Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Tyranny of Mise en Place

I’m often astonished at how similar woodworking is to cooking. You have the knives of course, the ingredients that correspond to the lumber, the recipe that corresponds to drawings or building plans. The table saw of the kitchen might be the stove. The drill press might be the mixer. The planes are the pans, the chisels the knives. You get the picture. If that’s true, then the mise en place is just as important to woodworking as it is to cooking.

Mise en place is a French cooking term that literally means “putting in place.” (I clearly watch too much Food Network. Oh, Giada...) It means having all your ingredients chopped and measured and organized before you start mixing it together. In woodworking I guess it would translate to having a clean benchtop, your tools at hand, your blades sharp, your stock prepared – everything that gets you to the point of cutting joints and putting things together.

I’m pretty much a slob in many areas of life, the workshop prominent among them. (Check out this guy’s shop. Mine isn’t this bad. Ok, maybe it is. This guy has way too many Festool products!!) I often hesitate to show anyone my workspace because it is such a mess. (Shame spiral!) I would have to say that if you aren’t a neatnik, you are at a disadvantage as a woodworker, especially a professional one who depends on efficiency to bring in money. Not being a professional, I have the luxury of not having efficiency as a major necessity.

Having cut-offs stacked haphazardly everywhere is a big disincentive to making anything. Tools can be damaged if they aren’t stored properly. And the energy it takes to clean everything up takes away from the energy of wanting to make something in the first place.

The truth is people are different and work differently. If you measure yourself against what you see online or on tv or in magazines, you’re setting yourself up for failure because people clean up their shops before having them photographed or filmed. So we shouldn’t judge ourselves too harshly.

I would say I aspire to being neater and more organized in the workshop. But going to the extreme of a place for everything and everything in its place is just not realistic for me. (If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: I would have made a lousy Shaker.) If I accept that and even embrace the way I work, I’ll make things instead of worrying about how things look along the way.

1 Comment:

RJB said...

I'm right behind on you this. I put off cleaning the shop until it's absolutely necessary. As long as the debris is beneath the bench I'm good.