Creativity and Inventiveness – Paul Sellers’ Blog

As I closed the week last night, swept the floor cleared off the bench and put the tools in their places, the overwhelming feeling was the thankfulness for my work. Talking to my friend, Eddie, as we drank our coffee in the cafe this morning, I said my craft isn’t like most people’s daily work. If I developed some disease like say carpal tunnel syndrome, caused by the repetitive tap, tap tapping of keys for hours on end or any other debilitating disease it wouldn’t be a choice for me to stop doing it. Of course, I realise that some incurred disabilities are just impossible to continue with. I see that, but in many ‘jobs’, it wouldn’t be a hardship to the point of impossibility to stop that kind of work and find some other to, well, just replace the income stream with a different job type. I have another friend with so much continuing back pain she simply cannot function barely at all and even doing nothing is painful with every movement made. No, what I am saying here is that many jobs are simply mundane and tiresome. There are ingredients to our working, in the doing of things work, where we engage our bodies and our minds differently to others. We use buildings and equipment, things tangible and intangible but none of it takes a really creative mind; some daily work day in and day out is positively mindless, thankless, isolating, unwholesome, debilitating, dull and boring. My woodworking with hand tools has never been that in 58 years in the doing of it. I find my work to be continually inventive and especially for me is this so. Hand tools offer me multiple options to use non-typical tools for conventional tasks. When I need a 4″ length of rebated stock 1″ by 3/4″ with a 3/8″ by 3/8″ rebate I simply run pencil lines to depth and width and run a tenon saw down and along the two lines to remove the step-down corner. I can do this in a 24″ length with a 12″ or 14″ tenon saw too.

I wonder all the time about the people that drive my bus or serve me coffee in the mornings. Working to a prescribed pattern or route leaves mostly life choices so my life using creativity only is not the reality for most working people and especially in situations where an end result is never seen. Of course, there is an art to almost everything we do in a day be that driving the bus or making the diverse range of coffees available to us today. But this is not really the same as converting wood into a piece of furniture or writing a poem to earn our living from. The bus route is as fixed as the coffee machine grinding the beans, passing steam through for heat and delivering it to the customer using patterns that guarantee a consistent outcome. I have thought about this a lot throughout my life as a maker and came to the conclusion that if we take away this thing called creativity we remove the very soul of work. Working with hand tools, 99% of woodworking is either spent negotiating and solving problems or anticipating them ahead of tasks so that when we get to that certain point we haven’t created an issue that catches us out. I have concluded a couple of complex joinery tasks to the point of final assembly in glue-up only to find that I could not insert that final piece because I went out of order. Dismantling a project like that can be very messy at best and sometimes even impossible to do.

Two words come continually to mind in the design of life we humans engage in contribute to — creativity and inventiveness. We perpetually sharpen our output as creatives when we are involved in the making of diversely different things. At different points in my life, my inventiveness led to my developing unique methods of production to increase speed of production and maximise output. This necessitated the use of machines, the adaptation of machines and the conversion of machines to take out the risk of human error. My work before that point was hand work. Tenons from tenon saws and mortises from chisels and mallets. That too was creative but ultimately became a step in the invention of not only the product but the whole production system. Once it was established the end result was faster money-making in greater volume along with tedium and boredom and the use of my body as a slave to the system I created. I decided then and there to stop the system and the conveyor belt production line and climb off.

By my one simple decision, something I had wrongly taken for granted and lost was released back to me — creativity and inventiveness. To truly understand just how powerful words like these are in our lives we must go to the root of their origin. My love for woodworking is only equalled by etymology. When I became an expert woodworker in my late teens and early twenties I spent the next ten years thinking I knew everything I needed to know. It was in these years that my love of things woodworking lost their dynamic and I lost the essence of the interest I had earlier enjoyed. Why? It found truth and meaning in the word inventiveness. This word simply means we take an unsolved issue and develop a means by which we try to find the path to resolve any hindrance to a conclusion. It’s often the means by which we take what we already know to set in motion a mechanical step-by-step process that did not before exist; the utilisation of powers of nature be they already long known or more lately discovered by investigation. Our discovery brings to light what already exists, but was as yet unknown. The root of the word invention is discovery: invention means to come upon, to find; to find out; to invent, to discover, to uncover; to devise; to ascertain; to acquire and so on. I once took a power jointer and made tenoning machine from the cutterhead and motor without changing the existing use of the machine as a planer. A two-minute conversion gave me the ability to put a thousand very accurate 1 1/2″ long tenons and inch-and-a-half wide on the ends of my oak pieces in a couple of hours. It was inventive and as far as I knew had never been done before. I used it for ten years with no issues and it saved me thousands and made me thousands too.

It’s often in the waste wood of shavings and chips that I see the difference between my life as a lifetime lifestyle woodworker compared to other so-called professionals. They, most of them, 995 of them, will never see the tail recesses removed with a sharp chisel and the reflection of sharpness glistening from the cross-grain cuts.

Today my life is utterly different than in those of that intermediate period when I needed to increase production levels to satisfy the demand for my then more mass-made work. I was in the valley of decision where I needed to see what was not to see what something was. Seeing the first of my two bedside cabinets replete with the finish on took me back to when I was a teenager making my first commission for six bar stools using only my hand tools. I am still using some of the very same hand tools today but enjoying them all the more after over fifty years of using them. What did I invent on this project? Well, not so much an invention as just a few simple ideas. The panels are a bit different but then there are all of the ingredients inside, the complexity of never-to-be-seen joinery in harmony and solidity. Despite the opinions of others via the Facebook post I put out a week or so ago, the outcome simply pleases me. You see, I knew what I was doing. Design is not just how the thing looks when done, it’s the composition of inventiveness and creativity in the internal workings of the joinery. Remember, the root of the word joinery comes from the word harmos, where we get the word harmony. The design is uncompromisingly mine. It made me happy.

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