Attention to Detail
People in the United States take up a hobby as a method of self-reliance. Culturally they are attuned to doing things with their own hands. They take great pleasure in the smallest of detail and that reflects in the quality of work whether it be woodworking or engineering. A lot of hobbyist woodworkers also come from a very high engineering background - people from computer industry to aircraft engineers and others manufacturing extremely complex machines.
They pay a lot of attention to historical details. For example they are well aware of what period a particular piece of furniture comes from. A lot of knowledge is thereby brought upon the work.
What I found was that there is a lot of learning from each other, a lot of sharing of knowledge. All over the United States there are specialist clubs like those for woodcarvers, CNC machine operators, and so on. Learning opportunities are very high. Every city has community colleges where woodworking is taught. There is also a tradition of learning from parents.
One of the guys who was renting shop time in a community college where I was taking woodworking classes, was a petroleum engineer. His father ss well as grandfather were cabinet makers. He went into the petroleum industry but very soon returned to woodworking. He felt woodworking gave him more satisfaction and he felt comfortable doing the work his family had long been engaged in.
Numerous Americans in high profile jobs are hobbyist woodworkers. President Jimmy Carter was well-known for his love of woodworking.
Whether it is woodworking or any other skill, it is learnt, collected and passed on through the generations as a social process. If you do not pass on knowledge it dies. In that way, the US is democratic in passing on traditions; people of any kind or background can acquire skills. In India handing down of traditional skills is limited by considerations of class, social groupings, caste and so on.
Woodworkers in the United States not only do the actual woodworking but think a lot about the design of their pieces, the wood and methods. This has helped them to be continuously creative. James Krenov, for instance, brought in new thinking into Western woodworking by bringing in elements of eastern design sensibilities. For creative thinking one needs to study trends in historical design and be aware of them.
In India is we have gone from British Victorian design sensibilities straight to post-modern European sensibilities. We are following market forces without thinking about needs, design traditions and so on.
The modern furniture that India gets is from the bottom of the European design pile; they are mostly manufactured in Malaysia and China and basically meant for low consumerist demands and none of the furniture is meant to be long lasting. They are supposed to be replaced frequently.
People here tend to follow trends blindly. For instance, some people are using a lot of glass in their houses these days without thinking about the inappropriateness of the material. India is a hot country and our house lots are not conducive for choice in placement of windows and glass facades.
Designers in India never work with the wood themselves. We have schools of architecture and design which are churning out lots of designers and none of them can actually work with wood themselves. They are dependent on somebody else. They are limited, they cannot realise their design unless they get a good craftsman.
If the person doing the woodworking is not the designer, it is like a painter conceiving a painting and asking someone else to paint it.
Even contemporary furniture designers in the West all design as well as make the pieces themselves. This was true of the past as well when famous furniture designers and cabinet makers both designed and executed their own work. The Arts and Crafts movement and the Shakers did their own design and made their own furniture. Even George Nakashima, the famous Japanese American designer, made his own pieces.
Availability of Tools & Material
In the West acquiring tools, books, materials and so on is very easy. Here people have to struggle to identify sources, sellers and importers of tools and materials. In India people selling woodworking tools and materials are mostly traders and know next to nothing about what they are selling.
In the West a lot of retailers are themselves woodworkers. Most of the Woodcraft franchises, for example, are run by woodworkers; the owner of Grizzly tools is an accomplished violin maker; the maker of the famous Lie-Nielsen range of planes and chisels is a former woodworker. Companies like Delta tools hire woodworkers in their top management and re-design tools using woodworkers. A US company once appointed a woodworker for re-designing their band saw.
We need a hobbyist woodworkers association in India. Basically to create an environment where people can learn from each other and create a repository of knowledge which would be widely accessible.
15 September 2013