My Best Tools are Made of Paper

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My Best Tools are Made of Paper

WThe work is, all at once, frustrating, euphoric, challenging and just plain stupid. It combines the elements of design, vision, accuracy, artistic intent and manual dexterity like no other research I have found.

Just the moment you believe you’ve mastered a portion of its range, you look up from the pinnacle you’ve reached to see higher peaks taunting you in the distance, and you know you’ll need to step up your game to reach them.

There are several paths to reach those ever-increasing heights of results. I found mine through another wooden product: paper or, more correctly, books. Old books. Some carpenters collect antique or unique tools, but to me they are books and I believe I get infinitely more practical use from my collection.

I’m not sure when the change happened. I have never been a good student and although I have always enjoyed reading, I have never been interested in studying in any school subject. I relied on an “either I get it or not” attitude that didn’t always work. It is possible that none of the subjects have captured my interest as woodworking, and today I enjoy immersing myself in the study of shavings and sawdust.

This has led to a sizable and growing collection of “textbooks” on all kinds of subjects. Books on finishing and making chairs, carving and furnishing styles, historical treatises on technique and interpretations of modern shops.

It has become a standard occurrence that, about a week after most of the paychecks reach the bank, there will be a box or two arriving in the mail from an online auction or other book source. I don’t usually spend that much; judicious search terms and patience generally produce a wide range of options.

When I started collecting, I focused on books on instruments or techniques, but over time my favorites have become books showing museum collections and auctions. How do you know your favorite pizzeria is the best in town? You can’t, unless you try at least most of the other pizza offerings out there.

The experience offers perspective, and unless I have the time and the means to personally visit all the great furniture collections across the country, these books are great ways to consume massive amounts from the comfort of my favorite chair. This exposure helps me develop a good eye for quality and proportion in my work and often introduces me to ideas that have almost been forgotten.

Of course, all the time spent in the chair in the shared world with the greatest carpentry tomes in history will lead to nothing if I never set foot in my shop. Even the time spent doing simple things like wooden shop squares is not wasted and allows me to connect the insights my mind has consumed to the movement of my hands and the vision of my eyes.

I keep many quality tools in my traditional toolbox. Planes, chisels, marking indicators and more help me take the ideas I imagine and bring them to life in the real world. But tools are a small part of the creativity equation.

The crucial elements are not kept in a casket because without my hands, my eyes and the perspective and knowledge gained from my books, the most fantastic collection of instruments in history will not be good for me or anyone else.

Keep reading. Keep doing. Keep learning.

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