Life in the Village and beyond, based around the interests of my life.

Life in the Village and beyond, based around the interests of my life. Sunset at Telegraph Point.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Some Old Things Are Lovely .............

One of the great realisations in woodworking, is knowing that we stand on the shoulders of giants as we ply our craft.

Centuries of practice in the application of woodworking principles, and the selection of the tools developed for this purpose, are there for us to utilise.

It is one thing to go through the motions with the tools and the techniques, it is quite another to feel, and be, part of the tradition as we work.  We could say that the process is as important as the product - but it is more than that, it is as though we become part of something more than ourselves by participating.

Now, before you think I've completely flipped, look at it from one simple perspective (- there are many).

Take a hand-tool and perform a task - say a hand saw - and the task is to rip a piece of timber to the width you want.  Once you are cutting, and the rhythm of the saw stroke is underway, you can physically, mentally and emotionally be in the zone.
Nothing matters at that moment, as the cadence of the work takes over.  Like a runner and the road - It is, to run!
- It is, to saw!

This is a task that has been repeated thousands - if not millions of times - before you picked up the saw.

Let's add another ingredient.  What if the saw you are using is one that has performed the task many times before - by you and by whoever owned the saw before you - your father, grandfather, some other craftsman.

 You are physically in touch with those people through their sweat, and the grime of use in the handle.  Yours is added to it. The saw stores all of this as a part of its story.  You are simply the latest chapter.

The same thing happens with your use of any hand tool.  It is what makes using old hand tools such an epiphany.

Here is a quite old hand plane.  It has no maker's mark. It has little value to collectors because of this.  If it were a Mathieson, or a Preston, a Malloch, a Bailey or a Norris - it would be highly desirable to acquire and display.  But it's not.  Yet, to me, this plane has more of the essence of what it is to be a craftsman, because it was made by the one who first used it.  It not only has acquired some of the owner's perspiration, it owes its very existence to the creativity of that unknown man. And he built upon the ideas of others as he fashioned it.

He constructed a roughing plane from a single block of timber, and added a front horn and rear handle.  Maybe as an apprentice, he bought the blade and built the plane around it - a common enough occurrence.

 It has a generous mouth, a single iron radiused blade, and a comfortable handle for ease of use.

While I'm not sure what it is, the timber is quite lovely.

The blade was made by Pearson of Sheffield, and co-incidentally a laminated iron by Henry Boker of Germany also fits it well.

Now, when I use this plane, everything just comes together - the tempo of planing, the sounds and smells of the the timber giving up its shavings, the smoothness of the surface and the pulse of the planing action through the body.  Of course there's more  - it's as though there is a collective presence in the act of planing, of which I am a part. In a sense - we plane!

 I don't know if any other woodworkers experience it as I do.  Perhaps it is my practice of using pre-owned and pre-loved hand tools that triggers these thoughts, perhaps I'm just a little loopy.
What I do know is the joy of woodworking.

D.H. Lawrence
“Things men have made with wakened hands, and put soft life into
are awake through years with transferred touch, and go on glowing
for long years.
And for this reason, some old things are lovely
warm still with the life of forgotten men who made them.”
D.H. Lawrence

What if Yoda did woodwork  ....................

....... the Force - use the Force, you must!

Happy woodworking to all.


  1. Thats great SG, I know exactly what you mean about the touch of others on the tools. great blog.

  2. My sentiments exactly. I also like that free verse from DHL. That's an interesting plane - looks like a hybrid of English and German influences. Lovely wheat grain carving on the Disston hand saw - I use a 19th century Richard Ibbotson back saw similarly carved. That's a teasing glimpse of your moulding planes...

  3. Thanks for this reading!
    I have got many old tools on wich I can read the names of previous owners and I like to imagine their face as well as their shop and what furniture piece they were making.

  4. It is encouraging to find that I am not alone in my thoughts. For those of us who choose woodworking with hand tools because we love it, there is the huge advantage of the time taken to accomplish. It is this time, that provides the opportunity for reflection on the "now" - something that can't be adequately done when using power tools.
    We take the time to smell the shavings ........
    In woodworking we "are".