Thursday, May 29, 2008

Force vs. Sensitivity

One of the constant themes that I think about and teach is the direct ratio between the amount of force exerted and the actual control and sensitivity one experiences using handtools. It is a common reaction when unsure of a tool or situation to apply the deathgrip, hold your breath and plow headlong into the task. Generally, the user, the tool and the wood suffer.
The problem is that most often, excessive force comes at the expense of the fluid motion and the vital feedback from the vibrations of the tool.

While working with Stacy Forte, it has been fun observing the ways in which good technique can easily overcome brute force. I have often observed that women woodworkers do well because they don't initially rely on force to get them through unknown situations.
In her hands, I more often see the tool come to a dead stop, as opposed to taking a chunk out of the wood. Then she reassesses and proceed to change up the technique, perhaps skewing the blade, slicing or cutting across the fibers to get the results.

It is a great lesson as both a teacher and woodworker to focus on technique overcoming strength. As I get older, and the realization that my body is a not an endless resource becomes more apparent, I am as interested as much in how something is achieved as what is achieved. A graceful process or technique is as appealing as a graceful chair.

Speaking of graceful, my springtime obsession is my trees. Besides my woods, I have been actively working to populate the hayfield that I live in with new trees. I plant out 3 or 4 fruit trees a year and a couple of shade trees. Here is a sugar maple in its third year since planting. I may not live long enough to make syrup from it, but as I drive in our rural area and see all the sugar maples planted along the roads, I am reminded that it's my contribution to the next generation. Something about this makes being finite less stressful.

This year, I have been using these tree protectors to surround some of the volunteer maples that show up in my field before the deer can munch them. It is the easiest form of tree planting I do. Find a tiny sprout, drive a stake, and cover it. The shield is both protection and a micro climate that extends the growing season. Pretty good for 2 bucks a piece. I get them through my local forestry association.

Here is a little sprout. As much as the chairs I make, I hope this little plant will be my legacy to the future. If ever there was a graceful process...


Anonymous said...

Eric Sloane talks about the important of trees in my favorite book, "A Reverance For Wood". A good read. As wood workers we should all make a habit of planting a few trees each year.

Bob Glenn

Anonymous said...

Peter, thumbs up on the trees and of course on your tremendous work and incredible blog! I have been away from Internet for several weeks and just got caught up on your beautiful settee. I am wondering if you have any pictures of the settee in black, as I would very much like to see the settee in the original black and final green finish side by side. Do you think it might be instructive to show how the different finishes didn't and did "work" on the piece? Thanks for your consideration, and excellent job by you. (Good heavens, those studio photos were amazing!)