9 boxes various wood combinations 5"x9"x3"

Spending Time

So there we were, a whole flock of woodworkers, intently listening to the inspired words
Masur birch, imbuya sold
of a very well-known craftsman, in his very impressive workshop.

Many attending this seminar were weekend woodworkers, do-it-yourselfers, or hobbyists, there to glean whatever knowledge they could from a true master.

Potent learning opportunity, indeed!



English brown oak, curly sycamore $300

He spoke with authority about planes and saws and chisels, how to cut dovetails, how to sharpen edge tools, holding forth on subjects simple to sublime. A practiced lecturer with a commanding persona that demanded our attention, commenting with pride on his extensive experience and expertise, he demonstrated techniques, told anecdotes, entertained and educated his rapt audience.

But then he started to talk about how you should be in the shop, about "pace", and the need to work efficiently so you could produce quality results in a timely, professional manner. "Don't dawdle," he admonished, "get the work finished. Work with a purpose..."

Spalted apple, curly maple $300
That's where he lost me.

Having spent a fair number of years in professional cabinet shops, I knew what he was talking about. You don't dawdle in a shop. You keep moving, keep going. Mentally and physically. It's business. You're there to make a living! There's little time for reflection, curiousity, amusement.


There were shops where you were not allowed to sit down and if you happened to do so(and it wasn't lunchtime) you were summarily fired.

Avodire, verawood sold

But what's appropriate in one circumstance is silly in another. I couldn't help thinking that his exhortations were misguided. Why would you want to work like that in your own shop? What would be the point? So you could deliver that spice rack to your wife quicker? Fashion that toy truck for your son faster? Are you really that pressed for time? Is that the best way to spend it?


Paduak, yellowheart $300

No, I think not. Dawdling, as far as I'm concerned, has considerable merit. Lounging and relaxing and meditating on the vagaries of wood and craft are all perfectly reasonable pursuits meriting serious attention. And, it's easy. Just find some odd little non-productive, enjoyable things to do. Then do them.

Good for your work. Better for your soul.

That's not to say you should never be productive. But don't overestimate it. You don't want to get crushed by all those things you make...

An example:

Goncalo alves, black palm $300
There's this chisel I have. It was made by a famous Japanese blacksmith (now deceased) in Kaku-uchi (box) style. I think it's beautiful and I cherish it. There are personal touches about it, especially where the mei is (the mei is incised brand or symbol that signifies the maker's name). There's some sort of brushing to create the field where the mei is carved into the steel. It's just very nice. (There's a picture of it at the bottom of this page.)

Anyway, I sharpen it quite frequently. Always try to do the best job I can. A series of grits - 1000, 2000, 5000, 8000, 15000 Shapton waterstones, then a natural waterstone - Nakayama Maruka Kiita - to bring up (down?) kasumi - the so-called cloudiness, and then Nakayama Asagi, to build that strange soft sheen. When I'm done it kind of glows.

I'm not sure how sharp it is. Sharp enough, I guess.

English burr oak, pink ivory sold

This is done every two weeks or so, and it takes 15-20 minutes (or more, depends on how much concentrated dawdling I want to get in) each time. You might ask why it's done on a schedule. Shouldn't it be sharpened when it's dull?

Very astute observation. And you're right. I don't sharpen chisels until they're dull. But this one is never dull.


Wenge, pernambuco $300

Because I never use it.

Explaining why I don't use it would be an exercise in futility. It's not because it's worth a lot of money (it is) and I'm afraid I'll ruin it in some way (I won't). I have several of this maker's chisels; use them all the time. And I'm not trying to save it so it won't be used up (repeated sharpenings inevitably use up a chisel, though it might take a very, very long time.)


Oasge orange, spalted apple $300

Let's just say "It's symbolic."

But you might insist. "Why spend so much time sharpening a chisel you never use?"

And I would reply...

Because it's Time, well spent.