Condemnation, Inspiration, Motivation

One of the truly invigorating aspects of the recent gathering of FORPXI (Fellowship of Roubo Plate XI) was the unambiguous pursuit of excellence by all the participants.  That example of diligence and facility was a compelling wordless exhortation to me, and will remain a powerful force in my memory.

Perhaps no vignette of the week was more engaging than the experience of visiting Ron Brese’s home and shop, about a half hour away.  On Monday evening we went there for a pizza gathering hosted by Ron and Jameel Abraham, who comes as close the fitting the adjective “menuisier” as anyone I know.

One of Ron Brese's planes.  Image used by permission.

One of Ron Brese’s planes. Image used by permission.

After eating, the dinner party withdrew to Ron’s modest workshop, modest except that it possesses state-of-the-art facilities for the manufacture of sublime hand planes.  We ogled and pawed the accoutrements there, of course asking permission first.  At one point Ron brought out his collection of contemporary backsaws, basically similar models of dovetail saws from all the hand-tool makers we encounter at Lie-Nielson, Badaxe, Gramercy, Wenzloff, Eccentric, etc.  Ron let us examine and give each a test drive.  There was not a dud in the bunch, I would be delighted to use each or any of them.

A back saw by Andrew Lunn of Eccentric Toolworks.  His saw is of such a quality as to be diffrent in kind from my own efforts thus far.  Image used by permission.

A back saw by Andrew Lunn of Eccentric Toolworks. His saw is of such a quality as to be different in kind from my own efforts thus far. Image used by permission.

Now, I have observed many kinds of craftsmen.  (I distinguish these “doers” from the “observers” or aficionados who would rather experience artistry vicariously.  As someone who appreciates merely contemplating elegant systems, including constructs of words and ideas, believe me I am not being demeaning here)  First are those who simply want to make stuff, regardless of the technology required.  For these “Git ‘Er Done-ers” nothing is more important than having some task completed.  Even if they are not using the right tool for the job.  Second are those whom I call the “Toolistas” whose greatest pleasure is in the making of the devices that are in turn used to make stuff.  I observe these folks in the show-and-tell segment of woodworking gatherings wherein they wax ecstatic about the latest elegant jig they built, or the newest machine they acquired, or similar.

At its best this latter impulse is manifest in the making of exquisite tools themselves.  Fortunately for us the “Toolista” community has enriched us in the access we have to perhaps some of the finest tools ever made.  As I told Charles Brock when he interviewed me in Barnesville, we are living in the golden age of woodworking and toolmaking.

I’ve made a lot of tools, (in my work as a conservator there were countless instances where a tool I needed simply did not exist except in my mind, so I made it to accomplish the task required — I straddle the “Git ‘Er Done vs. Toolista” divide fairly evenly) including several dovetail saws.  Examining closely the saws in Ron’s collection was a humbling experience.  Before then while I recognized the limits of my saw-making vision and abilities, in the moment of seeing and using the examples from these Hall of Fame makers I had a whole new perspective on my own puerile efforts.  In correspondence with one of those saw makers afterwards, I wrote:

cIMG_0787“While I have an interest in making tools, I have yet to go much beyond the most crude skills.  Seeing and using your saw reminded me of that, so damn you for condemning my own work in absentia, and thank you for setting the standard for all of us to aim for.  Well done!”

The inspiration of elegant tools such of these is a powerful motivating force for me as it provides focus and a destination towards which I will move.  In the coming days and weeks I will be using them to guide my transformation of a saw I have owned for thirty years but never been happy with.  There is nothing “wrong” with this tool except that I do not like it, and I will be remaking it to my own preferences.  I see this project as another step in the journey from where I am to where I want to be.

Stay tuned.