Series 2 Episode 2 – Mortise and Tenon #6

Issue 6 of Mortise and Tenon Magazine has one of my favorite articles of all time – Mike Updegraff’s excellent piece on the radical efficiency of green woodworking. In a first for the podcast I am reviewing a magazine, although I am sure that anyone who has read M&T will realize that it has more content than many books. I often return to this issue as it has so many thought provoking concepts in it that it is worth a re-read. As far as I am concerned this is the gold standard for a magazine. If you’d like to hear more, join me on my podcast today as I go through why in more detail.

The Lost Carving by David Esterly

Have you ever tried to carve a Celtic weave? Have you ever tried to carve a ball and claw foot? How about a bouquet of flowers sitting on top of a life-sized violin? 

I accept that I have some limitations in what I can do with wood. Generally this means minimizing the gaps in dovetail joints. However today’s podcast reviews the Lost Carving by David Esterly, and he had no such limitations – in fact it’s safe to say that his work is some of the most spectacular carving I have ever seen.

I think the narrative has two main areas of interest for me. The first is David’s journey from struggling student to master. It’s fascinating to understand how badly he wanted to surpass, understand, excel and match Gibbons work, and the realisations he had about art as he went along this route.

Whether its his begrudging acceptance of sharpening as something he had to do, or the experimentation with different woods, I would suggest that the the book has a resonance with any woodworker. And there are some great quotes and thoughts to go with the story. A favorite of mine was:

“at my own workbench I slowly graduated to different kinds of mistakes, The quality of my errors improved”

It reminds me in a way of Rogowski’s line of thought that you’re not working on the wood at the bench, you’re working on yourself. Which got me to thinking about the difference between quality and perfection. The book is full of ideas like this, that I think are worth pondering. In fact I’d go as far as to suggest you spread out the book over a few weeks of reading. Read a bit, stop at a logical point, and then spend some time mulling over the thoughts before progressing.It’s a bit like Krenov’s Cabinet Maker’s notebook in that regard. Take your time on the journey – it will reward a slow an careful reading.

If you’d like to listen to the full review, you can find it wherever you get your podcasts, or listen here:

Episode 29 – The Artisan of Ipswich (with Shannon Rogers)

The Artisan of Ipswich by Robert Tarule is a book that doesn’t pop up as often as The Joiner and Cabinetmaker – or the Village Carpenter, but for me it is one of the best historical books about wood and woodworking. I had the pleasure of interviewing Shannon Rogers (The Renaissance Woodworker) on the show and we had a great hour going through what makes this book so special.

This book was an incredible find for me relatively early in my hand tool career – I’d never read anything like it that focussed on Shop based research. It feels in many ways that this set the groundwork for Author’s such as Christopher Schwarz and more recently Joshua Klein. When I looked at the format of the Lost Art Press version of The  Joiner and Cabinet Maker it’s hard not to immediately think about The Artisan of Ipswich. So I feel in a way that this book by Robert Tarule helped shape the way of writing of some of the best woodworking authors.

I also found interesting in the book is the theme of how Thomas Dennis was likely to solve problems in a specific manner which was a result of his apprenticeship in a long tradition. This struck a chord with me as in one way, learning from indirect experience minimizes errors, but at the other extreme, its only practical experimentation and repetition that develops our skills. It seems to me that one of the downsides of the internet, is that while it allows beginners access to a range of material – really the only way to get good at techniques is to do them. And to do lots of them. It feels sometimes that there is so much obsession with doing things the best way, rather than getting on with things and learning to do it well “any way”.

Whenever I read historical accounts I am reminded that a joiner in the 17th century had to work fast. The ways of doing things efficiently were hard-wired into his head, so work was repeatable, and accomplished almost without thought. I often hear how hand tools are “slow”, but my experience has been different. I find that doing different things quickly is very possible with hand tools. This past weekend I had lunch with a friend of a friend, and he found out I was a woodworker. He mentioned they were doing a team building and he needed some tools, one thing led to another and he was looking at pictures of my tool room. And he was a bit taken aback at the lack of power. Turns out he wants to strip a bunch of pallets and make some benches. I reckon if we raced on one or two maybe 3 benches I’d beat him with a saw, plane, hammer and some nails. Possibly beyond this he would gain an edge on me – but frankly I have no desire to make 4 benches for my house. 

If you want to hear more Shannon’s history and learning from his work at the Steppingstone Museum, and why I believe this book is one any woodworker would benefit from reading, you can listen to the full podcast here:

Episode 23 and 24 – Talking Tools with Brad

To tie in with the review of hand tool books, Brad and I work through 3 tool lists discussing some of the advice and tools we wish we had heard when we were starting out in hand tools. I’ve also put together a list with approximate costs – you can view it here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1LS8QRl9ltqcfWcQ7cuicpRmO6qhZqB_X3OoVo2N_mrA/edit?usp=sharing