Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery was required reading for all the fourth year students in the French language curriculum at my High School. As luck would have it, my senior year also happened to be the year that my French teacher decided it was time to clear the decks order new books, so the old tattered copies were ours to keep.
I have treasured mine for the last twenty-two years and, just recently, I began reading parts of it to my daughters. Their interest was piqued by the movie recently released on Netflix and they’ve fallen in love with the story. My youngest can sometimes be seen trying to tame a stuffed fox.
In any event, we ended up with a Little Prince calendar this year and it’s given me the idea to share a thought or two each month based on the quotes on the wall.*
“But the eyes are blind. One must look with the heart.”
When I saw the artwork for January, I was immediately taken back to the first few passes I ever took with a hand plane. This was not a finely tuned tool and what it produced were not the wispy gossamer shavings you might find on Instagram.
I bought the plane while I was trying to make a bed, which was meant to be a wedding present for my wife. I was working with construction lumber in the drafty basement of an old rental house with a skill saw, a jig saw and a hand-me-down router. I don’t know where the hand plane idea came from (I was reading everything I could at the time) but I marched right into the big box home improvement store and bought a Stanley no. 5 right off the rack. I didn’t have a sharpening setup. I didn’t even imagine I would need a sharpening setup. Back then I neglected power tools and hand tools with equal abandon.
When I climbed back down the stairs to the basement and freed the plane from it’s plastic packaging, I took the plane to the wood (against the grain mind you) and in one mighty swoop I became the harbinger of tear-out and the scourge of 2×6’s everywhere.
Ughh, I thought, I hate this thing.
I was not sad when a friend permanently “borrowed” it.
My heart and my eyes were in different places and it took a few years (decades) to get them on the same page. During those years I had proliferated a stockpile of power tools, and while my woodworking improved, my enjoyment in it really flatlined. It wasn’t until began seriously thinking about building acoustic guitars that hand tools even came back on my radar, but a rusty old Stanley jack plane came home with me from an antique store one day, and after a good cleaning (and sharpening) I fell in love.
I do not mean to over-romanticize here, but for me, the last three or four years have about getting my heart and my eyes in focus with one another. Seeing potential in that rusty old Stanley was only the first step. Buying it was a heart thing – a gut instinct – and it has opened up worlds of enjoyment for me.
This isn’t a hand tool / power tool thing. Maybe your eyes and heart came together over a Powermatic 66 or an old 14″ Delta bandsaw. To each their own. What I’m really trying to get at is that this craft of ours requires a sensitivity that develops over time. It’s really easy to beat yourself up over the failures but don’t. Use them. If you pay attention to the lessons they teach, each failure becomes part of a developing a sense of “presence” that is not mastery, but may be a step in that direction.
*Copyright laws are a little hazy on Saint-Exupery and his work. I don’t want to step on toes, but I also do not gain anything financially from these posts, so I think we’re in the clear.