The creative mind reigns forever!

The more I see, hear and read about woodworking today, the more I think we may truly be living in a golden age for our craft.  A renewed interest in woodworking means many more people are either starting out or rekindling their enthusiasm as makers.  On the consumer front, there is also a growing movement away from ‘chuck and replace’ of cheap mass produced furniture to a buy less, buy to last approach.  For some it is simply about investing in the whole process of craftsmanship and provenance.

As a maker, I now have access to a dizzying array of tools for my craft thanks both to a vibrant collectables market in ‘oldies’ and a growing clutch of quality new tool makers. Many of the latter offer improved versions of the ‘golden oldies’ while others rethink those tools completely.  But the real game-changer has been the evolution of machines and power tools.  Machines have been with us since the industrial revolution, of course, but it is true to say that today’s machines are much more refined than their Victorian forebears and are more easily accessible to individual makers.

Mechanisation does not come without with controversy, though, and frequently sparks ‘lively’ debate among makers.  For some, any tool which plugs into an electrical socket is the devil’s spawn and heralds the end of proper craft as we know it. I prefer to see the ‘new kids on the block’ as a continuation of an evolutionary process which results in a bigger range of tools that I can work with.  And, as they say about points and prizes, more tools means more possibilities!

But it’s not just about tasks; we all have our favourite tools.  One of mine is a small tenon saw which has my grandfather’s name stamped on the wooden handle. It’s a modest Sheffield made saw – not one of the ‘big names’, but even so I love using it and often think about what he would have made with it in his little workshop.  I have also on occasion shown it with pride to students who come on my courses!  Another of my faves is a snazzy modern power tool which saves me oodles of time when I’m joining boards or building frames.  That time saving allows me to make pieces at a lower cost or to use the cost saving to add design enhancements elsewhere in the piece – it’s all about giving my customers choice.

Coming back to the topic, it never ceases to amaze me on my travels through other makers’ worlds just how creative and inventive we can all be just using our minds, our hands and the mk1 eyeball. And how utterly irreplaceable those human features are.  Makers such as Sam Maloof and James Krenov knew this and made it a central focus of their work. So one can have the most spectacular collection of tools but the thing which sets it all alight is that human ability to produce a thing of beauty by applying those tools to raw materials.  It all starts with eyeing up a rough piece of wood searching for the perfect colour and grain pattern right through to shaping it into the final piece until it looks and feels just right – not only per the drawing but to human perception.  That creativity, I firmly believe, is the single factor which binds us all, which can never be mechanised, and above all else, is the thing to be celebrated.