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Book Review: Honest Labour by Charles H. Hayward

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Andy Kev.

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HONEST LABOUR - Volume V of the Charles H. Hayward Years

This is the fifth and final book of material published by The Lost Art Press and drawn from The Woodworker magazine from its days under the editorship of Charles Hayward during the period of 1936 to 1966. It consists of a collection of editorials which, although written by Hayward, appeared anonymously in the magazine under the heading of Chips From The Chisel. There is also an account of Hayward’s youthful employment in a London workshop. The articles are arranged chronologically and number four to eight per year.

It is an extraordinary book.

The first thing to note is that it is not specifically about woodworking although that provides the context in which the articles appeared and which inspired them. You will not learn a thing about the forming of tenons, the cutting of dovetails and the planing of boards from these pages.

As you would expect in a collection of musings from one man, a number of themes run like threads through the articles. His starting point is that woodwork helps form the home in so far as the woodworker makes furniture. The craftsman also gains purpose in and adds value to his life by virtue of his literal creativity. That notion will probably need no explaining to the members of this forum.

He also rails against the fact that it was becoming apparent in his day that increasing industrialisation and the age of the machine mitigated against and indeed threatened the existence of true craftsmanship. He feels that the amateur craftsman is likely to be the curator and keeper of such skills and in fulfilling that role the woodworker will also find his personal salvation, especially if his normal work requires him to indulge in mundane, routine, uncreative labour.

That may sound a little gloomy but in fact the effect of this writing is uplifting. He casts a light on to a road worth travelling, the road of true creativity, something which is probably slumbering in the soul of every human being. His ideas are probably more true today - in an age when so many of us earn our livings by sitting and typing in front of a screen, light years away from anything which can sensibly be described as reality - and it seems to me to be the modern world which has an LED-lit gloom about it.

Hayward’s writing is elegant, eloquent and lucid. He was quite clearly a kindly and well read man who found much joy in his work and who wanted to encourage others to put the effort in which is necessary in order to achieve that joyfulness for oneself.

If you have ever found yourself questioning the sense of what goes on around you in the world, if you have ever marvelled at the craftsmanship of the pre-industrial age and if you have ever despaired of mass produced tat and the implications that that has for the craftsman, then this book may well be for you. It is certainly an antidote to the despair which some of us may occasionally incline to as we observe the masses ignoring each other while their heads are pointed firmly down to their mobile phones.

As pointed out above, this is not a book about techniques or even specifically about woodworking. It is however, richly illustrated with diagrams of items of furniture and tools all taken from the relevant issues of The Woodworker and not a photograph in sight.

I have no quibbles about this book whatsoever but do have one about its time of publication i.e. in summer. It seems to me that it is a book to be dipped into in winter ideally with a ticking clock in the background and a glass of something decent by your chair. I think it can be unconditionally recommended to the thinking woodworker (is there any other kind?) and indeed to a wider readership of people who perhaps question the value of a world driven by shallow consumerism.

Honest Labour is available in the UK from Classic Hand Tools.
 

AndyT

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Thanks for that really well written review Andy - I've added it to the sticky.
 

Trevanion

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God damn it. Whenever someone recommends a bloody Lost Art Press book I almost always immediately fancy it then proceed to go and buy it, then another one or two on the site takes my fancy too... #-o

I should know better by now...
 

Cheshirechappie

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Thanks, Andy. This book was on my shopping list, but as a result of your review, it's nudged it's way up a few places!
 

G S Haydon

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Great Review, Andy!

Glad you enjoyed it. I have a plethora of old issues of "The Woodworker" and read a good few of the "Chips from the Chisel" section. In the magazine format it is frustrating to flip from page to page as the articles are split. That went for all articles.

I love the old issues of the magazine and although I like some of the "Chips", overall they leave me a little cold. But each to their own and I'm glad LAP have put them together for everyone to enjoy.

The LAP books I've kept hold of are "Campaign Furniture" and a digital download of the Design Book. I went for the Design Book to get an understanding on how Chris deals with chair building. I've yet to make a chair but look forward to when I can.
 

Andy Kev.

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Graham,

I think that the Campaign Furniture book represents the icing on the cake of the LAP books and it is in itself a beautiful book. I'd love to kit out a room with that sort of furniture. One day I will feel ready to take on the secret mitred dovetail challenge. In fact I'm slowly psyching myself up to practice on a few offcuts.

The other LAP books which I found incredibly helpful are The Anarchist's Toolchest, The Essential Woodworker and of course The Woodworker series. Put together they seem to form a sort of encyclopedia which delivers all the answers for amateurs like me.
 
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