One-on-One with Tage FridA talk with the old master
Synopsis: Fine Woodworking’s John Kelsey interviewed Tage Frid as he was nearing retirement from the Rhode Island School of Design. Frid explains how he keeps teaching the same techniques fresh by solving students’ new problems.. He talks about his formula for setting prices and how he avoids being snobbish and why having a big shop, with eight people working for him, gave him an ulcer. A side article provides a biography of this well-known woodworker and teacher.
I crane to see over the crowd as this short, ruddy and cylindrical man explains, in charmingly fractured English, what he is about to do. He will saw and chisel a dovetailed corner, four copies of which could make a box or drawer. The people seem to find the handcut dovetail a wondrous thing, and this man’s method is as intriguing as his results: to saw down a measly inch of wood, he hefts a bowsaw the size of your car door. He doesn’t hurry, though this won’t take long, talking and joking the whole time. The bits of wood will slither together right off the saw, all please applaud. And if not, he’ll segue onto track B: how to repair mistakes using your old claw hammer.
This showman is Tage Frid, Danish for 69 years, cabinetmaker for 50 and teacher for 35. He’s done the dovetail act a hundred times, he knows that this crowd of amateur woodworkers loves it, can’t get enough. He’s what they traveled here this weekend to see and what they hope to carry home again. What they get what Frid delivers, is a direct line to ancient times, when craftsmen really-by-golly were craftsmen Those old guys—and there’s no doubting Frid is one such—those old guys knew what they were doing, because still older craftsmen had taught them how to work with tools and wood. We can feel the chain unbroken unto antiquity. It’s practically religious—we touch the hem of the master’s robe, go home fulfilled. Still, I’ve seen Frid’s act a halfdozen times and I’m bored. As I wander away, I wonder how Frid can stand to carry on. Later, I visit Frid at his home and I get the chance to ask:
Don’t you get bored demonstrating the same old dovetail?
Maybe you left too early. I always demonstrate difficult joints and techniques depending on what the audience wants. The dovetail is just the overture, so it doesn’t really bother me. What I like about teaching is, I learn something new every day. A student asks me, “Why can’t I do it this way?” and I think, “Why not?” Then we figure it out.
That’s college students, these are hobbyists.
Oh yeah. A lot of professionals, doctors and engineers. I can’t imagine being a dentist, with my hands in people’s mouths all day. I would need to do something else, to work with my hands on something that wasn’t breathing. I enjoy helping people who really want to do woodworking but never had the chance. Spend a two-week summer workshop with them, all of a sudden they’re making furniture. It’s like Christmas for them, and that’s my payoff. Plus, I meet a lot of nice people.
From Fine Woodworking #52
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