Nuts and Bolts - West Wind Hardwood

Positions of authority: business executives, assembly-line managers, supervisors, parents.  Different title; same scenario.   Successful adults (now parents) growing up in a work-ethic environment, slogging through the public education system, sending their children to private school because it represents success; a betterment.   Better for what I ask?  Better yes….in some ways; perhaps not so in others.  Same scenario for that mandatory university/college degree so commonly expected by the corporate world.  Cause and effect: ‘BofA’ degrees are the new ‘high school’ diploma.  Again I ask:  Better?

Don’t get me wrong.  I did encourage our children towards a university education hoping they attain marketable skills as a means to ensure happiness and financial independence.  How?  Where?  And it really didn’t matter so much if they were otherwise driven.   As young adults heading towards some form of post-secondary education, my constant and unwavering advice was to figure out what brings pleasure and how to do this better – whether that meant some form of further education or not.  Liking something and trying to do it better likely meant you’ll be good at it……………..meaning somebody just might pay you for this passion.  Basically, do we work for the pleasure of what we are doing, or is work simply a means to an end…….or a weekend?  It’s this imbalance in our conception of work versus leisure that creates pressure points.

I think we are seeing a fundamental shift from society’s 20th century notion that the middle class white collar vision of academic-based service is preferable.  I believe we are seeing a remerging respect for the anti-bureaucratic work mentality.  Read:  small business tradesman; independent minded Renaissance man of multi-talents where sensual knowledge** is respected.  **Now keep in mind I didn’t invent this expression, but it’s such a minimalist phrase. I love it.  This concept is generally defined as “simple perception which comes directly from the five senses that we don’t normally question; an intuitive instinct”.   I think a reinvented work self is emerging; a completely self-reliant character who can maneuver a hand-tool while reading a schematic diagram whilst utilizing some means of artificial intelligence; whether Smartphone, computer, tablet or such.

Source: via Pinterest

This new breed of tradesman must diagnosis and fix, craft and converse, cultivate not necessarily create, all with one foot well rooted in the techno-intelligence world.  There is attentiveness to the craft; a consideration not routinely found in the stereotypical cubicle worker; a social respect evolving; a connectedness to the skills required by the trades. In trades, there is a tendency to resist the remote control that the automation of assembly lines introduced.

Why the diatribe?  The book “Shop Class as Soulcraft – An Inquiry into the Value of Work” (written by Matthew B. Crawford) was revealed to me last year.  The title spoke to me in so many ways.  My husband Jan, my wood whisperer and a woodworker by trade; both our girls and our business, West Wind Hardwood, our passions and the reason we value the work ethic; the Shop Classes, in which we live vicariously through the teachers and students; the many Wood-related Guilds, Clubs and Schools we encourage.  It was bought and read, and very much liked!

hand wood planerI don’t think anyone can deny the decline of the applied skills/industrial education classes these past decades.  Interest waned; budgets dwindled. Anyone near and about my age may recall the gentle pressure of career counsellors; perhaps the not-so-gentle shoves from family towards college or university…..rarely the trades, unless of course it was deemed the only alternative.  Perhaps grades lacked or the ability to ‘fit’ into the classroom setting questioned, and after all we were entering the age of computers; we were a post industrial economy.  Traditional skills were meant to become a thing of the past.  Trades went underground.  People preferred not to think they were dependent on blue-collar types.

Excerpt from an interview with Matthew Crawford by Popular Mechanics on October 1, 2009:

And a lot of schools don’t even have an auto shop any more. I heard from an educator in Oregon that one of the fastest growing segments of the student body at community colleges is people who already have a four-year degree and go back to get a trade skill because it’s more marketable.

Source: via Pinterest

Crawford’s book brought my respect for the trades to the forefront again.  Showed me there was; there is, pride to be had in the applied skills.  And that’s the point, the traditional trades is a craft; an art form if you will.

Here are a very few of the many accolades that I would have liked to have written but found people with far better word skills than I had beat me:

“A powerful case for the special value of skilled work that requires the use of one’s hands.”
The Wall Street Journal

“A philosophy of how life should be lived, how children should be educated and how economies should be run. Full of interesting stories and thought-provoking aperçus enlivened with humour. Important, memorable and enjoyable.”
Louis de Bernières, The Times (UK)

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It was a good read; entertaining for a non-fiction book.  There was no brain pain 🙂  I recommend it.

The question will be if the balance swings from one extreme to the other, what will happen to those with self-reliant extremes when aged?  Certainly retirement will not be a finite state.  How can you take that life-long resistance to the ‘man’ and find respect and grace in aging? What does happen to old life-long doers?


  1. I am 83 years of age and when I learned the carpentry trade, which then also included what we term today as ‘finish’ carpentry, the emphasis was on the use of hand tools, as most houses and buildings at that time were constructed using hand tools only…….This gave me the later advantage of being able to erect and finish a wood building without the aid of power tools. Admittedly it took much longer this way but I could and did do it, often with the assistance of only one helper…..Given a tool chest containing hands saws (rip and crosscut) hand brace with bits, chisel set, jack plane, oil stone for sharpening plane and chisels, carpenter’s framing square, level and an assortment of hammer/s, screwdriver/s, pry bar and perhaps nailpuller, I could go anywhere and build most anything of milled lumber.

    Now don’t mistake me. Where possible I use power tools both electric and air and carry along air compressor, electrical generator to power them…….Or at least did when I was still young and sufficiently spry enough.

    A point I wish also to make is that a young man wishing to work with wood as a hobby does not require, as he may think, a plethora of expensive power tools and a large shop area in which to keep and use them…….Once he learns and becomes even moderately proficient is the use of the hand tools I described above then a heated garage will provide the space needed to satisfy his hobby be it building birdhouses or boats………I suppose I should have included in the hand tool list some clamps, a file or two and finally…..A nail set. Although the nail set can be quickly improvised from a 31/2″ or 4″ nail and a little file work.

    Finally buy quality tools whenever possible and take care of them. They will truly last a lifetime, most of mine have…….bob pearce

  2. Congratulations! I quite enjoyed your thoughtful article regarding education and trades. Not the type of item one might expect to find on a wood newsletter. I quite agree with your observations and have come to worry how independent tradespeople cope with injury and especially old age.


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