Recently, the notion of what my woodworking career goals actually were, came up in an e-mail from a very close family friend to my parents, who had forwarded this blog link to him.
I have to admit, I realized that giving the issue some serious, soul searching thought, was not something I had seriously done .
Other than rediscovering my passion for woodworking and diving headlong back into it, I realized that I had not purposed to lay out for myself, just what direction I wanted to head in as a professional woodwright.
Sure, I knew I wanted to build a small shop with a table saw (got one), a good jointer (got one), a good planer (got one, getting a second), an arsenal of hand tooling, routers, dust collection, good lighting, a good bench to work on, quality wood pile to draw materials from, and an esthetically pleasing shop space from which to build…..things.
Planning the shop, researching the various tools and shop configurations, even settling on the design of my workbench and then building it, are all substantially easier to do for me, than to sit down and work out just what kind of shop I intend to have.
Along these lines I got to thinking about Thomas Moser (Thos. Moser). Thos. Moser woodworking started out in 1972 in Maine. Mr. Moser was, at the time, a collegiate professor. He took ,what was intended to be, a year long sabbatical to open a woodworking shop. Being a self taught woodworker, he chose a number of designs he felt that people would like, and then began building them for sale. This small shop built anything and everything back then. Everything from Shaker inspired furniture, to a working water wheel. Eventually running full time as a furniture making business. That year long sabbatical has lasted over 40 years.
I take this little bunny trail, extolling the virtues of one of my heroes, because Mr. Moser has been an advocate of what David Pye would call “the manufacture of risk”. ( the late David Pye was professor of furniture design at the Royal College of Art from 1944 to 1974, and author of The Nature and Art of Workmanship)
In a nutshell, “Manufacture of risk” is the opposite of “mass production” or the “Manufacture of non-risk”. It is the difference between a cabinet made using a computer numerically controlled machine and particle board, and a cabinet made from hand selected Eastern Black Cherry, that started as rough lumber and was “worked” by a craftsman.
This is not to say that there is not a place for particle board cabinets, and CNC machinery. Not at all. It’s just that working wood without absolute certainty of the outcome, is where the “craftsmanship” comes into play. The willingness to risk the ruin of a precious board of wood, and the careful use of tools, in the pursuit of building something special. THAT, that is where I want to apply my efforts. That is what I want as a touchstone for my fledgling business.
I am not alone in this. In my years as a professional woodworker, I have met many craftsman who started out with much the same vision. Normally, these guys would eventually sing the same refrain to me when they had tired of my enthusiasm . “Woodworkers are separated into two groups, those that work wood to make a living … and hobbyists.”
To some degree I agree with this. Guys I have known, guys who were willing to mentor me, all caution me not to be blind to the hardships that can come with the “Manufacture of Risk”. They all would tell me tails of the spiritual beatings they withstood, and the disillusionment they suffered, as they tried to maintain their passion for craftsmanship and working wood. Yet, even as they caution against allowing passion to override economics, they each to a man, had a moment where there was a distinct softening of their cynicism. An obvious bit of nostalgic wistfulness, and perhaps a remembrance of what it felt like to be in love with working wood.
So, What do I want to be when I grow up? I want to continue my journey as a woodworking craftsman. I want to build fine, handcrafted furniture. Some to my customer’s specification, some of my own design as speculation pieces. I want to be able to take my morning cup of coffee out to my shop, and resume working on whatever piece is sitting on my bench that morning. I would like to enjoy the interaction a customer has as they lay hands on a truly handcrafted piece of furniture, built just for them. Not another one exactly like it in the world.
I have no illusions as to becoming as financially successful as Thomas Moser. He would even tell you that he is someone who was at the right place, doing the right thing, at the right time back in 1972. Of course, he was a very determined and shrewd business man to have kept his shop thriving and growing all these years.
However, I do believe that I can build a business that operates using the “Manufacture of Risk”, and still pay my bills, put food on the table, and maybe even put a little aside to retire on someday. That would be a successful business in my view.
That is what I would like to be when I grow up. Someone who uses their hands to work wood, and craft pieces of esthetically pleasing, heirloom quality fine furniture built to last generations. Totally doable.