September 26, 2023

I was thinking about a philosophy based on woodworking while I was working at the lathe today. Surely, one must already exist. Woodworkers strike me as the type of people who are introspective and critical of themselves and the world. The craft is driven by precision, so much so that it lends itself to a systematic worldview.

Fly fishing was easier to philosophize. The atmosphere it creates, that of a lone angler standing in a river, rhythmically casting a line, back and then forth, fits more easily with the image of a reclusive, erudite thinker sitting under the light of a single lamp, pouring over thoughts with ink on a page. Perhaps, woodworking was more romantic before power tools.

It does, at times, feel as though my relationship with woodworking is a public affair. I’m charmed by the craft, enticed by the challenge, and spurred on by the creative potential. Today, I was captivated by the shavings that were curling out from the flute of my bowl gouge, a tool, you may know, I’ve been struggling to use well. Today, it didn’t feel like a first kiss but a tender touch, a rouse of the result of practice.

Woodworking’s pulse is arhythmic. Wood turning requires focus and patience, but not a sensitivity to a beat. You do need to feel your way across the wood through the chisel, stopping regularly to feel with your fingers what you sensed through your tool. The sensations experienced via hardened steel are rigid, whereas your fingertips feel, more easily, the ridges.

My thoughts hardly wander when I’m working at the lathe. It used to be that the same few thoughts would cross my mind, but they haven’t been lately. I recalled them today when I realised I hadn’t done so unintentionally in a while. When I’ve lost focus while wood turning, I’ve been jarred to attention by a catch – the blade of the chisel gets stuck in a spinning piece of wood.

There may be lessons applicable to life in these experiences: it’s important to remain focussed on the task at hand, to stop regularly to check your work, and pay attention to the details. Still, it’s difficult for me to see how woodworking can serve as an analogy for life and the way we live it. I’ll have to continue thinking about this, while away from my lathe, of course.


Leave a Reply