The Master

Duncan Mac Master in His Shop

Duncan in his workshop

Duncan Mac Master studied Japanese woodworking and tools with Japanese masters and has mastered the craft of furniture making and timber framing. His one room workshop is modest, simple, and meticulous. His handmade Japanese tools are lined up on shelves, his papers on his desk are squared up in neat piles, his wood is stacked against the wall, and his floor and equipment are swept clean. Large murtis of Chinese Goddesses also line the shelves in between his tools. This room is the embodiment of Duncan’s own simple, grounded, and spiritual personality. His demeanor is calm with no sense of rush and his voice draws you towards the transcendent.

On Monday, September 2nd I started the first day of my first internship in woodworking with Duncan. He brought me and two others on a field trip to a small cabin in the woods built by Robert Laporte, the founder of EcoNest. This small cabin has a timber frame and straw clay walls. The inside is clean and organized with utilized space. It was great to experience how a small room can feel spacious when the space is actually used properly and the furnishings are an appropriate size. Duncan built the doors and stairs as well as a nifty island on wheels for the tiny kitchen and a beautiful coffee table. It was nice to see his work for the first time.

After we left, Duncan brought us to his house to show us more of his work. His friendly, fluffy kitty cat came up to greet us as Duncan showed us his yard full of fruit trees and berry bushes. Inside, the furnishings he made for his house were astonishing. Their beauty caught me and I fought to hold back tears. I turned to my two other companions and mouthed, “I’m so excited!” Upstairs there was large table, built low to the ground, made out of a huge, single piece of wood. Wow! There were also simple boxes and shelves throughout the house that Duncan had made.

Like I said, I am so excited and looking forward to all I am going to learn from Duncan. Even after my internship is over I plan on taking him up on his offer when he said I am now part of the family and I can come to the shop any time.

The next day we replaced a half rotted rake board (the board that runs just under the roof) from a house that is getting repainted. We measured it then proceeded to take nails out. I watched Duncan for a bit then he handed over the tools, a hammer and a small Japanese flat bar (a small crowbar). Duncan had made it look so easy as he hit the flat bar a few times with the hammer then, with much strength and momentum, pulled the nail out. I climbed up the ladder and clumsily attempted to take out my first nail. I was a little nervous yanking a nail out, with the momentum needed, while at the top of a ladder. I got two out but the third one I ended up stripping the head off making it impossible for even Duncan to take out. I also managed to thump myself on the head with both tools at the same time giving myself a small bruise. I am really looking forward to getting more coordinated and comfortable.

After removing one board we headed over to the lumberyard to purchase a replacement. As Duncan sorted through some 1×10 cedar I asked him what he looked for in a board. He showed me one and we studied it to see if it was straight. He also pointed out the knots in the boards and said to avoid large ones and ones that were falling out. He narrowed the stack down to the best four then chose three to purchase. As I handed down the boards the rough side let loose one of its splinters into the palm of my hand. In the car ride back to the shop I asked Duncan if he got used to splinters and he said, “no, it’s pretty much an every day thing.”

Unfortunately I caught a cold (in the middle of summer) and for the next two days I was stuck feeling awful at home in bed. I have been looking forward to my woodworking internships for so long and of course I get sick only two days in. When I told Duncan he said it’s very important to be comfortable in your body especially when working with tools. As excited as I am to get going I see his wisdom. If your mind is stuck on how your body is feeling, it’s hard to focus on what you need to be doing. It’s nice not to feel rushed or pressured to get back and taking those few days off for rest has helped me recover more rapidly. However, today is a new day and although I am not 100% I am pretty close and absolutely determined to not waste another day of my precious internship.

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