A Covenant with Wood

The following is an excerpt from “How to Build Shaker Furniture” by Thos. Moser.  I couldn’t have said it better…

1953 Craftsman Table Saw in my shop - restored and working like a champ!

1953 Craftsman Table Saw in my shop – restored and working like a champ!

A craftsman is but a handmaiden to his material.  The inherent qualities of wood limit to a considerable extent the cabinetmaker’s choices.  Unlike plastic or rubber, concrete or steel, wood has a mind of its own.  It is not easily bent and when bent wants to return in time to its original form.  It is easy to break along its grain, yet it will withstand considerable shearing force.  It warps without provocation and swells and contracts with the seasons as though it had entered a conspiracy with the calendar to loosen chair rungs in the winter and swell drawers shut in summer.  Wood cracks mindlessly, can shed a finish with disastrous effect, refuses to be cut from north to south yet yields submissively from east to west.  It splinters, bows, cups, shrinks, loosens, swells, dents, cracks, gives off slivers, and changes color.  Yet to many of us wood remains the most pleasing of all natural materials, for in the richness and variety of its grain is to be found nature’s texture incarnate.  Wood is a kind of bridge between man and that organic mass of growing things he calls Mother Earth.  Wood is a renewable resource which has given us warmth and

My hand planes…

shelter and provided unrivaled joy to the eye and to the touch since long before recorded time.  Along with water and stone it is our most fundamental material-without it our world would be an alien place.  In wood man fashioned his first tool; in wood he built the ladder with which he has ascended over the millennia.  It literally surrounds us from the cradle to the coffin.  Wood may well be called the foundation of civilization.

When the craftsman commits himself to work in wood, he becomes party in a contract.  If he is sensitive to his material, he enters into a kind of covenant in which he acknowledges a certain subservience to his medium.  He agrees:

1.  To come to understand, not in a cognitive way, but through feelings the nature of wood.

2.  To admit at the very beginning that there is no such thing as perfection in wood, for in spite of all his efforts there will always be some minute blemish, some telltale error, recorded in the wood though known only to the builder.

3.  In laying out and forming joints, to anticipate the inevitable movement that will occur long after the work is finished.


One thought on “A Covenant with Wood

  1. I’m so happy you enjoy carpentry. I can’t help but remember Jesus when you make something. I can just picture him being like “nice finish!” or “that is one of my favorite types of wood to work with” or “well done, Daniel!”. 🙂

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