Work and Play

IMG_1507I enjoy work.  In particular, I enjoy putting my entire body and mind to work using large, sharp pieces of steel to shape timbers into structure.  Broadax, boring machine, framing chisels, the entire kit, pencils to pegs…I live for that.  Everything else is preparation.

Some people become raising junkies.  Dozens of straining bodies pushing, pulling, lifting a bent, the controlled tension of flying huge assemblies into place with a crane, raising is the carpenter’s ultimate test of his ability to imagine and execute.  Everything else is preparation.

When I dropped out of college thirty years ago, I had no idea where it would lead.  A workbench, a modest collection of old tools, a few books, very little money, that seemed like enough.  Just, whatever, get me away from that morally and intellectually bankrupt society on the hill…and so, ironically, I live now in the middle of that society and on it’s margins simultaneously.  My neighbors are college professors, or college-educated professionals (most of them comfortable in their petit-bourgeois suburban existence, never felt the need to question the status quo).

Finally: It was stated at the outset, that this system would not be here, and at once, perfected. You cannot but plainly see that I have kept my word. But I now leave my cetological System standing thus unfinished, even as the great Cathedral of Cologne was left, with the crane still standing upon the top of the uncompleted tower. For small erections may be finished by their first architects; grand ones, true ones, ever leave the copestone to posterity. God keep me from ever completing anything. This whole book is but a draught—nay, but the draught of a draught. Oh, Time, Strength, Cash, and Patience!  [Herman Melville~Moby Dick~Chapter 32~Cetology]

We live in the old house with an unkempt yard and un-finished construction projects (cobbler’s children…a schoolteacher and a carpenter never had enough time and money).  Inside is controlled chaos, our “Room of Requirement” that is, or can become, whatever is needed at the moment.  Like Melville’s cetology, it may never be finished.  I can only hope that someone will come along with better ideas and skills than mine who will at least respect our intentions.

 “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”  Mark Twain

Our language allows that some people play for a living (athletes and musicians, for instance) while others must work.  Work is assumed to be productive, for some it has meaning, for most it is meaningless drudgery.  Play is leisure-time activity, weekend ball games, well-defined recreations.  Aren’t these definitions of work and play a condition of industrial society?  Are we post-industrial, yet?

The current revival of interest in woodworking (St. Christopher and the Roubo workbench, Studley tool chest, etc.) appears to be largely about discovering yourself as an individual, and materialism (there’s an inherent contradiction, btw).  Been there, done that…

We, as carpenters and woodworkers and artisans of all stripes must find common cause, common ground, collective bargaining as skilled professionals.  For some years, I immersed myself in timber framing (paying dues to the TFG, attending conferences, workshops, making a scant living) only to find the altruism and craft skills sucked dry by business and bottom line (bigger power tools=fewer skilled workers) until the bubble burst in ’07.

Sir Edwin Lutyens, the great Edwardian architect, considered architecture an ‘elaborate game’.  Timber framing is the highest form of play that I know.  Everything else is preparation.



About michaellangford2012

Timber framer, boatbuilder, dreamer, writer, musician; collector of books, tools, aphorisms. "There is nothing, absolutely nothing…half so much worth doing…as simply messing about in boats."
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1 Response to Work and Play

  1. henrik1224 says:

    Hello Michael,

    Very thought-provoking post.

    I have been following your blog for a while. I am currently researching for my MA-thesis; a “history of ideas” of the current woodworking revival phenomen. I was a college dropout to, but recently returned to get my piece of paper…
    The thesis involves aspects of the idea of “craft”, handmade surfaces as opposed to machine-made perfection (i.e. 3D printers) etc., modern issues of (masculine) identity and virtual communities, but also, as this is primarily an American phenomenon, it focuses on the mythology of the frontier as garden and the frontierman’s “self-reliance” as an ideological basis.

    You obviously have interest in and knowledge about the subject, but also your perspective as professional is different than mine (as amateur)
    Would you be interested in ping-pong’ing a few ideas via email? I would really appreciate that, I am in no-man’s-land here in Copenhagen with this subject.

    You can reach me via henrik1224 at

    Best regards
    Copenhagen, Denmark

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