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Earlywood: Obsessions with the Tools or the Craft
Publisher’s note: Welcome to Earlywood, 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 2012. Each entry has been updated or annotated with some modern context or point of view. We hope you enjoy it.
There are only a few times that I want to throw myself off a bridge. Here is the No. 1 thing that has made me crazy during the last 20 years of writing, teaching and doing woodworking.
A guy calls me and starts asking questions – detailed questions – about the tools he needs to get started in the craft. I answer his questions, which take (sometimes) hours to thoroughly answer. He comes back with more questions. I answer. Questions. Answers. On and on.
He then asks me how best to sell all his woodworking gear because now he is deep into golf, guitars or cars.
This has happened a dozen times. At least.
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I’m not trying to poop on people who obsess only about the tools of our craft. OK, maybe I am – a little. The tools are secondary. Heck, that’s not even right. They are tertiary to the things we build and the materials we use.
Yes, it’s OK to get obsessed with the tools. I have an intense relationship with the tools in my tool chest. But when it comes to your tools. Or the tools in catalogs… I’m fine with what I have, thank you. So get over your tool obsession – quickly – and move on.
Yes, it’s OK to get obsessed with the material. Wood is beautiful. But too many woodworkers use flashy woods to disguise a ho-hum form. Again, get over that and move on.
But there is no end to the skills you can acquire to apply the tools to the material to produce something really beautiful. Something with grace, which transcends both the materials and the simple tools you used. Something that transcends even you.
When I teach woodworking classes, I often talk about the “signal to noise” ratio in the writings about woodworking. Almost everything – even what I write – is almost pure noise. Let’s compare this tool to that tool. This sharpening process to that. Diamonds to waterstones. Yawn.
Signal is rare.
Signal is about what people cannot describe easily in words, photos or video. Signal is the way we move our hands that is different from the way that less-experienced people move their hands.
Signal is that small bit of life-changing information you personally rescue from the cacophony of drivel.
(I am done dispensing drivel for the day.)