After we rived enough parts for two chairs, Kenneth opened a tool chest full of drawknives and I used a half-dozen different styles to begin refining the riven parts. Kenneth had spent many hours with these tools. He had no trouble using any of them, but knew the ones that fit his body best. I had the freedom to switch back and forth between drawknives, finding those that felt most natural to my hand and comparing them to the only drawknife I had used, an antique from my grandfather’s farm. Kenneth noticed that the handles of my grandfather’s knife had been bent out of parallel, so we spent the last part of the afternoon removing the wooden handles, heating up part of the knife, and bending them into a more ergonomic position relative to the cutting edge. I had burned a few knives in earlier attempts to add handles, and wouldn’t have had the courage to try this alone with a tool that meant so much to me.
Learning to use the drawknife felt like opening a door I hadn’t known was there. With my drawknife properly tuned up, my grip on its handles felt natural, in line with where my wrists wanted to be. This ergonomic adjustment removed the awkwardness Kenneth had noticed in the way I’d been using the tool. I now felt able to use the full strength of my legs and back to pull the tool, easily removing the rough bulk of riven parts. At the same time, my hands and wrists picked up textural feedback from the workpiece and I could subtly adjust the angle of the tool’s edge to take finer cuts. I was using the most dexterous parts of my body in movements generated by its largest muscles. I realized that the tool itself wasn’t so different from the wedge or froe we had used to process the log: the same shape of two planes meeting at a point, only more polished in its sharpness, and with a more sophisticated implementation of wooden handles. The drawknife requires more practice to use skillfully and can make highly refined cuts, but just like the hammer and wedge or froe, practice leads to harmony between the body and the tool. Watching Kenneth use his preferred drawknife, I could see that harmony and the calm confidence that it generates.
–Will Wheeler, excerpt from “An Unexpected Gift: Discovering Calm in a Modern Apprenticeship,” in Issue Ten