Some thoughts on working with wood
Synopsis: “Wood, … very personal and elusive, is almost a way of living.” An excerpt from James Krenov’s A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook offers a pure glimpse of his thoughts on woodworking, his philosophies surrounding it, and how he came to do it. This piece is a collection of literary snapshots of his ideas on how hand tools are the only option for those who care for wood and who feel that finished pieces are unique and artistic expressions of labor, not just machined matched products.
It’s always a little difficult for me to begin talking about wood because it is usually a matter of looking at it in one of two ways. One way is a generality, as just a material that we make things of—and that for me, is too wide, shallow, and impersonal. But there are people for whom wood and working with wood is not simply a profession but a very intimate thing: the relationship between the person and the material, and how they are doing it. I mean how they are doing it in the most intimate detailed sense; the relationship between wood and the tools that they use, between their feelings, their intuitions, and their dreams. Wood, considered that way, is to me alive.
I always think of wood as being alive. I grew up in primitive places, in the North where there were many legends and the supposition that some objects were animated and alive with a spirit of their own. Sometimes, when I work, this creeps into the atmosphere: the sense that maybe the wood and the tools are doing, and want to do, something which is beyond me, a part of me, but more than I am. And I don’t want to ask too many questions about this. I note…