We’ve started to settle into a routine in the joinery workshop. Our insular quests for perfection at our workbenches are punctuated by a morning break, 30 minutes for lunch and an afternoon break, during which we can relax and talk to each other; eventually. It takes a while to break out of our private worlds and start to engage with the real one. But then we start to talk and realise that we are asking ourselves the same questions. How flat is flat? was the question someone raised in one of the breaks today; and it was a question I’d certainly been asking myself. More flat than we realised, as it turns out.
We’ve started on two of our first real projects, which involve making some of the tools that we will go on to use for future projects. These are a bench hook (remember those from woodwork lessons?) and a beech mallet. The bench hook prompted the question in the title. A bench hook basically consists of 3 bits of wood, a flat piece and two short pieces of square section. To look at it, one would think that it could be knocked together in less than an hour. Not this one. We started with a rough plank of mahogany and have spent the last 2 days cutting it up, gluing it together and finessing it to a state of rectilinearity. We plane and plane until we think it’s as flat as flat can possibly be, then along comes Ian with his try square, holds it up to the light, and points out all the imperfections that we’ve missed. Our flat surface becomes a relief map, a landscape of hills and valleys that must be flattened. Back we go to the vice and plane away, creating even more varied landscapes in the process. In case we are in any doubt about what is required; when we look up, we are reminded by signs which glare down at us with instructive messages such as: ‘Perfection is the only standard worth aiming at’. Why does this remind me of Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance?