Blog — Issue Eight RSS





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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Incontestable Consequences

“As a couple well-meaning colleagues and concerned friends told me, taking a detour to teach hand-tool woodworking in a high school English class was a bad idea. Regardless of how enthusiastic I felt about it. I’d be adding even more chaos into the classroom, like tossing another flaming chainsaw to someone on a unicycle already juggling 10 of them. Ask a teacher you know, and they’ll tell you that on any given day, they wear a lot of hats. They pivot between being a public speaker, a cheerleader, a counselor, a lion-tamer, an event planner, a hostage negotiator, a psychological puppetmaster, and (thankfully, not often) a triage nurse. I don’t mean to complain – the unpredictability of my career is...

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No Conventional Jobsite

“It was clear from the beginning that this was no conventional jobsite – no roar of a generator or shriek of a Skilsaw drowning out conversation. There was nothing here to be heard but the steady thumping of axes, the whisper of saws, and joyful laughter (with the occasional – and somehow fitting – exception of a jobsite speaker playing the Fugees, courtesy of Loïc). It was a rare moment in which there wasn’t someone sharing knowledge or a story with others. It would be easy to mistake this project for some kind of reenactment of olde-timey ways, but it was nothing of the sort. This week was a demonstration of convivial and sustainable manual work that is just as...

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The Human-powered Bandsaw

“One form of intermediate technology employed in my shop, the human-powered machine, provides an alternative to both the hand tool and the power tool. At this time, my tools in this category include a treadle-powered bandsaw, a hand-cranked drill press, a pedal bench grinder, and treadle metal lathe. The lathe and drill press are more than 100 years old and were manufactured to be human-powered. The 12" bandsaw is of more recent manufacture and came to me with a 1/4-horsepower electric motor. I use all of these tools regularly. However, I will describe the bandsaw in some detail as it is by far the most used. The saw is mounted on a purpose-built stand equipped with wheels. Without an electric...

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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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Full of Footprints

Studying a piece of old furniture is like venturing into the woods after a snowfall. With a fresh coating of powder, the previously invisible activities of the forest are put on full display. That squirrel that steals from your bird feeder? You can finally discover his path – this way, that way; he did some digging there, climbed a tree. You find that a pair of deer came by, a doe and yearling, browsing the firs along the meadow. Something startled them at the far end, and they fled to deeper woods. The information is everywhere, tracks impressed into the frozen crystals. With careful study, it’s even possible to identify particular animals based on their tracks, and to determine what...

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