The joy of creation

Making things by hand challenges a consumerist mindset.


What is a makerspace?


A makerspace is a collaborative work space inside a school, library or separate public/private facility for making, learning, exploring and sharing that uses high tech to no-tech tools. These spaces are open to kids, adults and entrepreneurs and have a variety of maker equipment including 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC machines, soldering irons and even sewing machines.  But a makerspace doesn’t need to include all of these machines or even any of them. If you have cardboard, Legos and art supplies you’re in business. It’s more of the maker mindset of creating something out of nothing and exploring your own interests that’s at the core of a makerspace. 

STEM skills
These spaces are also helping to prepare those who need the critical 21st century skills in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). They provide hands-on learning, help with critical thinking skills and even boost self-confidence. Some of the skills that are learned in a makerspace pertain to electronics, 3D printing, 3D modeling, coding, robotics and even woodworking. Makerspaces are also fostering entrepreneurship and are being utilized as incubators and accelerators for business start-ups.

What is more satisfying than the sight of a completed project created by hand? It could be an appliqué wall hanging, a cherry cabinet, a garden landscape, a book. When it’s finished, we look at it with great satisfaction, a warm interior glow. It reminds me of the Book of Genesis, where God, surveying the wondrous new creation, “saw that it was good.”

Bill, my oldest son, was wielding a handsaw, hammer and nails well before he went to school. Five years old, he proudly brought me his first real construction. “I made you a house!” he announced. He has never stopped. When I forbade toy guns, he made them himself, with a bent nail for a trigger.

Of enormous influence to him were the Foxfire books, a 12-volume series on the Appalachian heritage of handcrafting tools, furniture and other necessities of life. Their message was clear: the old way of making and doing things was not only valuable history but a doable acquisition of skills. We bought him Foxfire books for birthdays and Christmas. I’d almost say they shaped his worldview, as far as practical matters go.

Carving became a passion, and I was for many years the main recipient of elegant bowls, tiny weed pots made of all different woods, even a hand-carved wooden tray. After marriage, he and Laurie bought an old house out in the country, “old” being the operative word. Bill has gradually rebuilt almost the entire structure, including foundation, windows with hand-built frames and sashes, wooden floors. He even replaced the protuberance known as a “Lunenburg Bump,” a distinctive dormer on the front of the house, and turned the two supporting posts into a tiny porch.

Laurie being a silversmith, Bill built her a post-and-beam studio. He held a traditional barn-raising one day, with brothers and friends pitching in to get the roof on. Everything was done with hand tools. No power tool of any kind. Every beam and post is solid wood.

Ways of creating
Bill often makes an item not because it’s something he wants but because he loves the making thereof. Take one particular small cabinet he constructed: 17 drawers in a frame that’s only 30” high and 22” wide. Each drawer has hand-cut dovetail joints. Sure, it’s a handy place to store things, but it was the process of making it that gave Bill the ultimate satisfaction.

Why do everything the hard way? Why spend so many hours this way? Why not Ikea furniture made of sawdust and glue? The love for making things is impossible to explain. It represents a whole different ethos from the reigning consumerist mindset. Bill reminds me that he grew up seeing me make things. I helped my boys build a fort one summer, with corner posts set in concrete. I made wall hangings using embroidery, appliqué and glue. Later still, I took a woodworking course and made my own china cabinet, book shelves and whatever cabinets my new house now boasts.

In a neighbouring community, someone bought an empty church and turned it into a woodworking shop. Using computer-guided tools worth perhaps a quarter of a million dollars, he builds wonderful doors, windows and entryways, among other things. Each item is perfect, made out of choice hardwood. The creative genius behind it does no sawing or hammering; his input goes into complicated computer software which then drives the saws and planers. Bill and I toured the place one day and couldn’t help but marvel. The process is an entirely different approach from Bill’s. The two men admired each other’s philosophy of creating lovely things, and could have spent a lot more time together discussing woodworking.

In many urban settings “makerspaces” are springing up. Here, creative people can come and use the potter’s wheel, the woodworking equipment, the metalwork tools they have no space for at home. It seems that many urban folk yearn to indulge their creative urge.

Only those who love making stuff can begin to appreciate the heartfelt satisfaction that comes from having created with one’s own hands.  


Anne’s china cabinet is made from very old floorboards.


This cabinet has 28 drawers!


The first house Bill built at the age of five.


  • Anne van Arragon

    Anne lives on a farm in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley. She is much involved with former Somali refugees now settled in Kentville.

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