Today I was joining some boards together into large panels with dowels. Although I had about 40 holes to drill, my 3/8" electric drill made the job easy--just squeeze the trigger and hang on. Mark, line up the jig, drill the hole, clear the hole, move on to the next one. A repetitive task that made me think about ... covered bridges.
Ithiel Town patented the lattice truss design for bridges back in 1820. The great innovation of his design was that a strong bridge could be constructed from planks (instead of timbers) using only a drill and a saw. This was a dramatic contrast to previous bridge designs that required skilled timber framers, mortise and tenon joints, and heavy timbers. While Town's design simplified construction it came with a price--one estimate is that a 100-ft bridge required about 2500, 2" holes. Wow. I pulled out a barn auger today and tried my hand at one hole and that was enough.
I am always in awe of the physical effort that craftspeople put into building things. I can't imagine being on hole 100 and thinking, "Only 2400 to go." It also makes me appreciate their patience and fortitude. How many times do I get hurried and antsy because the task is going to take another 30 minutes? "Hey Bob, why don't you go drill another 50 holes by hand?" Do I have what it takes to be a craftsman? Is there some character trait that we lose when we plug in the tool?