It would appear that modern carpentry in Germany is not so much a traditional craft with old men handing down secrets of the trade to the next generation as (mostly) a high-tech industry based on fast, expensive and very complicated machines which manage to achieve an almost as perfect result in a fraction of the time. This presents some problems in my mind, like the resulting dependency on said very expensive and complex machines, loss of traditional skills, and perhaps most pressing, the very real danger of losing a thumb, finger or hand. Even if you manage to keep all digits intact, the machines have a nasty habit of firing bits of wood across the room fast enough that you just have time to think “oh ——–” before they hit you rather hard.

To prevent, or at least reduce, the number of future one-armed carpenters we all have to get a machine operators licence, which is why I just spent a couple of weeks hearing various stories about interesting ways people have managed to injure themselves (as if I wasn’t nervous enough around these things in the first place) and making random and often not terribly useful objects with these machines.

The second week was the week of the chair. This was much more fun because we were released from all the theorising and got to make a set of six dining chairs from ash wood. Even better, I landed in a group with two very competent, and more importantly patient students, so the week went by pretty well. Mind you, I say a week, it actually took a week and then another half week of rushing to the workshop after theory sessions because we hadn’t finished our chairs quite in time, but on the other hand we did manage to make all six without too many visible mistakes, despite someone (who shall remain nameless) putting various bits through the machine the wrong way up. Again.

There isn’t an exam for the machine course, thank goodness: we just had to attend it for three weeks without visiting the local emergency room*. It was a bit like learning to drive: the goal is that you are safe, rather than expert. I’m not sure I’ve achieved either, but I’m officially allowed (read: “insured”) to use the dangerous things in the workshop. This is Germany: I have a certificate, therefore I am.

And I’ve got a free chair into the bargain. Since it got home the boys decided it needed testing properly and used it as a climbing frame and dance floor.

*Is it coincidence that the local hospital is the regional centre for fixing amputations?