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whyimake slices of zen

Among the goals of the #WhyIMake campaign (from Infosys Foundation USA) is to inspire people to make things with their hands, to spread the importance of maker skills and to share resources for doing so. It began as a foundation aimed toward encouraging children and K-12 educators of underrepresented groups, and has grown into a celebration of the maker movement at large. Among well-known people with whom the foundation has partnered to get out the message are Adam Savage and Nick Offerman (see his new #WhyIMake video below) – and you can join them.

Why do you make? Post on any social media platform with the hashtag #WhyIMake, or post your story on the WhyIMake site, and share your story.

Mine, from the August 2017 issue of the magazine, is below.

A Thin Slice of Zen
don’t remember the exact year, but it was not too long after I’d joined the Popular Woodworking staff that I drove to Indianapolis for what was my first Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event. It was likely the spring of 2006 or 2007, and I’d but recently become semi-proficient in my sawing skills. I know I’d graduated to at least “marginally acceptable,” because Christopher Schwarz, who was editor at the time, allowed me to use his Precious (a.k.a. his Eccentric Toolworks saw) – as long as I was under his direct supervision.

Andrew Lunn (owner and maker of Eccentric saws) was at that show, too, and we were using one of his carcase saws in a heated contest to see who could slice the thinnest and most consistent piece from the end of a stick of hardwood. (I think it was maple, though I’d not bet my cats on it.)

As I recall, Jameel Abraham, Deneb Puchalski and Chris were in the running (I was more than slightly off the leaders’ pace). But then a show visitor stepped up, calmly picked up the tool and proceeded to slice off a darn-near translucent piece. It looked almost like a shaving from a smooth plane – the clear winner.

Chris asked him, “What kind of furniture do you like to make” (or something along those lines), but the man said he’d never made any furniture, or even used a handplane or chisel. “I just saw.” Cutting wood was his therapy – his daily moments of Zen.

While most of us who like to make sawdust probably aren’t quite that married to the use of but a single tool, I’m guessing “therapy” or “relaxation” figures significantly in the reasons we do it (if perhaps not quite as much if you’re a professional woodworker).

I got started like so many others because I wanted custom furniture but couldn’t afford to buy it. I was working for a woodworking magazine, after all – why not learn how to do it myself? So I did (with the generous help of skilled and patient teachers, combined with a goodly dollop of stubbornness and lots of practice).

While there was (and still is) great satisfaction in having made pretty much exactly what I wanted in the perfect size for its intended spot in my house, what I’ve discovered is that the true pleasure in designing and building furniture is not the finished piece so much as it is the time spent in the shop using tools to create.

I enjoy cutting crisp, tight joints, and the susurrus of a freshly sharpened plane against the wood. And for me, there is no better therapy or way to work out my daily frustrations than whacking the end of a chisel with a mallet (with the possible exception of whaling on a plaster wall with a sledgehammer…but the cleanup is horrid). And the money that I save on psychologist sessions I can spend on more wood and tools.

I wonder now if that unparalleled sawyer in Indianapolis has since picked up a handplane and chisel to begin building. But I also wonder if it matters. The satisfaction comes most in the doing, not the having done.  PWM

— Megan Fitzpatrick
from the August 2017 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine

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Showing 4 comments
  • mysticcarver

    He hits all the same points I think of when I make. As for myself I also must say there is something inside of me that just has an overwhelming NEED to make things. I sometimes don’t even know why I am making the thing I am working on. Be it a piece of art or a piece of furniture I just have a desire to make it.
    Sounds almost to weird to put into words I think.

  • wonkothesane

    Nick Offerman’s giggle is a national treasure. There will probably be a movie about Nicolas Cage searching the wilds of the Black Hill’s for that giggle.

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