Blog — Issue Six RSS





We Can Do All That

M&T: How is slöjd relevant to 21st-century society? JS: I think that people are probably just the same now as they used to be 200 years ago. We still want to try new things, to learn, to be more skilled, to express ourselves, and to show off. With slöjd, we can do all that by being producers and consumers at the same time. There was a philosopher in the 1800s, Friedrich Engels, who was one of the first to talk about that concept. He warned that the Industrial Revolution was going to cause social problems because the producers would be separate from the consumers and they would be alienated from one another. Instead of connection and unity, there would be...

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A Journey Full of Rewards

“The pursuit of independence through making your own tools is a journey full of rewards. The broader a craftsperson’s competency, the more successfully he or she will be able to open whole new realms of creative possibility and manage hurdles that come along in the making process. This bitstock project brings together various skills that many furniture makers don’t get to exercise often enough: long accurate boring, turning, casting pewter, burning mortises, and utilizing naturally crooked branches. Even more, it is a joy to work with tools that reflect your own unique personality and individual aesthetic preferences, something we miss out on if our tool chest is filled with those identical to everyone else’s.” – Joshua Klein, excerpt from “The...

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Liveliness, Mythology, and Whimsy

Dower Chest. ca.1780 Berks County, Pennsylvania. 23.16. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. “Painted furniture in the German-American tradition bears evidence of a deep craving for liveliness, mythology, and whimsy. As Fabian suggests, these chests “exhibit a full range of celestial and earthly subjects” with stars, flowers, hearts, horses, and peacocks right beside more fanciful creatures like unicorns, angels, and the elusive mermaid. Even the common house cat makes an occasional appearance. The decorators of these chests clearly wanted to incorporate the fullness of life in their work, though the intent of individual decorators in applying particular motifs is sometimes unclear. Fabian suggests that while there is much conjecture about these themes, “almost never are we given any clue...

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Slöjd for Survival

  “Slöjd makes my body strong, gives me a strong back and muscles – slöjd contains a rich diet for both body and mind. Also, I’m able to repair things when they break. That’s why I think of it as a survival kit – in a society where we’re trying to be sustainable and live more simply, craft can be a part of that restoration. When we make things, we want to take care of them – we’re not throwing them away after five years and buying a new one. This gives you a definition of what quality is. The urge for quality is also an urge for quality of life, where making and beauty give meaning to what a...

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A Knowledge of Steel

As a starting point in understanding Japanese tools, it’s probably best to examine how they are made. And even before looking at how they are made, it’s good to look at steel, and how steel works. In its simplest form, steel is a combination of iron and carbon. Pure iron consists of atoms of iron that arrange themselves naturally into a cubic structure. This cubic structure is not rigid, however. The cubic structure can move, which is why pure iron is malleable, and can be hammered and shaped into forms that are useful for us.           Carbon happens to be just the right size so that if it is able to get into the gaps of the...

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Trees are Vital

The importance of the relationship that humans share with trees cannot be overstated. Simply put, we owe our survival as a species almost entirely to these plants, and from our most ancient past we have held trees in the highest esteem. Consider the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden, or the great ash Yggdrasil in Norse mythology that holds the nine realms together, or the sacred fig (Ficus religiosa) that Buddha sat under. Trees provide us with our primary shelter-building material, giving poles for tipis, timbers for barns, and even peeled veneers for plywood. Every culture has produced household goods primarily out of wood and, until the Industrial Revolution, it was our primary...

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Something Captivating in its Design

Like so many Windsors, our chair is an anonymous work – a puzzle that spans nearly 250 years and perhaps two states. Thankfully, it has avoided catastrophe over the centuries and remains intact, untouched black paint and all, to serve as something as transcendent as it is enigmatic. There is beauty in that mystery – something captivating in its design and its origin. In late 2018, this chair was on the market for $30,000. While that might seem like an extraordinary sum – and it is – it remains only a fraction of the value of a similarly uncommon Queen Anne or Chippendale side chair from the same era. In many ways, “country furniture,” like our Windsor, is a bargain,...

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Planemakers Didn’t Understand

Hayward’s writing is suffused with a poignant awareness that the 20th century was a time of inexorable decline in the use and manufacture of hand tools. All sorts of skills and techniques that were taken for granted in previous centuries disappeared, and the use of the double iron wasn’t immune from this trend. By the end of the 20th century it was common, as I noted earlier, to hear the claim that cap irons didn’t really stop tear-out. Some writers speculated that the real purpose of the cap iron was to stabilize or add heft to the cutting iron. One prominent author wrote that cap irons “do more harm than good in a handplane” – a statement that would have...

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Feedback From the Objects

M&T: Tell us about your process of making. Are any two objects ever the same? JS: They can be to a degree, but I love to give them a slight difference. For example, when I make butter knives in batches of 20 or 30, I use a paper template to make each outline. But when I shave them down, they always come out slightly different because of small variations in the material. I have to make a decision on each one – is this going to taper a little more here or there? I can’t produce exactly the same thing every time – although it is possible do that working by hand, but what’s the point? My aim is to...

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Everyone Made Their Own Tools

Because complex modern society is maintained only through specialization, most of us focus our career development in one narrow track. We develop skills in one area in order to get a job to make money to pay other specialists to make and repair our stuff. It is possible in the modern world to become a renowned expert in a particular discipline but be helpless in every other area of life. But it was not always this way. Before Americans turned to factory work in the 19th century, skilled tradesmen worked for the most part on their own or in small shops that offered diverse goods and services. Especially in rural settings, defining one’s occupation was tricky. Was humble Jack a...

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