With 72 ahead for me in a few short weeks, and with Elaine tuning up for hip surgeries, we continue to enjoy all the adventures we can in life.
But life is indeed changing and all around us. Especially in the Shop.
I’ve told you before about my concerns with America becoming a third-rate place – having lost our “industrial edge.” It’s there in books bemoaning the passing of “old school” industrial arts. The good stuff. Where you can really get injured and part of the growing-up process was a no do-overs when you’re trying to pour molten aluminum down a sprue.
Or when you started to feel the edge of kick-back trying to begin on a table saw because you weren’t in charge of the work.
See? Those are real lessons of growing up. Not this fake, bull-shit hand-holding crap. Real power tools. The kind that caused fits for school district insurance carriers and their retained counsel.
But you know this stuff.
A little flavoring, though, before we get to the point.
The Nature of Shop Work Has Changed
It didn’t strike home until I ordered my latest batch of old shop magazines off eBay. Delta-Rockwell put out a series in the early 1960’s that everybody at the firehouse would rave about. Pappy, and the Uncles, would all get worked up with the prospect of some wood, a day or two off to focus on things and you know what?
That’s because – very much in the tradition that a farmer will hand things down to a son – there was Pappy having me shag tools and I learned every move he was making. By the time I was 10 or 11, I was on the old “Monkey-Wards” saber saw (also known as a jig saw) and from there by age 12 it was onto the Skil saw.
Today? Well, the covers and articles teach as much about the evolution of modern America as they do the disappearing craft worker:
See the change?
Well, let me point it out for you. People aren’t doing the same kind of “decoration” of the kid’s rooms, anymore. Let alone taking the time (and finding the joy) of cutting down a couple of sheets of 5/8ths plywood (sanded both sides) and building something that would stay in the family forever.
Oh, and the project on the right? Dandy paint cabinet for the home shop. Well, except that so few people have a home shop today. And if you’re renting, and have enough paint around to store in a cabinet look for the landlord to go through the roof. God help you if there’s a fire inspection. Paint in a non-metal closed area? Not going to work, these days.
Money Matters, Too
One of the joys of the “old ways” though was that they took time, employed craft workers and that was dandy.
Today, though, the work is overseas and anyone with half a brain can buy used Rockwell and Delta machines on Craigslist and eBay for a song. But the realization of just how much we have changed hit me like a hammer as I found this handy list of “Table Dimensions.”
Sure, you might have a bedside table. But what’s a butterfly table? Console table? Or a drum table?
In today’s world, we are not compelled to acquire non-optimized furniture. Sure, there were dimensions for “telephone tables” but although they may still be called that, when I looked on Amazon, only one picture (out of 14) showed a telephone (and an antique at that) on a “phone table.”
The more I looked, the stranger it got.
There was a dandy write up on how to build a “drawing table.”
Which would be great IF anyone was really “drawing” anymore. App, ain’t it? Corel? Paint?
I suspect the real artists (like Elaine) run around with something like her U.S. Art Supply Coronado Walnut Easel, Large Adjustable Wooden French Style Field and Studio Sketchbox ($100, Amazon). Thing is, it’s totally optimized to what artists like: Change.
Sure, sure, Mr. Ure is extravagant (bunny’s cost moneys…): But look at the cost even at Biden’s proposed min-wage of $15 an hour? Even if wood were free Amazon would be the obvious choice. Because there’s wood, hardware, finishing, joinery…all that stuff eats up the hours…
Want another example?
The 3D Revolution
Here’s yet-another mind bender: This looked like a marvelous project: A king-sized lathe-turned chess set.
These were spec’ed as being turned from 3 3/4-inch square stock. Ah… an hour or six of fun on the lathe. And there is something really (how to say this?) magical about “letting a chess piece” materialize out of a tree limb.
On the other hand, with two 3D printers, I can download anything off Yeggi.com and then use the re-scaling features in Cura and print out the ready to use chess set of my dreams. Any size. You play the Darth Vader set. I’ll play the squirrels, right? Hmmm… this wasn’t going well.
It was about to get worse…
Quick! What’s Ubiquitous?
Why, time, of course!
There was a period when American home craftpersons were turning our clocks-galore! They were some beaut’s too.
Even today there are some dandy clock kits out there. The problem isn’t with the art of clock-making, per se. It’s that time has become ubiquitous.
It’s on the wall in front of me (pendulum), on the right corner of my screen, in my the app I’m using (reminding me of my last “Draft saved at….). And if I’m still not sure what time it is, I can ask “Alexa, what time is it in Stockholm right now?”
Yet – my friends with Apple Smart watches don’t seem to appreciate my asking this – “How much precision in time keeping do you need? Are you splitting atoms or do you really need 20 centimeter GPS precision for targeting?”
Hmmm… Not sure what to make of it all. I love the blown up drawings (they go into my head for future use). And details like that (along with some of the jigs used for fancy cuts) really change your way of looking at design.
But until the grid goes down – there’s a chance which even I’m honest enough to admit to – that I’ll never get out of tools what I’ve put into them.
But not when there are 1,900 plus downloadable clock variants on Yeggi.
The “Social Shop” Gone, Too
Bad as all this “optimized living” stuff is (turning us into click makers and that’s about it…) there’s one more point before we head out for more coffee:
The social angle of two or more people working on a project has largely disappeared into the technology.
Here in the Outback, it’s still around. If a neighbor needs an odd size electrical connector, “Maybe George has one…save us a trip into town…” (Which takes an hour.)
On the flip side, every pair of eyes within 2-miles “has our back” and if I need a hand with something (heavy, unwieldy) there’s help right away.
Don’t see as much of that in a city. I lived in cities for most of my adult life and during times when I was in apartments or condos? Couldn’t so much as tell you the first name of any of the other people in the building.
Even in the upscale burbs, the only reason I knew the guy three houses up (retired from the FAA) was because we connected over projects and power tools and kids about the same age.
It’s all well and good to make a living with your brain. But going through the great tool company project books from 60-years ago is a strong reminder that this was once a world where people were known by their “works” and the “skilled craftsman’s hands” made America. Back when we still made pipelines and unbeatable cars.
It was a time when everything was made locally and the salads and veggies were from 50-feet away. Not good for digital gamesmanship. But a more honest life and closer to the Earth. Seems to be out of style.
The “Economic Maraschino?”
A well schooled and highly educated colleague sent a note this week citing another writer:
“This year’s debt buildup in the US has funded zero new productive investments. No roads, no airports, railroads, nothing.”
Maintenance only. Slap-dash at that. Covid kills Boeing, Joe kills XL, and debt service will finish us all.
Say, maybe if we just keep doing enough “stupid busy work” maybe we can turn into a whole country of “stupid people” – you think?
Write when you get rich,