Reading Wood

This morning, outside the workshop: “It is so very good to be back at school. Even though niether the library nor the workshop are open yet, I feel relieved, and insipired to study. It’s a bit like a fraction of what Harry Potter felt when he got back to Hogwarts…” Went from there to Menzies, the ‘Z’ section (my favorite), and ‘A History Of Reading’, by Alberto Manguel. Then a good bash at some woodwork: the lovely task of shaping a cylinder of wood by handplane only. This is one of my favorite meditations, so good at bringing home the importance of Process. Rotate the bit of wood in the cradle, feeling for the ridges; find one and put it uppermost; pick up the plane, plane off the ridge; repeat. Over and over it goes, my attention in my fingertips, on the weight of the plane in my hands, on my back as the central player in all of this. It almost seems a useless pursuit – why should I not spin this piece of wood in a lathe after all? – or attack it with a moulded scraper? – and it is only in doing it that one can see the point, so I’m not sure what to say here. All this time spent with one little bit of wood – not to make it perfect to any measure but touch – not even because I particularly want this thing round – but rather it gives me a a hint of the unseen. The something that is imbued in a piece of wood (or anything) that has been fashioned in this way, I don’t know what it is but I’m sure it is.

Today: I awoke seeking a busy day, but didn’t quite get it. I sat in the music library this morning, listening to Beethoven’s 5th, and pondering pondering. I thought, what a nice thing it is to sit and think, I should come here more often. A passage in ‘Howards End’ prompted me to seek out that particular piece of music, the goblins and shipwrecks, the tiptoeing from one end of the universe to the other. Fabulous (in the original sense).

A teriffic conversation with Ian, much inspiration for continued work, a new pen; a free concert (not that I got to see it ’cause I didn’t want to pay for lunch!), a quick bite to eat then work at the co-op; then tea at the Gods. A day gone, a passion for wood kept firing despite little work being done, and now home. Brill!

Silence is my vice.

A seminar by Ian Percival, a man who’s life embodies so much of what is wonderful about tools, making, and what might be termed ‘industrial technology’; a thoroughly inspiring talk. Then a lunch with the other post-graduate students and Ian (a usual Wednesday afternoon thing), during which the talk focused mostly around my book plans. It was nice to hear people’s thoughts – all supportive and encouraging – and apart from a little bit of me feeling funny about being the centre of attention all was useful and raises my excitement level even further. I just want to go and go and go and go; luckily for me, lots of that going will involve not going anywhere nor even doing anything! Like this morning just before the seminar, I sat and had my own little Meeting for Worship, and how nice it was! These pools of silence1 are so essential to me, and my work; this is what Wordsworth meant when he could “see into the life of things.”2

My vice, being a holdfast rather than depravity: The very act of tightening this gives me such a sense of pleasure, of love of the world even. So sure of itself, so solid and strong, with no chance of over-stressing; I feel good using this vice. Its texture, the hemp turksheads on the blackwood, the sweat and grime that are slowly turning both these black, these things make me happy. All of my senses are stimulated by the simple act of leaning forward and heaving on the handle! Every single time – no exceptions – that I come to use my vice so much is evoked, so many feelings of time, and work: My thoughts turn to my grandfather whom I never knew, and who’s vice it was that inspired me to make this one. Decades of his vice giving good service, slowly wearing and shaping itself to how it was used; centuries of this general form of vice being the centre of thousands of woodworker’s working lives. Does – can – the Record #53 evoke these kind of feelings? The handle alone of my vice comforts me and gives me confidance in life.

[As I was looking around for an image of a standard Record vice, apart from the endless advertisments for eBay I discovered the following interesting facts: Record Tools is a division of American Tools which is itself a subsidiary of Irwin Industrial Tools; both the and the domains redirect to And nowhere on the Irwin site can I find any information about Record tools. Hmph.]


“Incarnate Word,
in whom all nature lives,
Cast flame upon the earth:
raise up contemplatives
Among us, men who
walk within the fire
of ceaseless prayer
impetuous desire.
Set pools of silence
In this thirsty land”

James McAuley 1917 – 1976
© Norma McAuley

2. “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, On Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour. July 13, 1798”, William Wordsworth (1770-1850):

“While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.”

Book 0.1b Complete

The loveliest thing happened this afternoon: I sat down to sewing the signatures soon after lunch, an lo! 2½ hours later I looked up! It is so nice when work occupies one so; I don’t really care what I do so long as I can experience this feeling sometimes. It didn’t take long once I had finished sewing to complete the book (this binding is a lot simpler than modern styles, requiring no glue). I am very happy with it (and again, I would post a photograph, but can’t), although one thing that annoys me is that it’s blank. It feels nice to hold, and to open; the weight and the texture please me, but if only we could read something from it – I think that the experience would mean something. Prehaps because it’s different and we’re not used to this sort of book, but also it lets us in on the secrets of its materials – like, what they are. If we investigate the inner workings and materials of a ‘normal’ commercially-bound book we expose a great deal of stuff that is just not very nice to deal with, but with a book like this everything is plain to see and all is good. [oh dear, now I’m getting tired.]

Blackened Fingers

I began the morning in good spirits, lying watcing the grapevine outside my bedroom window, and the small bright blue patches of sky between the leaves. It didn’t seem to matter if I got out of bed or not…

I have this morning begun binding a book: A small piece of blackwood from my table (a last year’s project) was lying on my bench, so I ripped it in two and dressed it – all by hand of course. I had planned on testing the lacing techniques a bit before commiting to any one, but in my usual reckless ‘ooh this is fun I want to get on with it’ attitude I didn’t. I am using leather thongs, about 4mm wide and quite soft. I bored the holes for these, and cut the rebates too; I’ve wedged already one board and will go now to sew…

I do not feel very organised about my work yet, especially with things like photography, video and audio recording, and getting that onto this site. I want to reveal my thoughts on this site, but I also plan to present my work as it unfolds – in such a manner that it can be followed without knowing any background…

I have been looking at some of the (seemingly limitless) blogs out there, and am at the moment thinking that this is a rather strange thing to do!

A Moment of Doubt

I have nailed six of the eight corners of the box: through the first tail and into the next pin, and I tried to offset the holes so the joint would be pulled tighter when the treenails were driven home. This failed to happen on most of the joints and has left gaps in some, and made me feel that the whole box was not of a very high standard. After some reflection though, I have rembered that the whole motivation for the box in the first place was to make something without glue or metal fasteners, and I am doing that. It is resulting in an aesthetic quite different from the norm, and that’s okay, that’s what I wanted to explore. Anyway, I couldn’t think how to progress; I couldn’t even decide on what I wanted the box to be, so I jumped on my bike and rode over to F&S to see what I could scrounge from their skip, and returned triumphant with an ash door jamb.The doorjamb I found at Facilities & Services. I will now make a small box, possibly to go inside the large one, and I’ll glue it.

I would like to research a bit more about PVA and its manufacturing process, especially from an environmental point of view because it is this which concerns me. Nothing quite like an uninformed radical opinion, eh?