Is a college professor any smarter than a skilled furniture maker?
A lot of ink has been spilled over Google’s plan to digitize many thousands of books and make them available for free. I won’t take a position on that here, but I will say I was tickled to page through an 1883 issue of Amateur Mechanics magazine, available for free at Google books.
It is amazing how little has changed in our craft, including our need to remind the world that not all intelligence is picked up in a classroom or a book. A woodworking friend pointed me to this essay, on page 186 of Volume 1. An anonymous author observes:
“The average “educated” man assumes a superiority over his mechanic brother of the shop that is in a large degree a false assumption, inasmuch as knowledge is only comparative.”
And strikes back with a telling blow:
“Emerson holds that no man can be called ignorant, the most illiterate man having observant faculties. Nay, more; his very lack of book knowledge sharpens his observation.”
I agree with Ralph Waldo (Emerson). With a graduate degree in American Lit., as well as a number of years in a machine shop, and more as an amateur woodworker, I’ve been on both sides of the fence. I know that book knowledge can be as much a stumbling block as a stepping stone. And woodworkers are some of the most powerful, creative problem-solvers that I’ve ever met, with a deep and direct understanding of the world around them.
The anonymous essayist continues:
“A musician cannot speak half a dozen sentences without bringing in his ” staccato,” ” pianissimo,” ” over tones,” ” crescendo,” ” diminuendo,” ” harmonics,” etc. … A chemist must clothe his thoughts in HOa and “chloride of sodium,” even when speaking of common things. So it is that every specialist, being wedded to his methods and technology, unconsciously, perhaps, helps to build the Chinese wall, shutting in knowledge much higher than ever by means of his secret cipher.
How often has the remark been made, ” Oh, that’s too deep for me!” The chief trouble lies at the outset in mastering the phraseology of each and every individual science. The bare facts are not such mysterious things when one gets the nut cracked open.”
That last phrase reads like a mission statement for FWW magazine!
The entire essay is worth reading, and if you page down through the issues of the magazine, you’ll find wonderful articles on joinery, workbench design, projects, and on and on. The authors are long gone now, but I wish I could sit down and talk with each one of them. I’ll bet we would get along famously.