Mindful Woodworking…or…The Tao of Working Wood

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For several months now, I have been considering my position as The Madcap Woodwright. This meditation is partially because the Tiny Shop is still not completely prepared for full operational status. Some time ago, after having adjusted my vintage Delta jointer, its motor decided to give up the ghost. I have been searching for it’s replacement ever since. So, while I can perform a wide range of operations, and have been engaged in some light restoration work, I am still not completely ready to turn the Tiny Shop and The Madcap Woodwright loose on the world just yet.

I think that part of the issue is that, in addition to having to manage some of my tooling issues,  I am more than a little bit uneasy about starting a business based on  such a non-traditional business model.

In reality, the business model is not all that radical. However, it does attempt to diverge from more traditional models in that, it’s primary focus is less about profit, and more about sustainability and satisfaction. Not just customer satisfaction, but also personal satisfaction. The two being dependent upon each other in my view.

Recently, a reader of this humble blog posted a lovely comment on the Madcap Manifesto post I put up a while ago. Dan H’s comment can be read in its entirety at the bottom of that post.

One portion of his comment summed up nicely, the notion of working for the internal reward verses the external rewards that are normally the driving force behind most business.

QUOTE:

“If I may, I’d like to add a little of my own thoughts. To borrow an analysis from a contemporary critic of modern culture, there are goods that are “external” to a practice and goods that are “internal” to a practice. One can engage in a practice merely to acquire certain external goods; wealth, fame, influence, etc. But, such goods are not uniquely connected to the practice. They can be acquired in many different ways. That’s why they are called external goods. If one is motivated by goods external to the practice he or she naturally will seek to be efficient, to cut corners, maybe even to cheat in order to get the goods.

On the other hand, one can seek to excel in a practice in order to achieve the goods that are internal to that practice. These are goods can only be achieved by participating and attempting to excel in the practice. Moreover, such a craftsman cannot cut corners, cannot cheat, to achieve such goods; it’s simply a contradiction. And, although difficult to prove, you are dead right that one way of doing it is more satisfying. Or, in your words, “…let the joy woodworking offers stand front and center.”
END QUOTE

The root of the Madcap Woodwright’s evolving philosophy summed in that second paragraph. It is the participation and the attempt(s) at excellence that contain the promise of the inner satisfaction that I’m after. But more than that, they are only the very root. There are some ancillary issues here too.

For example, a large part of my passion is also rooted in the desire to pass the love of woodworking on to others. I feel a need to develop my views and philosophies as they relate to woodworking in general, and Madcap Woodworking in particular. As it stands right now, one of my key messages is designed to liberate folks from the high handedness and eliteist dogma that have engulfed woodworking for so long. I feel moved to encourage anyone who will listen, to give themselves permission to just …work…the….wood. Yes, by all means do so with all your best efforts, be they focused on handcut dovetails, or building a shed. By all means, read the articles in Fine Woodwroking or Popular Woodworking or what ever. By all means, explore the lives of the craftsman who have gone before us. Just don’t become bogged in their way of doing things. Feel the freedom of exploring multiple options in both design and execution.

I thank Dan H. for responding the way he did. Not so much because he agrees with me, it’s more a case of gratitude for understanding.

Making peace with the reality of the potential responsibilities that come with promoting a, some would say, progressive view of how to approach woodworking, is proving to be a little more challenging than I first imagined. Be that as it may, I realize that it promises to be as rewarding as putting together a Tiny Shop, or cutting a dovetail, or scoring some vintage bit of woodworking machinery.

This piece seems to be a bit rambling. Clearly there is still work to be done as it relates to sifting through the various thoughts and bits of evolving philisophical perspective that I have. I have a foundational idea of how I view both the art/craft of working wood the way I do, I have a seed that has been planted in my spirit. It occurs to me that the resistance, slight as it may be right now, to moving forward and opening the doors of The Tiny Shop to the public might be the exact thing that may be hindering me from solidifying these philosophies?

In any case, rest assured that more navel gazing will occur as I continue to search out that replacement jointer motor. More thoughtful pondering will be forth comming after it is repaired and I go forth to procure a lovely little Delta shaper to round out my classic machine collection. Once I finally begin actually working wood more purposefully and the doors of The Tiny Shop are finally open for business, I suspect that more of the esoteric pieces shall fall into place.

Or….

Maybe the picture will change entirely….either way, its going to be fun getting back into the saddle. It’s going to be fun to be joyfully working wood with abandon again. Stay Tuned.

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5 thoughts on “Mindful Woodworking…or…The Tao of Working Wood

  1. Dan H.

    Man are we on the same page! I did not conceive of it exactly like that but attempting to excel in a practice (woodworking, sailing, architecture,…) for the internal goods derived from that craft can be described as mindfulness. I am a recent convert to a form of mindfulness exercise and I note that the presence of mind (joy) that comes from the exercise is much like the presence of mind (joy) I experience when I am pondering and working on a project. Recently it was a very serious pondering of the correct angle for my new wood shed roof. I also remember that it took me a very long time to design and construct a little potting bench and roof on the side of my wife’s garden shed. I have rarely experienced such a sense of joyful flow.

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    1. madcapwoodwright Post author

      BINGO! I’ll take it a step further. I submit that there are actually different “flavors” of this woodworking mindfulness. For instance, the different “feels” between designing a project, laying out a Plan of Procedure, rough milling operations, joinery operations etc.
      Each step in the creation process, has its own “feel”. Each step provides it’s own frustrations, challenges, and also it’s own rewards. Each one providing a different experience. One of the weird things about some of the elitist views of woodworking is that, the focus is exclusively on the tools, and techniques. There is , since the passing of notables like Krenov, Maloof, and Nakashima, very, very little emphasis on the ” experience” of working wood. That’s what I would like to give voice to moving forward. That and some of the ancillary notions that adopting this “mindful” woodworking model can provide potentially.

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