Thursday, April 7, 2016

Marks of a workman.


Mortise & Tenon Magazine is a phenomenal product. Joshua Klein has provided a voice and direction that I feel has been needed among the woodworking community for quite a while. He is exactly the right person to stand where the worlds of scholarship, artistry, conservation, and a maker's ethos intersect. It's been a long time since I've read anything that both entertained and challenged me to the very core of why I feel connected to this craft. 

He's set the bar very high and I wouldn't be honest if I didn't admit some jealousy. 


Intentional or not, I caught a theme that hung like a string of lights from cover to cover. Over again I read about the indelible marks left behind by the craftsmen on the work they created. Not a stamp or signature but the marks of a plane, the cut of a dovetail, and the nailing of a batten. All silent signatures left by men screaming across centuries "I was here. I made this."

The tool marks stand as evidence of intent, as the identifying fingerprints of the maker, and as a declaration of authenticity.

Were the marks and methods left behind intentional calling cards? Were the makers even aware that one day, some would be so interested in finding and attributing as much of their work as possible? That someday someone would know the quirks and camber of their planes as well or better than they knew the hairs on their children's heads.

It seems hard to believe so.


It makes me pause and wonder, what fingerprints I leave behind? What telltale marks or habits distinguish my work? Reading things like, " . . .he looked at all the (Nathaniel) Gould things and would find that he always used triangular corner blocks with four nails in them. The back shoe would be made a certain way and the carving on the knees always had stippled background." (page 82) made me wonder if I have any of the same "consistency of craftsmanship," as Curator Gerald Ward puts it in the same interview.

If I think back through the many pieces I've made, from the early inconsistent work where I was just tickled if I could pull off a nice dovetail joint, to some of the better pieces I can turn out today. Is the difference growing as a craftsman without the direct guidance in an apprenticeship system? Without a master or journeyman standing over me telling me "this is the way to do this!" 

As a "hobbyist" woodworker I'm usually chasing the next piece that catches my interest, far outside of popular styles or often the pressure to make anyone but myself happy. I've ranged styles from William and Mary, to 17th century oak, to arts and crafts to modern Krenov. Across these projects and styles is it possible there is a consistent anything? 

Even with my joinery?

Will I become more consistent in my craftsmanship over time? Is that the same as "stuck in your ways?" Is it something I should even worry about? I'm leaning towards No.

I'm going to just keep doing my thing and let the conservators of the future worry about what kind of nutjob I was.

Still I wish I could be a fly on the wall and hear what they'd say.

Ratione et Passionis
Oldwolf

1 comment:

  1. Just finished M&T cover to cover when i saw your review. I had also just planed a board making my marks and shavings. Whatever level of skill we have, we leave unique marks that endure...thanks!

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