Why??

That was someone’s question on one of the wonderful video demonstrations by master woodworker Paul Sellers. In the demonstration Mr. Sellers uses a square, a pencil and a chisel to make a mortise and tenon. Mr. Sellers calls himself a lifestyle woodworker, and has his shop in Penrhyn Castle in North Wales where he gives demonstrations and apprentices a few people every year.  In addition to teaching how to make furniture, he teaches how to make your own tools, such as a rabbet plane, how to sharpen your chisels or re-tooth an old saw blade.  His pieces are in the United States White House Collection.  He uses a handsaw made in the 1700’s.  How cool is that?

Well that simple (and lazy, albeit humorous) one word question, “Why?” got me thinking.  Why should you work with your hands taking three or four, or maybe ten times longer for each mortise and each tenon, and each dovetail until weeks, or maybe months later you have a piece of handcrafted furniture made by you, when if you just bought a dozen or so power tools and a shop, you could turn it out much quicker and with much less effort?  Better yet, why not just shop at a furniture store in a couple hours (or a few minutes online) for less than a fraction of those power tools? Why just get one piece, when nowadays with how cheap the stuff is from China you can probably buy a set for the whole house at IKEA? Who cares, when you move just throw it out.

There is the obvious that we have way too much cheap stuff that we don’t really need, as well as the environmental aspect, but there is another. Our Cheaper Faster More is often made in deplorable conditions that we publicly condemn, yet support with our dollars. Even where the working environment is clean and safe, there are other consideration such as the grey line between free choice and that of wage slavery. I recommend checking out some of the interesting photographs of factories in China by Edward Burtnynsky to get an idea.

I see a similarity with woodworking and photography. Mr. Sellers is using tools over 100 years old, many of which will keep working for generations into the future.  Film photographers everywhere are using cameras forty, fifty, and even 100 years old.  Meanwhile the scrap heaps are full of plastic electric tools and plastic digital cameras made only a few years ago. Mr. Sellers is lovingly and painstakingly making beautiful furniture that will last, and enjoying taking the time to do it. Film photographers are lovingly and painstakingly taking the time to make beautiful photographs (well, hopefully to the photographer at least..). And more importantly, enjoying it.

P.s. You can see Paul Sellers’ website here.

usa today bananas

USA Today and old banana (the banana isn’t fake), Portland Oregon. Leica IIIf / Summitar 5cm

1 thought on “Why??

  1. art

    It’s the difference between crafting and manufacturing. Setting up power tools to cut mortise and tenon joints only saves time if you’re cutting a lot of them. With sharp tools and a bit of practice, one or two joints can be cut much more quickly by hand. A lot of woodworkers who try to think like manufacturers when they’re only making one table.

    Photography is no different. I’d rather be looking at the world than fiddling with equipment setup. The industrial workflow still only gets one print on the wall.

    Some days it’s nice to be able to take out the ear plugs.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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