Sep

18

A few weeks ago James Sogi wrote about Kai Lake and his friend who is a professional wood craftsman. His website is worth a look if only to remind yourself that mankind does add to the sum beauty of the world.

Crafts are rich with metaphor for traders, but what strikes me most when viewing work like Kai's is the separation between the novice and the master: the gap that exists between the weekend warrior and the true student. I am a dabbler: I make things from wood that my family admires, and visitors to my home have even commissioned a piece or two. But my advanced-amateur status only makes me more aware of the divide between people like me and the likes of Kai, Krenov and Nakashima.

If I were to meet one of these luminaries, I would ask him if there was one skill that was most indispensable in bridging the chasm. Was it cutting to a line with a fine saw? Controlling a chisel to slice a 1/500" shaving from a tenon? Developing one's eye to recognize instantly a good or bad design? Learning to hand-plane a surface so beautifully that putting a coating on it seems sacrilegious?

Fortunately, many have written books, so I have met them, and they have answered my question. Perhaps surprisingly given the range of skills required, there is one fundamental skill. It is sharpening.

It is the lack of keenness on edge tools that leads many woodworkers to think that a bit of a gap in a miter is normal; that everybody has a bit of rough-tearout when they hand-plane, that an ill-carved surface is evidence of "hand-worked" and therefore acceptable. Many woodworkers have never had exposure to a truly sharp tool: until one has held a much-sharper-than-a-razor tool and sliced end-grain with the slightest of effort, it is easy to let sharpening lapse. After one has held that tool, it is impossible to ignore the stone.

A dull chisel forces one to push too hard. That would not be terrible if working plastic: but wood is a variable medium. It transitions unpredictably from hard to soft, it resists mightily on instant and not at all the next. When one is pushing too hard, as one must with a dull tool, when the nature of the work inevitably changes the tool will lurch forward uncontrollably, and another "hand-made" object is born. Furthermore, a dull tool is dangerous to the craftsman: it can easily lurch out of the work and into a palm, thigh or wrist. The link to trading is obvious and poignant.

Sharpening is a very simple job: hold a tool at a constant angle and rub it on an abrasive surface. Use finer abrasive surfaces to get a sharper edge. But it is boring and it takes practice to get it right. So many woodworkers never bother: they make-do with semi-sharp tools, or they regard edge tools as disposable and buy new edges from the store, or they rely on power tools to shield them from dull steel. Store-bought chisels are not sharp enough to do fine work. And professionals like those above rely on power tools to get close, and hand tools to finish. So the gap gets wider.

We amateurs in the trading world face a similar challenge in bridging the gap. What is the fundamental skill? Is it money management? Is it finely tuned entries and exits? A keen eye for a beautiful chart pattern? No. It is counting. It is not complicated, as the Chair has repeatedly mentioned: imagine two categories, make a two-by-two or four-by-four table, and count. It cannot be ignored, and it is not something you do early and forget: it is done repeatedly and often. The resulting sharpness allows one to use exactly the force required: the changing conditions of the market do not cause the account to lurch dangerously. Such flaws are no longer regarded as normal and necessary, and the gap starts to narrow.

But counting is not glamorous, and except for some it is not exciting. So we amateurs buy our edges from advertisements in this magazine or that, and when they stop working we discard them and buy another. Having never held a truly sharp edge we do not know that those store-bought systems or indicators were never sharp enough anyway. Or we hand our money over to a person or automated system, and get results that, although safer, are tragic because we never even tried to cross the chasm to truly fine work.

Time to get out the stones.


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