Mr. Korn, 62, had a little explaining to do when, as a senior at the University of Pennsylvania in 1972, he announced his plan to pursue a career in carpentry. On Nantucket.
Forty-one years later, he has finally made sense of it all. In his book “Why We Make Things and Why It Matters: The Education of a Craftsman,” published in November by David R. Godine ($24.95), he chronicles his life as a craftsman and founder of the nonprofit Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockport, Me., a school for beginner and advanced woodworkers. The educator and furniture maker, who has also written a best-selling how-to book, recently spoke with a reporter. (This interview has been condensed and edited.)
Q. In your book you make a strong case for creative pursuits in general, but especially creative processes that have a physical or material connection.
A. We have a certain innate biological character, and I think that working creatively with actual materials — bringing new and meaningful things into the world with your own skills — helps us inhabit our humanity to the fullest. The more virtual the world gets, the more that hunger sharpens.
You must be encouraged by the rise of the “maker” movement.
I think it’s great. I don’t care what they make, as long as they’re making. For some, it’ll spark curiosity about how to make things more expressively and better.
I’m guessing a 3-D printer is not high on your list of favorite things.
I’m completely on board with them in the sense that they’re one more tool in the workshop. The problem comes when people rely on them as their only means of fabrication, so now their designs are restricted to what one tool is capable of. You can create things with them, but you create in a very limited range, functionally, materially and aesthetically.
Why do so many people seem leery about doing things with their hands?
Many individuals may simply be uninterested. But if you take out those people and look just at the people who are afraid to try, it’s probably for the same reason most of us as adults are wary of trying anything new. When you try to learn something new as an adult, you risk failure, and when you do that you’re risking your worldview of who you are. Tackling a new skill can feel that way for many people, including me.
Creativity is obviously important to you, but how can you teach it?
What we do is teach design and technique simultaneously. Traditionally, schools would have every student in a course build the same project or have them spend a year learning technique before taking on design. But even our basic woodworking students do full-scale drawings of their own designs, which gets them comfortable making creative decisions.
We want to instill confidence in people that they themselves have the ability to create something, and that begins in the design process. It’s not light bulbs going off and voodoo. That happens, but it happens because you’re in a process that allows it to happen. The most common approach is to get a pencil and paper and let the pencil do the thinking.
O.K., so let’s assume someone lives in an apartment and wants to create something. They have a piece of paper and a pencil, but they may not have raw materials or tools to work with. Where to begin?
I’m thinking about a penknife and a piece of wood. If you start whittling a piece of wood, you’ll soon realize how sharp your knife is or isn’t, and you’ll learn how to sharpen. You’ll observe what it’s like to cut with or against the grain.
And then I sell it on Etsy.
Right next to the duct-tape ashtrays. I had a moneymaking idea once: wooden andirons. You’d sell a lot of those.