Wednesday, January 23, 2008

9:08 AM on a Wednesday

First post.


My name is James Watriss, and this is my blog. I'm a custom furniture builder, and aspiring woodworking author. In coming months there will be content here on the furniture I build, and at some point, there will be companion blogs that talk about the details of woodworking techniques, and the content of the upcoming book.

In essence, the three separate threads will expound on philosophy, practice, and education, because I see these as the three pillars of my business. The philosophy guides my work. The work is the physical manifestation of that philosophy. And writing about what I do, and what I've learned, will hopefully contribute to the craft, and to a wider community.

About me:

I graduated Boston's North Bennet Street School about a year ago. I spent some time in a shop with other woodworkers, and moved out last July, and opened the doors of James Watriss Designs last August. The first few months were spent in getting set up, and working around delays in getting set up, and now the shop is ready, and it's time to bring the word to the people. I'm in business!

About the woodwork:

North Bennet Street School (NBSS from here on) is a very intense place to go to school, with emphasis on hand skills, machine know-how, and not settling for simple, boring work. I have a passion for beautiful wood, and fine design, but the fuel for the fire lies in the design process, and figuring out how to get all the elements to come together in the shop. Cutting dovetails is fun, fitting joinery together is rewarding, but no two projects are ever the same, and every one is a puzzle.

North Bennet taught me several things, but the most important lesson I came away with was this: A good artisan makes the best use of any tool at his disposal. Anyone can push wood across a table saw. And as technology has advanced, it's been shown that anyone can push a button on a CNC machine, too. But not everyone can come up with an idea worth building, or replicating. And not everyone can design a process to bring that idea into the living, breathing, material world. Automated and powered tools have demonstrated the ability to duplicate, but not necessarily to create, or to have an eye for art. It's equally possible for someone to make ugly, misshapen things on a CNC machine, with equal speed. It takes more than production capacity to make something beautiful.

About my writing, and desire to teach:

I can expound at length about the deficiencies of modern education in the US. I can offer opinions on our ability as a country to produce some of the highest level technology in the world, and our inability to produce a comparable number of trained and competent engineers. I can lament the downfall of shop and art classes in schools, and the inevitable lack of hands-on learning that has resulted. Mathematics is taught in a vacuum, separate from the Physical Sciences that math was designed to describe and explain. And science in schools has been placed paradoxically in opposition to faith.

All of these are reasons to be concerned, but discontent and despair are not reasons to teach. There's really only one reason that makes sense, and matters to me:

Woodworking is fun. And the process of making things is rewarding.

Evolution has gifted us with a brain, and opposable thumbs, and an inherent desire to create and make tools. It doesn't matter if you're renovating your house, or working with napkins and sugar packets to take the tip out of a cafe table: The ability to work with our hands is the grace that allows us to improve our lives, and make our world a better place. Thousands of years ago, humankind started with rocks and fire, and learned how to make metal. Now we have airplanes and cell phones and skyscrapers and computers. Maybe you're the next Frank Lloyd Wright. Or maybe you're just trying to get the silverware drawer in your kitchen to slide smoothly. There's something satisfying about working with your hands, especially when it can make your day to day life a little bit better.

But not everyone knows how. Many of us were taught that some of the most fundamental implements, and anything with a sharp edge, are not useful; they're scary and dangerous and have no place in schools. There's a dearth of information, and a fair amount of disinformation. (Boy is that an oxymoron) And that's getting in the way of people doing things that are fun and rewarding.

I want to change that.



Hyperbole and lovely rhetoric are all fine and good, but for the purposes of this blog, this is only day one. There's a lot to do, and a lot to write, and while I could do this all day, I have work to get done.

It's now 10:28 on a Wednesday, and I'm signing off.

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