Mad Max Garden
I have a terrible reputation with my wife concerning, among other things, pallets. I can’t stop myself, if I see a pile of abandoned pallets I have to go back later and load them into the back of my Ford Focus and bring them home. Sometimes it takes a couple of trips.
Why do I collect pallets? It’s not because I’m trying to kickstart a pallet reconditioning business (Kent already has a few of these), and it’s not because I need the firewood (although they do burn well). No, it’s because I see possibilities.
My wife’s chief concern is that if I continue making stuff out of old pallets, our entire house will begin to resemble the home of an extra in one of the early Mad Max movies. I accept there is a danger that simply piling them up and declaring to the world that you’ve made a table could result in a certain junk-yard aesthetic, but I think my projects are beginning to look less like scrap wood and more like things.
I am no carpenter
My Dad was an enthusiastic doer. He would turn his hand to pretty much anything, and whilst the results were far from professional, I would say that on balance his creations served their purposes well. I think my Dad would be pleased with the fact that even though he never overtly tried to teach me anything (or maybe that’s just the memory of a truculent teenager), I have picked up his fearlessness for trying new things and the judgement to know when something is ‘good enough’.
So my forays into woodwork are far from polished professional projects. They are first and foremost functional, and hopefully not to hard on the eye. Good attention to function should often translate into a reasonably good looking form.
Splinters are good for the soul
One of the joys of creating things from discarded wood that my father almost certainly knew, but never tried to articulate, was how content working with your hands can make you feel.
If I’m lucky enough to have a whole day to dicking around in the garden making something, it requires my full attention. I will almost certainly end the day with at least one open wound and multiple splinters. My hands will have ground-in dirt that will take a week to fade and my back will be aching from the repeated bends and lifts required to make whatever it is. I will have gone to bed physically tired, rather than stress-tired. And regardless of whether I was able to complete the project, in the morning I will drink a cup of coffee whilst admiring my progress.
Making something, doing something physical & tangible feels to me like far more of an accomplishment than any PowerPoint presentation or speaking engagement. My ability to do these other things – read emails, talk to clients, write presentations – will benefit enormously from having given the physical expression of my life an outing.
The case for working with your hands
Making something is simple. You start with some bits of wood and at the end of the process you have a thing. Is the thing any good? Does it do the job for which you made it? These are questions that will come later. The great thing is that even if it’s effectively a pile of slightly more organised firewood, you will have learnt a huge amount in the process of doing. These are learnings that you will be able to apply to another project or even a re-do of the the first one.
I have found that the fastest way to learn anything is to set yourself a project and get on with it. Expect to have to overcome challenges, understand that there are no instructions to follow, and enjoy the sheer exhilaration of applying your intellect to solving complex, tangible three dimensional problems.
Knowing that you are capable of making a table, a bench or even a shed will pay dividends in all other aspects of your life. It will give you confidence, imbue the time you might otherwise have spent watching Return of The Jedi for the 187th time with considerably more meaning and, if you’re really lucky, it will give you a useful piece of furniture which will cost you nothing more than your time and possibly some blood.