Recently, I was reading Doug Stowe’s blog: Wisdom of the Hands. Doug had a post there about some testing of new tools he had been doing recently. In the post, Doug discussed that he did not want his tools to allow his work to “self-identify” with the viewer. His feeling is that if someone views his work and immediately identifies with some aspect of it as: “oh, he had to use tool XYZ to do that” then he has missed the mark with respect to it’s design being a unique expression of his creativity.
I tend to agree with this. From my perspective, when we design, we should start with a blank canvas and design from the top down, thinking about the statement we want a piece to make as well as its function, as necessary. We should design from the top down without undue constraints (as much a possible) and when we build (the implementation phase) that should be done from the bottom up. This is where we must exercise our skills and problem-solving abilities as we endeavor to realize the design that we desire. For me, tools do not enter the picture until the implementation phase. If I do not have the tool for the job, then I have to try to find a way to execute the design by some other means. or in rare cases by purchasing a tool. However, I try to never let the tools that I have on hand limit what I design. I posted a comment on Doug’s blog in response to his post that I’ll reproduce here:
Interesting thoughts…I agree with what you have said.
I am constantly amazed while reading at woodworking blogs and message forums about all the new tools and gizmos that woodworkers are buying with reckless abandon – often times with no real need!
It sometimes seems that tool acquisition (and display) is the goal as opposed to the use of the tools in pursuit of our craft. I routinely see shops full of all manner of new tools (both hand and power) and purchased jigs and often very little production of woodworking objects.
It is interesting to see woodworkers frustrated and avoiding building pieces that they perceive to require a specialized tool to complete. Ironically, many times all that is needed is to build a simple and quick jig or fixture to accomplish the task.
Woodworkers are missing out on an important aspect of the craft that requires developing skills of problem-solving and design when they avoid creating simple jigs and fixtures as part of their build process. As you stated, without the ability (and/or desire) to do this, our designs will become limited by what we have in our shops and/or what we think we can buy at the nearest woodworking tool outlet.
So, I thought I’d take the pulse of the internet woodworking community regarding this topic. Please let me know what you think by responding to the poll. More importantly, expand on your thoughts in the comments of this post. This is an interesting topic regarding design that I think deserves some discussion. So, don’t hold back, let’s hear your thoughts!