The Heart and Soul of Woodworking
Fundamentally, woodworking is about creating something for others. Sometimes we make things for ourselves, but by and large, the focus is on somebody else. We make furniture for someone else to enjoy, we build picture frames to highlight someone's special memories, we make bookcases to fit that particular space in another's hallway. A lot of woodworkers find that this element of meeting the needs of others is the motivating factor for time in the shop.
I once had a wonderful opportunity to work on a special project for a local family. Their uncle, the family woodworker, had been in the process of making walnut jewelry boxes for the ladies in the family when he passed away. I took on the job of completing his project for the family. It was a bit tricky to pick up in the middle of all the parts and pieces, but I managed to finish the set of six boxes, above. Each was engraved with the recipient's name and "Made by" with their uncle's byline.
I spent a lot of time during this project reflecting on other people. I thought about the woodworker who started the project, and found myself challenged to match his standard of craftsmanship. I even stripped and refinished one box top because the finish wasn't quite right. I thought about the women who would have these jewelry boxes on their dressers, and how they would remember their uncle whenever they touched these objects. So I put extra effort into rubbing out the finish for a silky-smooth touch. Focusing on others as I worked enhanced my craftsmanship and gave me additional satisfaction.
There is a saying that "the laborer works with his hands, the craftsman with his head, but the artist works with his heart." A true artist puts meaning into their work that flows from emotions and passion, distinguishing creativity from skillful imitation. However, I think working with your heart is something much deeper than just creativity.
When my grandfather built a walnut cradle to be shared among his descendants, he was thinking of great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren he would never meet. He worked with his heart. I keep his old shop coat on a hook next to mine as a reminder.
Perhaps it is in the creation of things for others that we tap into the deep "joy of woodworking." It doesn't matter if you're working on a simple toy truck or a fancy marquetry panel, such as in the cake platter I made for my daughter's wedding (above). Focusing on the recipient transforms a tedious task, like finishing, into an act of giving. Maybe the quote should be, "The laborer works with his hands, and his reward is a paycheck and blisters. The woodworker works with his heart, and his reward is joy."