Monday, February 19, 2018

Dovetails It Is

Two little drawers for storing small things.  Nails would hold them,
but dovetails are more fun to cut, especially single ones like this.

The handmade object stands, first and foremost, for the person who made it. This may seem unremarkable at first, but consider the trend in our society towards depersonalization and disembodiment. . . an object that personifies a particular person takes on more value and meaning.

I’ll put it this way: handwork communicates. By itself, without any overlay of artistic intent, the first thing handwork communicates is that a skillful person was there.  - Bruce Metcalf, Silversmith

Sometime down the road, I'll post some pictures of my new cabinet for holding oxen "stuff-" brushes, fly spray, hoof nippers, and the like.  Why not now, you may ask?  Because it's not quite done, that's why.  But thanks for asking.

The project stalled in the dangerous spot for me.  90% done and without pressing need of its completion, I find myself moving on to projects that are more fun, such as three-legged stools.  All that remains to complete the cabinet is to wipe on a coat or two of oil finish over the milk paint and then to screw on the back, which is already painted and cut to fit.  From that point, hanging it on the wall and putting it to use should take all of five minutes.

Mr. Hilgendorf's 1/2 inch Stanley chisel gets a workout.
Gee, when I write it out like that, it seems pretty silly not to finish it up.  And I probably will finish it soon.  But the fun part is over.  All that remains for me is a squeeze of a cordless drill and a swipe with a rag.  Anybody can do that part; The dovetails are done.

The "fun part," the joinery on this cabinet, is entirely hand cut dovetails, dadoes and rabbets- sawn, planed and chiseled.  Fun stuff.  Traditional craft.

 Skill is great, but having a good tool goes a long way, too.
For joinery, nails or screws would work, but any fool can use them.  THIS fool was going to cut dovetails.  Because I could.  And now we've gotten to the oxen part of this essay.

I'm sure I can and often do, make arguments about the practicality of oxen as a power source.  But the fact of the matter is that I like traditional crafts.  Cutting dovetails, tapping trees, planing boards, and yes, driving oxen.  It's a circular argument, but if I didn't have oxen, I wouldn't need the cabinet.  Without the cabinet, I wouldn't need to learn to cut dovetails.  Without dovetails. . . yep, turtles all the way down.

We don't all need to cut dovetails, or to work oxen, or to engage in a craft rooted in skill and lore.  Except, we do.  One hand on the task, one hand on the past.  Happy working.

To read the rest of Bruce Metcalf's piece "The Hand: at the Heart of Craft," click here.

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