Last week a gentleman who runs a local maker space invited me to teach some hand tool classes at the space. I was happy to have the discussion but we got hung up by a central question: How do you get students to the point at which they can produce something?
My own answer thus far as a teacher has been to teach classes in which the product is the skill itself. I teach classes in making dovetails, sharpening, installing hinges with hand tools, and so on.
I admire those who are developing schools teaching a class with a PRODUCT – and we’re offering an exciting one in June on building a collapsible shave horse, so I guess TFWW is also in this group – but these classes often highlight the tension between several contrasting human impulses.
As woodworkers, we feel making things, especially with our hands, is deeply satisfying. People also love learning new skills, and most people also enjoy the social aspects of learning in a group.
But we also have conflicting desires. The desire not to be the laggard, in danger of being left behind the group. The desire for instant or near-instant gratification. I want it now! And – crucially – our identities as consumers.
Nowadays shop class has been consigned to the dustbin of history for most people. Many students come to woodworking classes thirsting for the satisfaction of creation. Andrew Zoellner, the new editor of Popular Woodworking, wrote an inspiring call to arms, The Joy of Woodworking – Out on a Limb as his inaugural editorial. “We’re here to inspire people to make more of the stuff they have in their lives and to learn the virtues of craft,” he writes.
For those who make our livelihood from making stuff with our hands, or teaching others to make stuff with their hands, getting paid is also a challenge.
Hand tools teach us to be responsive to subtleties and ignore the pace of contemporary society. Tuning out competing fundamental needs is a much harder act — one I am still learning.
PS – My wife is actually the chief writer of this post. I am a lucky fellow in a bunch of ways, and at this moment grateful to be with someone who can turn a bunch of thoughts into a blog entry under deadline.
N.B. The pictures are of some spoons that TFWW’s Pate, who will be teaching the City Dweller’s Collapsible Shave Horse class, made on her shave horse.
This “Tools & Craft” section is provided courtesy of Joel Moskowitz, founder of Tools for Working Wood, the Brooklyn-based catalog retailer of everything from hand tools to Festool; check out their online shop here. Joel also founded Gramercy Tools, the award-winning boutique manufacturer of hand tools made the old-fashioned way: Built to work and built to last.