Woodworkers Club of Houston

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It Ain't The Shop

by Ridge Gilmer (Woodworkers Club of Houston)


Recently a group of our members gathered at Jack Hutchisonís garage shop to view his masterpiece antique reproduction corner cabinets. Some marveled at how he could function so well in such limited space, given that he was simultaneously working on four base and four separate upper cabinets. Certainly his shop is well set up and organized, but neither excessively equipped nor exorbitantly expensive. Anyone with comparable space and a moderate investment could easily duplicate or exceed the physical specifications there. In fact, an editor from Popular Woodworking recently visited and worked alongside Norm Abrams in The New Yankee Workshop. The writer mentioned in a recent issue that he had visited hobbyist-owned shops that easily matched or exceeded Normís fabled facility.


Having known and observed Jackís craftsmanship over the past couple of years, itís become quite evident, as I remarked to my friend and mentor, "It ainít the shop!" True, the proper tools, well maintained and tuned to perfection and accuracy are a huge help. But the pieces that speak so eloquently for the craftsman are the direct result of gifted talent, long experience and above all, incredible self-discipline. Heís at it from 5:30 or 6:00 am daily and goes right through to lunch around noon or later, then heís often back at it again. Bit by bit and piece-by-piece he fashions wood into incredibly complex shapes and detailed pieces.


We who enjoy woodworking do so with varying expertise and over years of experience our performance may improve. Perhaps those who begin early in life will attain higher goals than those who have come later, as a retirement hobby. But at some point we shall all peak at some level, beyond which we may not greatly improve. I know, from decades and dollars devoted to golf lessons, practice and equipment changes that Iíll never be more than a mediocre golfer. Tiger Woodsí clubs would be useless in my hands, yet he could play shots with my set that doubtless would match those with his own. How many times do we respond to the enticement of the latest, greatest, most up-to-date woodworking tool on the market? Those who so cleverly pitch these implements have us believing that if we just had one of those, we could build this better.


None of us should become discouraged to realize that we might never attain the level of craftsmanship that we desire. After all, we do this for our own pleasure and satisfaction. We shall enjoy the process, regardless of the outcome, even if the result is to discard and begin again. And if we do something surprisingly well, we may reward ourselves by purchasing another tool!