The Home Workshop: Making the Man
Among the many quaint definitions of my youth, “Man is a tool-making animal.”1., is among the most quaint, the most true. Benjamin Franklin bequeathed we Americans a wealth of golden sayings, nuggets of wisdom and use that have made us a practical people, direct and honest.
In my trades, I make or remake tools each day, as want or need dictates. I might curve a metal bar to fashion some out-of-the-way form on a statue, assemble and tie hairs or bristles for painting, create a template to form a molding, a … or take myself to Lowes or Home Depot where some other has made the tool for me.
We all make tools from what we know of what we need, fist like a hammer, hand like a wrench, teeth like a saw, computer like a brain, back like a fork-lift, et cetera. Tools that I make, make me better than I am for children and wife, make me a husband useful and true. A husband, as we all know, is a dweller in the house, the man of the wife, the steward who manages a family, thriftily.
I know as Odysseus (Ulysses) knew, if I am not husband to Penelope, I am nothing at all … and this realization after both goddess and witch offered him (and me) sensual pleasures without number, without end. A thing must be what it is, or the thing is not, and I and Odysseus are husband to a wife, men who must build a marriage bed where in love the generations are made.
You will remember that Penelope, distrustful of shifty Odysseus, before agreeing to return to wedding asked her husband (if he was her husband) to move the bed, just over there. Odysseus answered, “My darling, as you know, with these hands I carved a living tree yet rooted in the stones of this floor into a stout, sturdy bed, a bed which yet lives and brings forth life. See! From this great house which stone by stone I built by my hands (shows her his knuckle-strong hands, scarred, muscled, soft) grows a city of men. All that you see has grown by will and work from the family that we two in love have made.”
My son is a better carpenter than I, and has made a bed worthy to bring forth virtuous generations, and yet I flatter myself in knowledge that I passed the craft of building from my fathers to him. When young and male, though not yet formed into a man, I trained him in the arts of building from foundation through frame, wire, pipe and wall, to door, window, finish and roof, as seen among the illustrations, here.
Men bring forth the world after women bring forth men. Look around. Do you notice all that is, is made by the love of men, by their hands, by their will, by their minds. See, a city surrounds you, a city built by the strength of bruised men for the love of women and children. Notice the floor beneath, the walls surround, the ceiling made by a man in labor to keep safe what is good.
There is that and there is pride. Yes, I am proud of my work, of my toolbelt which, by the admission of several females, I know to be a talisman of fertility. Our bodies give us pleasure in honest betrayal, give us all that is healthy and good.
Without a tool a man is rather useless, qua man, qua male, an observation neatly stated by Thomas Carlyle, “Man is a tool-using animal … Without tools he is nothing, with tools he is all.”2. To make yourself useful, I advise a toolbelt with tape for measure, t-square to be true, pockets of straight-strong nails, and an elegantly firm hammer to handsomely drive the point. I have toolbelts of rough hide, tanned leather, and thick cloth, each to its purpose.
You will want one large toolbox for labor about the house. A toolbox sufficient to answer a home’s many needs, plumbing, electricity, structures, mechanics, finishes. Do not fear the size and weight, you will grow by carrying the burden, as did Milo of Croton who each day carried a bull-calf until it became a bull, with each step of each day increasing strength until he was foremost in his city, leader in defense and in projects for the good. Some males are forever children, some males become men: “You must either make a tool of the creature, or a man of him.”3.
You will want a workshop tripartite in structure, sufficient for tool-crib, storage, and shop, a workshop where a man can husband resources, can scout-like prepare, can form the necessary parts of house and furniture, or accomplish their repair. There will be shelves for storage of materials, cribs for hand tools and machine tools, cribs for waxes, chemicals necessary for mixtures, paints; there will be pegs for everyday tools of shop and garden (best when separated by indoor-outdoor); there will be a tabletop for projects, bright lights and day lights, a sink for water, a heater for winter, conditioner or fan for summer, opposite door and window to allow cross breeze, et cetera.
My workshops have sported rare-wood floors, ceiling pictures, pilasters and other marks of refinement. I have fashioned workshops alike the accordion of a Cape Cod, alike a Venetian studio, alike a Greek temple, homage to Hephaestus (Vulcan) of the forge, Hammer God and artist, maker of Pandora.
All that you see was fashioned by the hands of Man – beautiful, isn’t it – by men for love of women, to serve his family, and to achieve value in himself. Paraphrasing Pico, Lichtenberg the satirist-scientist noticed, “Man can acquire accomplishments or he can become an animal, whichever he wants. God makes the animals, man makes himself.”4. True enough, though man makes himself by making for others what is beautiful, useful, true and good.
The several workshops pictured here are not caves for men, not lairs of sloth and debauchery, not the common refuge of watchers who live themselves into the accomplishment of others. The workshops pictured here are shrines to duty, the practice that makes a man a man, the practice that makes him useful to others, that makes him worthy of himself.
You might consider a workshop a husband’s sanctuary, a place of consecration where a man performs the rites of Classive Civilization, the ritual ceremonies of craft and care and repair unchanged these three millennia. That is how I see the custom of husbandry, a tradition of mastery where a man fashions himself by fashioning the world with his hands. As we know, to be a man a male must master himself in subordination to the hard laws of reality, only then is he qualified to lead.
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1. From James Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson.
2. Thomas Carlyle (1795 – 1881), quoted.
3. From John Ruskin’s The Stones of Venice.
4. Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742 – 1799), quoted.
Featured image: Workshop at South Park, Mansfield, Ohio, Johnny Appleseed’s hometown. credit: M. Curtis
For more on the Richland Early American Center for History, connect here.
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