With the recent passing of the master of this topic, I thought it might make sense to post some thoughts on an idea that we should all be thinking about when we work with wood. As woodworkers, we are stewards of the materials that we use. They are a natural resource and the work we produce will hopefully extend their time on earth, and perhaps even ours.
I watched David Marks interview James Krenov on Woodworks, and he made a comment that didn’t sink in immediately. He had a bookmatched set of boards in spalted maple, and he designed cabinet around them. How profound is that? As woodworkers, how often do we start with a plan and make the wood fit with it instead of starting with the wood and planning a project that maximizes that piece of wood’s potential?
Almost every woodturner starts off “wrong”, and I won’t go into a lot of details why on this topic. It is safe to say that if a new woodturner produces his or her first bowl from a piece of 7”x3” wood that the bowl will be 7”x3” EXACTLY. Why- because we are taught not to “waste wood”. The thought is so ingrained in woodworkers that I wonder if there isn’t a gene sequence in our DNA that somehow describes it.
How many of you have a box full of offcuts? Stuff that you couldn’t bear to srap, put aside for some future mystery project, or give to someone that uses smaller pieces of wood? Me too. We all do, and I am not saying that this is the wrong thing to do, but I do believe it plays against our potential as woodworkers. Philosophically, I would rather create one masterpiece and a winter’s worth of firewood than a tree’s worth of mediocrity.
I have been working in wood for probably 20 years now, and I have a house full of compromises- from the knothole in my dining room table top, to the shelf I am making now with the wainy edge. All of them stem from starting with a plan instead of the material. There is a well known woodturner, John Jordan, who is famous for saying that “Life is too short for turning crappy wood”. He selects the right materials from the start that fit his artistic visions and then executes his projects.
We have a certain amount of responsibilty to the material to maximize it’s potential, and in turn maximize our own potential.
Off to the shop to deal with that wainy edge…