Understanding Wood (and also other things)
“Wood evolved as a functional tissue of plants and not as a material designed to satisfy the needs of woodworkers.”* And yet we woodworkers still get angry at wood when it doesn’t look and behave exactly as we want. We cut into a beautiful figured maple board and find a hidden knot or crack that ruins our plans. We slice a big thick piece of walnut to make bookmatched planks and they immediately warp so bad we can't even use them. These things cost us time, they cost us effort, they definitely cost us money. The anger makes sense.
But it also doesn’t. Because that tree didn’t grow for me. It grew because it’s a tree, and that’s what trees do. Growing is its only purpose, and it fulfilled it perfectly. If there’s a knot deep inside, it’s from a branch that sprouted years ago to help the tree in its only mission. If there’s a crack or a warp, it’s the result of structural tensions that helped the tree stand and survive against the wind.
How absurd, then, when I yell at it.
How much of our anger at wood is not really about the wood at all, but about our own hungry egos? We need to impress people with our woodworking skill. We need to make something useful. We need to feel capable in our craft. We need we need we need.
But wood evolved as a functional tissue of plants and not as a material designed to satisfy the needs of woodworkers.
I wonder if all of our anger finds its roots in this simple truth. Something or someone isn’t behaving as we want, and we can’t deal with it. We refuse to respect the truth that this thing, or this person, was not put here to satisfy our needs.
Imagine how different our work and our lives would be if we approached every board, every day, every task, every moment, every person full of profound respect instead of empty with neediness. With an acknowledgement, a recognition, a namaste that this thing or person is here on earth only to grow fully into who they already are. That when a piece of wood behaves like a piece of wood, when a child behaves like a child, when an animal behaves like an animal, when a human behaves like a human, even when their behaviors don’t result in us getting what we want, that this is okay. Or not just okay, but beautiful. They are fulfilling their own divinely-given purpose, not ours.
What would be left to get angry about?
*from the opening paragraph of Robert Hoadley’s seminal book Understanding Wood.