Welcome to the site; I hope you find it informative. I'll discuss a wide variety of trades-related topics that reflect my own path in the trades, and issues relevant to what is happening with the new "College of Trades" here in the province of Ontario. Be sure to check older posts, and I'd welcome your comments


Monday, July 27, 2009

Site Goals for New Visitors

If you are dropping by for the first time, things are a little different here from the average work-related site. Rather than the usual group hug and talk, the goal here to unravel the issues that surround skilled work; such as, how an idea comes together in a craft worker's mind to become a comprehensive plan that can be acted on, so as to produce a finished product both functional or useful, and pleasing in execution and esthetics. Or simply, a product that does the job, and looks good to the maker and user.

We'll also look at various aspects of the relationship between the worker and his tools, material and methods; as we are currently examining why a craft worker might hold onto methods while others have moved on to more "efficient" ways of achieving similar results.

Therefore we'll spend more time analyzing ideas than supplying work-rekated information, in order to get craft people and interested parties thinking about why skilled work happens the way it does.

If you're brave enough to take a look at my publications, you'll see they're a lot like a tough steak; require a little chewing. They deal with how community colleges (in Ontario) are handling (or ignoring in some cases) trade and craft issues. My passion at the bottom of it, is arguing for recognition of native intelligence in craft work, involving every bit as much as intellectual work such as university studies.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Bernice Vasey, Artist and Craftworker

I'm happy to be able to feature the work of a very talented and creative person. I've known Bernice for a long time, watched her work and talked about issues of woodworking. Her workmanship and creativity are astounding. Her only fault is extreme modesty, and the more you admire her work, the more she'll explain how some aspect didn't turn out as she'd planned, but pay absolutely no attention to her; her work is superlative.

You can contact Bernice at bvasey@georgianc.on.ca

Bernice Vasey Master Craftsperson

Luddites: Is Change Necessary? Pt.3b

I've just talked about the example of a violininst, and how being conservative in selection of woods and methods was not just preferable but essential. Tradition in his case was not a nasty word, does not denote recalcitrance but rather a steady and focused effort to retain the necessary outcome! the customer isn't looking for a suprise, but an instrument that will take its place in an orchestra with the goal of complementing a time proven sound.

We might think that a complex task like beginning with a block of wood and ending with the curved back of the violin body with uniform thickness could be done much easier than with chisels , shaved and shaved by hand! If Orange County Choppers can place an aluminum billet in a CNC machine and produce a perfectly sculpted motorcycle wheel, why can't we do the same with a block of wood? We could, but the result wouldn't be the same..

Now consider with me a carpenter using a hand plane to true up a door; at one time he'd have a long plane in his truck just for this purpose, now he'd have a power plane. However, if you or i wewre to take several passes of the plane down the length of the door, and then checked it, we'd find that the edge was getting off square, we'd see daylight under the try square, and that we'd taken off more in areas where we'd pressed harder. A true carpenter knows how to set the door firmly, and how to hold the plane firmly and press down as the plane moves away from his body. He'll retest as we would, but his eye would tell him a great deal about how uniform the passes were. He'd also watch the thickness of the curls coming off the plane, adjusting each pass to correct any distortions caused by the last pass.

The apprentice violin maker has a much more difficult task; shaping the curved back of the instrument with a variety of gouging and scraping tools, measuring constantly to ensure the thinkness ends up uniform throughout, reading the wood for direction of grain, etc

Work in Progress

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Luddites: Is Change Necessary? Pt.3

In 1970, I bought a brand new British motorcycle, showing rust right out of the crate, leaked oil, needed constant maintenance. It handled, rode and sounded great, but was an antique when I bought it. British manufacturing technology was in the dark ages at that time, since nothing was ever modified without overwhelmingly good reason for doing and even then only 10-20 years later than it should have been. Oil leaks were common and a point of camaraderie among BSA owners as were unreliable Lucas electrical systems that made one modern bike collector quip, "Lucas, prince of darkness". A whole mittful of British motorcycle manufacturers folded, as Japanese builders produced smooth, powerful and reliable (often ugly) and affordable substitutes.

I've done some teaching and have been around educational systems for over 30 years, and if anything teaching is more trendy than ever. New teachers who are not yet set in their methods may not mind. However, craft principles are widely recognized by experienced teachers, who in fact respond far more readily than tradespeople to discussions about the idea of craft. Those same teachers who have invested considerable time and energy in learning what works and what doesn't are forced to jump on the trend bandwagon each and every year. I'm not talking about the teachers who put no effort into their teaching, haven't changes their methods in thirty years and hate what they do, but those who care about real learning and know that teaching can be done effectively many different ways by very different individuals. Being told each summer to re-invent the wheel before September is an insult to their craft.

A very interesting television program aired a few years back featured a seventh generation violin maker in the American Midwest who carried on the tradition and methods. His only son went for teaching high school athletics, so the insturments he'd inherited from his European ancestors were destined for a university music department's museum.

I used to think that plumbers of all the trades were the most resistant to change, because if you had a product give service problems you'd stop buying it very quickly. But to my surprise, plumbers I've dealt with recently had embraced the new plastic piping for residential applications.

Finally, a female writer wrote in an article some time ago that no man over the age of 45 ever changes his mind about anything; my life's mission is to prove her wrong, starting with myself!

The above examples indicate that change is appropriate at times and not at others. Change for its own sake is novelty; just because some elementary teacher in Kansas finds that a teaching tactic works for her doesn't mean that every teacher needs to adopt the same method.

One of the most special moments in the piece on the violinmaker came when a musician came to pick up new instrument crafted especially for him. The two men greeted each other like old, dear friends, then the visitor picked up the new violin with anticipation and respect, the maker looking on with delight. Ever been at a home for supper, commented on the steaming plate as the hostess brought it to the table, and have her disclaim that she was trying a new recipe, not sure how it would turn out? Would that work here?

Obviously not. The craftsmen in this case has very good reasons for being conservative, in the sense of maintaining all of his methods, materials, etc. As the musician placed his order for the new violin, the old craftsman knew exactly how to adjust to the age, posture, reach and preferences of his friend to produce an instrument of perfection. To the collection of instruments from more than a hundred years of family instrument making, would someday be added those he had made. Years from now, on a quiet afternoon, a master violininist would remove instruments one at a time to play for a class of students and explain the subtlety nuances of variation between his instruments that the students might not perceive. Try that with a "flavour of the month" approach. Here, conservatism is essential. Just obtaining the right elements for woods, adhesives and fininshes was challenging enough.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Honouring a true craftsman: David Pye

Here's a couple links directing to appreciations for a tremendous fabricator and teacher, whose thin book has earned deep respect , even years after his passing and the book being out of print. If you are looking for the essence of true craft work by someone who has thought hard and carefully, metacognition or thinking about thinking at its finest.

Here's one not about a book, but a bowl, giving another example of the essence of the craftworker.

Jeremy Petch on Being a Luddite

Just came across this excellent article on Luddism from the point of view of philosophy of technology, will comment on it in upcoming posts. Written by Jeremy Petch, a graduate student currently studying at York University.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

What about the Luddites? Pt. 2

I'm sure that none of your fellow workers have smashed machinery simply because they felt that their sphere of work was threatened. Worker sobotage isn't unheard of, but rare. but it is likely that at some time you have worked with someone who was reluctant to change methods of working, causing others frustration including you. Why? We're going to look at some possible reasons.

Some workers are simply technophobes. Office workers who were used to typewriters were intimidated by computers; set up a mental block toward any new technology. Stubborness toward new technology can be due to resentment toward mangement, a conscious effort to derail any effort of management to change their way of working. Union or non-union, workers may be suspicious of new efforts as a way to get more out of employees without paying for it, or to eliminate work, reduce staff, etc.

Let'a take a specific example. John has been operating a press in a small plant for 15 years. But it's much older than that. John continuously complains about the old press, but fellow employees and his supervisor also know that he takes great pride in knowing his machine inside and out. Even if outside help needs to be called in for repairs, John will already know what needs to be done, and can get more production out of the machine than anyone else. Finally, a new updated machine is brought in and John is told he won't have to deal with the old clunker any more. How will John react?

He may not react positively; because his area of mastery has been either taken away, or he may be disturbed or unsettled at the very least. His pride of work has been based on a personal of accomplishment, and management reaction to his reluctance is in every way both well intentioned and paternalistic. That paternalism will disipate his self esteem, once again dealing with a problem as a worker deficiency.

Bill is an older worker is a specialty wood working shop. New tools, machines and adhesives were picked up by the younger guys as soon as they came on the market, but Bill drew scorn for sticking to some of his hand tools. The management didn't really mind, because there were certain jobs that were consistent given to Bill because of his ability and experience and sometimes customer preference.

A master doesn't necessarily feel the necessity of changing proven methods for its own sake. He's putting his own name on the job. This is the essence of a master and his methods; why mess with what works? Even his understanding of which woods work best, how to make inferior woods look better than choice selections.

According to one account, Steven Speilberg preferred splicing film to editing digitally, because he liked the feel of the film and the time delay in the process allowed time for thoughtfulness, so that his methodology went hand in hand with his philosophy of film making. Bill could be like that; taking pride in producing a particular piece of furniture is inextricably linked to the tools he selects from a large collection, and the methods he has picked up over the years from books and others and modified to make them his own; and they work for him. And the sound and feel of a sharp chisel or hand plane bitting into wood with just the right rythym and pressure, gives him satisfaction.

Added reading: Google: David Pye craftsmanship

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Dirty Jobs as Green

Interesting article in U.S. News, interviewing Mike Rowe about the show "Dirty jobs" and his goals for MRW web site.