Thoughts on woodworking and the art of growing up with Zen.
By Wilbur Pan
Because I’m of Chinese descent, it’s probably not a surprise that I found myself drawn to Japanese tools when I started woodworking, and that I wanted to learn how they worked and how they were used. At first this was frustrating. Part of the issue was that I don’t speak or read Japanese at all. But a bigger hurdle for me was that many of the sources I found spent a lot of time talking about the Zen of using Japanese tools, and there was much talk about how this method of woodworking was shrouded by Eastern mysticism and philosophy.
I found it curious that there was so much talk about Zen and Japanese woodworking. After all, articles about 18th-century woodworking seem to avoid (for the most part) discussing Voltaire, Locke and Goethe. The thing is, despite the obvious interest of others in the Asian worldview and how it impacted the use of these tools, I wasn’t interested in that aspect of Japanese woodworking at all. I just wanted to learn how Japanese tools worked, and my feeling was that despite the obvious differences between Japanese and Western woodworking tools, at the end of the day it all came down to sharp pieces of steel cutting through wood – and that was the level of understanding that I was trying to get to.