Friday, 19 June 2015

THE ZEN WOODCUTTER.

I need a gentleman's saw. It's not that I'm a gentleman,  I guess that the name refers to someone who might make small, neat repairs to his backgammon board or Meerschaum pipe, and not a ruffian joiner, hacking at floorboards or door frames for a living. 

In any event, it is  a small backsaw,  having a brass support along its top edge and with very fine teeth,

 it is a lovely, delightful tool, just the job for neat cuts on small stock - dowels and mouldings. I have a couple but they need sharpening and I can't do that, sharpening planes, saws and chisels, may as well be quantum physics. I can sharpen knives better than  anyone who ever lived but I can't do tools. I have a wheeled and angled clamp for running blades over an oilstone, but more often than not I just buy a throwaway chisel from the UKIP shop -  pay a pound, use it for one job and then consign it to  the eventual task of all screwdrivers and chisels, opening paint tins. I have a couple of small block planes which I manage to sharpen, about once a year and an arsenal of electric planers. I really do want, crave, one of those old, really long planes, 



the deadweight and length of which just square boards by magic but I can never afford one and even  the modern equivalents

 
 cost over a hundred pounds;  I have saws, anyway,  that'll square boards and I'll get a planer-thicknesser one of these days so, other than for the aesthetic there's no need for a big hand plane.

I do, though, buy some decent hand tools  and I wanted a nice gentleman's saw.  Google took me to Workshop Heaven and  for a moment turned my life upside-down. Japanese saws and planes and chisels, I never knew they existed, well, I suppose I must have done, but just never thought about it, yet Workshop Heaven was littered with them, glittering, thin  and deadly, as you would expect from SamuraiSword blokes. These were Zen tools, inscrutable,  tools you had to think yourself into, you couldn't just pick 'em up and start sawing stuff.  Not for the first time, I wished I was thirty years younger, that I might have time to learn all this hand-crafting stuff, acquire these tools and live long enough for them to become my friends. Like my New Pincers.

 I have a pair of pincers which I bought when I first became interested in old furniture, over twenty-five years ago and although I have since acquired more pairs, these remain my New Pincers; pass me my New Pincers, dear. You mean these old, grey ones? Yeah, my New Pincers. They were my first considered tool purchase and I still love them. It came late in life, my reverence for tools and what they represent; doesn't matter if it's a spoke shave or a JCB, it is all clever monkey stuff, started with a rock for hammering and then a jawbone with some remaining teeth, for sawing, this pair,  found in a builders' pit, in the garden,


were used in the construction of my house, the stone with a
depression worn into it, from striking the iron, imagine the damage done to joints and cartilege; the technology is the religion, the spirituality of the opposable thumb, and any man says different, I'll hit him with a mallet.

I don't, though,  have enough life left now; not enough time to fill a workshop with Jap blades and ebony smoothing planes. 
C'est la vie, goes to show you never can tell.

But the projects are always with me.  I need to build a shed to replace the one blown-down in January and I will make it from stout wooden boards, nailed and screwed,  pegged and bracketed, tight enough to withstand Armageddon.  I can't do one of those barn-raising projects, like the Amish people do in the Hollywood movies, where all the neighbours congregate, singing and hammering and drinking lemonade, before dozens of them push a huge wall up, at ninety degrees from the ground and then cheerfully clad it with boards sawn from trees felled in the local forest. I will just have to sink some posts in concrete and clad them and figure out how to make a roof, doors and windows; 
the youtube is my shepherd, 
I shall not want. 

With this project in mind, even though I have, in the byre,  a big, de Walt radial arm saw which would, as well as sawing and moulding wood, whip you up an omelette and iron your trousers, I bought a smaller, more portable site saw, a Makita sliding, compound-mitre saw.  I'm not rich or anything but I don't do foreign holidays or football matches or the 'pub or any of the things which lots of men do; mrs ishmael has a sewing-room filled with crazy machines and forests of fabric and I have tools and machines.  She has machines, too, robots which vacuum and wash the floors, beep-beeping their fatigue or irritation.  I barely do clothes, I have a hairtcut once every sixteen years and I can always, anyway,  justify the tools;  my table saw and my radial arm saw work perfectly, after more than  twenty years' service and have saved us a fortune, the price of machined timber is terrifying, so we bought this one,with one of those big, long tables to fix it to, for when we work outside.



 And then, fuck me, on  my birthday, the other day, there came these,
 a selection of Nip saws, with a how-to book



 They are made, people say, of the best steel in the world, wafer thin, terrifyingly sharp and you only have to look at them the wrong way and they shatter.  Unlike Western saws, they cut on the pull stroke, not the push and this one, above, has a cross-cutting edge on one side and a ripping edge on the other.

I have a couple of boards, so big, so nice that I will probably never use them, some stupid bastard'll come along and burn them, when I'm dead,  and I have a sneaking suspicion that these saws will find their way, not into the workshop but onto the wall, as a piece of art, too nice, too perfect to use.

The Samurai sword, for all the ritualised perfection  of its construction and use was no match for the Thompson .45 calibre sub-machine gun.
Similarly, the Makita saw, another Japanese product,  will do, in a split second, what would take the traditional Japanese saw minutes and it will also cut at angles and to depths which are impossible to achieve, for me, at any rate, by hand. It really would be a long, long labour of love, becoming adept in Nip joinery.

Before sandpaper became available in the West, in the  1830s, woodworkers,  as well as using metal scrapers, rubbed at wood, using their bare hands, with sand and grit and coral and pumice  and if you look at early furniture this obviously worked very well but I wouldn't exchange my Makita orbital sander for  a handful of powdered rock, no more than I'd ride a horse to town.

Such, though, is the devil, Pragmatism, talking,  and deep-down, I do wish I could hone blades, wield handtools like a master and even ride a horse to town. Once, many had these and other skills, many knew the names of birds and flowers, could read the weather, knock-up a box or a gate, lay a wall, catch a fish, tend an animal, tie a knot, brew a beer, bake a loaf; now we are utterly alienated from the means of survival and most of us are good for fuck all, save taking pictures of ourselves and gibbering in cyberspace, like fucking monkeys.

Week after next I will be in the hyperbaric chamber, nine-to-twelve, for a month or two, my six weeks' worth of mornings; maybe, as well as improving my healing process, the ten atmospheres will revive my energy and my autodidactism, maybe I will wrestle, after all,  with my inner Samurai. The saws, after use, can still go back on the wall, to be talked about, handled, proof that we are all the same, even though some of  us pull where others push and some have more teeth to the inch.

43 comments:

mrs narcolept said...

I seem to recall that your birthday is close to the solstice, mr ishmael, so every good wish from the narcolepts.



Rightwinggit said...

I have quite a few Japanese pullsaws, and I would not be without them.

call me ishmael said...

Thank you, mrs n, it is a birthday present beyond measure to know you are still here.

call me ishmael said...

You always surprise me, mr rwg, you seem such an un-rwg, Are they easy to use, the Nip saws?

mongoose said...

I have the ancestral handsaw. Didn't me da hand it down to me on his death bed there, like his father before him, and it's blade forged by the little people themselves on Mount Doom... But what sane man would spend the two hours to sharpen an old saw, when he can buy a disposable one for a fiver. I've some of the Japanese style ones too and they are now so common they come cheap and cheerful too - use and throw away. Cut themselves square but sharpen them? No. Very unzen though. Sinful, so it is.

Caratacus said...

Whatever else my father may or may not have managed to bequeath to me before his untimely death before my sixth birthday, he certainly instilled a love and respect for old and valued tools. I have his saws, box planes and chisels still and keep them oiled and sharp, using the old triangular files for the saw-blades ... if I - a complete peasant in these matters - can do it, I am sure you can too, Mr. I.

When the archery club opens its fields to the car-boot brigade every bank holiday Monday, and I am released from the task of car-parking attendant, I tour the stands buying up old tools for an absolute song. Metal files particularly as these can be forged into quite fine knife blades with a bit of care and attention. One of the best blades I ever made was from an old Land Rover leaf-spring, but I fear it went AWOL in the last house move *sigh* those were t'days ...

call me ishmael said...

I use disposable saws, chisels, paintbrushes and rollers, too, mr mongoose but I also think that if one has made or sharpened the tool, ripped, wadded and folded the polishing rubber, thought about the screws and fixings, mixed the stain oneself from crystals, as in that floor you admired then that effort sustains and improves the task and enhances the result and thus I agree with both you and his majesty, king caratacus. I also think that familiarity with a tool, a machine or device - even a computer operating system - brings a confidence reflected in the completed task. I dunno, you will all be be more accomplished than I, who usually has to do everything twice but despite my distaste for the idea of the professional poet, i, nevertheless, look for the poetry in everything, especially in the tools. Looking for the poetry, it's why I come here.

SG said...

Extraordinary craftsmen, your Japan-Man, Mr I - zero defects (apart, maybe, for the odd power station...). Best take one of those blades into the hyperbaric chamber just in case they forget you're in there and you need to cut yourself out.

Mike said...

I can't knock a nail in straight, and if its a nut I'm bound to round the edges. But I do appreciate craftsmanship. Some years ago we bought a very old Jap side-table at an auction. Lovely wood (I don't know what) and patina, but what I like is that it is rock solid, no wobbles, no nails or screws, and the joints as tight as a nun's whatsit.

In my own chosen subject (maths) there is a zen quality also, where first principles and elegance give lasting pleasure, as I imagine in carpentry.

In the good old days, wasn't the apprentice's first tak to make his own tools. That's a proper education.

BTW, are you sure those Jap saws are not for cooking?

Bungalow Bill said...

As I've said before, I'm with Mr Mike: irredeemably cack-handed but relishing the joy of the well made thing and envying those who can do the making. Alas, I'm also cack-minded when it comes to maths - another world I would love to be able to comprehend but there it is impossible even to enjoy the product, though I can intuit why mathematicians find such pleasure.

But it is all about rhythm and timing and the forgetting of yourself in the work. Here's hoping the floating tank experience takes you there.

Bungalow Bill said...

There I go, you see, not understanding what a hyperbaric chamber is and thinking it was some sort of medicinal spa bath in the dark. No reason why your mind can't float though.

call me ishmael said...

It was developed to deal with nitrogen narcosis, mr bungalow bill, the bends but now has applications for circulatory disfunction. I didn't know about it, either but the plastic surgeons use it in conjunction with the shark cartilege and all the other ju-ju.

Bungalow Bill said...

They're supposed to be the most skilled of all the surgeons, aren't they, the plastic people, maybe with the exception of the brain cutters. Hope it all goes right for you.

Mike said...

Mr BB: I understand the highest rated surgeons are neonatal surgeons. Imagine doing heart surgery on a new born. You would need a tiny saw for that.

Bungalow Bill said...

Yes I see that Mr Mike. As I say, one can only marvel at the dexterity. I have a friend who mends clocks and watches and it's beautiful to see him absorbed in the task.

mongoose said...

And with a table-saw, a bandsaw, a chopsaw and a skilsaw, even a bastard jigsaw for destroying things with - what the heck are we doing screwing around with handsaws? The very little Japanese one though is so fine that you can cut curves with it, and v easily. Which is good for sticking stuff up on walls which haven't been flat for a while, possibly never were. And pull-saws hardly ever break out that last irritating bit. makes even an eegit look semi-competent.

call me ishmael said...

Organic, that might be the word, mr mongoose, sawing through the wood, feeling each severed fibre is a different experience, in which the process is as valuable as the product. I have a Yamaha keyboard which can reproduce, I dunno, hundreds of instrumental sounds and voices, except that it can't, all is synthesis, ersatz, robbery, in fact. I love all those tools you mention, and I use them but they don't produce those things of which mr mike speaks, they cannot, these things are not produced, they are negotiated - bent, forced, sprung, shaved; it's not engineering.

call me ishmael said...

No sweat, mr bungalow bill, thanks, if it doesn't work, the surgeon will do another graft, he has done miracles, so far. I am a bit of an expert on surgeons and the specialists all seem extraordinary. A man screwed a titanium scaffold into my spine, last year, just by watching himself on CCTV, while I was anaesthetized for six hours into absolute immobility. I was left with an entry wound about an inch long, in the front of my neck.

call me ishmael said...

There is a nurse-technician present throughout, mr sg, and they won't imprison one of their own.

Mike said...

Don't get any inappropriate thoughts, Mr I. Bon chance.

mongoose said...

Oh, I get it, believe me, Mr I. And engineering is exactly what it is. You just don't have to have the chit to be one. Come to think of it, I don't think I have used a forward cutting handsaw in as long as I have had the other. Your present ones look very fine btw. And on the wall would be a disgrace to any engineer, chitted or unchitted.

Grandfather posts is what you need for your shed BTW. Great honest anchors to keep the Atlantic winds at bay. A base slab but with non-rotting teeth now into the ground.

Anonymous said...

There you go mate!
http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Xacto-Precision-Razor-Saw-Set-75300-/161619011119
-richard

call me ishmael said...

Thanks, mr mike, it is not Purdah, wi-fi in the hospital hotel, sail back home Thutsday evening, fly back to Aberdeen , Sunday night. Your own journey is more perilous, Europe in a furore a la Grecque, bon chance with that, too.

call me ishmael said...

Interesting site, mr richard; cheap enough to have one of those, just for when you need one, except that I am always buying things like that and then, when I do need them, I can never find them and having stuff you cant find is much worse than not having it at all.

call me ishmael said...

You should not reproach yourself, mr bungalow bill; these pursuits devour time and, speaking for myself, demand all my attention; unlike proper tradesmen, I cannot work with the radio on - nor drive, for that matter - and sometimes spend as much time thinking about how to do something as in doing it, amounting to years in which I might've been listening to Monteverdi or Allegri or thousands of others, or chasing mr verge through letters' labyrinth, dogging mr mike's footsteps through the jungle. My old friend's craft inventory consisted of a Quality Street tin, half-filled with odd screws, nails 'n'washers and a rusty old hammer, kept in the shed at the bottom of a long garden. Too busy watching football, was Dick, and being a pointless tourist. It was only at his funeral did I realise that he had been his own work of art, laboured-at, refined, a Hail! Fellow, well met, trusted and admired companion to hundreds of people, not just me. He was a senior bureaucrat and had long known the Rewards of Obedience, yet still was every man's Everyman, a feat of enormous social prestidigitation, no need, he, of rasps and abrasives, clamps and vices, blades, gougers or strikers.

Anonymous said...

Apart from the house (which in fact belongs to the mortgage company, or at least they currently hold title, it's not as simple as it seems) and "my" conveyance which in fact belongs to the DVLA (I am only the "registered keeper, it says so, on the V5), and my books, I can carry all I own* in two suitcases and a rucksack. The garden tools, which I occasionally wield, belong to the Missis, as does everything else in the house. The less stuff the better. I wish my Missis shared this philosophy, she's not as bad as Mr. Trebus but the traits are there.
Re: tools, my grandfather's garage was full of old tools such as box planes, bow-saws, and other tools. I managed to get hold of a small hand-drill which is of cast-iron and wood which looks as if it will last for hundreds of years, before the rest of the stuff was dumped.
*In point of fact, if you define property as something that you alone control the fate of, then no-one owns anything because the Courts decide who gets what in cases of dispute. See "Gay cake dispute" in N.Ireland. You thought it was your cake, Mr Baker, and your labour? Wrong.
-richard

call me ishmael said...

I see red, mr richard, anytime I think of that gay cake. And I find that even a liberal such as I is ruinously out of step with the chatterers and twitterers; this, like the case of the Nobel scientist, is not freedom but tyranny, a sinister monoculture, the new multiculturalism, in which any freak can scream his head off about Equality, but just his equality, his freedom of expression and thought, not anyone else's; repulsive, footstamping, precious, hissy little faggots, demanding the right to be straight, wossamatter with 'em? Worse than Muslins, they are, worse than Jews, worse than Methodists, worse than the Tribesmen, bitterness and grievance. Fuck'em all, a pox up their horrid, fisted arses.

It is more philosophical than political and juridical, the illusion of property, we bring nothing and take nothing, my gripe is that others will not appreciate and care for what I term my stuff, as you care for the hand drill.

Bungalow Bill said...

That comment about your friend, Mr I, is a fine tribute and contains whole worlds. A novel in 6 lines.

Dr Yllek said...

Happy happy....

Anonymous said...

All the best with your chamber of treatment; as for poetry, you won't have to look far to find some in someone called Ishmael spending some time in a room made to deal with the bends.

verge.//

(last year I wanted an on-off switch to control the water-supply to the rain-butts in the garden; two of them are up against the house and can turn into giant ice-cubes if the winter's a bad one. I decided it would be humiliating to pay someone to fit them, couldn't find a saw in the garage, and set about the plastic downpipes with a breadknife. Got there in the end, and it all seems to work, but it was not what you'd call a job well done, really. My elderly uncle has a tool he inherited from his father for harvesting rhubarb, so I know what you mean, by proxy.)

inmate said...

Wonderful post Mr I, I share your fascination with tools, inherited one of those long planes you crave, although lacking in the carpentry skills of me old Dad, it sits on a shelf, along with his other wood working tools, a selection of auger bits, hand drills, boxwood chisels, fret saws and occasionally given a rub with a soft cloth.
I find the time spent thinking about doing something as pleasurable as the doing the something.
I've worked with the little yellow toothy people and they do have some strange ways of doing; frinstance, fashioning little origami boxes to catch swarf, while drilling or filing, rather than use an industrial vacuum. But they are the most polite and respectful of any nationality I've worked with, they do make fine tools and of course swords.

call me ishmael said...

Next time, Makita do a multi-tool, mr verge, for about a hundred quid in B&Q, the small blades oscillate rather than cut and they will deal with wood, plastic , metal and plaster, you need to buy the blades but they are cheap enough on line, there are cheaper products and dearer but the Makita seems optimum to me and will do jobs you never thought possible.

call me ishmael said...

I have such a shelf, myself, mr inmate, most people just walk past it, don't even see it. mrs ishmael's father was a master builder and I have restored some of his tools; hard, though, to find a place for an ornamental sledgehammer, but I will.

call me ishmael said...

Such accidental art as crash-lands here, mr bungalow bill, is collaborative in origin, a reluctance, on the part of all here engaged, to be going to the feelies, tonight; notwithstanding, your appreciation is welcome.

Anonymous said...

Your gripe re: property is understandable but it was recognised and dealt with by the Stoics and can be dealt with by us, using their philosophy.
http://classics.mit.edu/Epictetus/epicench.html
Anyway ta for the reply. Couldn't agree more. The same mincing buffoons claimed that Derry council were homophobic because they wouldn't spend tens of thousands of ratepayers' pounds to illuminate some bridge in rainbow colours to celebrate gay pride. Nothing wrong with illuminating bridges for gays if they themselves paid, but of course that wouldn't have been "celebrating diversity" which is apparently compulsory at other people's expense. What would Sir Roger Casement have said, that fine man (and homosexual, when he wasn't saving planters' lives in the Congo or smuggling guns, he was a humane and courageous fellow), about the huge rallies in Republic of Ireland for gay marriage, a hundred years after the uprising against British rule in which he and so many paid with their lives? Is this what the Fighting Irish see as important as the bankers help themselves? The inconvenience of a few hundred gays who want to make fools of themselves in public and get "married", that's the reason to get out from in front of the telly?
It doesn't matter in the long run because apparently we're going extinct anyway as the biosphere is crumbling. Not trillions of tons of super-heated water from an asteroid; it's just happening. No frogs in the ponds, no buzzing in the hedgerows, no worms in the soil, not even flat hedgehogs on the roads much. It all just seems to be stopping. Ah well, "Some things are in our control and others not."
-richard

call me ishmael said...

Never mind,mr richard, just seen a headline suggesting that Sir Steven Fag and his boywife are thinking of having children, what could be more culturally diverse than that? And wasn't Sir Chris Evans just a birthday away from kiddyfiddling, some years ago, when he married Billy Piper and introduced her to the joys of drug and alcohol abuse and who knows what else, still, can't keep a good degenerate down, not in the PBC, anyway; always room for a flash, gobby DJ who likes younger women.

Alphons said...

Good luck in the barbarick chamber. May it revive your being.

call me ishmael said...

Thanks, mr alphons, won't do any harm.

Woman on a Raft said...

Best wishes for your treatment.

On the subject of Japanese steel; I believe there is something spooky in it. The very best hair cut I have ever had was by a young man who had flair but, well, it takes more than flair to get glamour in to the average bargewoman.

The scissors he used looked different. They were Japanese and he had worked hard to finance them at £1,000. It seemed mad, especially with regular re-balancing bills. Other hairdressers use scissors which cost at most about £20, and they treat them as disposable. But when he cut my hair, it jolly well stayed cut, the layers obediently falling precisely where he told them to. The woman in the mirror looked like she's been made over by Vidal Sassoon and a lighting crew. But it was just the young man snipping quietly away, being serious about the job and serious about his tools.

call me ishmael said...

Thanks, mrs woar.

Chippies, sparkses, plumbers and now groomers; we can find it in the Art of everything, Zen. Your stylist sounds like a joy to the world.

Anonymous said...

I'm not particularly worried about massive age differences, as we've discussed before. Grandad was 34 when he married his 17 year old bride, a marriage which lasted 65 years until the old boy died at 97.
As for Chris Evans, an utterly annoying fellow as it seems to me, he can't "almost" break the law. The dick, but there it is.
-richard

call me ishmael said...

Yeah, well. There's Law, mr richard, and there's Decency. But even by the strucures of the Law, that old creep Bill Wyman, fir instance, still lurks about, unpunished and Evans is, at best, inDecent. Even if it is at the borderlines, we should condemn these deviations. And if it's ok for you to be sanguine about age disproportionality it is ok for me not to be, as for granddad, well everybody knows one of them, a freak, knows somebody who smoked sixty a day and lived to be a hundred but as far as the herd is concerned both of these bahaviours are aberrant, unnatural and anti-social.

Anonymous said...

Aye but - if the grandad chap hadn't married the young maiden all those years ago I wouldn't be here, and they looked happy enough in their wedding photos and subsequent ones too. Obviously when he was 90 and she was mid-70s the age difference wasn't as antisocial. But in any case I tend not to be censorious as long as both parties are overage, being as it's a matter which is nothing to do with me. If I had to get married again I would choose a younger bride, maybe 45 or 50, but if old rich fogeys want to make fools of themselves with young gold-diggers? Not my problem.
-richard