My recommendations in past years have followed a theme. The same is true this year. This time around my list reflects my own ambition to be a man who is good both with his hands and his head. I’ve been a licensed building contractor as well as a professor of philosophy—so the list that follows reflects this. Perhaps you know someone whose tastes resemble my own. If so, theses suggestions may prove helpful.
First of all, a book.
Mr. Korn is a world-renowned furniture maker and a pretty thoughtful guy. With chapters entitled, “The Seductive Ideology of Craft,” and “Thinking with Things,” you are introduced to the mind of a true maker. If you’re new to high craftsmanship, the level of reflection may surprise you. But if you’ve spent any time with real artisans you’ll recognize Peter Korn.
When it comes to my tools, I’m a little fussy. I like high-quality ones, preferably made with great care and thought. I debated with myself long and hard about which ones to suggest. Here are the three I’ve settled on—each a marvelous combination of utility and subtle beauty.
A Hammer from Hardcore Hammers
I’ve swung hammers for more than thirty years now as a professional. I still have the Estwings I bought when I first started framing in my seminary years. When I saw these Hardcore hammers about a year ago, I could tell just by the photos that the people who make them understand what makes for a good hammer. I got one (smooth face, 19 oz.), and I’ve not been disappointed. It is now my favorite. (And I have plenty.)
A Splitting Axe from Gransfors Bruks
I split my firewood by hand. (I live in the Connecticut countryside.) You’ve not lived until you’ve split your own wood on a snowy morning. During the winter months I use my axe 2-3 days a week. I think the mechanical splitters are a crime against humanity. (Henry Ford was right: Split your own wood and it warms you twice.) But if you have one of those chincy axes you get at the big box store, you don’t know what good is. Get yourself a hand-forged axe and you won’t have to pretend you’re manly like all those phony “lumbersexuals.” You’ll actually be manly.
Tell your weekend warrior it is time to trash that flimsy sidewinder by giving him a real saw, a worm drive. Worm drive saws are the saws most framers use, especially west of the Mississippi. (Don’t know why, but it’s just so.) They’re heavy and they have tremendous torque, so you need a good grip and above-average upper-body strength to use them. But everyone in the know agrees they’re the best.
As a transition from the hands to the head, let me take you by way of the heart.
Give a subscription to my favorite magazine: Touchstone
I’ve had the privilege of writing for Touchstone. (Some of my writing there has been republished here at The Imaginative Conservative.) But I’m not the only Imaginative Conservative to write for Touchstone. Tony Esolen is a Senior Editor. How best to describe Touchstone? Touchstone is First Things meets Our Daily Bread (or whatever your favorite devotional literature is). If C. S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton were alive today, they’d write for Touchstone.
Now for the would-be professor (or real professor).
To truly look professorial you need a pipe from Smokingpipes.com
Smokingpipes.com has pipes priced from a sawbuck to several thousand dollars. All the great makers from around the world are represented. You can get all the accessories there too.
If you truly love your would-be professor, get him a briefcase from Saddleback Leather.
I’ve got the Classic Briefcase in Tobacco. They’re a little pricey—but hey, looking like Indiana Jones has its price. One thing you can be sure of, your man will never need another briefcase. Saddleback cases come with a lifetime guarantee.
Finally, another book. The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Method, Conditions by A. G. Sertillanges, O.P.
This was one of the best reads of 2016 for me. Sertillanges takes a workman-like approach to the practice of scholarship. There is also a devotional quality to the book, which is unsurprising since he was a Dominican. But if the person you love has aspirations to scholarship, you could not give a more practical gift than this.
I hope this helps! Have a Merry Christmas!
Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.