Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Occasionally I come across a discussion of a particular way of viewing craftsmanship. Essentially the model places any craftwork along a spectrum with "workmanship of risk" at one end and "workmanship of certainty" at the other. Basically where your work sits on the spectrum is a function of how likely you are to screw up the whole job at any moment. The late David Pye is credited with developing this model.

Here's an example of workmanship of certainty:
With a CNC, everything is set up before the workpiece is ever at risk. Really, the craft is completed before the bit ever touches the aluminum.

If you want to see you workmanship of risk, head on over to Konrad Sauer's site and take the time to study some of the posts where he walks you through the steps of turning wood and steel into $10,000 handplanes. Lathes? CNCs? Mills? Nope...pretty much just a hacksaw, rasps and files.

Yesterday while I was boring that hole all the way through my new tote I was remembering a picture from Konrad's site:
This was a jig he made for drilling the holes for the cap lever pin on a freaky badger plane. The nature of the plane is such that the angle of this hole is not normal to any axis of the plane body. I suppose the trig calculations aren't that difficult, but I'm pretty sure that he hadn't actually defined any of the angles contributing to it...trying to measure them with any degree of certainty would be futile because any measurement errors would be magnified by the other two angles. That's why I really like his caption for the above photo: 

"In the end I pretty much eyeballed it, took a deep breath, and went for it."

True, if he screws up here, he's only ruined an assemblage of metal. However, at this point he'd probably already spent 40 hours or so on the plane and one wrong move erases a whole week of his working life. He's got kids and a mortgage too, no wonder his stuff is so expensive. I don't do nearly as complicated work as this and I still manage to screw up EVERY SINGLE PROJECT I attempt in some way. Everything I do is filled with mistakes.

But sometimes dowel holes do line up correctly. Sometime pins and tails mate satisfyingly snugly. Occasionally I can even cut a tenon whose sides are parallel and whose shoulders are all on the same plane--not often, but occasionally.

Perhaps this is all a long way around examining the title of this blog. Most folks probably view woodworking--particularly handtooling--as a pretty tame, relaxing hobby. "Adventure" may not exactly be the first word that comes to mind. I can, however, assure you that there are moments of true exhilaration to be had from these high-risk situations.

I would encourage all to examine daily tasks and place them on the risk/certainty scale.

Baking cookies? I like them soft but not so much that I have to wash my hands afterwards. How much time in the oven it too much time?

Trimming fingernails? I like them really short, but don't want them tender.

Etc, etc.

Hopefully my saw kit will come in this week so we can get back to the normal posts instead of this nonsense.

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