Wooden Spoons and the Price of Craft

I had a sudden and strong compulsion to make wooden spoons around nine months ago.

Part of it was a way to avoid some extremely tedious conservation work. Part of it was a desire to emulate the beauty, at least in spirit, of traditional Swedish wooden spoons. Part of it was an excuse to buy some new tools.

I also wanted to test out some longstanding questions; primarily, as where does technique reside? Traditionally Western craft technique is taught by close contact and imitation of a skilled practitioner. Now it is common to learn by reading a how-to-manual, watching a video, or maybe taking some classes. Technique is often regarded as solely residing in the practicioner.

Many aspects of technique may also reside in the tools themselves. Since I didn’t know anything about spoon carving, this might be a good test: How much could I learn by letting the tools teach me how to make a wood spoon?

spoons

It only takes a few simple tools to start making wooden spoons. On the top, a small vintage (ca. 1970’s) Norlund hatchet with my handle, which split when mounting the head. Grrrr. Still, it works fine. Under it, on the left, a Mora knife, next to it a sweep knife made by Robin Wood, and a hook knife made by Pinewood Forge.

Of course, I had to start with the best quality tools I could find. The odd thing was, after I made a dozen or so spoons, the compulsion disappeared almost as quickly as it came on. This may be explained by the thrill of accomplishment when beginning to learn a new craft: mastering the final 20% can take a 1000% more time than the original 80%. One reason many people jump around to different crafts; jonesing for a new quick rush, weary of the long path towards mastery.

This was not a true test of technique completely residing in a tool.  I have been whittling since I was a kid (ball in cage!), professionally make and sharpen knives, and use axes quite a bit. Nevertheless, it does speak to the relatively easy transference of tool based knowledge, rather than traditional object based craft education. Does the saying “Jack of all trades, master of none” serve to warn against tool based knowledge? Could it be dangerous?

spoons1

A wooden spoon I made out of Swiss pear wood.

I still use the spoons I made and didn’t give away, they are serviceable and some ended up quite elegant, in my opinion. The one above sees the most use in my kitchen. The handle is comfortable in a variety of grips, and I intended the shallow bowl to be good for tasting while cooking. Wood feels weirdly sticky in my mouth though, like a tongue depressor, so I don’t do this.

*****

I’d forgotten about this episode until a couple of days ago, when I received a blog post from a professional wooden spoon maker, Jarrod Stone Dhal.  The Trouble with The Green Woodworking Community or I Don’t Want to be Poor.

There are many aspects of his post that anyone involved with crafts will find of interest. One of his questions revolves around the almost impossible desire to make quality handmade objects at an affordable price. When craft objects get too expensive, people put them on a shelf and are afraid to use them. This might also be part of the reason many craftspeople sell their wares absurdly cheap, and are regarded as failures at business.  I doubt that large companies like Walmart care if what they sell is used. People who make functional items want them to be used.

But how many handmade books — including etsy style blank books, seeming sold for less than the cost of materials — actually end up getting used?  many books get read?  When I worked in an academic research library, I bet almost 10% of the books I recased had never been read.

Much modern craft philosophy emphasizes the making of something as the primary fulfillment. Being in the moment when making, zen like, and so on. This romantic attitude might have inadvertently contributed to public reluctance to pay for the time and skill of craft. “Hey, aren’t you supposed to be doing it for the love? You want to get paid too!?”

Historic Book Structures for Conservators, 2017

Historic Book Structures for Conservators
The Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library. June 1-30, 2017.

For the third time, I will be teaching Historic Book Structures for Conservators. For the second time, it will be held on the grounds of the Winterthur. The Winterthur is a museum, garden and library consisting of 1,000 acres of rolling meadows, gardens and woodlands. It is also home to the Winterthur-University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation (WUDPAC). The Winterthur is a perfect setting for this class: excellent workshop facilities, a first-class conservation literature library, supportive colleagues, and an atmosphere conducive to sustained and productive learning.

This month long course is designed for conservators to refine bookbinding bench skills in order to understand the craft techniques used to make historic book structures. We will focus on books bound in-boards from the 16th through 19th centuries. The binding of historic models are the basis of the course, although an independent research project will also be required, as well as other assignments. There will be 24/7 studio and library access. There will be field trips; in 2015 this included the Mercer Museum and some tool related flea market exploration. Expect to work at least six days a week. This course is open to anyone passionate about book conservation and intending to make it a career, though I’m hoping there will be a mix of experience levels, from pre-program to mid-career. If a disproportionate amount of your time is spent on administrative duties, this might be an excellent chance to tone your bookbinding muscles.

To apply, please send me the four application requirements listed below. Please submit all of these together in an email attachment, via dropbox, or through a link to your site.

1) A one page personal statement on your interest in book history/ book conservation and how this class will help you in your career.
2) Your resume or cv.
3) A portfolio of bookbinding, book conservation treatments, or other craft activities that exhibit hand skills and attention to detail. You should submit images of two or three books: no more than one or two overall shots and one or two details. Please include no more than a one paragraph description of the book or treatment. Information can include when you did it, how it was made, before and after condition, a treatment summary, materials, techniques, or other information.
4) A letter of recommendation from a professional in the conservation or preservation field, or a teacher who is familiar with your work.

Only complete applications will be considered. After reviewing the above material, finalists will be interviewed by telephone or skype.

The deadline for application is February 15, 2017.

Finalists will be notified March 1, 2017.

Decisions regarding acceptance will be made by March 15, 2017.

The class will be held June 1-30, 2017. You can arrive May 31, and the class will officially begin June 1. The last day of class is June 30, and you will need to vacate the housing on July 1.

Accepted students will receive a full scholarship for tuition costs and be able to live on the grounds of the Winterthur for $550. It is a very beautiful place! Housing includes private bedrooms, wifi, shared kitchen and shared bathrooms. Students will need to pay for their own travel, food, bring a computer, and supply their own basic bookbinding hand tools. Historic equipment and specialized tools — including a paring knife, spokeshave blade — will be provided. There is a materials fee of $425.

This class is a unique and intensive opportunity to geek-out, discuss, explore, and immerse yourself historic bookbinding structures and conservation for an uninterrupted month. If it is anything like previous classes, it will prove to be energizing, exhausting, and unforgettable.

Blog post about the class of 2015.

For questions about applying or the content of the class please contact me.

For other questions please contact Melissa Tedone: mtedone <at> winterthur <dot> org.

 

Jeff Peachey Het Belang Van Goed Gereedschap

According to Google translate, the title of this article roughly translates as; “Jeff Peachey The Importance of Good Tool”.

It is vaguely unnerving to have a multi-page article written about you in a language you can’t understand.

But I’m not complaining!  The author of this piece, Henk Francino and I talked for quite some time (in English) about how tools — specifically hand tools — seem to be increasingly under-appreciated, and under-valued by contemporary society.

Isn’t knowing “how-it-was-made” a key component in understanding an object, and the tools used an important aspect? Are only materials to be conserved? Is it even possible to conserve technique? If so, aren’t the tools a critical aspect?

 

Read it all: Hank Francino, “Jeff Peachey Het Belang Van Goed Gereedschap” in Handboekbinden,  Vol. 9, No. 4, 2016. (pp. 112-117).

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“Jeff Peachey Het Belang Van Goed Gereedschap” in Handboekbinden, Vol. 9, No. 4., 2016. (pp. 112-117)

 

The Financial Benefits of Buying What You Love

As a retailer of bookbinding tools, I cannot recommend too highly the fantastically excellent advice of Carl Richards. In his NY Times article, “The Financial Benefits of Buying What You Love“, he lays out a strong case for buying what you really want, rather than settling for a cheaper option. It is not too much different than the old adage, “Buy the best tools you can afford”.

Seriously, though, I think almost every time I have not heeded this advice for a variety of rationalizations — the tool is too expensive, I’m not going to use it that much, I don’t need something that good, etc… — I have regretted it.

As his napkin illustration summarizes: you buy it, you love it, and you keep it. And even if you fall out of love, you still have something of value to resell, rather than more garbage.

 

 

New Store for Peachey Bookbinding Tools!

I’ve set up an online store at peacheytools.com for all the tools I make and sell.  There is  a used tool section (which also includes some experimental unique tools I’ve made) with some great deals to kick things off.

https://www.peacheytools.com

https://www.peacheytools.com

Online store coming soon

 

Hopefully I will have everything set up in a couple of weeks.  I intend to start listing used and refurbished tools, as well as the new ones I make. Once it is live, I will post an announcement here, and it will be linked to in the store area in the header, and on the sidebar. The new store will be on a squarespace site, but for the time being, I will keep blogging here.

https://www.peacheytools.com

unchopping

“Tree Down!”   Jeff Peachey, 2013.

“Start with the leaves, the small twigs, and the nests that have been shaken, ripped, or broken off by the fall; these must be gathered and attached once again to their respective places. It is not arduous work, unless major limbs have been smashed or mutilated. If the fall was carefully and correctly planned, the chances of anything of the kind happening will have been reduced. Again, much depends upon the size, age, shape, and species of the tree. Still, you will be lucky if you can get through this stages without having to use machinery. Even in the best of circumstances it is a labor that will make you wish often that you had won the favor of the universe of ants, the empire of mice, … .” (the rest of the poem)

W. S. Merwin’s “Unchopping a Tree” is a wonderfully meditative poem/essay that will resonate with anyone in craft, conservation, technology, or environmentalism. It articulates the hubris of humans when working with natural materials by emphasizing the complex and one-directional time-bound nature of growth and craft.

There is not a backspace key for craft. Only starting over, or more rarely, working around a mistake. A second of inattention can create hours or days of extra work when dealing with physical materials. Possibly even failure. Chopping is quick. Unchopping takes a long time.

We can all appreciate the section on the structural inappropriateness of trying to glue back the severed fibers of the tree, which will never function as the original. It is as futile as gluing a spinal cord nerve.

The poem ends by zeroing in on the insecurity at the heart of all art and craft. How can any human construct even begin to compare to Nature?