I hear the following comments on a regular basis. They usually come out on the second day of a workshop or seminar where I’m teaching a group of woodworkers. It goes like this,
“Last night after dinner I pulled my car off the road and sat for twenty minutes looking at the old _________ (courthouse, post office, library, etc, etc). It was like I really saw it for the first time!”
Or I hear, “Up until now I knew what I liked and didn’t like but couldn’t put my finger on it, now the cloud is lifting and I’m beginning to see things in a new way.”
When I hear those words expressed my immediate thought is, welcome to a new phase in your woodworking apprenticeship. You’ve begun opening up your eyes and training your design sense. We don’t have any printed curriculums which explain how the masters handed down knowledge to apprentices. No doubt there were many months providing grunt labor doing menial tasks. Cutting thousands of dovetails till the skill became ingrained or the ability to prepare rough stock at blistering speed. At some point the apprentice was introduced to the world of design. Traditionally, furniture building was one of the smaller planets revolving around the center which was architecture. It’s not hard to imagine a promising apprentice making sketches of interesting buildings and architectural features when the opportunity presented itself.
The ability to design is what sets master apart from journeyman. It’s exciting to cut that first really tight dovetail or turn a crisp spindle on the lathe. I hope that satisfaction never goes away. Yet, training the eye and learning to design opens up a whole new ocean in your woodworking world. It’s hard to put into words. It’s some powerful new kind of air to breath when your eye, mind, and hands come together and the ideas start to blossom.
I’ll be out on the west coast this August for a weeklong workshop on furniture design at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking. It will be one of those weeks where you have the opportunity to enter a new phase in your woodworking apprenticeship. We’ll devote a week focused on training the eye. No doubt you’ll be late for class one morning because you lost track of time absorbed in thought while gawking at a building for the first time.
For information about the class you can click here.
George R. Walker