Monday, February 6, 2012

Ars Longa Vincere

"The Skill Takes Long to Master"

This little bit of Latin is something that I've kind of adapted from the more famous "Ars Longa, Vita Brevis" quote attributed to Hippocrates. It is often translated "Art is Long, Life is Short" and just as often taken to mean that art outlasts its creator. This is somewhat different than what the original Greek word "Technos" means. In English we translate "Technos" as "Skill" and "Ars" is definitely a valid Latin translation, it's just not very specific. I believe Hippocrates, being a medical guy was talking more about learning skills rather than art as objects. I like "Ars Longa" as "The Skill is Long or Takes Long". I've taken the liberty of adding "Vincere", to master, dominate or conquer, in an effort to clarify somewhat. Now we have "Ars Longa Vincere", or  "The Skill Takes Long to Master", and I think this applies equally well to medicine as to woodworking or any number of human endeavors. I've taken it as a reminder to keep moving forward and to keep trying and learning, not only in the shop but in life as well.

This being said getting started in woodworking doesn't have to be daunting and the great thing about it is also captured in the above, the skills build one upon another. Also, starting with a small set of a few tools can help you build those skills and inform what tools come next. You'll be surprised at how much you can accomplish with just a few items. And buy good tools, they will stay with you along the way and become trusted companions as the years go by. Oh, and please notice above I said good tools, not new tools or expensive tools, since those things are not necessarily synonyms.

To get started there are some books that have helped me on my way in hand tool woodworking:
  • The Joiner and Cabinet Maker
  • The Essential Woodworker
  • The Anarchist's Tool Chest
This list is not intended to imply that Lost Art Press is the only place to get good books but it does reflect the fact that they are promoting hand skills from the ground up with an emphasis on skills and what tools you really need to do good work and how to select those tools. I know I've found them very useful.

As for a list of tools to start with, I've been keeping track of which tools I use and these accomplish most of the work:
  • Panel or Hand Saw 10pt, crosscut
  • Panel or Hand Saw 5pt, rip
  • Small back saw, rip
  • Number 5 size plane
  • Chisels
  • Low angle block plane
  • Combination square
  • Marking knife
  • Pencil
It's my plan this week to talk about the various ways I use these tools in my projects. I'm always learning new things as I work and am far from expert but maybe we can learn together.


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