I read this essay
in the New York Times recently (actually one very similar to it...this one popped up when I looked for the original). Francis Fukuyama's review of the book from which the essay is distilled ("Shop Class as Soulcraft") is good too. There has been ample criticism of the author, including his privileged position as someone with training both as a knowledge worker and skilled trades person who has the luxury of romanticizing the latter, but I like what he relates about working with your hands...it's true that anytime I've faced "knowledge worker" burnout the cure has been something manual, either farming for a summer or making something with my hands.
Ever since a sunburn-induced desire to create my own sunglasses (something that happened last summer), I've felt pulled to look at everyday objects we take for granted, how they're made, and to learn something about the production process for myself. My latest project (and first real wood working experience, beyond creating a bunk bed/desk combination for myself in university) was a rocking chair I made over the holidays for my girlfriend. There is something meditative about connecting a series of tangible steps into the creation of a final form or product.
Making the chair required driving around my hometown, looking for salvageable wood in the orchards and woods (I went with cherry and pine), buying second hand tools I knew nothing about, and suddenly looking very closely at the shape of every chair I came across. My approach was without plans or measurement and so the final product was very organic...but that to me was part of the beauty of the exercise, deciding how pieces of wood would fit together by feel...in that respect making this chair reminded me of the writing process I undertake in my job as a writer and communications strategist, playing with words and fashioning symbols to convey meaning
Another special thing that happened along the way in producing this chair was the new body of knowledge and interest that suddenly allowed me to relate with my 60+ year old neighbor in ways I hadn't previously. Turns out he has an amazing wood working shop in his basement...something I wouldn't have known about or appreciated previously, and he lent me some clamps when it came time to glue the chair.
Friends and family were happy to lend their opinions and ideas as the form began to materialize and I also had a great conversation with my Boppa who's father (my great grandfather) was the town blacksmith in a small prairie town in Saskatchewan. As the man responsible for fixing wagon wheels, he also worked with wood and used some of the same tools I bought to make the chair, including a drawknife. Was neat to feel connected to tools and crafts my ancestors used "way back when."
Long story short, I definitely recommend "Hobby Holidays," and I've since acquired a 4.5 foot chunk of beautiful cedar (found it washed ashore on Denman Island over New Years), as well as some arbutus wood that looks perfect for legs, I'm hoping to carve and make a nice solid bench. Let me know if you hear about any good wood working co-ops in Vancouver.
What kind of work do you do with your hands?