Innocence and Consequence

May 27, 2009
Innocence. Isn’t it lovely to behold? So unburdened, so light, so free. In the beholding of it are we not reminded of those days when we were once young, once innocent? Fresh. Free from knowledge, the forbidden fruit. Innocence.

I think of young woodworkers, new woodworkers, like I once used to be. New to the tools and machines and how they worked. Those large and frightful machines, how powerful they were. But how did you use them without being impaled or not lose digits to them? And those quiet and small hand tools, those dull companions to the noise and speed of my power tools, what were they all about? They looked like fun, but what did some of them even do? In those days, I could master none of these tools.

Innocence comes to mind when I think of new students in the Studio as well. How they’ll be in the shop and wonder at all the stuff there is inside: the machines, the jigs, the tools, the clamps and forms and holders and helpers. And how it must seem to these newcomers that everything should just work here. Pull a switch and the work will be done. It will somehow magically appear. Jigs will always work properly, machines will never need setting up, and tuning, well you tune an instrument, not a tool. It will all work just so.

Innocence. So lovely and so unburdened with knowledge.

Consequence. Consequence is the teacher of course in the shop. It is the cure for innocence. For everything you do in the shop will have consequence for you. Yes things are supposed to work right but things change you know. Jigs can stop working. Set-ups can move. You can push so hard on a template that you can deflect its shape. If you mill up the wood badly, then it will be harder for you to cut your joints accurately. If the joints aren’t accurate, they will look wrong or the piece will go together crooked. Consequence. If the jig stops working then your cuts will come out wrong, if you push too hard on a set-up, it may move on you and ruin a board. Lumber may warp as you cut it, or it may be cut too short, several times. These days are frustrations and mysterious to the newcomer. Shouldn’t everything be immutable in the shop. Unchangeable, constant, fixed?

Ah innocence. It’s so lovely to behold.

And let me say that it’s not just newbies who suffer from this affliction of boundless belief. This faith that everything will stay right because then it will be good and aren’t we here to be doing good and so shouldn’t the tools treat us well and do good work for us and stay good? Don’t we grizzled crusty veterans feel the same way? Shouldn’t that tool continue to work as always? Shouldn’t the stop have remained where it was and not moved and ruined my work? Shouldn’t the clamp not have fallen right onto the piece but onto the dullard’s foot who placed the clamp? Isn’t the universe, now that I am in the shop, on my side you wail?

No.

People act in the shop as if they’re is no consequence to their actions. that if they continue to overtighten a screw thread it will never strip. Or if they drill on the drill press with vigor, with extra vigor, with supreme vigor and then don’t tighten the table down or don’t watch it as they work, that the table won’t move. No. It will move. It will break, it will do these things unless we pay attention to the consequences of our actions.

This is of course the curse and the attraction of woodworking. The consequence of one’s actions. You can see what you do. You can see the triumphs; you can see the mistakes. A pile of one or the other after a day’s work. What you’ve done right or what you’ve done wrong. Consequence. It follows all of our actions. Pay attention to your work and the consequences will keep you out of the unpainted corner and near the doorway. Ignore the consequences of your work and find yourself counting steps to the nearest exit. Me, I’ll just clean up my footprints on the way out.

Gary Rogowski is the Director of The Northwest Woodworking Studio. Visit us at www.northwestwoodworking.com.

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Published in: on May 28, 2009 at 8:20 am  Leave a Comment