This week, I am putting the finishing touches on a book manuscript I started working on last year. The Dispatch followers have been hearing some about it for some time, but other than that I’ve kept it largely under wraps until now.
This book follows Joined: A Bench Guide to Furniture Joinery in the Bench Guide series. Teaching joinery in this way seemed like a good introduction to a pre-industrial craft mentality, hammering home the significance of primary and secondary surfaces, “sacred” lines (as I called them), and pointing out what actually matters and what doesn’t. Modern approaches to joinery can get unnecessarily complicated because they depend on machine-perfect stock (think: scribing tenon shoulders with a marking gauge referenced off the end grain). Joined aims to set forth a more practical (and therefore obtainable) approach.
Worked is designed to do the same thing, but for stock prep, workholding, and workflow. Although this may seem like such a pedestrian topic to write about, I’ve come to believe that stock prep is one of the most misunderstood woodworking operations today. Even a passing mention of planing rough-sawn stock by hand tends to be a land mine in mixed company. There will be just as much hissing and boos as there is chest puffing and gloating. But if we can be sure about anything in this kerfuffle, it is that hand tools are not neutral.
On the one hand, there are the engineer woodworkers – the ones who have made it their special focus to devise (or purchase) ingenious mechanisms designed to relieve toilsome or painstaking labor. These folks shudder to think of enduring the agony involved in handplaning a board to thickness. [Oh, the humanity!] They see how fast machines can spit out boards with exacting precision and cannot imagine the time it would take to replicate that degree of precision with a piece of steel in a clunky block of wood.
Then there are the monastic woodworkers – the ascetics – who in veneration of the spiritual mystique of hand tools, embrace the pain on the path to exactitude. For them, not only is the journey the destination, but they seem to hope the road never ends. They take a deep pride in taking the time to “do it right” – that is, they mean, as precise as humanly possible, no matter the time invested.
From my vantage point (and the vantage point of this book), both the engineers and the monastics make the same mistake: they assume that machine-like precision and regularity is the ultimate aim of woodworking. This belief implies that the degree to which furniture components deviate from the machinist’s square is the degree to which the artisan has fallen short. Sinned.
But since when is the machinist’s square the standard for “true” craftsmanship? Whence comes the law that smoothing plane shavings should be measured in “thous” and thou-shalt-nots? Why is the artisan’s eye no longer to be trusted?
This book is particularly addressed to new and experienced woodworkers who want to join along in the attempt to work in the shoes of the artisans of the past. No, I don’t own a Ouija board and I’ve not conjured long-dead ébénistes for hot tips for today’s woodworkers. But I have been laser focused on the pursuit to understand the workmanlike (i.e. “efficient”) approach to hand work for years now. I’ve learned (and had to unlearn) a lot. This book is filled with everything I’ve discovered to date.
As soon as the manuscript is edited, I’ll design the spreads to match Joined and off to the printer it will go. We’re hoping to see this in hand later this summer, but the world being what it is these days, we do not have confirmation of exact timing.
Stay tuned for more.