Sippican Cottage

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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

When I Walk Down The Street, People Whisper To One Another: That Dude Can Plane

Woodworking in Japan is a revered tradition. America has a weird version of the same thing — or maybe we’re normal and the Japanese are weird; you decide. But humans of any kind, in any walk of life can make a contest out of anything.

Every once in a while, people want to see where I work. Some expect a very elaborate place full of highly refined and complex tools. Others expect a kind of lutherie shop, filled with arcane and rustic tools and jigs and so forth. They’re all surprised that there’s next to nothing in my shop other than the things I make. I’d have the same set of tools if I was framing a house, or making a kitchen cabinet, or a fence. You need to store it, handle it, measure it, rip and crosscut it, smooth it, fasten it, and finish it, no matter what it is. The rest is a kind of judgment, or discernment. Judgment is ninety percent of it.

Schools teach anti-discernment now. You’ll have to find it somewhere else.

8 Responses

  1. The opening scene of The Woodwright's Shop shows my close personal friend Roy walking up to the old blacksmith shop in the park known as West Point on the Eno. He filmed the first season of his show there, but now they tape it at the UNC studios located on TW Alexander Drive in RTP. Roy teaches in a store front in Pittsboro.

    And when I say "close personal friend" I mean I have met him a couple of times and recently I spoke to him long enough for his eyes to glaze over. Yep, that's just the effect I have on people.

    I did have an actual goal in mind – to thank him for showing me that a person could build their own lathe out of wood, which is what I did. One thousand bowls later it is still going, but I am ever so thankful I put an electric motor on mine – relying on foot power would have put me in my grave by now.

    A person's shop is a very idiosyncratic thing – usually it reflects the products one makes, the tools one uses on a daily basis and one's budget. My shop is like me – dusty, frayed and as comfortable as an old pair of shoes.

  2. We lived in Japan in the 60's and had a room paneled with hinoke.

    The master Daiku dealt the panels out and then came back over two days at a different time of day to watch how the light played on the wood. He then arranged the hand planed panels in the proper order, hung, oiled and burnished them until they were a soft dark honey color with a deep chocolate striae with a satin hand…it was like living inside a tree.

    We were delighted and then he came back with the receptacle covers.

  3. At one point I was pondering something like shōji for a screen in a room of my house, so I found a book on shōji at the library.
    Their wood craftsmanship tradition apparently includes keeping track of which end of the plank was down in the growing tree that it came from — so that they do not dishonor the tree or the design by having the base end up or toward the outside (rather then the center) of the finished article.

  4. Sixty Grit – I watch Woodwright's Shop every chance I get. Takes me back. My Dad bought a 60 year-old range of greenhouses in 1944. The shop was full of those old wood working tools. I don't know why, because back then, the wood work in a commercial greenhouse was pretty crude. In any case, I wish I had those tools now.

  5. Those planing competitions are interesting. They should more properly be called sharpening competitions, however, because the sharper the plane iron, the thinner the shaving, and the guy with the thinnest shaving wins. Some of those Japanese guys can produce shavings a small as 9 microns.

    I can sometimes produce shavings as thin as 2 thousands, which is see-through thin, but nine microns makes that shaving look like it was hacked out a log with an adze.

  6. Whenever I watch The Woodwright's Shop I am always struck by the same question, and it niggles at my mind the rest of the day…who is that guy crossing the busy street in the intro that looks exactly like Phil Gramm?

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