Category Archives: Mindfulness

Winter Workshop Wonderful…Or…Up Off My Lazy Ass.

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Santa has the right idea. A large workshop, warmed by a large hearth, wood floors (NOT laminate or “engineered”wood), plenty of projects and 364 days to crank out finely crafted goods. Paradise.

Now that the cold is descending on Colorado, The Tiny Shop is cranking up the heat and working seamlessly. I have a small commission…well…a favor is more like it. I am building a small trestle chef’s cart for a good friend. After that, I have a small gift for the love of my life in the works, and a little rehab on a cutting board for my folks.

After that, I need to plan out the build of the Roubo, and I REALLY need to get to work making some prototype pieces to flesh out some ideas that have been rattling around in my melon.

This is where it pays to be mindful. If taken all together, and stacked up one on top of the other, the projects can begin to take on the feel of drudgery. They can cause anxiety and can plant the seeds of doubt and dissatisfaction with the art form that I love so deeply.

On the other hand, if I choose to prioritize and approach each project individually, that holds the promise of a winter full of mindful woodworking opportunities.

The trick is to get started.

Once the actual planning and sketching, and revising is taken care of, there needs to be an actual application of effort. One foot in front of the other, one process initiated and enjoyed for its own sake, at a time.

Each time I start a new project, there seems to be a latency period. A time of apprehension that stalls the project before it even gets started.

I had this pointed out to me by the love of my life recently. It seems that she sees in me a struggle to overcome a slight period of fearfulness that inhibits my forward progress.

I at first resisted this assertion. Surely she could see that there were many pieces to the puzzle that needed to be arranged through divine intervention before I would be able to motivate myself off top dead center. Surely she could see that there were tools to buy, wood to dry, and stars to align before I could actually put edged tool steel to wood.

No, not at all.

Basically I was being called out on a small hypocrisy that I allow myself to indulge in. Here in this blog , and in my ongoing book manuscript writing, I preach the gospel of fearlessness in all things, and especially in working wood. Yet, I procrastinate in the beginning of every project due to some niggling little fear or feeling of inadequacy that inhibits me.

Historically, my modus operandi is to allow the project to go un-started until I am locked into a time crunch or deadline issue. Then it is Katy bar the door, and damn the torpedos….full steam ahead!!!!

Not very mindful or fearless I must confess. Nor is it very conducive to a full enjoyment of my Tiny Shop and all that it stands for. The work is still first-rate, and my clients have been satisfied to be sure. However, I am left with the realization that I really must, if I am to see the evolution of Madcap Woodworking continue, begin to focus my attention to the more focused application of the advise that I so freely dole out here on these pages and elsewhere.

The really annoying part of the whole thing is not that my wife sees this in me and feels so free to call me on it, it’s that it is exactly the type of fear that I think should be eliminated completely. It is that same feeling of not being good enough or accomplished enough, or refined enough, that is such a killer of the joy that should abound in The Tiny Shop.

To be sure, these fears are fleeting and short-lived. They evaporate as soon as the saw dust and plane shavings begin their decent to my shop floor.  It is just that initial time of delay and avoidance that is the crux of the matter.

As I explore the reality of mindful woodworking, I realize that I may have jumped too far ahead in the process. I think it important to stop now, and take a moment to examine this issue I seem to have with the initiation of a project. Perhaps once this particular burr has been removed from under my saddle, I will have a new realization of mindfulness to prattle on and on about…..interesting, very interesting.

EDIT TO SAY:

This burr removal is NOT in any way, going to stop or even slow me down in the progress of starting these new (and not so new) projects that I have slated for the near future. I just mention this because I could very easily use this opportunity for introspection and flat-out navel gazing as a means for avoiding the commencement of these projects.

Vigilant, ever vigilant.

 

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The Autumn of Our Discontent

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As Summer gives way to Autumn, mornings and early evenings have developed the tell-tale whiffs of a seasonal change. The air feels and smells a little more crisp. It is obvious that Fall is approaching.

With this change in seasons comes the steady march of students back to their respective institutions of higher learning.

I am now among the legions of other parents who send their child off to college with a mixture of trepidation, excitement, nostalgia, and pride.

My own child begins college this year with a vague idea of what they would like to major in. This only marginally tracks with, what he has of late, expressed interest or passion in with respect to a future career.

Historically, this is not unusual. In years past, a college freshman was not expected to have their entire life mapped out and career choice figured by the time they are juniors in high school the way they are driven to today. Sadly, we see that there has been great pressure on these students to pre-determine their life calling way, way, WAY, before their education has even remotely prepared them for such a task.

I am of the opinion that today’s educational system here in the States, has devolved into a clearinghouse of prepackaged, programmed “worker-bees” who are shepherded into various “slots” starting as early as their high school years.  Testing based education from grades k-12 has subtly evolved into a means of sorting students to some degree. This then seems to set them up to be directed to educational career “tracks.” Socially encouraged by media, peers, and the established norms of today, to pursue careers that may not actually be in any way satisfying or “life-giving.”

The concepts of creativity and innovation are only discussed or encouraged as they relate to some corporate need. The notion of artistic expression is not only not encouraged, but devalued as nothing more than a hobby or interest. “There is no realistic means to make a living thinking artistically”, the students are taught and  encouraged to think.

No means of developing these skills are provided with financial support except by endowments and donations. While specialized “arts schools” are available, they are often times underfunded or short-lived at best, and almost universally marginalized as only for a select few.

Add to this that the means by which a potentially gifted tradesman/trades-person could learn a trade like woodworking are vanishing. Apprenticeships are virtually an unknown here. In fact, they have all but vanished since the early 80’s. Shop class has developed a reputation as a place where the students who “can’t cut it in real classes or career paths” go to earn credits for the quickly vanishing state-run trade schools after graduating. So not only is the ability to, at a minimum, explore woodworking, metalworking, ceramics, vanishing from secondary education, what is available has steadily developed the reputation as a mode of education for those with underdeveloped scholastic “chops.”

Admittedly, there are a handful of specialized schools  that offer education in woodworking and other artisan trades. For example, College of the Redwoods, Rhode Island School of Design, Red Rocks community College. However, that they exist at all is remarkable and on the whole are struggling to find relevancy in today’s programming schema.

I think that starting in high school, and in a much more expansive way well into college, there should be a parallel course of study made available to potential students. This course of study would be dedicated to artisan development.

I am not discussing just the building trades. (House building, Electrician,  Plumber, etc.)

I am talking about the Woodwright, the Blacksmith, the Glass Blower, the Ceramicist, the Potter, the Pattern-maker, the Tool and Die maker.

These are all trades that even in the face of automation, have stood the test of time and are just beginning to show signs of revival among the nation’s younger generations.

As this country moves steadily toward automating a great deal of its production capability, these trades stand out as having survived almost entirely due to the fact that a machine cannot truly duplicate that which the human hand can.

I see a curriculum that includes the history of these trades. It should also include a focus on modern application in the marketplace. In addition to practical hands on training, there should also be a historical and philosophical component included to provide context and a foundation from which innovation might develop, thus moving the trade forward.

This course of study could be taught at both the undergrad (4-year) and graduate levels(2-4 years).

This course of study should also have an individually trade specific course of study on entrepreneurship, business administration, design fundamentals, and process/procedure development. This is key. The vast majority of these students may very well figure out that they stand a better chance of success being reliant on their own skills and independence, than if they fold themselves into a more corporate environment, even as an artisan.

Further, this program should be state funded through state colleges and universities. It should be given the same measure of attention and financial support as a medical school, law school, business school, computer science school.

Currently there is a focus on graduating students from college to be “Job ready” upon leaving school. It is truly only in the trades, both traditional building trade courses of study as well as my proposed course of study, that a student can have any degree of actual work readiness. Even then, it is marginal. Hands on in a scholastic environment is vastly different from actual work experience.

My point is, the current model for higher learning is mostly focused on development of students who fit well as cogs in the machine. They reinforce this by feeding the notion that you can get your corporate position in lower or middle management right out of college. From there, dear boy/girl, the world is your oyster. Sadly the reality is far, far different.

Taking student loan debt, and the fairly large discrepancy between what is being taught in the classroom and what is actually being played out in the “real world” into account, the average student is often made to be just another cube dweller, with very little in the way of upward mobility.

Please, spare me any discussion of “picking ones self up by their bootstraps, or work harder and harder until you finally reach that brass ring.” My educated opinion is that is all utter bullshit designed to keep the wage slave in line using the carrot of career advancement as a means of control. It has been this way for a very long time, and while some actually do advance through hard work and determination, I would ask at what cost? Health? Family? Personal growth? Artistic expression? Their soul?

The truth as I see it, is that this model of career development has evolved since … well …since forever. It is only now that the income disparity is so stark and glaring, that people (namely younger generations) are finally waking to this reality and are starting to explore other means of both making a living and expressing themselves. What a perfect time to develop and implement alternative means of doing both in the nation’s educational system….Nes Pas?

Madcap-ery Interrupted

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Sure as shit….just as soon as I post here that I am writing a “book,” I come down with the most horrendous, unending, torturous case of writers block that I have had to date.

No matter what, as soon as I would sit down to write, my mind that had moments ago been filled with the most brilliant and innovative or profound topics and notions just decides to delete any semblance of coherent text.

I would sit and try to put anything I could down. ANYTHING. Sometimes even getting a page or two tip-tapped out on my lovely new Thinkpad. Once or twice I even had a session or two where I had nearly an entire chapter of this thing written.

Then I would reread what I had written…..

The horror….the horror.

Finally, I set the Thinkpad aside and tried to write in longhand. Anything to get ideas that seemed to be just out of reach, fleshed out in some way. A word, a sentence, a phrase….anything. All to no avail.

So, in an effort to get the creative juices flowing again I write this blog post to whine about having lost my voice.

The bright side may be that, in having this wretched case of writers block, AGAIN, I am forced to take my own advice and simply be in the moment. Perhaps I should view these many months as a needed recharging of the creative batteries.

Speaking of creativity, I have finally been doing some light restoration work in the Tiny Shop.

I have a friend who rescued a couple of Art Deco pieces from being consigned to the landfill. He got a dresser and also a combination vanity/dresser that were obviously a set just for the cost of picking them up.

they both have some water damage and also some veneer issues, but I have been able to bring the dresser back to life and work is starting on the vanity/dresser now.resto

This piece still had the original mid-century Bakelite handles. It is back together and just got swapped for the soon-to-be-refreshed vanity.

I am excited to see how these two look side by side. I will be sure to snap a couple of before pictures and post them here.

So while the restoration/refreshing pieces are fun and all, what I really want to do is start building some furniture of my own.

When I say “my own,” What I really  mean to say is that I will more than likely be building clones, or my take on pieces that interest me. This is an ongoing method of mine. I start by putting together classic design pieces, and end up sketching and eventually craving to build variations on that particular theme.

For example, I have long wanted to build this.

 

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This is a “Stand Up Desk” by Thos. Moser of New Gloucester Maine. It is on my short list of “to-build pieces.

I also want to build a blanket chest for The Love Of My Life,blanketchest

as well as a glove table for our entry to the house.glovetable

So while I may be somewhat hamstrung by my literary ineptitude, i do have a great deal I wish to get built out in The Tiny Shop to help salve my seemingly empty head.

 

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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The Madcap Manifesto – The Evolution of a Madcap Woodwright.

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Throughout my career as a professional cabinetmaker and woodwright, there has always been something of an unspoken understanding in the profession. Professional woodworkers are to be flannel clad, bearded, curmudgeons, with saw dust in their hair and a very serious “air” about them. Think Norm Abrams crossed with William F. Buckley, and you are pretty close to the normal perception of the professional woodworker. This holds true especially in recent years it seems.

When I decided (was “encouraged” by the love of my life) to open the tiny shop and to once again work wood professionally, I committed to myself that come hell or high water, I was NOT going to be the overly serious, cantankerous cranky pants that so many of my brothers and sisters seem to be these days.

Enter The Madcap Woodwright.

An unusual name for a business, I know. Many folks have commented to me that it may not be such a hot idea to name my fledgling business this way. The argument being that folks might not take me seriously, and that I may be looked at as less professional than I really am, and so on.

All perfectly valid points if you approach from a traditional point of view. I…..do not.

mad·cap

ˈmadˌkap/

adjective

1.

amusingly eccentric.

“a surreal, madcap novel”

synonyms:zanyeccentricunconventional

“a madcap comedy”

Because I find that modern woodworking is or has developed something of an …..attitude, I feel that it is high time someone who loves the craft takes a risk and tries to let the joy woodworking offers stand front and center.

Far too many of my cohorts take the art of woodworking far too seriously. Not the tooling, not the need for precision, not the care with which we carry the craft forward, more so that they take themselves far too seriously.

I am much more interested in showing people how much I love and adore working wood, rather than how much I think I should be loved and adored for working wood. This is the ugly little skeleton that can be found in many, many modern woodworker’s closets. Somewhere along the way, they stopped loving working wood for its own sake, and started down the path of entitlement.

“I have done this for years and years, I have written books on the subject. I give speeches and presentations……I DESERVE to be viewed as a deity”!!!!

Naturally, there are many professional woodworkers who DO NOT subscribe to this mindset. They may have written books or give presentations, but still it shows that they are in love with the fine art of woodworking. I find that far too many woodworkers, (a generation ahead of me, a generation or more behind me, and my own generation for that matter)seem to feel that they are due a respect and level of admiration because they take their craft so….seriously.

This is one of the reasons I felt compelled to depart from the norm. I am, by nature, unconventional. Rather than hide this personality anomaly,  I choose to embrace and project it out into the world. An unconventional and, dare I say, madcap notion to say the least.

Therefore, The Madcap Woodwright is dedicated to expressing creativity, craftsmanship, attention to detail in all the work that is produced from the Tiny Shop. Old world techniques, traditional woodworking, hand crafted pieces are all the primary objectives. The difference is, to the extent that I am able, I wish to share this more intimately with those who would do business with me. I wish to attract those patrons who enjoy a good cup of coffee, and a nice leisurely chat about design and joinery techniques.

I am less interested in “on demand” deadlines. I am not at all interested in “production level” woodworking. Anything that interrupts the synchronicity between woodwright-patron-design-execution, is to be avoided. I may never make a gazillion dollars, or  see any of my work on the cover of “Fine Woodworking” , but im just fine with that as long as I have had the chance to draw someone into my love of my craft. I am just fine with that as long as I have had the opportunity to spend some time with someone new, share a cup of Joe, listen to a little Sam Cooke out in the Tiny Shop, and talk design ideas. I am more than fine with that if, when all is said and done, a patron and I stand ankle deep in fresh wood shavings running our hands over a newly completed piece, both of us smiling.

Call me a madcap, but that sure seems infinitely more rewarding than self promotion, and book sales. Sure, it is always nice to be appreciated for what you do or have done. Yes, It is wonderful to be paid well for doing something that you enjoy.  Absolutely I would love to be known for a very high level of craftsmanship. But I feel that in order to bring the level of honesty and integrity to my work that I insist on, it needs to be done with joy, abandon, and a sense of humor. Without these things, I feel that a woodwright risks a loss of “soul”.

Perhaps it is foolhardy to approach business this way. Perhaps it is more sensible to leave “work with soul” to amateurs and hobbyists, but I am convinced that there is very little about working wood as a trade, that is sensible. That is of course, unless you really and truly love what you do, and really and truly want to pass that love on to others. In that case, there is no more sensible thing to do but, be…..a Madcap Woodwright.

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A Madcap Manifesto.(Preface-Introduction)

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Alright, don’t let the title startle you. I have not taken leave of my senses and started hoarding survivalist supplies. Nor am I writing this hold up in a cabin in Montana.

What I am developing here and in the posts to come, are simply a collection of thoughts, ideas, and observations that relate not just to woodworking, but also to a few other sociologically interesting issues that often interface with woodworking as well.

As I begin to try to string together my thoughts and plan out what I want to say here, I find the process a little bit akin to tugging at that stray string on your sweater. I keep discovering little bunny trails that coincide with original subject thoughts. I keep unravelling more and more that ties in directly with modern woodworking, especially at the professional level.

Interesting and a little frustrating at the same time.

A little while ago I found myself at an interesting confluence. I had been reading several blog posts by Paul Sellers that discussed the historical importance of the traditional apprentice – journeyman model from years past, contrasted with their current state of near extinction.

At the same time I had the fairly rare opportunity to talk with my youngest son about college, the future, and most satisfyingly, life and happiness and what they really look like. Heady things to discuss indeed.

All of this lead me to this place. I wanted to spend a little time documenting my thoughts and observations.

It sounds easy at first. At least  I thought it did. However, the more I tried to sketch out a blog post in my mind, the more I had to say. The more I had to say, the larger the catalog of subjects to talk about became.

Ultimately, I settled on the idea of a series of posts that touched on some of these subjects. While this post is going to be the Preface and introduction to what is to come, I suspect that there may never, truly, be an end. I know myself well enough to know that as the blog develops, there will undoubtedly be times that I feel the need to amend or supplement, or reverse position on what will initially be the Madcap Manifesto.

Earlier in this blog, I mentioned that I may be touching on more esoteric aspects of woodworking, craft, and craftsmanship ….  This is it.

To be fair though, the discussion of just those subjects, I’m discovering, require exploration of the more sociologically based topics as I mentioned above.

Happiness, satisfaction, education, career, worth, self worth, stress, fairness, equality, inequality, social change, sustainability, ecological responsibility, are all topics that have influence on modern woodworking as a profession.

They, and many similar topics, all have (or should have) relevance to the modern professional or serious amateur.

Finally, I invite comment on anything written here. Please be aware that my posts may end up with a hint of “ramble” as I sometimes struggle to get multiple thoughts down in a coherent and thoughtful manner. Not because I have not given them thought, no, quite the contrary, I sometimes feel I have thought about them too much. (Usually during long sessions of sanding projects, or sometimes after having read something somewhere, or even just wondering what my kids futures will look like.)

Just know that I will endeavor to keep things simple, and hopefully both thought provoking and entertaining at the same time.

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