to the whetstone

“In going where you have to go, and doing what you have to do, and seeing what you have to see, you dull and blunt the instrument you write with. But I would rather have it bent and dulled and know I had to put it on the grindstone again and hammer it into shape and put a whetstone to it, and know that I had something to write about, than to have it bright and shining and nothing to say, or smooth and well oiled in the closet, but unused.”

-Ernest Hemingway, in preface to “The First Forty-Nine Stories” (1944)


It is nice to have your tools sharpened, well oiled and sitting in your tool chest. It is still nicer to put those razor edges to wood and hear the “schnick” as they do what they are meant to do. You will have to put them to the stone again, it’s true. But isn’t that what the stone is for?

I have been very fortunate in the last few months and weeks to have opportunities I could only have dreamed about last year at this time. It’s hard to point to a beginning, but things have definitely snowballed since the release of issue one of Mortise & Tenon. Some of these moments have been very public and some I cannot write about yet. All of them have required me to go back to the grinder and hone up some skills I haven’t used in a while.

I’m not going to lie, it has been a lot of work. There have been moments when I’ve felt a little overwhelmed, but after reading a blog post Anne Briggs Bohnett wrote last year about just saying “yes” to opportunities as they present themselves, I decided that this was going to be a year of saying “yes” for me too. The late nights, early mornings and extra work are all leading to something. I can feel it.

I think I need this sort of motivation. Perhaps that is why this work appeals to me. I need to apply myself to a problem. I need to feel the pressure of a deadline. I need to stretch just a bit farther than I am comfortable stretching. I need the potential to fail so that I can appreciate success and understand what quality work means. In some ways, this has been a natural parallel to my development as a woodworker. As I build confidence in one area, another challenge presents itself as an opportunity to add to my skill set. It’s not all perfect surfaces and tight joints but each one is better than the last and each one holds within it the promise of the next.

So, what drives you back to the whetstone?


4 Comments Add yours

  1. Norm Jennings says:

    Well done. It has been a privilege to watch and read as you follow your path.


  2. jdsteed16 says:

    the mad genius/furniture maker wendell castle has a list of 10 rules of thumb, the tenth of which is ‘if you hit the bull’s eye every time the target is too close’. for me i am never so engaged in my task as when i am learning; particularly when i am applying well used skills towards a new, more challenging end. ‘dull’, for me, is a certain drifting of attention that comes with repetition. mistakes made that are a result of that disengagement are a sure sign that i have become dull and need to push myself further. mistakes in the service of gaining new, or refinement of old, skills, a sure sign that i am applying myself to the whetstone of learning. of course the general dullnes of my personality is such that no whetstone could remedy it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great take on the idea. I feel the same way. I know I am dulling when my heart is board.


  3. jdsteed16 says:

    all puns intended of course.

    Liked by 1 person

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