Blog — Issue Eight RSS





Is There Enough to Go Around?

My shop power is a mix of human power, photovoltaic panels, and fossil fuel. In deciding how big our off-grid system should be, I have tried to keep in mind Schumacher’s words in his chapter entitled “Peace and Permanence.”  When wondering whether universal prosperity is possible, he asks, “Is there enough to go around?” He points out that the modern economist has no concept of enough. “There are poor societies which have too little; but where is the rich society that says ‘Halt! We have enough’? There is none.”  My system has 500 watts (.5 kW) of solar panel capacity. From this I power lights in the shop and my home, a freezer, a small table saw, charge batteries for...

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Connected to Our Resources

I grew up in an area of the U.S. that can be described as prime timber land. We lived directly on the Mason-Dixon Line and about a mile from West Virginia, as the crow flies. I did all the things you might expect when you think of rural living in the U.S. I helped can vegetables from the garden every summer, and we had family gatherings centered on harvesting corn. We children built and maintained hay castles in the barn and split and stacked firewood in the fall. My mother taught us how to manage our garden and pick the harvest. “Pinch this bean. See how plump it is? That means it’s ready!” My father took us on walks on...

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That is All You Need in Life, Isn’t It?

M&T: Were you learning new skills there or were you simply applying knowledge you already had?  RU: Well, I taught myself blasting out there. I had the Whole Earth Catalog, and there was a review in there of a book on blasting. I didn’t have the book but I had this photo of the open book, a left and right page. I read that and thought “Oh, that’s all I need to know.” I went down to Santa Fe and bought a case of dynamite for $35. I had to fill out a form for it, and the fellow just told me “Check this, check that. OK, now sign.” That was the way it went: just like that I had...

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Thoreau and the Flow of Handwork

For all his potential hypocrisy, there’s no debating that he knew his way around hand tools. The first chapter of Walden, “Economy,” includes a fussily detailed description of the supplies, carpentry, layout, and furnishings of his cabin. He describes how he first visited his homesite in March 1845, bringing an axe he’d borrowed from a neighbor. He notes that “it is difficult to begin without borrowing, but perhaps it is the most generous course thus to permit your fellow-men to have an interest in your enterprise.” (He also reassures us that he returned his neighbor’s axe “sharper than [he] received it.”) He spent days felling and hewing the timbers for his home, sturdy pine studs 6" square. Thoreau rhapsodizes that...

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Lines for Hewing Timbers

To lay out lines for hewing, the timber’s cross-sectional dimensions were drawn onto both ends of the log, with their sides established plumb. The Americans typically used spirit levels to do this, but some of the French carpenters used plumb bobs to establish these lines. Once the ends were drawn, they were connected down the length of the log with the snap of a chalk line, making a straight timber from the natural, irregular tree. In most cases, the carpenters peeled a strip of bark only where the lines would be snapped, rather than peeling the entire log. This served two purposes: First, it saved labor because peeling bark in areas that were going to be hewn away would be...

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Powerful Words

Schumacher uses an exercise in basic math to show that technology has allowed us to reduce the time spent on actual production of goods to such a tiny amount that it becomes insignificant. The prestige of being a producer, as a consequence, has greatly diminished. If we can rethink efficiency, says Schumacher, and increase the hours and workers involved in production, we could have enough time to “make a really good job of it, to enjoy oneself, to produce real quality, even to make things beautiful.”   For a young craftsman seeking encouragement in following a different path, these were powerful words.  Schumacher’s aim was to help developing nations by providing aid that employed the greatest number of people. For example,...

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The Connection Between Artisan and Tool

At the CSF project in Maine, the carpenters’ hewing abilities were even more impressive than their joggling – they split the line with their axes all day long as if it was nothing. It was clear that they have spent many hours with these tools, and each axe’s handmade uniqueness strengthened the connection between artisan and tool. The axes on-site were highly individual and varied tremendously from tradition to tradition, but most were French, American, Swedish, or German. Many of the examples had a bevel on only one side. The idea with this style is that the “flat” back (actually slightly convex in both directions) guides the tool in creating a flat surface on the timber. I wish I could...

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A Closer Bond with Tools and Materials

I, too, have felt the need to question the direction that technology is taking us – to take a stand against the ever-increasing use of machines (especially of robotics) that are designed to remove humans from creative and productive work. I am “off the grid” in my shop and could, with enough solar panels and batteries, have all the power tools that most grid-tied shops enjoy. However, I feel strongly that without a change from our present growth-above-all mandate, we cannot reach a sustainable balance on earth, no matter how many wind generators or photovoltaic cells are employed. As right as it seems to embrace “green energy,” a field of solar panels is not as beautiful as a field of...

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What is Right Outside our Homes

“I ultimately believe that, collectively, we would be better off recognizing our spiritual connection to what is right outside our homes; it can be found in the growing forests and racing water. If we recognized our link to the brook trout’s life, would we be as willing to make changes that affect the quality of the water, and push it further upstream into the dark corners of the creek? It is valuable to have tangible access to this link, and craft is a fantastic way to become more connected with your immediate environment. It could be found in working with birch, if you are in Maine or Sweden, or wild cherry in Pennsylvania, or Huon pine in Tasmania. If a...

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The Process is the Product

“I often think about what [hand tools] could mean for the future of our society. I envision this muscle-powered, healthy, kind-to-the-environment, kind-to-your-neighbors way of life – it’s just a better thing all around for you, for your health, and for the planet’s health. And even in the immediate, hand tools are relatively quiet and peaceful. And human-powered tools give feedback that you can respond to with every nuance of the tool – that’s where skills are developed. I did an event at Williamsburg once – it was set up like a wine tasting, but for hand tools. The idea was to have “10 Sensual Experiences in Woodworking” – 10 stations with tasks like shaving with a drawknife or boring a...

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