A Day in the Studio

Originally published at www.sidharthajha.com on October 17, 2015.

You sharpen the pencil making sure that it goes through a complete revolution in the sharpener. Otherwise, it leaves a ridge along the wood that makes it difficult to hold and aesthetically unpleasing. Form and function both get affected. A design failure.

You walk into the studio. The pungent smell of lacquer greets me. You look around and notice that someone has left the lacquer tin open yet again. Some things never change.

There is a thick layer of pale yellow deposit on the surface, a result of the exposure to air. You grab a mallet and knock the lid back into place. You then grab an apron and try to tie it at your back, a process you still haven’t mastered after two years. Simple things can be remarkbly difficult.

You look at the teak piece you will be working with today. It’s a hardwood, resistant to water and oil. It also dulls the blade of any tool used to work on it very quickly. The block is made out of thinner pieces of teak, joined together with epoxy, as regular PVA glue just won’t do for rough fibres of the alpine wood. Somethings, things need a tougher push.

You get a ruler and mark the edge you have to straighten. You decide you are too good for the hand plane and turn on the belt sander. Within the next two minutes, you fuck up. There is a sweet, poignant smell of the burning of an edge on the belt sander. To be a good craftsman, you have to go gently and slowly.

You go back to the hand plane.

As you go back and forth with the tool, you get crispy thin shavings on my hands. If you are experienced, you can tell what thickness of shavings is good. Better than any callipers. Some things can only be learnt through experience.

You put the piece on the lathe and as you work your way around the piece, there is an onslaught of tiny, flimsy projectiles. All of them wanting to get inside your T-shirt and your hilarious attempts to keep them out using two aprons. You look stupid. The sweaty palms and thumb after exhaustive sessions on the lathe. You shave off what is unwanted and what remains is essential.

You are trying to drill a few holes to loop a piece of string. As you dust off the shavings from the drilling, you realize that you drilled it on the wrong side. You feel the wretched feeling of being a useless fuck-up. You had worked on that piece for the last 2 weeks. You start again.

Towards the end of the process, you starting sanding the piece. As you go through the increasing grits of sand paper, you realize that your life is like the piece of wood. It faces ever increasing challenges. But you eventually get through each of them. You come out stronger in the same way the piece will come out softer.

Perhaps that’s the lesson.