The boy who had made his own jackknife from the ore which he had dug and smelted, or the boy who had received a Rodgers penknife from his father ? Who would be the most likely to cut his fingers? Thoreau

“TO BE OF USE” a poem by Marge Piercy

Craftsmanship “The people I love the best, jump into work headfirst without dallying in the shallows and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight. They seem to become natives of that element, the black sleek heads of seals, bouncing like half-submerged balls.  I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart, who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience, who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward, who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge in the task, who go into the fields to harvest and work in a row and pass the bags along, who are not parlor generals and field deserters, but move in a common rhythm when the food must come in or the fire be put out. The work of the world is common as mud, botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust, but the thing worth doing well done has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident. Greek amphora’s for wine or oil, Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums but you know they were made to be used.  The pitcher cries for water to carry and a person for work that is real”.


When people imagine the craftsman, they have a romantic image of an industrious independent man in his workshop. Usually with a beard, probably with a leather apron, rolled up sleeves, a salt of the earth type of guy. A skilled tradesman, secure in the knowledge of his hand and the strength of his character, pursuing a simple, quiet life in idyllic surroundings.  Craftsmanship can be seen as an opportunity to be self employed, self expressive, self sufficient and self actualized.

You’re engaging your physical capabilities, your imagination, your ability for cognitive problem solving and engaging your creativity.  Throughout human history, to be a blacksmith or a creator of wooden objects wasn’t glamorous. But that didn’t matter, the specifics of the work were irrelevant. The materials being used weren’t noble but the shaping of them could be.  This is caring about what you do, commitment to quality and deeply understanding one’s materials. These are the elements of craftsmanship in general.


Craftsmanship allows a practical way of experiencing the phenomenon of “flow” where you disappear into your work. Any sense of “self” disappears as you concentrate on the task at hand.  The work at hand should take you to your edge, working on that edge and just beyond. Where your not overwhelmed, neither are you remaining in an imposed comfort zone within the work. There is often a suspension of time involved, what seemed like minutes, becomes hours. This turns out to be an immensely pleasurable and wonderful feeling.

I’ve been a carpenter for most of my adult life, I have experienced “flow” many times. I would explain it as, “waking up from a day dream” but there is something tangible to show for that day dream. Now amongst other things, I write words, which isn’t natural for me. But the act of putting words together and suggesting new ideas can take me off into something quite seductive. The words could be nonsense, or be interpreted another way.

When I’m working with wood and chisels, there isn’t a question about whether a chisel is sharp. There is also, never a question of whether a joint between two pieces of wood is tight.  When I make a piece of furniture, the functionality will be decided by the user.  My ideas, suppositions and efforts are checked by the “real” and that can be a very healthy feeling.  The item exists in the physical world to be enjoyed and shared with others.  Unlike “words” which disappear off the computer screen into the archives and I’m left wondering, if it was nonsense after all.


A healthy feeling


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