I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from stepping into the street and methodically knocking people’s hats off–then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.
This blog, it may be said, is an account of my going to sea, metaphorically. Never mind that going to sea is also my going to sea. Woodworking, carpentry, joinery, these will be to me as whaling was to dear Ishmael. And like Ishmael, I embark as a neophyte. What I know I know from books (poor devil of a sub-sub librarian, I know your haunts.) There are no brains in my fingers yet for this work. I know some of the small legends of the tradition, and I’ve followed the writing of masters and tried my hand at putting their advice into practice. But I’m a landlubber setting out to sea, and happy to go out, just to see what there is out there in this wide world.
So today I went to visit a master and his son (who perhaps is in his journeyman years). Roger Holmes is now retired, but ran a cabinet shop in Lincoln, Nebraska. He also was an author and editor for Fine Woodworking magazine through the seventies and eighties. And he gave me a gracious and enthusiastic welcome. His son Joseph (good name for a carpenter) is about my age, and trying to find a way to support the furniture making that he cares about. We talked briefly about how difficult it is for him to make a living doing work that he really believes in; his plan is to do production cabinetry for a living, and in the off time build and design furniture.
Their shop was lovely, a mix of handtools and machinery. When I entered, Roger was ripping oak on the table saw for stained glass window frames. They only recently moved in here, downsizing from a much larger space. They kept apologizing for the things in storage and the chaos, it looked pretty good to me. In the back room was an office filled with woodworking books, and a large metal tool chest full of all manner of planes, saws, moulding planes, a chain mortiser, offcuts of naturally fallen redwood, and Joe’s lovely Dutch style chest. I’ll definitely be back asking them questions, soaking up wisdom, and observing how the professionals engage in this trade in earnest.
It helped drive off the hypos a bit. But today was a hard day.