Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Please Don't Disturb The Elves While They Are Working

These weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas are always the most satisfying part of the woodworking year for me.  It is the time that I put everything else aside and work exclusively on gifts for the members of my family (like the little batch of picture frames above.)  For most of us, I'm sure, it recalls the reason why we became involved in woodworking in the first place -- the magic of creating something from nothing.

Hidden away in our basements and spare rooms are those first attempts, each displaying one or all of the things we now despise -- torn grain, bad design, machine marks, horrible finishes, mid project re-engineering nightmares -- but we hold on to them because they say something about where we, and those close to us, were at that time.

Handmade gifts have so many things going for them.  If we are thrifty and smart we can erase the modern connection between dollar signs and the value of a gift by making something beautiful from nearly nothing.  We can rationalize using up those scraps of hoarded wood with the nice figure because this truly is the important project for which we've been waiting.

It also gives us the opportunity to try out new techniques in a real world setting.  You've never done inlay, give it a whirl; bent laminations, why not.  It is truly the thought that counts, and as most of us have the ability to do at least a "very good" job on most projects, the recipient will never feel that they're getting second best.  If you are building a commission you strive for perfection; a gift needs to have heart.  Invariably these new projects require new tools, and with mock sadness you explain to your partner that you must purchase these new tools in order to keep with the spirit of the season.

More than anything else, the creation of handmade gifts allows you to spend more time with your family.  I don't mean in person, but in your own mind.  Because while you are building you can't help but think of how the recipient will use the gift.  You think about last year's gift and how much they've grown.  You think about their strong points, the personality traits you don't possess but are so glad that someone does.  You hope this gift will open the door to some new thought or idea for them.

I'm building a guitar stool and guitar stand for one of my daughters.  We both play and I'm amazed how her mind, free from the trappings and constraints of Mel Bay books, has created a singular playing style that I hope she keeps forever.  Thinking about her playing guitar is a gift to me that I'm enjoying today.  (An added gift is that thinking about her playing the guitar reminded me that I wanted to teach her how to play Proud Mary, that will be fun.  Which made me think of Tina Turner singing that song, which I've watched on YouTube with my other daughter, which was also fun.)  

The other members of my family are also in line for gifts, some large and some small, some more inspired than others, but each project brings me that same feeling of connection to that person.  The beauty for me is that on December 26th I'll be thinking about what they might enjoy next, and that keeps them in my thoughts throughout the year.  And they're a pretty nice crew to spend time with.


  1. Awwww ... very nice.
    But wait ... NEW TOOLS??!!!

  2. Hmm... maybe I should do something gift wise for next Christmas. My Dad does this with his wood carving. Your post has me thinking...

  3. thanks your sharing, your article very nice