Last night at around seven I finished the very last tweaking of the second bedside cabinet. It was the furniture wax on the drawer sides and the gentle push with my fingertips that gave me the inner satisfaction that only comes in three words: “It is finished!” I can’t really explain the feeling of contentment this final minute brings. It’s much deeper than warm, wider than satisfying. In days past there was a term we used in the building of anything but mainly in the building of churches and cathedrals. The term? Bring the building to rest. What did it mean? Well, until a certain point, building in stone with all the vaulting of roofs, flying buttresses and equalising the opposing force until keystones were finally placed to take the weight and strain of the great mass transferring down to the foundation stones, scaffolding was used for support. Dismantling the scaffolding, brought the whole building to rest on craftsmanship. Any flawed work, a stone misplaced, that hidden chink in a weak block would evidence itself somewhere there and then or later. When I finish my pieces, small-scale I know, I bring them to rest. Time came when I needed to go back to a piece 300 miles away to make a repair. I learned from such things. Experience.
Delivering a piece to a customer, to an office or home, to my own house or one of my children’s is a special time of wonder. You wonder whether they will like it, whether it’s going to fit size-wise or aesthetically, will it look right, be fit for purpose but then too change the personality of the room, the entryway, the whole property even. Taking my granddaughter’s first real bed, her cot, was very special. I had made the prototype which went to my house and then the oak finished piece to her house. there was nothing like the deep sense of purpose and love that came with this one event. It was as if I was creating a nest of protection. I had researched the whole of EU requirements for cots to make sure every element was compliant with law but not because of the law itself. It’s important to go beyond the law and use the much higher standard of love as your guiding light.
Everything from gardening to cooking, washing dishes to ironing is crafted when it’s done with care and patience. It’s not so much what we do but how we do it that makes a difference. The attitude of let’s get this done and over with denies the crafting of life. I turn over the compost heap to aerate it and allow air deep into its fibre of it. It turns from waste to compost I can use more readily when I take and make the time to do such things. Applying the work I do in my furniture-making to life itself makes a difference to my own attitude in doing things I don’t like doing.
A man came into my workshop once to use my equipment, benches and machines. Everything he did he threw, dropped, kicked. He changed the whole attitude of the environment within an hour and no one said anything because they didn’t really understand that it was the spirit of the man that changed everything around him. I met him at the door as he arrived with his materials, sat him down at a quiet spot and gently said I was afraid he might not be able to use my shop any further and that perhaps he should take his materials away. Shocked, he asked why. I explained that his attitude towards the work was infecting everything and that it was a shame because it could have been so different. He was all the more surprised by the revelation that not everyone saw work the way he did. From that minute on he never threw another board nor did he kick one. We got on famously after that and the atmosphere in MY workshop went back to normal.
Any master in his own workshop must have control over any and all attitudes. I remember my foreman as an apprentice back in 1965 sending a craftsman home without pay for the day because the man lost his temper. He never argued back, did not curl his lip, but picked up his lunch bag and left. The next day he came back, told the foreman (and the other men) he was sorry and ashamed of his bad attitude and went back to his bench. Anger management worked in this way without the undue involvement of others and no HR department. This was the warning and the conclusion of it patiently delivered.