Highland Woodworking
 
Book Review: Honest Labour - The Charles H Hayward Years
Review by J. Norman Reid

Okay, let's face it. Some book reviews are easier than others to write. The simplest are for books that have a clear story line, a beginning and an ending. Those reviews practically write themselves. This book, not so much. It's not that this is a bad book: far from it. And it's not that it was a difficult book to read; that was hardly the case either. No, the issue here is that there is an enormous amount of richness to be gleaned from poring over these pages, a wealth of ideas that cover many and varied themes. In the end, there's just no simple way to relate them, as has been my practice with these reviews. Since that is the case, I won't attempt to do so here.

So, what is the book exactly, and what can you expect from it? Honest Labour - The Charles H Hayward Years is a selection of regular columns written under the title "Chips from the Chisel" by Charles Hayward, longtime editor of the British magazine The Woodworker. Drawn from over three decades of the magazine's issues, these sought-after essays span the period from before the onset of World War II until the early 60s. Cogent, thoughtful, often insightful and sometimes a bit philosophical, these charmingly written essays reveal a zest for life and a wealth of knowledge that extends far beyond the woodworking to which it principally pertains.

While the essays themselves follow no set pattern of topics, some recurring themes occur. There is, as one might expect in a woodworking magazine, an emphasis on craftsmanship and the patience and persistence the highest quality demands. Hayward cautions against hurried workmanship, a principal source of error and degradation in standards. At the same time, he decries the prevalence of manufactured furniture that's behind the poor quality and inferior designs then as now flooding the marketplace. He repeatedly encourages woodworkers to build, if not for sale, then for the beauty and functionality handmade furniture can bring to the home.

Hayward does not limit himself to craftsmanship, however. Throughout the essays is much reflection on life, on creating a meaningful and satisfying existence in the face of the drudgery that often accompanies mundane mechanized and routine jobs. Craftsmanship in general, and woodworking in particular, provide a respite from the daily grind by offering challenges that stimulate the mind as well as train the hands. Hayward repeatedly encourages his readers to take up such challenges as much as a way of enriching their lives, as for the works they can create for the home.

Hayward sought to inspire his readers to undertake creative work as an antidote to laziness of mind. Creativity, he asserts, does not flow from a blank page. Instead, it grows in the context of ideas from the minds of others that are then modified, enlarged upon, and adapted to personal tastes and circumstances. This theme, to which he returns often, surely encouraged many readers to reach for their best, as it has for me.

Overall, these essays are less about woodworking per se than about craftsmanship in whatever is one's chosen medium and, beyond that, about realizing fulfillment in life. Hayward sees great potential in the creative challenge for achieving personal fulfillment. If there is a single overriding theme in these essays, it would be this — that honest labor is a key that will open the doors of satisfaction with life, whether in the workplace or the home workshop.

Because the essays — each of which occupies a bite-sized two-page spread — span an important three-decade period of transition, they provide an interesting perspective on the evolution of Hayward's state of mind during the passage of time. The earliest essays were written in the run-up to World War II and in them one sees a somewhat naive concern for what might eventuate if war should come. During the War itself, a recurring theme was the shortage of lumber and the need to make do with what was then obtainable. The shortages, which continued after the War, were a recurring theme for perhaps a decade.

Later themes dealt with the transition in the workplace from skilled craftsmanship to unskilled machine operation and the mental and inspirational challenges this posed for workers. And Hayward decried the fact that so many in the younger generation eschewed interest in craftsmanship or tackling difficult challenges in favor of taking the easy way out.

Although these articles were written a half a century or more ago, their themes are universal and they are as fresh today as when they were penned. Aside from a few quaint reminiscences and some easily-understood Britishisms, these essays are both accessible and highly relevant to North Americans today.

The essays are presented chronologically, with an introduction to each new year citing highlights of major events in American and British life during that year. These reminders, interesting in their own right, help to place the individual articles in the context in which Hayward conceived them.

This volume, another wonderful creation from Lost Art Press, is printed on oversized paper and hardbound with a sewn binding, a high degree of quality we've come to expect from this publisher. The articles are accompanied by a wealth of black and white drawings and designs that greatly add to the book's interest. These drawings are not, however, intended to be instructional as much as decorative, and the reader should not look to this book for plans or designs.

This is a book for the lover of craftsmanship and for the seeker for inspiration. If you're looking for projects, designs, or tips to improve your woodworking, you need to check out the other volumes in the series that preceded this one. This book conveys Hayward's zest for life, his high standards for craftsmanship, and his advice on how we can each achieve personal satisfaction. Beyond these general sentiments, it is impossible for me to relate all that's to be found in this book; there's simply too much in its 465 pages to easily summarize. Suffice it to say that I found much enjoyment and enrichment in this book, which offered me many pleasant hours of contemplation and inspiration. I hope you will enjoy it as well.

Find out more and purchase Honest Labour - The Charles H Hayward Years
at Highland Woodworking


J. Norman Reid is a woodworker, writer, and woodworking instructor living in the Blue Ridge Mountains with his wife, a woodshop full of power and hand tools and four cats who think they are cabinetmaker's assistants. He is the author of Choosing and Using Handplanes. He can be reached by email at nreid@fcc.net.

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