You Cannae Get a New Finger

by Justin Lau

‘Where’s the tape measure!’
‘Pass me the clamps, will ya?’
‘Ooo he’s gonna chop off his fingers like.’
‘I am titaaaaaaaniiiiiiiummmmmm!’

Shouts thrown across the room in friendly banter and warm camaraderie. Droning drills and saws and sanders. Pop hits blaring from the radio and voices belting along.

Every Monday afternoon at a workshop in Langley Moor, I get to join the lads at Handcrafted, a charity set up five years ago by members at Kings to help disadvantaged people become active members of the community.

They come from all sorts of backgrounds and are often excluded by society, but Handcrafted provides a supportive, welcoming environment that teaches them skills so they can find jobs or even start their own enterprises.

In turn, those with more experience are able to teach new trainees (including me!), showing them how to use the machines and build their projects—whether it’s a jewellery box for their nan or a spice rack for a newlywed couple. On my first day, they passed me some scrap pieces of wood… and after three hours (and with their expert guidance), I held in my hands a beautiful chopping board!

One thing I’ve noticed about the workshop is the pace at which things move: slow and steady.

Don’t rush, they say. Don’t force the wood through the machines, let the blade do the work. Just be gentle and guide it. There’s a remarkable patience embodied in the intricate crafting.

‘Younger trainees tend to rush and make mistakes,’ says one of the lads. ‘Trick is to take it slow, take it nice and easy. That’ll result in better quality. Speed isn’t everything.’

Such wisdom! How much do we—busy ants scurrying around in a relentlessly driven society—need to hear and apply this to our day-to-day lives? In the midst of a hectic schedule, Mondays at Handcrafted have become a safe haven where I can slow down and breathe.

It’s inspiring to see their intense concentration. There’s a seriousness to their work, a gravity. Crouching down in front of a bandsaw at eye level, delicately steering a piece of wood, their gaze transfixed and never blinking, undistracted by the surrounding racket, pouring all their energy into this particular moment.

‘Keep your fingers away from the blade,’ they emphasise over and over. ‘You can always get a new piece of wood, but you cannae get a new finger.’ Some of them show me scars. They speak from experience. I’d be a fool not to listen to their advice.

I admire their dedication and focus, especially in a world constantly vying for our attention, incessantly distracting us until we have no idea what’s even important.

It’s amazing to see how many people’s lives have been transformed and are now serving Durham in various capacities. I’ve learnt so much from them. It’s been a wonderful reminder to slow down and focus on the present, on the very task at hand.