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Washington Desk Thoughts

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‘But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not faint.’

One of the things that has always bothered me concerning woodworking forums, magazines, etc. has been an overemphasis on the spiritual/metaphysical aspects of making furniture. If there is one quality that I despise in anybody, it is an overabundance of self-importance. A lot of people, too many people, tend to over-value themselves, and the things they make, in relation to how they think others should perceive it. I had mentioned in an earlier post a trip to Mount Vernon and how that trip was in many ways a spiritual experience for me. Others may visit Mount Vernon just because they enjoy the grounds, and others still may visit and feel nothing at all. So when it comes to the Washington Campaign Desk I recently completed, I am very much in the mindset that it is without a doubt my favorite project, yet I would not doubt that some may look at it and think to themselves: ‘big deal!’

Firstly, as far as woodworking projects go, this desk, for someone at my skill level, would probably be considered an intermediate level project. For a professional woodworker it would likely be considered a relatively simple build. It was not the most technically difficult project I’ve made. In fact, I can say in all honesty that I spent as much time milling the wood and cleaning up the resulting mess as I did on the actual woodworking involved in constructing the desk. One of the most time consuming individual aspects of the project was making and fitting the breadboard ends, and when I carelessly removed a chunk of the desktop with a shoulder plane I wound up removing the ends completely rather than attempt a shoddy repair. If the two plus hours I spent on the breadboard ends are removed from the equation, I probably have more time spent milling than woodworking.

As in all of my projects, I like to think that I become a little better woodworker and learn a little bit more every time I complete one. But I cannot assign any one particular “Eureka” moment when it came to the physical act of working the wood used in making this desk. Probably the most challenging aspect of the construction was sawing and shaping the ogee ends. At that, the job I did was just okay. I certainly learned something, and I certainly gained some experience, but I don’t feel any closer to the woodworking gods in doing so.

After re-reading these few paragraphs you might thing that I sound bitter, or even ungrateful. Rest assured, I am neither. As I said, this project is hands down my favorite, and it is possible that I may never build anything again that I like quite as much. Why? It is simple, really. I went to a museum and caught a brief glimpse of a piece of furniture that was likely used by a person who has very much guided me throughout my life, and I knew enough about woodworking to be able to construct a near-enough reproduction of that piece of furniture using only a memory and a photo. If there is any “spirituality” to be found, this is it. When I saw the desk I knew immediately that I had to make it. I experienced a unique moment of true inspiration. I wasn’t looking for it; it wasn’t forced; it just happened. And in my estimation, that is the essence of spirituality.

There is more of me in that desk than in any other piece of furniture I’ve made. It isn’t in the joinery, which is dadoes, bolts, and a few screws. It isn’t in the desktop, which quite frankly has a bit more “character” than I had hoped, or the drawers, which are made of basic home center poplar held together with some basic half-blind dovetails. It is something that can’t be seen by others, and I’m glad of that fact.

I could write ten more pages trying to explain my reasonings, but I’m not going to do that. Just know that when I look at that desk, I feel connected to something larger than myself. And I believe that when I finally use it, I will be inspired to be my best.

I don’t know if there is a “woodworking god” or not. But if there is, just for a brief moment as this desk was nearing completion, I believe that I saw His face

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4 Comments

  1. bobbarnettpe says:

    Good read. I understand but I can’t explain it either.

  2. bloksav says:

    Hi Bill

    Well written.
    Those things are hard to discuss and explain since they are not “measurable”. I think that there is a good chance that if it is a project that speaks to your imagination or very deep interests, there is a chance of becoming more involved in it.

    It is unlikely to happen in every project, because some projects are merely “solutions” Like when I repaired the gable of the machinery shed. It was just something that needed to be done, But I didn’t feel my soul being touched.

    On the other hand, the interior of the stable however crude it is made with rough sawn timbers is something that I feel a lot more connected to. I still enjoy looking at the joints of the timber and the overall feel of the space. And I guess that is because the function of the room is such an integrated part of our family life.

    So I hope that you will continue to be inspired every time you look at your beautiful desk, or sits by it.

    Brgds
    Jonas

    • billlattpa says:

      Thanks Jonas,
      Every time I write a post concerning “woodworking philosophy” I try to be somewhat careful in not overly offending somebody else’s point of view. At the same time, I don’t want to be afraid to speak my mind. I’ve always had an issue with woodworkers (and others) slapping some sort of spiritual label on everything they make and turning it into some sort of transcendental experience. To me, that cheapens it. As you said, when you repaired your gable, I’m sure you did the best job you could, and I’m sure that afterwards you were glad of your accomplishment, but that was where it ended. For instance, last week I repaired a leaky valve in a toilet tank. I was happy to know how to do it, and that I had the tools, but I did not feel some greater sense of purpose after doing so.

      I would assume that most of the people who woodwork, or work in metal or other mediums does so because they enjoy working with their hands and making things. I am no exception to that. I also feel that working with my hands makes me a better person, but in a personal sense. It does not make me better than other people. And I think that is where some woodworking writers and blogs have lost me. Woodworking in and of itself is not a spiritual act, and it does not automatically make you better than people who have no desire to build things.

      In the case of this desk, it was a pretty simple project, even for me, as far as the actual woodworking was concerned. Yet, no other project I’ve made has resonated more with me than this one. I cannot really explain the exact reasons why, because I don’t fully know the answers. As I said in the post, I only know that I was compelled, by something, to build this desk the moment I saw it. It was rare and unique moment of inspiration. I think there are few times in life that a person really experiences these moments, and even when we do we may not do anything about it. But this time, I did, and maybe that is why I feel the way I do.

      Bill

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