|Review by Texasgaloot||posted 10-26-2008 06:02 PM||4437 views||1 time favorited||11 comments|
Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008.
“It’s just a piece of wood, but let’s see what your axe handle has to say.” (p.4) From the opening sentence of St. Roy’s latest tome exudes the essence of Underhill, both myth and man. As a young boy, my grandfather had me chopping wood for my breakfast, and the only thing I remember my axe handle saying were words not fit to use here, but when Roy visits an axe handle, it suddenly springs to lively discussion, relishing it’s job in the Feller’s hands. And therein is the first thing I learned from this book; he (historically speaking) who is a “Feller” is not necessarily the good old boy on the next bar stool at some back-road greasy spoon diner, but is in fact he who fells trees. Aha!
Underhill’s most recent work is self-admittedly a re-visitation of his prior books (of which I have all, somewhere in a box…) It is organized in such a way that we follow woodworking from the forest all the way through the joiner’s work with stops along the way to learn the tools of the craft and to take surveys of the bodger’s art, timber framing, ship building, and wood turning. Written in Underhill’s inimitable and inevitably right-brained style, it is laced with the imagery and humor we’ve come to be addicted to. Adding to the charm of an already enchanting text are the illustrations of Eleanor, Roy’s daughter, using a model that somehow faintly recalls the author in younger days. The reader finds himself mired in nostalgia, picturing himself in colonial breeches and turning the spiral auger to drawbore a mortise and tenon joint in huge oak beams, while the author himself is chipping away at a nearby beam with an adze and explaining, “Of the 23 known woodworking puns, a fair share involve the adze.” (p. 19.)
We work wood because we love wood and we love making things with it. Underhill has given proper acknowledgment to the fact that most of what is covered in this book is not hobby, but mankind’s way of life not so long ago. For Underhill, the Wooden Age hasn’t quite come to an end, and as I read this latest Woodwright’s episode, I begin to feel that perhaps it hasn’t ended for me, either. For any of us who find any joy at all in transforming wood, this is mandatory reading. I defy you not to let your imagination wander! Besides that, you don’t need anything more than the dedication itself: “For the Galoots.”
-- There's no tool like an old tool...