In the third of our Women of the Woods posts, we meet Inesse Censor, designer and developer of greenwood carving tools, amongst other things! We hope these posts will inspire you to explore new hobbies and careers. Here's what Inesse told us about her calling.
Tell us a bit about yourself. My name is Inesse Censor, 51, mother of 2, married to Tslil and I live in the Southern Negev Region of Israel. I'm self-taught in fashion design, wood working, leather working, ceramics and metal working. Together, Tslil and I founded TC Blades, a traditional tool forge specializing in kitchen cutlery and other sharp edge tools. We have been doing this for over two decades. A few years ago, we developed a line of greenwood carving tools, under the name "Jerboa", and have been developing new tools and adding them to our repertoire ever since. How did you get into tool making and what motivated you to start? I grew up in a family of construction engineers. This was back in the USSR where I was born. I was a city girl, in one of Russia biggest centres of metallurgical industries, called Novokuznetsk, "the new forge". Our house was always full of blueprints. Many hours of my childhood were spent watching my parents draw, sketch, plot, think over and calculate each node of a project. This also contributed to my interest in metallurgy, since some of these projects were for the surrounding factories and train yards. Siberia is a beautiful green, lush land with endless forests and huge deposits of natural resources. Industrial centres are large, few, and far from each other. So together with being a huge metallurgical hub, Novokuznetsk is also surrounded by amazing nature and a rich history of frontier crafts. After high-school I enrolled in University studies in the Metallurgical Institute of Novokuznetsk. During the practical stage of my studies, the smelting of metal made a huge impression on me. I got my engineering degree but decided to pursue my passion, which was textile design and sewing. I would spend the next decade being a seamstress - but then things changed. It’s funny how things turn out. I spent almost half a life time running away from steel and forging - but ended up a tool maker just the same! Some would call this destiny.
When I moved to Israel and started a new life, I continued to make custom-made wedding dresses in a wide range of materials and cuts. Then, while seeking production of silver buckles for a wedding dress I met Tslil. I was told he was the person to talk to about having such buckles made. We fell in love and decided to unite our lives and our talents. We have been together on this amazing journey of craft ever since. Tslil has been a major driving force in my expansion into other mediums besides textiles. While I grew up in a very supportive and educational environment, it was he that motivated me to experiment with new materials and processes. If there was ever anyone who empowered me, as a woman - it is him. Every International Women's Day women receive flowers from their men. I receive some kind of tool from him! It could be a chainsaw, it could be an acetylene brazing rig, it could be a drafter's compass. One thing is for sure: it is always something I can use to move forward with my craft. I am self-taught in construction carpentry for exterior and interior design. My work includes garden structures, kitchen cabinets and more. We have built a wonderful workshop with great potential, and I take joy in working side by side with my best friend. The ability to create in various materials (iron, steel, wood, silver, clay, textile, leather, even recycled rubber from tyres), realizing my vocation as a craft person and the creation of functional objects with my own hands has become a pivotal element of my entire being.
What challenges have you faced as a woman working in what might be considered a male job? It is necessary to note the difficult working conditions and the increased risk of injury at this kind of craft. The smithy is a place where it is always hot and noisy: the temperature in the forge can fluctuate between 800-1200 degrees, and the background noise can be very loud, if not with the hammer on the anvil, then the screeching of a grinder or other noisy instruments and machines. At the same time, even if all safety rules are observed, blacksmiths tend to be treated for burns, cuts and scratches on a pretty regular basis. This has nothing to do with me being a woman. It’s the reality of the work. The difficulty stems from how women are sometimes brought up and some women grow up to think some lines of work are "not for women" - and so, making the mental transformation from working as a seamstress to working as a blacksmith took time. Sometimes I just don’t have enough physical strength and I have to be resourceful in this situation or ask for help, and while Tslil is always happy to help, it is still frustrating to have to ask for it sometimes.
Tool making is not only blacksmithing; it is a much broader concept. This is knowledge in metallurgy, woodworking, and leather working. The ability to look at fire and understand what is happening and how to control it. Understanding the usage of the tools and the underlying geometry that correlates with this usage. Always researching materials and possible ways of getting from point A to point B in the process. Always trying to find new truths about the craft. Part of what I do in the shop is the acquisition of raw materials, etc. More often than not, I am the one who sources the materials and negotiates with the respective suppliers. Many of these suppliers needed an "attitude adjustment" at one point or another when they started to treat me like a "little foolish woman who knows nothing about these manly things". It's a bit of a hassle, but ultimately, they realize I am just as knowledgeable as them about all aspects of my craft - perhaps even more so than them. Once they realize this - we can move on to more practical matters and in a way that allows us respect each other. Do you think being a woman gives you a different perspective at work? Every person is unique in their approach to craft. Everyone has a different perspective. I think a woman brings a sort of built in sense of grace and a natural tendency towards beauty. But in my craft form always follows function and not the other way around. In a funny sort of way being a woman in this vocation is both a blessing and a curse. For me it takes more time to study and think about project. I am more hesitant sometimes and don’t go charging blindly into things. I'm not sure if this is a feminine notion or just my personality.
What’s the best thing about your job? I am my own boss. It gives me freedom to do creative experiments and spread the wings of my imagination. The best thing about it is the unlimited possibilities of creation. I can imagine tools for my work and directly make them and perfect how they perform. I can tune into the dreams of customers and literally create the objects they dream about. It's a dream factory I work in, how cool is that? Our workshop is a place where I am able to realize myself completely, without any judgement or criticism from my environment and that alone is worth its weight in gold. Finally, what advice would you give to other women who might be thinking about tool making as a career? Be humble. Never cut corners. The craft journey is much more than a career, it is a way of life. It has an impact on you and on everyone around you. Follow your dream, discard public opinion and circumstances, but remember that the craft journey is not an easy road to travel. Never give up no matter how hard it gets. Believe in yourself but remember that your decisions often affect those closest to you. Trust in your abilities and always strive to learn and improve. Ask questions but never expect the answers to appear magically by themselves, you must actively search for them. Find a good teacher who can really point you in the right direction and will not be intimidated by your progress.
Remember to see your craft journey in terms of privilege riddled with challenge rather than hardships riddled with success. For every obstacle you will face there is a solution. Don’t be afraid to dream, and don’t be afraid to make your dreams a reality. Everything you create with your own hands is unique, so make sure you never fall in love with your own work, or you will have a hard time pricing it and letting it go. Employ harsh self-criticism, but never sell yourself short. Take care of yourself, and always keep on the right side of safety. Approach your craft as you would a dear friend, with an inner peace, conviction, and love. Always be open about your process and strive to spread the knowledge you obtain with others who are traveling on the same path.
If you're interested in honing your skills, check out our Axe Maidens volunteer group or look at our range of workshops. You can find out more about Inesse's work online at www.tcblades.net and at www.jerboatools.com. Inesse and Tslil are also on Instagram here.