Random thoughts about being a craftsman

December 22, 2023

I have been rereading Eric Gorges’ book, A Craftsman’s Legacy, this month. (BTW, it is on sale for Kindle for $2.99 today if you happen to read this the day I posted.) I have wanted to read a biography of a graphic designer or craftsman. I had hoped to read something new but I have enjoyed reading Eric’s book. It has scratched the itch that I had.

I enjoy these books because they connect with something deep in me. I savored reading The Creative Act earlier this year. I love hearing each of these authors share their thoughts about why they do what they do and the love and enjoyment they get from what they do. I always end up thinking about my own craft and how much I enjoy it.

I enjoy watching shows like This Old House and A Craftsman’s Legacy. There is a part of me that would like to learn how to do woodworking. I love watching Tom Silva or Norm Abrams bring something to life through their carpentry skills. I am amazed at how Tommy can draw a straight line using just his measuring tape. I loved watching all the different types of craftsmen on Eric’s show. But the ones I connect with the most are those that work with wood.

I have also enjoyed watching videos or shows about people making violins. I love music and love the idea of crafting a fine instrument. It just connects with something deep within my heart.

I used to love building models out of balsa wood when I was an architecture student. There was something very satisfying about building something with my hands. I enjoyed even the mundane things such as measuring and cutting the wood. I love seeing a creation come together. It was much more satisfying than just drawing a design on paper.

A balsa wood model I built in my second-year studio class. I believe it was an Inuit meeting place.

Several years ago, I chose the Twitter identity of “webcraftsman.” It spoke to my love of craftmanship and seeing my work in a similar vein. To not just build something but put my heart and soul into a project and care more about the small details that no one would really know about or necessarily notice but make the project that much better.

I know there would be many who would challenge my use of craftsman for my work on digital products. Even as I have read Eric’s book, he often refers to working with your hands and making things of permanence. I am not sure he would consider building websites as craftsmanship. I work with my hands to some degree by typing on a keyboard or moving my mouse. But I know it is not quite the same.

I am not working with real materials. The things that I make don’t have the permanence of a physical artifact. A lot of things that I work on will disappear in as short as a year’s time. I have one project that I designed and built in 2010 where there are still elements of the design but the page layouts have changed. Most of the things that are still alive are four years old at most. Some of that work may live on in the Wayback Machine and some projects I have archived on my own server. But there is no permanence. It is the nature of the Web.

Can you be a craftsman with digital tools and “materials?” You have specialized skills that develop over time. You have to know your medium. You learn tricks of the trade much like Tom Silva using a measuring tape to draw a straight line across a piece of work.

“He who works with his hands is a laborer. He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.”

Eric Gorges quoting Jake Weidmann in A Craftsman’s Legacy

I work with my hands, my head, and my heart in what I do. I would not consider myself an artist. But I would consider myself a craftsman.

I have a deep longing to work with my hands and to work with wood. Deep in my heart, I would like to learn woodworking. My son took a woodworking class as one of his fine art electives this past semester. I am jealous. I loved seeing the things that he made. I want to experience that myself. I want to know the joy of using a tool to plane a piece of wood. To use a router to give a nicer edge. A sander to smooth out the rough edges. To use a chisel to make a joint or carve something. I long to do all those things.

Cutting board that my son made in his college woodworking class.

I have not pursued learning woodworking because of the limitations that I see. The limitation of time. The limitation of money to buy the tools I would need. And the limitations of space to have an actual workshop. I long to work with my hands and to make something of permanence.

I did a little bit a research a couple of weeks ago into what opportunities might be available in Chattanooga. I found an academy that trains students to be professional woodworkers. And I just learned that they do offer some hobby classes, which is more of what I am looking for.

I also found a Woodcraft store in Chattanooga that offers classes. They have a woodworking fundamentals class that interests me. You can do it over the period of two evenings in two weeks or all at once on a Saturday. I think I would love to do it all at once on a Saturday. You learn how to use a table saw, jointer, planer, and router. You leave with a completed project of a cutting board or a tabletop if you plan to take the Fundamentals II class.

I am very interested in taking that class. It would give me a taste of what I have longed to do. Something a bit more tangible to dream about for the new year.

Books that I have read about craftsmen or designers

This post is part of my attempt to post something every day for a month. I was inspired by Michelle Barker, who recently participated in National Blog Posting Month.

Comment on this post