Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Village Carpenter

My blog title is named for a book by Walter Rose, called The Village Carpenter. It's a book that I wished would never end. The author writes about carpentry, working in his grandfather's shop in Victorian England, at a time when the carpenter was vital to the life of the village and whose duties encompassed a much broader range of skills and projects than what we think of as carpentry today. The village carpenter in the late 19th c. was responsible for building everything from windows & doors to coffins to fences & gates to furniture to buckets & washboards and more. He was a thread that tied the community together, often having to work on sight, gaining an intimate understanding of the villagers in whose homes he would work for weeks on end.

Walter Rose eloquently recounts stories about the men who worked in the shop, their tools, their projects, and their interaction with the villagers. Here is an excerpt from his book:

"It is in the workshop and at the bench that an insight into the soul of wood craftsmanship can be truly gained. There are tools, there is the wood—rude planks, ungarnished, their surface scored with the saw. Between them, and without which each is useless, must come the soul and spirit of the designer and craftsman; the deft hands prompted by an alert mind; the knowledge attained only through years of study and service; the creative instinct and ability that will, by the correct use of the tools, transform the mere plank into a thing of usefulness and beauty—possibly a joy for ever."

The entire book is filled with memorable passages and woodworking wisdom that has since been forgotten but is still relevant. He reflects on the personality of wood and the connection between the carpenter and his tools—a connection so absolute, that the same tool in another woodworker's hands would not respond the same.

It's a must-read for anyone who is passionate about woodworking or who would like to gain insight into the soul of a woodworker.