I was lucky enough to grow up with things made by both of my grandfathers- some simple furnishings, a fishing tackle box, fly rod and cribbage board. Neither of my grandfathers earned their livings as carpenters, but they did share a generational disposition towards frugality and were clearly raised with more than a layman’s facility with woodcraft. Both died while I was still a small child, but the things they made continue to hold a magical power over me that I am just beginning to fathom.
As a kid I was often to be found in the basement, the attic or garage when not playing outside. I felt more at home surrounded by raw framing, exposed utilities and the miscellany of things in semi-storage. Being both physically and emotionally distant from the bustle of family life, these places were my sanctuary, my first workshop. I had inherited rudimentary hand tools for drafting and woodworking from my grandfathers and taught myself how to use them on simple projects. The first of these was a small chest of drawers I made out of pine for my younger sister’s doll clothes. Copying my grandfather’s fishing tackle box, I replicated each individual piece, carefully measuring and cutting parts from scraps of lumber I found on construction sites nearby. I studied how the pieces were fitted together by opening the tackle box, removing its trays and drawers and studying the connections, the joinery. I would set aside my grandfather’s salt-crusted lures, lead sinkers, spools of line and Penn reels neatly stashed in oil-soaked sacks of heavy canvas, placing everything back in place when I was satisfied I understood the next steps for my chest.
Most everyone has experienced a feeling of primordial connection to things passed on or to places long inhabited. The meaning carried by such objects and places transcends their value, growing stronger over time. This is especially true of things made by hand for a common purpose, like my grandfather’s tackle box. The simpler they are, the more clearly they embody the value system that brought them into being. This value system is what I call Deep Craft.