Blog — Issue Eight RSS





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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Not Yet Converts

M&T: You’ve long talked about this idea of “subversive woodworking.” What does it mean? RU: Subversive woodworking is about getting people to question their dependence on the glow of the power company. It is partly a Thoreauvian idea of trying to help folks gain personal self-reliance. My ideal image of a woodworking school envisioned an old downtown location with a big glass window in the front. Passers-by could look in and see what was going on, see work done at workbenches with handsaws and planes. The students inside are already converted, but the people outside have maybe never thought of this way of working before. They’re looking in the window, thinking, “What the heck is that?” and then they’ll start...

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Back Stories

When the time comes around to pore over our authors’ newly submitted rough drafts, I can't help but reflect on the process for past issues of the magazine. It might be because we print the magazine “just” twice per year, or because we invest ourselves so heavily into our authors’ worlds and spend a ton of time with each and every sentence, or because we intentionally don’t recycle content, but every published article sticks out in memory with a funny or compelling story behind it. Some, you might easily guess. For example, spending days hanging out with Roy Underhill for Issue Eight was a riot. We went for lunch one day at his favorite local burrito joint, then strolled to...

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Sabotage

For many of the folks working on this timber-frame project, the axe was and is the physical embodiment and symbol of these alternative possibilities that are available to us. The simple act of taking up tools is a trailhead to the path toward independence. With them, we wield the means to build the world we want to see. It is a small thing to learn to use an axe. But a life comprised of many such down-to-earth and constructive decisions is the framework for a new way of seeing the world – one rooted in empowerment, compassion, and freedom. As one of the CSF carpenters, Florian Carpentier, put it, “[The axe is] one of the most basic tools since humanity...

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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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