Have an hour to kill? I can think of few better ways to do so than watching Michel Chalufour and John Karol’s documentary, Ben’s Mill: Making a Sled, a documentary that shows the jack-of-all-trades Ben Thresher at work in his eponymous water-powered mill. While Ben’s work on a water tub and lumber sled would not be characterized as fine woodworking, he works with a grace and efficiency that is the hallmark of a craftsman.
There is a trite saying in woodworking (and no doubt many other crafts) that goes something like this: “The measure of a true craftsman is how well they hide their mistakes.” While there is some truth in that, I believe that mastery is better measured in efficiency and economy. When, through practice and innate talent, all unneeded motion and thought is stripped away, what energy is expended serves only to further the goal at hand. Throughout this movie, Ben’s sense of purpose and economy are unmistakable, making the builds look far easier than they actually are.
While I could go on at great lengths about Ben’s Mill, your time is much better spent watching this movie than reading about it. If you don’t have the time now, bookmark it for later viewing. I think you’ll enjoy it (even if you’ve seen it before).
I first saw this several years back and I have watched it again several more times. I have often wondered about lost tools in the piles of ???? that are all over. He does have well worn paths around the machines in the shop.
Well, there is that issue. In that respect, it reminds me more of my shop than I care to admit.
Yep nice movie the film quality is degraded and it was all warm and fuzzy till I found out that Old Ben got taken out at age 83 while crossing the road on his way to work. The folks who run the mill now have done a nice job cleaning it up and preserving the place. To me it is not the mill Ben had as it is all cleaned up and painted pretty without the look of Ben’s active work space. I guess it did need to be shored up and repaired where needed to prevent deterioration and it a great representative of what a mill from the turn of the 19 th century would be without much imagination. Thanks for sharing
Yes, that was rather sad to hear about. You’re right that the “new” mill has lost something, but it probably makes it more accessible and informative to visitors. It’s a fine line line between cleaning and preserving, and one I wouldn’t care to walk.