Publisher’s note: Welcome to Earlywood (something you’ve likely mastered for a while now), a free excerpt published every Saturday from one of the thousands of pieces I’ve written since 1996. Sometimes, it’s from a magazine article. Or a book. Or (in this case) a blog post from 2017. Each entry has been updated or annotated with some modern context or point of view. We hope you enjoy it.
You may have signed if your father and grandfather set you up and forced you. Or, you may have snuck onto a creaky, stinky ship for six weeks to sail across the Atlantic. My grandfather did and insisted that my father choose a different profession.
If I had to do one thing over and over. I would save it for my day job. As for wood working; l will be happy exploring whatever project Iam working on.
I admire those that can do one thing to perfection. I watched a youtube of a son in japan learning to carve a mask for Japanese theater.
I've been working with computers professionally since the 90s. What I did then changed significantly when internet arrived. In the 2000s, virtualization changed everything. 10 years ago, I threw most of my knowledge away to start on cloud native and devops.
I am not only a generalist, I have to relearn things periodically and the previous best practices no longer apply.
As a retiring engineer I can tell you with certainty that those in my business who learn only one thing really well become not only unemployed, but eventually unemployable. Maybe these German guild members can earn a living doing one thing well. Me? If I had to do one thing over and over again for life I would find another trade. Not only due to boredom, but in order to stay relevant. Americans have the opportunity to switch trades. We should count our blessings.
I had a thought-provoking conversation at Handworks with a friend from New England. It was fascinating to get his perspective as a craftsman who had formal training, and the tacit assumptions that come from living one’s life with those resources and that history near at hand.
As a native of Kansas City, my tacit assumptions are wildly different. We had different concerns in the 19th century. Missouri wasn’t even a state until 1821, and Kansas, not until 1861. We were provisioning wagons or farming. Of course we are self-taught! Unless we had a parent, uncle or grandparent around to teach us, who would?
The wealth of old tools that Patrick Leach brought to Handworks is a great parallel that illustrates the historical point from the material record. That was the biggest mass of old woodworking hand tools I’d ever seen West of the Mississippi. As much as I hear folks exclaim about the pleasures of wooden-bodied planes, for example, I just don’t come across them in the wild.
My point, I guess, is that we can’t even shout “Murica” without qualifying which “Murica” we’re talking about. There are regionalities that seem to get flattened out by eBay, Instagram, and YouTube, and it’s fascinating to me to see those regionalities poke through in surprising ways.
Jack of all trades here. Any time I am feeling’Murica’ (and it happens) I just remind myself that all systems in place for a long time do work in lots of ways for lots of people. My only woodworking shame is I am gravitating toward ‘fancy lad’ woodworking.
My uncle was THE guy you went to in Miami if your ticker needed to be cut open and worked on. He was delightful, generous of spirit, and happy as a clam (if a bit of a workaholic).
At the Wooden Boat Festival in Port Townsend this past weekend, I saw a man work who does nothing but gilded lettering -- he puts out incredible pieces.
I taught for over thirty years, day in day out; I got really good at it.
I came to fine woodworking too late in my life to ever be great at it; and I'm sorry for that (yet without regret).
I want to speak up for the dedicated Master of Craft. My uncle didn't do his own anesthesia; the gilder doesn't build the boat he plaques name. I counted on a principal and custodian and bus drivers and loads of other folk to let me focus on helping my students learn.
We jacks of craft can and should be proud of what we produce, but I think we need to recognize that sometimes we (and the world?) loose out a bit when we "settle" for good enough.
Mastery is hard; it is limiting; and it is liberating. It stands next to elitism, which has been traditionally anti-american spirit, but it is not the same. None of the posts are expressing disdain for mastery, but let us not champion a lower standard of quality with voices that disuade others from seeking narrow perfection.
Specialization is for woodworms.
The last line in that explanation of the scorpion and frog is pretty heavy.
“The saddest saying I ever heard, "trees never grow into heaven", will be true for so long as we have scorpions.”
would you like to be really good, like incredibly good, at this one thing OR would you like to be fairly good at everything?
Me, i'm a generalist. I see if it my career, in my life, and my hobbies. I'm the guy you want with when stuff goes sideways, cause i can do a little of just about everything. I'm kinda ok with that too. It certainly gives me more topics of conversation at a party.
There are times that I wish that I had gone into an apprenticeship at an early age but then I look back at all of the experience that I've gained from each job that I've had.
And when it comes to woodworking, I enjoy the diversity of it. Making one thing this week and something else the next. Although, I have been spending most of my free time and energy focused on stick chairs...
I started woodworking at 42 after reading The Anarchists Tool Chest. I don't have the time to master any one thing, but I enjoy trying to do everything related to woodworking with quiet tools. This is a motivating post to read.
If , at 16 years of age, I was offered a seven-year apprenticeship in woodworking, I probably wouldn’t of taken it because I was too busy working my first job with my dad as a Carpenter. It wasn’t till I was in my early 40s that I started to take it seriously only because it was so familiar to me at the time. And it’s only now in the past five years that I’ve been able to take it really seriously, and that’s because I have both the time and the resources to dedicate to it. But you’re right, pick up the saw and let’s get back to work.
Jack of all trades, master of none. But better than a master of one. I think it’s fantastic to be able to do a little bit of everything versus being a pure specialist.
Non navel gazing off topic question. I was planning on making a shallow version of that green wall cabinet and I believe you mentioned potentially posting plans? I searched and couldn’t seem to find anything.