Editor’s note: Hand tool woodworkers are living in a golden era of tools and toolmakers. The range and quality of tools available to us is staggering and it seems to be growing every day. To stand out in that crowd your work really has to be something special. Not only are the tools that Dave Jeske is churning out at Blue Spruce Toolworks special, they are individual works of art. Some might almost dare to call them perfect. Whether or not they are perfect, they certainly inspire me to always seek beauty and grace in my own work.
Even in the midst of this busy season, Dave has been gracious enough to offer his thoughts about perfection as today’s guest blogger. Reading this has been one of the highlights of the season for me, and I hope it will be for you too.
The Best One Yet
By Dave Jeske
I am very fortunate to live in a beautiful corner of the United States, the Pacific Northwest just outside of Portland, Oregon. In the rolling foothills of the Cascade Mountains, we are in the heart of Christmas tree country. There are over 42,000 acres of fertile soil dedicated to producing and harvesting over 5 million of the most beautiful Christmas trees in the world. I literally drive through the middle of many Christmas tree farms every day to get to my shop. At Christmas time the annual migration of city dwellers flock to the countryside to score the perfect tree for the centerpiece of their Holiday decorations. Up and down the rows upon rows of trees, there are Douglas Firs, Nobles, Grand firs and other majestic trees carefully sculpted and pruned by master tree farmers. You would think it would be a simple matter to find the “perfect” tree. Maybe it is for most families, but here in our household we take finding the perfect tree to a new level.
Perfection often requires a quest, hard work, even an adventure. For many years our quest for the perfect Christmas tree has started with loading up the most appropriate vehicle, currently an aging Jeep Cherokee 4wd, with saw, axe, rope, chains, tools, warm clothes, hats, gloves, a big thermos of hot chocolate mixed with some Kahlua, numerous festive CDs and of course, the kids, the dog, Dawn and I. We obtain our $5 tree hunting license at the ranger station and eagerly head for the mountains. Our usual plan is to hit the National Forest Service backroads and drive as high in elevation as weather and road conditions permit while listening to carols and reciting lines from “Christmas Vacation”. When we are on the verge of getting stuck in the ever deepening snow, we pile out and the big search begins. Each of us has our own vision of what perfection looks like, it may even change year to year.
We trudge, we climb, we laugh and throw snowballs and we chase the dog. We search and search. Finally, after hiking for…a long time… we gather around the chosen tree exclaiming, “it’s perfect!” Great, “get the axe!” A few quick chops with the freshly honed blade makes quick work of felling our tree. My son and I get the honor of dragging our prize back to the Jeep where we heft it on top and tie it down. Our perfect tree now displayed on the trophy rack for the envy of all to see as we work our way down the mountainside and back to the warmth of our home. In the end, the tree always has some minor faults we had overlooked, a little thin here, a twisted branch there, not as symmetrical as we had first thought, it was therefore, not perfect. But we are always proud of our tree and proclaim, “this is the BEST one yet!”. The journey, the adventure, the family time and memories all lead to what I define as perfection.
I approach projects and work in a similar way. The motto of Blue Spruce Toolworks is: “Hand tools for your finest work”. Perfection, or your finest work, the journey to perfect, is very personal. It will vary with projects and over time. It is a continual journey. For many years I had a very difficult time trying to wrap my mind around the concept of being content while also pursuing perfection. Perfection, by definition, implies no fault, no blemish, and no defect. I do not believe such perfection can be achieved. Upon closer and closer scrutiny, everything becomes imperfect. I had to learn to be satisfied, happy, content, even proud of the work I do while also realizing I could still improve. It helped me to make realistic assessments of my current skill level and the expected results given those current skills. If the expected results were not acceptable, then I need some practice, teaching, etc. Or, I need to be satisfied with the expected outcome.
I currently feel only mediocre at my dovetailing skills. I set my expectations of “perfect” dovetails a little lower than what my dovetail heroes achieve, and I know I need to practice. When I finish a project and it has a slight imperfection or flaw I am no longer devastated, I realize it is part of my journey, a part of my learning. I analyze what went wrong or how I can do better next time. I may have done my finest work on that project, but next time I will strive to do even better. I will continue to pursue perfection.