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The Sylvan SmithPaul Carroll – The Sylvan Smith

Sylvan is a word not used very often these days. Essentially it means anything pertaining to or inhabiting the woods. This includes the trees used to create the artifices born in imagination and wrought with our hands. A smith is a maker of things, a craftsman who uses his hands and tools. The Sylvan Smith tells the world that I am a woodworker, a maker of things from wood.

Sylvan also refers the mythological creatures that were believed to inhabit ths forests in ancient times. They were the spirits of the woods; protectors, residents, and part of each tree. Roy Underhill developed an essay on the Spirit of Woodcraft, which he explained wonderfully on an episode of the Woodwright Shop. He spoke of the Jedi Woodworker and how they were one with the wood. They have the ability to instinctively feel the flow of the grain and know where the strength and weakness lie in every timber. They understand the workmanship of risk, balancing on that edge between creating a object of beauty versus kindling. I like to think that The Sylvan Smith also describes my attempt to understand and embrace the Spirit of Woodcraft.

I am a maker and a practitioner, but I am not a master. I am a student searching for knowledge and attempting to find a lesson in each stroke of my saw, swing of my axe, and shaving that flows from my plane. I am a Padawan without a master. I seek the ancient lore in tombs resurrected by Christopher Schwarz and Lost Art Press, or resting in dormancy on the shelves of used bookstores. I also try to commit my vacation time to spending as many days as I can learning from the Jedi Masters, such as Roy Underhill, Bill Anderson, and Graham Blackburn. I draw inspiration from the beautiful work of Brian Boggs, whose chair fuse style and function into perfection. I hope to always be learning regardless of how many years and completed projects have accumulated.

Since I am a padawan, woodworking has yet to become my profession. I went in the Navy out of high school, got involved in Information Technology in the early years, and have been able to build a great career after leaving the service. My focus has been in Internet Hosting, providing web services and Internet access. Today I work for a large hosting company and am responsible for the daily operations of several data centers. It can be interesting work, but most of what I do lacks tangibility and form, it cannot be perceived with the eye or felt through touch. In the past this hasn’t been important to me, but as I grow older, so does my desire to produce artifacts. Some of it might be related to needing a legacy to leave behind. I’d love for a piece of furniture or a door I’ve created to be useful long after I’m gone. You don’t get that in the world of technology. Too quickly the latest innovation becomes obsolete and discarded. There is no sense of permanence in that world, no feeling that what I make will ride the stream of time and retain value. I feel a call to woodworking that goes beyond the need for a weekend hobby.

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