HEIHO of the Carpenter

radius stair in cherry built by master carpenter Jeff Shaffer
Heiho means, the way.

The way of the Carpenter. In the classic text of Samurai Sword Strategy, The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi, he describes the Carpenter as the greatest strategist of all.

Musashi said that the master carpenter was a man who knew where to place the ugly straight woods for support and the soft straight wood for lintels. The master carpenter would also know how to delegate responsibility according to ability. In other words, he could read people and assign tasks according to how well he knew they worked.

Musashi knew that the Samurai and the master carpenter were the same. Each only cared about the cut, and each prepared diligently for the cut of the blade. To both, the blade was all, and the preparation to use the blade was a ritual beyond a layman’s understanding. From the Samurai and the carpenter’s point of view, the blade and the cut is all that matters.

The cut of the carpenter is made only after diligent preparation and the ritual of measuring twice before you cut once. The cut of the Samurai is made only after diligent preparation and the ritual repetition of technique, so that when the blade is used, it is a cut that is clean and quick, same as the carpenter. It’s all about the cut and the best way to get there is to have a strategy. Hence, the understanding that the Carpenter was the first Samurai. How is this you ask? Let me show you.

At the beginning of time

When man was still in the caves and hunted his food by hand, it was a very bright individual who reached down and grabbed a pieced of wood, recognized it as a tool, and then, used it to kill his next meal to feed his mate and offspring. A piece of wood used as a club. That club was swung the same way a sword would have been swung. At that moment in time, the club was a dull sword. The birth of the Carpenter and the Samurai were both on the same day.

All he had to do to become the first real wood worker was to take a longer straighter piece of wood, sharpen its end, learn to throw it with accuracy, and he had a crude spear. Next came the bow and arrows without arrowheads. What a Carpenter.

With these few advancements in wooden tools, man could kill more food faster and better and begin to stockpile his achievements. With longer sticks and sewn hides, the first Carpenter became the first homebuilder, the first hunter, and the first protector of his family, clan or tribe.

The carpenter/protector/hunter, then added a rock to his club, a sharpened rock to his spear and another to his arrows, making him the first metallurgist, and the really first good killer of things and his fellow men. It didn’t take the Carpenter long to learn to melt metal and learn to make real swords and spear heads and arrowheads. From the Carpenter, all trades were born. The Carpenter was first; all the rest followed his lead.

Among the Great Plains Indian tribes, the making of hunting instruments and tools of warfare was usually delegated to one individual in the tribe. He didn’t have to hunt for food to feed his family. The rest of the tribe paid for his labors by keeping him and his family fed and clothed and housed. He was an important person in his tribe. All he had to do was make bows and arrows and spears and tomahawks and what ever any one else wanted made. Things like bowls and cups. He was a craftsman. He was a carpenter, and his trade was usually handed down to his sons.

In the religions based on the Christian faith, God was the first builder of all things and his son Jesus Christ told his disciples that he builds, in his father’s abode, many mansions for those that believe in him. Sounds like two Carpenters to me. Jesus was raised as the son of a Carpenter, Joseph. So I guess it shows it’s all about building, and you can’t get there without a Carpenter.

The birth of the Carpenter is the birth of all the other trades, Without the Carpenter the world would not be what it is today. There is nothing in our world today that we can build that did not come from a Carpenter first.

post to post master carpenter built cherry and maple stair Building a staircase

The epitome of the home building Carpenters skills is building a staircase. There are many Carpenters who don’t build staircases and then there are staircase Carpenters who only build staircases and claim not to be Carpenters. They claim to be stair guys not Carpenters. You can’t build stairs without being a Carpenter first. No one just jumps into staircase building without learning to be a Carpenter first. You can’t run before you learn how to walk.

Not every Carpenter wants to build staircases. It takes a very skilled Carpenter who both understands the high degree of math and geometry that it takes to build staircases. Any Carpenter can install a door and wrap it, wrap a window or run base molding. But the mentality it takes to build a staircase is beyond the average Carpenter. Building a staircase is an involved process most Carpenters shy away from because it takes too much time or too much mental skill for them to want to use. They would rather blow and go.

If a Carpenter who builds a staircase for a patron is good at what he does, in essence, he leaves behind a Mona Lisa for his patron and others to enjoy. He is an artist in wood. I personally think it is an honor and a privilege to be invited into a patrons home to leave my craft behind for them to enjoy for many years, Without them and their desires for good wood working in their homes, I would not be what I am today, a Carpenter.

Jeff Shaffer


Jeff Shaffer Construction

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