a word on process

Hi, my name is Jim and I own a drill press.

There, I said it.

As a professional in a field fraught with ideology, I’ve developed an allergy to the stuff in heavy doses. Can’t stand it. It makes my skin itchy and I start to break out in a healthy case of “can’t get out of this conversation fast enough.”

We’ve all got a touch of the stuff. I mean, it’s nigh on impossible to go through all of life without ever systematizing your ideas and understanding of the world, but that’s not the kind of ideology I’m speaking of here. What I can’t abide is the “stick to your guns whatever the cost,” “holier than thou,” “if one brick falls they all fall” sort of thinking that polarizes people and separates them one from another. This is always just a step short of the worst kinds of things people do to one another.

It’s why I left Facebook a few years ago and it’s why I pick and choose my social media. It’s why I can’t turn on cable news. It’s also why, though most of my woodworking is done without harming any electrons, I still use a power tool every now and again when they’re called for.

I’m far more interested in semiotics than ideology. Understanding how we make and process signs to communicate in meaningful ways has always seemed far more manageable to me than policing the systems we create with those signs.

Some have posited that consistency is the hallmark of small minds or at least unimaginative ones. Although I’ve used that line to sway the crowd in my favor in more than one classroom debate, at the end of the day I think it’s a little more complicated than that. Perhaps Aldous Huxley said it best: “Consistency is contrary to nature, contrary to life. The only completely consistent people are the dead.”

Q: Is it important to create meaning?

A: It’s essential to life.

Q: Is it helpful if there is some level of coherency and connection in that vast swirling miasma of symbols, signs and ideas?

A: Sure. why not?

Q: Does it always and forever have to stay the same and unchanging?

A: How can it?

I think the idea of perfection was at once the great gift that the ancient Greeks left civilization and their great curse on the rest of us. Perfection is a nice idea. It’s not real. When we strive for absolute ideological consistency at all cost, we’re looking for something like a perfection of our own self-narrative and that doesn’t exist either. We can’t look for it in the ones we love, in our heroes, or even in ourselves. We are each in media res of a story that is still being written. Character development and plot twists are half the fun.

I have abandoned nearly all of my power tools because I have found a more meaningful experience in hand-tool work, but when it comes to hogging out a giant mortise in my leg vise chop, I just want to get that done. Someday, if all of the power is gone and we’re back to candles and daylight I’ll hack it out with a mortise chisel, but in the mean time my drill press got me most of the way there and handwork took me home.







9 Comments Add yours

  1. Looking good. I hogged out most of the waste at the drill press as well. I couldn’t imagine doing all that with hand-tools alone.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I wasn’t going there if I didn’t have to. 😉

      Besides, there’s something about using my grandfather’s drill press that is oddly calming and satisfying.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Brian Clites says:

    Jim –

    First, your writing is elegant and evocative. Thank you for another great post.

    Second, confession time: I too have a drill press (which I love). And my home has polyurethane floors (which I would change in a heartbeat if I could afford to, but I don’t lose much sleep over the fact).

    Third, I’ll be linking to this one on my blog and the LAP forum. Your prose deserves many, many more readers. And this is as good a post as any for them to “meet” you through.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Brian, thanks for the kind words and for the links!


    2. Paul Knapp says:

      I agree entirely. I love reading Jim’s posts.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Nikolaus says:

    For me a drillpress is an shop essential, like my cordless drill. I wouldn’t part with both of them. And may be my band saw. But that is a huge cast iron beauty as is my drill press


    1. Given all the shop space in the world, and the knowledge I wouldn’t have to move it anytime soon, I would certainly have one of those big cast iron bandsaws too 😉


  4. Jim another thought provoking piece – there is a reason why Daily Skep is my favourite woodwork blog! What you say about consistency, and being in the middle of a story, really resonates.

    Like you I’m hand tool focused, but the drill press and band saw are essential tools in my workshop. Some people talk about being “hybrid” woodworkers, but I wonder if a better term might be “pragmatic” woodworkers?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s