Odate Zeitgeist

Woodworking today is a funny sort of thing. It’s experiencing a veritable renaissance one might venture, put in place some time ago by neo-pioneers like Roy Underhill, Norm Abrahms, Jay Van Arsdale, Christopher Schwarz, etc. the guys who were and still are broadcasting to a larger audience, whether with hand tools, power tools, or promulgating Japanese woodworking.

And there’s always been a standard bearer of individuals keeping the pulse, just making lovely pieces of art from wood, people like Sam Maloof, George Nakashima, & Wharton Esherick, with Toshio Odate landing somewhere in between those who through their generosity, provide educational tools to those who are interested, and those that through the medium of wood, continue to innovate and inspire with their design and craftsmanship.

Not to mention today’s blogosphere of hobbyists, amateurs, aspiring craftsmen and craftswomen, and others who through the Internet are able to share their experiences, their mistakes and their ideas with any who might be interested.

And as this new, old craft grows, there are for lack of a better word, hooks…projects as it were that grab people’s attention and maybe even get them started in woodworking. For me, it was seeing Christopher Schwarz’s version of Andre Roubo’s workbench on the cover of Popular Woodworking. For others, perhaps it’s someone different or a different piece that inspired them. I find I draw on so many different types of design, of woodworking culture that they all begin to meld together.

The road that led me to thinking about this process is somewhat convoluted, but essentially it comes back to Toshio Odate’s toolbox as illustrated in, “Japanese Woodworking Tools: Their Tradition, Spirit and Use”. I picked up a first edition hardcover almost 4 years ago-just when I began taking woodworking seriously. I knew that I deeply admired the work and took the story of Odate’s youth to heart. But the path to that point was incredibly obtuse. I couldn’t picture myself doing those things, things like rough milling a slab of wood that would eventually become a delicate, intricate Shoji screen. I’m still not there, I don’t think I ever will be. Regardless, it took me nearly 4 years to simply imagine that someday it might actually be possible to do that very thing. To learn to sharpen a tool properly, to understand the pleasure of creating a simple, thin shaving of a perfectly grained wood, to stand back and know the satisfaction of doing a job well and seeing an idea become manifest through the work of my hands.

And so about two weeks ago I started reading Odate’s book again, after getting interested in building Shoji. One of the first things mentioned in the book are the tools and the workshop of the Japanese shokunin, in particular the toolbox used by the craftsman. And I had recently seen a post by Wilbur Pan on Giant Cypress detailing his experience with building that same toolbox. And another post illustrating a similar build by a student in Jay Van Arsdale’s Daiku Dojo. In a round about way it came full circle. Go back to the beginning to find out where you are.

Build a toolbox. Keep it simple. Put your tools in it. Use those tools to keep building. Find inspiration from and inspire others. Let frustration go. Embrace mistakes. Be thankful for each day. And the next. And the next.

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