At one of the woodworking schools where I teach there is a quote hanging on the wall that has always bugged me a bit. I’ll paraphrase it:
In 100 years, people will only care WHAT you did, not HOW you did it.
Whenever I read that quote, all I can think about what the first time I visited the unrestored Whitewater Shaker village several years ago. The curators were kind enough to give the staff of Popular Woodworking a tour of the buildings and the furniture.
So Glen Huey, Bob Lang and I were looking at a Shaker blanket chest in one corner and one of us lifted the lid. The first thing Glen did was to run his hand down the inside front wall of the chest. He smiled when he felt the scallops left behind from the maker’s handplane.
“I always do that,” he said.
As I’ve said before here on this blog, everything we make is completely covered in tool marks. Your handplane leaves a discernable mark, as does a random-orbital sander. An HVLP system leaves a tool mark – a perfect film finish. Rottenstone? Toolmark. A brown paper bag? Ditto.
Furniture is more than just a form, more than tight joints, more than beautiful wood. It is also texture, and that texture is not always glass smooth. I love the wave-like fore plane marks on the undersides of drawers, on backs and under tabletops. I like them more than a flawless tabletop.
When I sit in a handmade chair, I feel under the arms for marks from a gouge or a chisel. When I find the mark of a person, I like the chair more.
Of course, there are idiots who take this all too far. They beat up their furniture with bicycle chains and attack it with a Dremel, pretending to be a wood-crazed worm. They bury the furniture in dung or dirt and burn it with torches.
You might like this. I am indifferent to it.
I like furniture that says: I made this piece of furniture with a certain set of tools. I made it look as good as I could with those tools. No fakery. And no imitating a CNC machine.
If you think I am pooping on flawless perfection, you aren’t quite following my point here. If you like that texture, then go for it. But realize that seamless and smooth isn’t the apogee of craftsmanship. It is just one of them.
— Christopher Schwarz
If you like texture, no one has more than Roy Underhill. His show, “The Woodwright’s Shop,” celebrates the marks left behind by our tools. And no one carries more Roy Underhill videos and books than ShopWoodworking.com. You can see it all here.
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