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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

Any Fool Can Make Something More Complex; But It Takes Real Genius To Make Something Simple Again

The commendable fellow in the video is making: treenware.

treen, small wooden objects
in daily domestic or farm use and in use in trades and professions.
Treen includes a wide variety of objects mostly associated with
tableware, the kitchen, games, personal adornment, and toilet articles.
The word is never applied to objects larger than a spinning wheel and
does not include objects designed primarily for ornament. (Britannica)

When I see an ironic-looking fellow sporting muttonchop sidewhiskers and pedaling a single-speed bike, wearing Clark Kent glasses, with a six-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon under his arm, unstructured scarf flapping in the breeze, I’m often reminded of people like our pole lathe turner. I wonder if anyone else is.

People seek authenticity in their lives. Authenticity is often equated with simplicity. Steve Jobs glommed onto the idea of never showing any screws on the outside of his wares to give the user the impression of a monolithic apparatus, not a machine. It’s fake simplicity, but so what? As they say, If you don’t have good manners, pretend you do; it’s the same thing.

Counterintuitively, simplicity also lends itself to originality in manufacture. You’d think that a lack of ornament would limit uniqueness. And that fellow is trying to make everything exactly the same way, every time — but he’s failing utterly and wonderfully. A human can’t do the exact same thing twice like a machine can, and the wood wouldn’t allow uniformity anyway; no two pieces of wood are identical. Everything you make is one-of-a-kind. I’ve made hundreds of tables. No two of them are remotely the same. I’ll go further, and aver that each has a kind of personality, revealed in working on them. They all have opinions about the weather, and think they have a “good side,” like a teenager being photographed. The pieces of a table will fight with you if you don’t listen to them.

People can’t all make everything for themselves, or there would only be room for a few million people on earth. But the urge is there, a kind of respect, and straphangers use the power of their purses to rub elbows with authenticity as a worthy substitute for doing it themselves.

(thanks to reader and commenter and customer and friend JHC for sending that one along)

7 Responses

  1. Curious and gladdening to see a fellow in love with old ways. I don't see evidence of a female domestic willing to share the trench mouth, though.

  2. As a proud owner of a Sippican Cottage table, I take great satisfaction in knowing that no one has seen, or will ever see one exactly like it anywhere. That, and the fact that it feels like it has been around for years already (like an old friend) when I just got it a few weeks ago is the reason I love hand crafted objects. And they definitely do have their own unique personality.

  3. “To make something simple is a thousand times more difficult than to make something complex.”

    Mikhail Kalashnikov

  4. I am breathlessly anticipating my new side tables. The bench you made is easily the most beautiful piece of furniture in my modest home.

  5. I turned two black walnut bowls this week out of a board that had been knocking around the shop. I wanted to make them the same. They look similar, but one is thicker than the other – when you pick them up the difference is immediately obvious.

    No point really, I turn lots of bowls, but rarely try to make even a run of two. There's a reason for that.

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