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 hole with a center bit, and I had the visitors write down what they thought of each experience on cards. I wanted them to focus on how fulfilling the operations were. I wanted them to see that the way the center bit works is so elegant. You couldn’t do that kind of event with power tools – what would you do, operate a planer and do a taste test of all the dust in the air? I was trying to show that the hand-tool process is compelling and rewarding in itself: the process is the product. It’s quite satisfying for us to say that we made it to the mountaintop on our own – we didn’t get flown to the top in a helicopter.

I was also drawn to this kind of work because there are very few fields in which you can make a contribution as an individual. In high technology or science, the days of the lone inventor or researcher are gone – you’re just one piece of a bigger team. But I found that hand-tool woodworking is a field where I can make contributions as an individual and still learn a lot. There is a sense of discovery, of excitement. Individual discovery is a big thing. You can feel like you are saving the world, working by yourself in your little shop.” 

– Roy Underhill, excerpt from “Subversive Woodwright: An Interview with Roy Underhill” in Issue Eight, available here.


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