Time away from the shop

I love being in the shop. My full time job at Berea College is running the Woodcraft program and I have one or two projects happening in my own shop at all times. Lately they’ve all been chairs. There’s a bench in the works but my work is predominantly chairs right now. As a maker, I feel off somehow if there isn’t work happening in my personal shop. It is something I have grown to understand and accept about myself – that I will build, create or design something new – even if I’m unsure why. It is part of what makes me a craftsperson.

My time in the shop is greatly enhanced by getting out into nature and spending time with others. Covid has challenged the ability to visit with friends and family, making the time spent outdoors all the more important. I forget this at times. It seems to unconsciously happen. Bad weather for a stretch. A hiking date falls through. Or I find I am lazy (and too engaged within the shop). What happens? Beside being in worse physical shape, I find myself “fighting” the work. I’m not clear minded. My efforts feel forced instead of flowing easily. It’s a tough thing to describe. It effects the quality of work, that’s for sure, because I am less patient with the challenges and less willing to adjust my attitude. I’m in the shop to “get things done” – that’s always the case when I am at work – but without the connections away from the shop it effects the quality with my projects. Willingness to sharpen is a perfect example: when I’m off then I keep going, dull tool or not. It’s when I’m balanced and in tune to the project that I’ll adjust my efforts to do my best work. (I know I should keep all my tools perfectly tuned at all time. It doesn’t happen. They are sharp, just not razor sharp. When I’m balanced I make the time to sharpen, clean and prepare for the next shop session. Impatient me only works on the next task related to the chair).

I found this out over time. When life is balanced, I am more balance with my work. It makes simple sense. But it was hard to make the connection because I do not get out for hikes or visit friends to make my woodworking better. I do it because I love other people and am quieted by the beauty of nature. I look forward to friends and nature on their own. I don’t consider doing them because of some symbiotic relationship to my craft. That feels gross.

But I now recognize what happens when I miss out on others and the woods. My shop time suffers. I used to think I wasn’t focusing properly…that I was in an “off mood” that would pass and I’d regain focus. That is not the case. It is a lack of friends and family or the lack of the outdoors.

My furniture is better, both in quality and my experience, when I get away from the shop. And I’m always thrilled to get back to a chair build after a little time away.

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