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Skill or Tools?

skillI just finished some cruising on the web looking at what metal-smiths were doing from all over the USA and the world. What I saw was a wonderful selection and variety of items being skillfully produced. It was a portfolio full of “let my imagination run wild” opportunities for creative expression.

There is so much variety in metal crafting that with me starting as a retirement age practitioner, I know I can never in my remaining lifetime try everything I have seen. Even if I had started as a young man it would not be possible. I’d like so much to practice everything I saw, but my choice is to do what I like the most. There is no wrong path.

Currently I am working with lost wax casting. This was on the top of my bucket list of abilities I wanted to master in my life. I am now fairly well skilled but am not yet a master. I will be enjoying this craft for many more years.

That doesn’t mean I can’t add other skills into my designs. I want to do work using the heat of my kiln. I am fascinated how some materials change as they are heated towards and beyond 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. Definitely in the bucket.

Following that desire, I am researching work I can do using the heat of the torch. I am a skilled arc and gas torch weldor and also an expert at soldering and brazing. Yes, weldor is spelled correctly, you have to be one to understand. I love to fuse metals.

One challenge is to keep costs of tools and materials within a reasonable budget. With endless possibilities in front of me, I have to keep my head on straight. I manage my desires as I would manage a business. Purchases are based on immediate need. Minimal tools to get the job done, then use experience to form decisions on how to improve. The result is I acquire the right tools, not just more tools. I also discover that tools do not magically add skill but good tools can improve the experience once I understand what makes them “good”.

As a lifelong craftsperson, working with my hands, mind, and tools, I know there is no excuse for working with poor tools. If my work depends on my tools, then I need the most dependable tools I can afford. Not necessarily the most expensive, but never from the bargain-bin.

Life is good and so are my tools. I need to go practice my skills making nice things. My tools do nothing without me. A workshop full of the best tools is nothing but a shrine to the hardware without a human being who is there properly using them. Poor work is better than no work at all but a good crafts-person knows how to work within the limits of the available tools. That’s the difference between a tool operator and a skilled crafts-person or artist. The difference is the word “skilled”.

I have often been told, “Those are great pictures you publish in your blogs. You must have a really good camera.” What I think but never say, “Thanks, I have a good camera, but I am a great photographer.” At least in my own mind…

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