Am I glad I did it?

Earlier this year, I purchased some raw willow clefts. They had been dried but were rough cut and needed dimensioning, they looked something like this…

Now anyone who knows me or has come across my blog before is probably aware I don’t own many machines or power tools. The Bandsaw is a lone wolf in my workshop, used almost exclusively for rip cutting timber and splicing cricket bats. Before its arrival, I had cut the odd splice with a handsaw which was always surprisingly successful. So without the usual array of machines to process the clefts for pressing, I set about doing it all by hand.

It took a full day to prepare 10 clefts and I can say I was exhausted at the end of it. My back ached, my arms felt like jelly and the greatest sign of fatigue was that I was cranky! Most of the standard techniques and tricks I would use to dimension a piece of timber weren’t of use as I went through the process of removing twist, squaring one edge to the face, making that edge parallel to the spine, then ripping it to rough width from the square edge and then finally making each edge equal thickness – Multiplied by 10.

In days gone by perhaps this sort of drudgery would perhaps have been relegated to the hands of the bat maker’s apprentice. But with no general dogsbody to delegate this to, it was clear Christmas had come early.

Would I do it again? Not if I can possibly avoid it.

Am I glad I did it? Yes

It may seem strange to be pleased with having undertaken such an onerous task without the help of machines, however I’ve learnt something new. I knew how to do it with machines, and now I know what’s required to achieve the same results by hand. The process of dimensioning a cleft by using mainly hand tools is most probably not widely practised, with good reason.

Machines remove the grind of bat making, many bat makers I respect and admire have introduced machines into parts of their process to do just this. Does this make them any less of a bat maker?

Certainly not, but the significant difference is that they know how to do it the harder way and have the skills to draw upon if necessary. Whether they decide to do so or not is up to them. Machines are great labour saving devices, but they are no substitute for knowledge and experience and never will be.

The question that struck me though was… “Where are the apprentices?”