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A Wild Material

The back-to-the-land movement (as well as more recent offshoots such as the farm-to-table trend in dining) seeks to short-circuit the elaborate industrial complex that produces most of our consumable and durable goods these days. Proponents of the philosophy point to the loss of skill that is evident in the average person for basic tasks; to the health and environmental effects of large-scale industrialization; and to the sociological harm that comes of being dependent on technologies that are beyond the control or comprehension of most individuals. This dependence becomes crippling when a technological or supply-chain disruption renders us incapable of executing those basic tasks that we have turned over to mechanization. Even as we enjoy the benefits and ease that these...

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Reflections on the Apprenticeship

“It might be that I have been listening to the M&T podcast and felt that I already knew Mike and Joshua, but this apprenticeship felt like a real-life gathering from day one! In the safe and encouraging atmosphere you have created – it felt easy to take on the challenges you offered us.  It has been a lot of work, but the rewards are so much bigger. I have during these eight weeks thrown myself into planing, ripping and sawing, sharpening and joinery – things I’ve planned/wanted/dreamed of for years. All the tools have been waiting, even a workshop space… but the habit has been missing. I now feel I can keep going. As I have been working with the...

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An Assembly of Incredible Minds

After breakfast, we broke into our working groups of six to eight, each with different responsibilities as well as our own truss, to hew, cut, scribe, and assemble. It was wonderful to have the apprentices around. Most of them were young (about 15 years old), and though they were not yet skilled carpenters, their presence greatly expedited the sheer amount of hewing we had to get done. They also added historic accuracy to the project, as on old worksites there were likely a handful of experienced carpenters working alongside boys who did the bulk of the labor for little or no wages. Taking a step back from the action, it was awe-inspiring to hear the axes echoing through the ash...

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Podcast 44 – Aristotle on How We Learn New Skills

In this episode, Joshua and Mike talk about how it is that we learn new skills. They contend that we have to get over a reductive and mechanical way of looking at human life and action. We are not machines and we don’t learn new skills by “downloading” information. Instead, we practice. Through sustained work, we begin to embody these new skills in a way that make it look easy – because, in a sense, it actually becomes easy. In this episode, Joshua and Mike bring together several things that rarely appear in the same conversation: downhill skiing, hand skills in relation to intellectual comprehension, Aristotelian ethics, ancient Hebrew cosmology, parenting, and installing a kitchen sink, for starters.  SHOW NOTES...

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Disciplined, Regular Practice

Nobody I’ve ever met wishes their shop time was more like Henry Ford’s assembly line. Most of us seem to pick up saw, plane, and chisel as an act of independence and individual creativity. We want to cultivate the ability to make our own stuff. Author Matthew Crawford has argued that manual crafts are “a natural home for anyone who would live by his own powers, free not only of deadening abstraction but also of the insidious hopes and rising insecurities that seem to be endemic in our current economic life.” But we’re mistaken if we think we can shortcut this cultivation of skill with a new app or “life hack.” As we strive for agency, we can easily overlook...

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