Why do you work wood?
Over the past few weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about why I like to make furniture. And I’ve come to realize that what I find appealing is that woodworking allows me to be creative, and that wood is a wonderful medium for artistic expression. I’ll explain what I mean in greater detail, but before I do that I’d like to explain something.
What I’m about to say is not meant to be critical of those who don’t agree with me. There are many reasons to work wood and make furniture. And there are many ways to take pleasure from the craft. I’m going to explain my personal perspective. It doesn’t invalidate yours. So, I’m only explaining why I love making furniture, not passing judgment on why you do. As a matter of fact, I’d love to hear why you like to make furniture (and I bet others would, too), so let me know in the comments below.
I thought about all the stuff involved with furniture making: designing furniture, finding and picking lumber, milling, joinery, finishing, tool maintainence, buying tools, learning technique, etc. I realized that I enjoy all of these things, but not to the same degree. And some have nothing to do with what motivates me to make furniture. For example, I really enjoy using handtools, but I would still make furniture if they weren’t available to me. And I don’t make furniture so that I can use handtools. (I use them so I can make furniture–the making is more important to me). And I’m not too worried about technique. What I mean is that when push comes to shove, I don’t care how I get something done. I just want to get it done and get it done well. In the end, whether I cut my dovetails by hand, by power, or by some combination of the two doesn’t really matter to me as long as they look good and the joint is strong.
And while I was thinking about technique, I realized that I choose how to cut joints, make parts, etc. based on the piece of furniture I’m making. I design my pieces without any regard for how it’s all going to go together. When I’m happy with the design I start figuring out the joinery and how I’ll cut it. Sometimes handtools and traditional joinery are best. Other times I pull out the vacuum bag, flexible plyood, and veneer. And if I don’t quite know how to pull something off, I figure it out. I don’t want tools, technique and materials to limit what I make. So, part of what pulls me to furniture making is that I want to create beautiful objects. And truthfully, if all my work didn’t result in attractive and useful furniture, I’d be tremendously disappointed.
At the same time, I do enjoy the process of making furniture. I enjoy cutting dovetails by hand. I enjoy smoothing wood with a No. 4 handplane. I enjoy shaping parts at the bandsaw. Hell, I even enjoy milling lumber. And I love going to the lumber yard (or some backwoods sawyer’s place) to pick out lumber. I love tools, both using them and talking about them. The act of creating with woodworking tools is wonderful and it gives me great satisfaction.
What does that all mean? I think it means that I love creating and expressing my artistic vision. Wood is my chosen medium. Perhaps in parallel universes I’m a painter and a poet (probably bad ones), but in this one I’m a furniture maker. That’s how I express myself. That’s why I do it: to give physical form to my understanding of beauty (which involves both physical attractiveness and utility). And that trumps everything else for me. I might not be very good at it, but it does give me great satisfaction and reaffirms the fact that I’m not just another animal.
So, that’s why I make furniture. Why do you?
PS: I’m sure that to some of you, I sound like a flake, but what do you expect from a guy who spent most of his life studying and teaching philosophy?