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The Spiritual Side Of Woodworking…

August 25, 2011

Latest Issue

The latest issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine showed up in my mailbox the other day.  It’s the only woodworking magazine I subscribe to anymore. I used to get two magazines – Popular Woodworking and Woodworking Magazine. I guess the one benefit of the merger (for me, anyway) is that I got to drop one of my yearly subscription fees.

I don’t buy this magazine for the power tool reviews and articles. In fact, I find myself glossing over them these days – they just do not maintain much of my interest. I enjoy the occasional hand tool review, though my obsession with purchasing MORE hand tools seems to have become somewhat subdued as of late (thanks, Anarchist’s Tool Chest!). A few of them have made their way into what I call my Big Picture Wish List, which is just a fancy way of saying, “Things I eventually want to have in my shop, only I’ll need a bit of time to save up for them”.

I do buy this magazine for the project and design articles. I especially enjoy the ones that just give out the basic dimensions or concepts and don’t provide me with an exact cut list.  I don’t want to copy a project someone else has made; I want to take their ideas and add them to my own.  A great example of this would be Gary Rogosky’s Jasmine Jewelry box from the June 2011 issue.

Sketchup of Gary’s box

The timing couldn’t have been better as I was hashing out details for a box currently in-progress (still in progress, even; yeah… shop time isn’t coming so easily to me these days), that uses proud box joints, at the time of the article’s publication. I took his idea for cutting the box joints and modified a table saw jig to perform a similar function as his bandsaw idea. And it worked great! The joints slide together with just the slightest bit of friction, which should make for a nice tight joint once I add some glue.

(Some day I’ll work on cutting them by hand, but when I’m trying to do the best I can, I’ll use the tools available to me at the time.)

But what I really find to be the most enjoyable (and beneficial?) aspect of Popular Woodworking Magazine is what I like to call the “spiritual” articles. They often only partially contain woodworking references, but they are always relevant to how I approach (or want to approach) my woodworking.  This spiritual content is clearly epitomized in an article in the latest issue, “A Teacup & 8 Dinner Plates,” by Toshio Odate.

His collection of short stories, presented in a way that reminded me of my college days, when I spent several semesters reading Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching and exploring Far Eastern culture, sets the pace of the article.

Find your favorite place to relax and make yourself comfortable. Read slowly and with comprehension. Enjoy Toshio’s words and pay attention to how he’s organized his thoughts.  See the greater meaning in what he says.  Feel his elation as he becomes the caretaker of Tenjin’s saw and sorrow as he preserves the memory of his master’s friend, a Geta-shokunin (wooden clog maker), by restoring his neglected saw.  Visualize yourself as the unknown amateur woodworker who puts his heart and soul into making a hope chest for his daughter.

And then let that thought choke you up, as it did me.

After I finished reading the article, I sat in reflection for some time. Am I the best steward of my tools?  What can I do to improve? How much of my soul do I pour into each project and how can I make them a better reflection of myself?  A nearby notebook is suddenly filled with ideas and thoughts. In the workshop, it gets pinned to a wall so I’m constantly reminded of what I want to do and how I’m going to get there.

This spiritual approach to my hobby is what I love most about woodworking. This is what inspires me to do better and make more, not the latest table saw or cordless drill/driver.

Thank you, Toshio Odate.  I am forever grateful for the stories you’ve shared.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. August 25, 2011 3:15 pm

    I totally agree with you about Mr. Odate’s article but I’m still not wearing a kilt.


  2. August 25, 2011 3:42 pm

    Hehe… No worries, millcrek; I don’t try to convert.

    I write for all to enjoy, unbifercated or not!


  3. August 25, 2011 6:54 pm

    I’ve recently taken Odate’s book out of the library, “Japanese Tools: Their Spirit And Use”, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I wish it had occurred to me to find it sooner, its played a large role in changing the way I approach woodworking. It also, to me, seems to play heavily into the minimalist tooling concept currently in the limelight thanks to Schwarz’s recent book. Odate uses quite a simple tool kit, and I can really appreciate that.


  4. August 25, 2011 7:25 pm

    Alas, my local library system has none of Toshio Odate’s books. Looks like I’ll have to pick up a copy on my own!

    Maybe this will be the next book review for the St. Louis Woodworkers Guild newsletter!

    Thanks for the information, Simon!


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