinking about making – not actual making. (Apologies. I know people love those sorts of books, but they don’t do much for me.)
If you really have the urge to make stuff, nothing can stop you. And honestly, you don’t need a book (not even a Lost Art Press book) to get started. A knife and a stick of wood is impetus enough. The rest will follow. It always does.
OK, I need you to sod off now. I have a tricky angle to work out on this Irish chair tomorrow (after I do 100 other things to make some money). And I need to dream of sticks, holes and really weird drilling angles.
— Christopher Schwarz
44 thoughts on “What do You do to Relax? More Woodworking”
I have read approximately 6,379 blog entries of yours, and 1.6 hecktilion words, counting books, magazines, and online. It is only the 4th time you have used the word “sports,” and the 1st time for “Reds” — which given the frequency of the word “anarchist” is quite a surprise.
I will always remember where I was when this came to pass.
In a related note, several years back I was taking a weekend carving class in Connecticut with Will Neptune (who is fantastic, by the way). About noon on Sunday, Will announced that a student had pointed out to him that the Superbowl was that evening, and featured the local New England Patriots.
He said “I didn’t realize some big game is on tonight. Is that something anybody is interested In? I guess we could clean up early . . .” Only the one guy who mentioned it left to go watch.
My good friend Diane who is also a maker said to me; Larry; we’re busy hands kinds of people. If you have to make/create you will and nothing will stop you. I always wonder what my friends who don’t make anything do with all their time. Time is never spare!
many times at “social” functions at other folks’ homes I find myself “talking” to the furniture…
There is a degree to which the compulsion to be working with your hands is a sort of addiction, a good one in my view. I do a wide variety of things with my hands, not just working wood, but the key to my focus is experimentation, learning by thinking and doing, with no end result but something as attractive, interesting and useful as possible, and rarely doing anything quite the same way again. I designed for a living and inevitably suffered sometimes under the constraints of others’ uncreative ideas and approaches, but now that I have been retired for 12 years it has been an unbridled feast of going where my mind, eyes and hands may take me – and excellence is my goal. Yes, people like us may be strange and exceedingly boring (I can’t count the times I have had someone say, “But what is it for? Why are you doing this thing?”) “Because I have to!” would be a trite and inexplicable answer for them. But if I am honest it is because it gives me deep satisfaction, which as some people might want it (sorry, Chris), it feeds the soul (?) whatever that may be!
Perfect. whatever floats your boat, it’s your boat and, on the water, few can tell you where to row it.
Perfect! Whatever floats your boat, its your boat and, on the water, very few can tell where to row it.
In hindsight of your arrival on Saturday to the open house, I can see now how what you say here is true. Hope you got enough ‘me’ time there before we all dog piled on you.
I quite enjoy talking to other woodworkers – otherwise we wouldn’t open the storefront every month. However, if I don’t do something productive with my hands I’ll pick my butt or worse…. Sitting still is not my forte.
Absolutely. It was just an ah ha moment to see behind the curtain, and see the process from out and about to welcome to my shop.
I don’t mind your black beard.
Thanks Pascal! It’s getting pirate-like in its proportions these days. Children cry when they see me, etc.
Probably not the beard.
If you can’t be an inspiration, be a lesson.
I have had a very full beard for over 50 years, having never shaved it off. No family or friends know me without it. Now that it has been pure white for a few decades, I am fated to attract children who are suspicious that I might be the jolly old elf himself though it hardly fits my demeanor! There are expectations and a sense of public ownership of anyone who looks like Santa, something I never get used to as an extreme introvert. I try to be kind.
Hopefully not your children…
Yup. On nearly every point. Non-woodworking people see it as effort, a burden, punitive tasks. Woodworking takes me to a timeless zen state the exact opposite of a burden
Love the dual “V” feature.
Resonate with the “must design or build” versus sports etc.
I know the feeling. As a sports ignoramus/ passionate woodworker I similarly hate those questions. I much prefer the company of chairs to the inane chatter at dinner parties with the spouse’s colleagues where possible.
I’m glad I’m not alone…. even though I’m generally alone.
I love working in my little shop /woodworking school. But when I get home I am always building something. for the last couple months I have been working on a reproduction of a Barnes No.3 wood Lathe. Hours of reverse engineering from pic’s and working out problem in my head before I bend the tubing ,pick up the welder, paint and pinstripe. This evening I was bending some 3/4 in. steel rod with the hydraulic press for the peddles. so yes Chris I have that urge and I find it very relaxing and makes me forget the problems in the world and all the paper work piled up on my desk.
I also enjoy food on a deep level. Some would say visceral. I assume it is very common.
You would think that we all love food in all its details. But I know a lot of people who think no more of it that putting gasoline in the tank.
I’m like this. I can cook fantastic food, but I’m put off by the whole thing because it tends to take time away from other stuff I’d rather be doing. Going out to eat is very low on the list of things I like to do, mostly because it rarely ever seems worth it to me for one reason or another (quality, service vs. cost). I’d rather flip a switch and not be hungry.
I’m also averse to a bartender that seems annoyed when I belly up and have to pull him away from his phone, and these days, that seems more the norm not.
Food is a family passion with us. Having gourmet cooks and one professional chef in our small family, nothing is talked about that doesn’t come around to the subject. So I know what you mean about not “going out” for food. Why would we? Food is as social as we get.
I’ve often thought as I enter my shop shavings for sanity is what I need. Music softly playing on an oldies rock station as I hand plane stock. That’s my stress relief, my safe Haven, my world to create. When I’m out of it it’s what I’m thinking of.
The Irish stick chair is looking great, and really speaking to me. Can’t wait to read more about it, and maybe tackle my own.
Thank you, Steven. I’m also learning a lot about it characteristics and history. It’s not a terribly difficult chair to build once you work out the templates (surprise!).
am I the only one on here who is doesn’t struggle?…
I’ve always had the ability, I carved a 3′ diameter propeller as a 14yr old. I used to get up at 3 am just to have a couple hours in the shop before my day job to build my first guitar on a Stanley Workmate with basic tools (basic!) at 25yrs old (which is still my main guitar, I’m 57 now. I have a vintage guitar I built myself, lol). 20 or so years have passed since and I now have a full shop, am working on a batch of 7 guitars, have been for 4yrs now. I just don’t have the drive most have. I made 2 acoustic guitars, made everything on them, herringbone purfling, every little detail. took me 9 yrs to finish them. ill tear into a project, get maybe 25% finished, and the shop may sit dormant for months, a year, maybe longer, maybe less. i could never do it as a living as much as I admire those who do, just don’t have the drive or discipline.
Chris is obviously not average. If so, we would all be selling each other books and odd objects. 🙂
I struggle with shop time as well. I have to be meticulous and very detail oriented in my day job. I consciously try to be more laissez faire in my woodworking. The struggle for me once in the shop is to keep it relaxed and not resort to hyper planning things. So, you are not alone, but will be if you procrastinate long enough. 😉
It makes perfect sense to me.
Replace “relief from stress” with ” boredom of retirement” and “chair” with “guitar” and this article could have been about me.
I get this question all the time: “Wow, don’t you ever slow down, why are you always building something.”. Same thing you say, that is how I slow down. My other favorite relaxation technique involves a good Kentucky bourbon, but I haven’t found a way to safely combine the two yet….
“the black beard is off-putting”
Yes, yes, we ALL know you still have lots of colour in your beard.
When you let them get a little wild, white beards are off-putting as well, for the record
You sound like you are talking about me to the tee !!!
There’s an episode of Parks and Rec where Ron Swanson awkwardly attends a party, gets bored, and ends up going around the neglected house fixing things. That’s me.
Is that a secret batch of lump hammers on the bench?
It’s very difficult for folks to grasp the relaxation woodworkers achieve just going to the shop at the end of a hard day, and making something. I used to keep 6 x 1.5 x 1.5 inch pine blanks just to make round sticks on my lathe that always ended up kindling.
Well said Chris! You aren’t the only one out here that feels this way! I think many people do what they do because they have to and can’t quite grasp those who do what they want to (unless they are insanely wealthy).
Look I am in the same boat. No sports. No politics. I do woodworking as a hobby also. I’m also a full time carpenter. When I get home I like to go to the shop and build something. I fully understand and appreciate your writing. Thank you. More people need to keep it simple.
Woodworking is therapy My wife has Parkingson”s and when she sits down with her box building her tremors almost disappear
May your beard grow ever longer
Feel ya. Everyone else has the woodworking comments covered. The new Yola, Ona, and Shovels and Rope albums are awesome. But, I’m still jamming my favorite punk album from last year by Drug Church.
Christopher I just returned to Oregon from Pittsburgh Pa. . I was able to visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s” Falling water”. You may be aware of the antique (in 1937) three legged stick chair in the home. If not you may want to make a visit! Lynn and I belong to the Oregon wood workers guild and Lynn met you when you were here. The chest you and guild member built was auctioned as a fund raiser for the guild and we are the new care takers of it. I enjoy your blogs.
Reading through Ingenious Mechanicks, it struck me that the planing stop hole functions similarly to the hardy hole on an anvil. Makes me wonder what could be put in there other than what’s described in the book.
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