My Shop Is Not Instagram Ready

Yes, my shop is not Instagram ready. The basement shop where the bandsaws, table saw, planer, and such reside are OK; if you are interested in bare stone walls and equipment that everyone else has.
The carving shop, where I do most of my work, is only an eight by ten. It is not ready for Instagram. Part of it still serves as a greenhouse. In my part of the country, my large rosemary plants die terrible deaths outside; they and the figs live inside the greenhouse all winter. The remaining area is taken up by the workbench, tool racks, and lots of little storage units for small tools, adhesives, abrasives, finishes, and much more.
I moved this essential part of my operation out here because I can heat the small space to a comfortable level even during the winter. In the much larger basement shop, the howling wind whistles through a neverending supply of conduits to the outside that I can never block up.

A few other reasons apply as well: my cat likes the space in winter so I sometimes have her company as I carve; It also puts real size limits on the size of commissions I can accept -” downsized the shop. Can’t do that stuff anymore.” A final reason is that, in the winter when I am sitting in my little shop with a visitor, it takes me back to coastal Maine. I recall the hours of conversations with craftsmen and fishermen in similar small shops; it’s a link to other times and places on which I set a high value.
But, It’s not Instagram ready. The rows of small plastic storage containers would look much more “crafty” if they were shop made from wood. The untidy piles and boxes of extra wood, half-finished projects, patterns, and drawings should be cleaned up. Ain’t going to happen. At root, I don’t care if my shop is not Instagram ready.

Sailors English: cumshaw

The word Cumshaw derives from a Chinese word for “grateful thanks.” Cumshaw was a late 18th or early 19th century add to a sailor’s vocabulary picked up on voyages to China. It can reference a gift or payment for a service. I know that some people refer to it as a bribe. But the way I learned of it from my father and other mariners, it was a sort of lubricant between cooperating parties. Sometimes cash is exchanged, but often its goods or services. I need something, and you need something. We reciprocate after agreeing on the value of the goods or services we are exchanging. Something closer to a grateful gift than a blatant bribe.
I learned about this early in my life. I was my father’s weekend and summer apprentice at his primary job site, and a host of other smaller jobs that he always seemed to be asked to do. He had come ashore the year I was born after years at sea. There was little about marine power plants that he could not fix, and he put that knowledge to good use repairing and maintaining anything that needed power. This Included commercial power plants, apartment house heating systems, propulsion systems in fishing vessels, and anything for which he could find a service manual. Among my earliest memories are those of days spent handing him tools as we worked on fishing vessels, and re-tubing old boilers.
Lots of this was just straight pay for the job. But, by age nine, I had my sea legs because Nick Carreras and his son were out on those charter fishing boats we maintained. We rarely paid. Cumshaw.
Deep-sea fishing was the closest Nick Carreras was going to get to the sea, so we did lots of it. When things got bad at home, my father would tell mom that he was going down to the hiring hall and look for a ship; if he did, he never found one. Instead, we’d head out on a boat for a day of fishing — fair or foul weather.
As the years went on, my father worked his way into a working supervisory position for an owner of multiple offices and light industrial buildings. Now he could be all over the City. New York then was still THE premier seaport, and mariners from all over the world came ashore there. Where ever Nick Carreras went in New York City, there seemed to be a network of former shipmates or other mariners who had swallowed the anchor. They all established their curriculum vitae by mentioning which lines and ships they had served on, when and curious things about the ports they had visited. The particulars of their lives at sea set serious business could proceed.
More lucrative were the connections with the businesses located in the buildings. My father and his crew of workers maintained the buildings. But, as any New Yorker will tell you lots of little, and not so little things were optional and open to negotiation. My father was a master at this sort of negotiation, having learned the basics in the Merchant Marine. Now he set about polishing those skills in his home city. By the sixties, a pattern developed. My father left the house dressed for business in a tailored suit, silk tie, diamond-studded cuff links, and diamond pinky ring. He drove a late model car; he came to prefer Caddy’s then T-Birds. Once at work, he’d make the rounds, descend into the basement, and change into khaki shirt and pants. Then he was ready to commence his daily work routine. At the end of the day, he’d change back into the suit and drive home.
Almost every day had some time dedicated to checking in on some of his outside clients: Haberdashers, Jewelers, dentists, butchers, shoe stores, and more. Periodically, you’d hear, “Nick, could you do ( add the name of service here).” My father would take note and schedule the service for a Saturday, Sunday, or evening. When I was visiting home in New York, I’d participate in these activities. I never heard mere filthy lucre mentioned. Most of these were old established relationships, and they and my father understood each other. “Nick, drop by sometime, I have something new in stock that would look great on you.” “Nick, I have a brooch with rubies that would be wonderful for Mimi ( my mother).” everyone involved understood the quid pro quo.
You could fall off the cart with my father. Haggling was one way to do this, not keeping your word was the other. It was also not all economic. It could also be about years-long relationships. Once, I asked my dad about what he’d receive from a particular job we were doing – “it’s just a favor,” he replied.

When My Dad died, I was the one who went through his papers. The tax documents told one story, the Italian shotguns, bespoke suits, hand-stitched shoes, and other things told another. Via the informal economy, my father had done well. His actual annual income from his job was very modest.
The foundation for this life had been laid down just like a ship from the keel up. His first voyages as a teenager on the Dollar Steamship lines had taken him around the world. Before he turned twenty-one, He’d been on two round the world cruises and several shorter passages.
My father introduced me to the term cumshaw at about age nine; about the same time, I began to pick up Spanish curse words from him.

Cumshaw. It’s a useful word for a sailor.

Coastal English 202

I’ve posted previously about Psyche, about the Captain, and about the Captain and his family’s turn of Biblical Phraseology. Well, here is how it turned out one day with the Captain:

The Captain owned a beautiful Ketch called Psyche. As general dogsbody, I tried to keep up on the maintenance. One day I was aboard cleaning up from a week-long family jaunt to Monhegan when the Captain appeared and started getting ready to make sail. I fumed that half the items stowed below were adrift, and I needed a whole day to re-stow them. That started an argument. One didn’t argue with Frank…he’d spent the years ashore since swallowing the anchor selling soap for Lever Brothers. No was just another opportunity to get you to yes.
After ten minutes of futile argument on my part, he just tamped a new charge of Holiday tobacco into his pipe, lit up, puffed to get it going, looked at me, and said “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” let’s get underway. I was desperately looking for a way to turn the argument back in my favor. But, sweet reason never did work with the Captain. I began digging through my collection of aphorisms for something that would stop him in his tracks. Let’s see – He who sups with the devil should use a long spoon? No. “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved” ( Proverbs). Nope. “the wise shall inherit glory, but shame shall be the promotion of fools ( Proverbs). Nope. Then, thinking on how tired I was, and how hard I had worked all day I came upon “Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn” (Corinthians). This one stopped the Captain for a few seconds, I had picked it up from him, and it was a personal favorite. Then his eyes took on that steely glare that most Master Mariners learn, and he replied to me with a phrase that was probably ancient in the days of the Athenian Navy -“ Grumble ye may, but go you shall.”

We went for a lovely sail.


Almost every week Sensei says this in practice: “It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” — Confucius
Studied deliberation seems harder than going fast.
But, at this time I’m under little economic compulsion to produce in haste, and going slow allows me time to master what I previously left unmastered. Which I guess is what both Confucius and Sensei meant.

Blade Work: in search of perfection

There are some interesting parallels between Japanese swordsmanship and effective carving technique. No, I am not suggesting that they are just alike, just that both involve very sharp steel blades, and reliance on muscle memory to complete accurate cuts. Let’s start at the beginning.
I always begin my classes in carving with sharpening. Nothing gets done effectively or safely without a sharp blade. After sharpening students have an opportunity to test the edges of their knives in chip carving. That being said sharpness is not the only thing needed to be successful. To be competent in chip carving you must have a sharp blade, and be able to cut at the correct angle and do so consistently. An incorrect cutting angle leads to irregular cuts and lopsided designs. Sharpness will not help with this.
A sword similarly needs to have the correct hasuji to achieve the intended effect; a clean, effective cut. Hasuji is the path your sword takes in a cut and the edge alignment which you maintain while you cut. Yes, one is with a very large blade, the other with a blade of an inch length, but the principle is the same.
In chip carving an angle too steep or too shallow dooms your project to failure; so correct hasuji is essential. With a sword, correct cutting angle will use less energy and will cut cleaner as well.

You can go to books on chip carving and find the correct angle at which you should cut to a degree. But, you are not going to get too far lining up each cut with a protractor. You have to learn it, and through practice put that angle into your muscle memory. This is pretty much what we do with a Japanese Katana too.
As with a Katana so with a knife; we learn correct hasuji through practice.

An additional piece of wonderment in blade work

You may have heard of a state called mushin ( mushin no shin), sometimes referred to as “no mind.” I have yet to achieve this state in martial arts, but when I was carving every day for hours on end, I’d frequently find myself awakening from mushin after an hour of doing something like hollowing the wings on an eagle. My body knew what needed to be done, and my training took over leaving my mind to relax, and think of no thing. You cannot achieve this sort of state if you are consciously thinking things through all the time.
My first martial art was Judo. My Japanese sensei heard me complaining one day that we practiced all these throws thousands of times. His response was to throw me and then sit down beside his thirteen-year-old critic and explain that we practiced the techniques thousands of times in dojo with the intent of learning them so well that when needed there would be no thought at all involved in their use. The first time I was jumped on a New York subway and defeated my attacker with a single throw and a wrist lock I knew that…as usual…sensei knew best. As sensei pointed out the key was practice. The swordsman Miyamoto Musashi was also an acomplished poet, pholosopher, calligrapher and painter. He advised that the principles involved in mastery of one thing can be applied to learn and master others – ” from one thing learn a thousand things.”

So, get out your tools, and start practicing.

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