Craftsmanship: Making the Karmi Tea Cannister

A gust of wind rustles through the pine leaves and whips around the workshop.  The glade in the mountain forest is otherwise silent, save for an occasional chirp of birdsong.  Then a faint hum begins from inside the workshop's doors, and everything else grows quiet.

Inside, Japanese carpentry tools thickly blanket the tables and walls.  A wiry man sits at the table along the far wall, his feet perched in a mound of wood shavings. A humming lathe bar stands at the center of the room, paralleling the floor at shoulder height.  The man selects a cored, cylindrical block of horse chestnut, presses it against his left ear and taps its side with his fingers. He closes his eyes and taps twice more.  The timber makes a dull thud.  It's no good--there is too much moisture-- and he sets it aside. 

The wood of the next long cylinder rings out with a bright, clear note on the first tap.  The man sets it on the still-humming lathe.  The lathe is now fully warmed up and the block begins an upward rotation.  The man inhales deeply, his lungs filling with the scent of wood and a faint whiff of kerosene.  

He picks up a slotted chisel, noting its weight on his palm, and positions it exactly 3 millimeters from the left end of the wood block.  A screech rips through the quiet atmosphere.  The man holds the chisel steady as the faint line grows deeper, then inches the tool back.  He moves his hand 1 millimeter to the right, then touches the cylinder again.  The harsh sound resumes as more wood shavings fly out and settle to the ground.

The intricate dance of fingers and tool—groove, pause, shift, repeat—is as constant as the low hum of the lathe.  The man's eyes never waver from the block, as they had done during his apprenticeship.  Now he is content to immerse himself in the sensory present, so much so that while he works on the lathe, it is as if his faculty of sight is actually located in his fingers.  

After the seventy-second groove, he shuts off the lathe and removes the block in one practiced tug, then sets down the chisel.  The wood block feels almost insubstantial in his palm.  He balances the cylinder there while rotating it with the other hand, probing with eyes and fingertips for any obvious imperfection.  He finds nothing.

The man reaches down and selects a matching wooden lid.  He sets it on top of the block and watches as it sinks down and stops 3 millimeters shy of complete closure, then pushes the lid down.  The two pieces click together; the seal they form is airtight.  He pulls the lid up to be sure and feels the tell-tale friction resistance for a brief second before it smoothly comes off.  As he holds the wooden cylinder in one hand and its lid in the other, the man lowers his nose until it is just above the empty core.  He sniffs once.  The horse chestnut scent is strong, but he can almost feel the fragrance of tea leaves that will cover its base some day.  A smile steals across his lips as he looks down at the canister-to-be. 

Then he sets the grooved cylinder on the table and picks up another block from the floor.  The wind fills the silence outside.

WORDS BY KYLAN SCHROEDER