LINLEY Summer School 2017: Tails Tuesday

As of Tuesday the group were turning their attention to the challenge of creating a dovetailed drawer. Although having some practice already in creating this infamous joint, my experience is fairly limited and my last set of dovetails was from over a year ago. However, as I eagerly took notes during Jonathan Rose’s expert tutorial and I then set about marking out my components, a wave of confidence came over me.

It’s simple. I can do this. Hey, I might even get a job in a workshop as a maker- a thought that has rarely come to my mind. Perhaps my aim in life should be to become a master craftsman?

However, as the afternoon carried on and other students around me had completed their joints and were starting to glue up their drawers, I began to doubt myself. This feeling is all too familiar for me, and one that I have constantly struggled with as a craftswoman in training and an artist. The marking out, the cutting of the tails and the routing of the pins all went pretty well and although taking things relatively slow and steady, I felt I was making good progress. But- it was six in the evening and my back was aching from a straight afternoon of working at too low a bench, and my eyes were tired from straining in the limited light of the barn. I thought to myself, it is always at this point that something will go wrong. So, perhaps not in line with everyone’s thinking, I decided to pause my work for the evening and to return the next day with a fresh set of eyes and hopefully a more positive attitude to my work.

Taking some time out and lying in the sun put me in a much better mood, as well as speaking about my worries with my fellow students, and as it transpired, I was not alone in my feelings. I found myself questioning: what are the qualities of craftsmanship? In the past I have heard people refer to it as the ability of knowing when to stop; going at your own pace; not comparing your work to others, and being mindful of the work you are doing. I think there is just as much skill in the thought processes behind the maker’s physical work, as there is in each of his or her hand’s movements. I can easily laugh at myself, as I realise how foolish it is to let my enjoyment and enthusiasm be knocked every time I make a ‘gappy’ dovetail, because it is only through perseverance and concentration that I will ever improve. I also stopped to wonder how the ability to maintain positive thinking could be applied to other areas of a craftsperson’s life…

I returned the following day and as it seemed, a night’s sleep is all that it really took. The final task of chiselling to the line and managing to fit my dovetails to the pins is always the stage that makes or breaks the joint, and it seems to me to be the crucial part of the process that can never be truly taught. It is just through experience and practise that the maker is able to diagnose why there are gaps or tight spots, and how they can be rectified. The set of dovetails I produced this week are far from perfect, but are still another example to add to my portfolio. When I return to college my plan is to machine up a pile of components and to continue practising my dovetail joints!

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