‘Everything in its Place,’ by Chris Vesper

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In-progress stocks for Vesper Tools sliding bevels…as photographed for Instagram.

Kara Gebhart-Uhl, Christopher Schwarz and I have selected a few of our favorites from “Honest Labour: The Charles H. Hayward Years” – some have already been posted; there are some still to come. Chris wrote about the project that “these columns during the Hayward years are like nothing we’ve ever read in a woodworking magazine. They are filled with poetry, historical characters and observations on nature. And yet they all speak to our work at the bench, providing us a place and a reason to exist in modern society.”

Our hope is that the columns – selected by Kara from among Hayward’s 30 years of “Chips from the Chisel” editor’s notes – will not only entertain you with the storied editor’s deep insight and stellar writing, but make you think about woodworking, your own shop practices and why we are driven to make. When Australian toolmaker Chris Vesper (vespertools.com) read “A Kind of Order” it prompted him to write a few responses, one of which we give you below.

— Fitz

Everything in its Place

Hands and mind work as one to create when a maker is in the zone – be it woodwork, making furniture, fixing the lawnmower, working on an old car, or machining some gizmo in the sanctity of space that is your workshop on a lathe and milling machine.

When working on a project or even just tinkering the excitement can be palpable, especially when the finish is in sight among the setbacks (and occasional oopsies). The bench is a mess, with tools everywhere, things lost under piles of wood shavings and no cares given. And we all know this one: “That 10mm socket has got to be somewhere,” then many minutes later: “HOW the heck did it get there??!” Clearly too much fun is being had! Time lost equals the inverse of size be it chisels, sockets or even spanners. Big ones are easy to find – but small ones?

In our education as makers we refer to glossy mags or online tutorials that show impeccable workshops with perfect lighting. You may even feel some shame at your own space, so you set personal goals; you dream of what could be. But you can’t see that great pile of crud just out of their camera shots.

As for some professional work, with undersides of tabletops and backs of drawers sanded and polished to within an inch of their lives (not to mention the bits you actually see): this way of work is not for everyone, be it from lack of desire or a skill set not quite up to it. We see this perfection and perhaps gaze over our own work, and wonder at our own pleasing sanctuary of shavings piled up knee-high from attacking tear-out in a board. Perhaps we observe the results of a slightly wonky glue up. We see tools not stored properly and perhaps deteriorating from rust or being banged about – all that work to get those tools shiny the first time is lost.

In the intensity of enjoyable work, things will inevitably slip and chaos creep in. In machining work, the tool cart empties as the bench and floor fill with tools, grease and some strange black goop that gets on everything one touches. In woodworking, the tool cabinet and workbench are similarly affected (minus the black goop, hopefully). After a good, all-absorbing session of work I find it therapeutic to tidy and clean as I think back over the job, the tools used and why, the mistakes and the triumphs. Be it a daily ritual or an end-of-job ritual it’s a nice one to have.

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The plier drawer – after my tidying ritual.

Everything in its place.

But always keep this in mind: When I take a photo for social media you don’t know about the unsightly pile of freaky colored rags or glue encrusted ice-cream containers I just flicked out of the way to make the shot a little better.

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In-progress stocks for Vesper Tools sliding bevels on the bench…with rags, glue bottles and Shibee the Shiba Inu pushed out of the close-up.

About fitz

Woodworker, writer, editor, teacher, ailurophile, Shakespearean. Will write for air-dried walnut.
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7 Responses to ‘Everything in its Place,’ by Chris Vesper

  1. Steve V says:

    Great summation of the sanctity and therapeutic effect of the workshop.

  2. Mattias Hallin says:

    G’day Chris,

    Wise words, indeed, and although I will not necessarily clean up the workshop after every session, I have tried (and, so far, succeeded, I’m happy to say) to make it an iron rule that all tools must be cleaned, given a once-over with the woobie (when applicable) and put back in their place at the end of every day.

    Cheers,

    Mattias

  3. James says:

    That’s the most unique bench dog I’ve ever seen….

  4. Stephen Yoder says:

    My former shop was a stand-alone 25×30 building that I could just shut the door on when I was done for the night. Consequently, the only time it was orderly was between projects. Now my shop is an open-air carport with two lockable closets. As a result, I have to put everything away every day or risk losing it. Takes a little while but I ritualize the clean-up time by cracking open a beer and just taking my time putting everything away. My shop is much cleaner, oftener, as a result.

    • chrisvesperofvespertools says:

      I hope you have those lockable cabinets bolted to the ground… 😉
      But seriously interesting to read that method of enforced cleaning. Glad it works for you.

  5. AJ says:

    Chris is a cool dude. I was able to catch a hand tool event at his workshop when I was in Melbourne a few years back (I’d highly recommend a trip to Victoria when circumstances allow. The Yarra Valley and Surf Coast are amazing places to hang at and Melbourne itself is a beautiful city). I use my kitchen\living room as a workshop so shavings and chips at a minimum need to be cleaned up. My work area can get cluttered with off cuts and tools but I do enjoy that time between projects when things get tidied up and organized in hopes the next one will result in a wee bit less disarray.

    • chrisvesperofvespertools says:

      Wow that’s awesome you got to visit! I hope you can come back some time. The workshop is no longer hosting public events though, it’s a lot more full of nice tools and machines since then.
      Hey full respect for having the woodworking shop in the kitchen, I think that’s incredible really but many people have to do this with little alternative, at least it enforces reduction of mess. I still remember as a young kid trying to plane wood on the laundry floor using the door jam as a planing stop.

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