Two Approaches to Woodworking

Nowadays I find myself increasingly put off by most Western youtube videos, articles and books on woodworking, primarily because woodworking there appears to be centred on the table saw. Apart from cutting wood to size, the table saw is used for making joints, mouldings and much more. For all this there are a bewildering variety of jigs, dado sets and what have you.

An aspiring woodworker in India faced with all this will be permanently put off with woodworking unless of an engineering bent of mind and gifted with deep pockets. Woodworking seems to have drifted so far from a craft to another sub discipline of engineering that it no longer seems possible to pursue within the confines of the average home.

Don't get me wrong: Table saw centric woodworking is not wrong or to be despised; it is accurate, repeatable and requires virtually no skill, simply the ability to mechanically follow one step after another.

This is the industrial world's way of doing things: de-skilling, systematising and enabling high consistency in output. This kind of woodworking definitely has its place - but not, in my opinion, in the average Indian home.

I do not scoff at industrialised woodworking; this approach with the table saw at its core and other machines such as planers, thicknessers, shapers, drum sanders and bandsaws at its side, has led to the mass production of wood products and made them available cheaply to consumers.

Products churned out at industrialised woodworking workshops are often perfect, identical and very often beautifully designed. They cannot be shrugged off or disdained.

My grouse is with the notion that woodworking necessarily means acquiring a huge table saw, enormous jointers and so on. Every time I see a woodworking video with large machines doing the work, I switch off.

I recently bought a book on making boxes, small ones, and was dismayed to find that the author assumed the reader has a table saw and could therefore follow his mechanical instructions.


Christopher Schwarz    blog.lostartpress.com

Paul Sellers    http://paulsellers.com

Shannon Rogers    http://www.renaissancewoodworker.com

Roy Underhill    http://www.woodwrightschool.com/

Increasingly, however, I find there is a growing set of artisans in the West advocating a different, non-industrialised approach to the craft.

I find myself drawn to woodworkers like Paul Sellers, Christopher Schwarz, Roy Underhill and Shannon Rogers, who are all hand tools craftsmen. They might use power tools but their approach is that of artisans and not industrial workers. I find that a relief.

The artisan with hand tools skills can often produce as good if not better objects than engineered in an industrial workshop.

One of my favourite youtube.com channels is that of Doucette and Wolfe Furniture Makers (url: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCjatELwdjLj3_03Q80iTc_g). It is fascinating to watch them making super quality furniture. After watching them at work I really feel that nothing can match human skill.

With a set of relatively sharp tools, right techniques and some skill, the aspiring home woodworker can craft beautiful objects out of wood. The process is as important as the end result.

Paul Sellers , in a recent blog, wrote "if you are like me, you imagine a future lifestyle working your hands in your craft and a new life unfolding in the lives of others. You imagine sane afternoons and evenings with your sons and daughters, your wife and your husbands enjoying banter back and forth as you build a new dining table or a new bed. These are the things industrialists know nothing of without making it a money-making enterprise. I think that this is why I do what I do and it's why people follow my classes at the castle and the videos we make for the future of future generations."

Indranil Banerjie
26 June 2015

Comments

  1. couldn't have said it any better myself.

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  2. It was a very good post indeed. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Now a days I am learning to use hand tools. Hand tools will certailnly add a new dimension to my work. I certainly consider myself to be a power tool man. As a weekend maker, there are not usually time to work with hand tools. I am working with hard wood and small pcs of wood scraps, it’s twice as hard if you plan to do it 100% by hand. Power tools suit me well. With power tools I can create projects of a higher skill level and quality in less time. I enjoy my woodwork with them and they’re ideal for me, but I am very open to any benefits that hand tools can bring. I work to take pleasure from doing everything by hand or machine.

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  3. Dear Indranil

    This was a good post. However let me offer a different perspective.

    I too watch a lot of youtube videos of people doing carpentry. Perhaps more than I should. In any case the thing that strikes me in all of these videos is the fact that all these guys and girls (I’m 61 years old, and everybody younger than me are guys and girls. Possible sexism is due to linguistic shortcomings) everything themselves. It’s led me to believe that perhaps DIY is a singular activity. The emphasis is on the Y. It’s to be done alone, without help, in a noisy, dusty room where you are quiet with yourself. There is a Zen quality about this, where time stands still and the process and reflection is more important than result and production. This is I suppose a little bit like the high-end audiophiles. They spend large amounts of money buying very good quality equipment to listen to music alone.

    There must be more to it than this. Carpentry and music cannot be a singular activity. These things must, in my opinion, builds communities, needs sounding boards, requires annoying little know-it-all’s to keep you on the straight and 90 degrees. So the question is; does DIY mean D… I… Y… Can it, for example mean DIY&D. Where the last D is my “driver.” Could it be DIY&W where W is the “watchman” who helps me in the absence of my driver or DIY&BWWITH where BWWITH is the “boy who works in the house”, and likes to escape his chores to help me. Am I a fake DIYer, perhaps like our HRD minister? Should I remove DIYing as a hobby from by CV. What could I call it instead?

    On the other point that you raised. Carpentry is a hobby that helps in acquiring a skill, understanding nature in general and wood in particular, appreciating design, form, joinery, patience, finishes AND accumulating toys. Toys, especially electric, that you absolutely must have but don’t really need. For example I went to my local hardware supplier on Saturday and he showed me some drill bits that cut plugs from pieces of wood. When I looked at them I wondered how it was possible for me to have lived this long without these bits. I brought them home, and I’ve spent the whole weekend wondering what on earth am I going to do with these new bits. I think without these bits (pun unintended) of madness carpentry as a hobby would be dull.

    Umaji

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    1. Umaji: A different perspective indeed! And as valid as mine. I suppose you could be alone and one with yourself even in anoisy workshop. And of course we all love tools and accesories; I spend a huge amount of time drooling at various online woodworking stores.

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  4. Indranil

    Check this channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCaWR_UvszqJ0xIJYXcep3_w on Youtube. The way Tom Fidgen works his tools is amazing. My favourite wood working channel on Youtube.

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    1. Yes, you are right. The guy is amazing. I have his book; it has taught me a lot.

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  5. I agree with you Indranil as it scares hell out of me by just looking at those power tools due to their high cost & discourages me starting woodworking as hobby....I have ordered my basic tools online from amazon & excited....

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    1. Great! You are on the hallowed path! Best of luck.

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