Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Lessons Learned in a Wood Shop

I never tire of the smell of fresh sawdust. I walk into the workshop and can smell the pine -- not from a bottle -- but from the tree, and I breathe deep. Other smells come forward: stains and varnishes, the pungent odor of burnt wood and the sweet fragrance of cedar. The odors bring back images of past projects. Among them are shelves, cradles, even a table. The smells are a powerful reminder of many hours spent planning, sawing, sanding and fashioning a piece of timber that becomes something both functional and practical.

I always smile when a project is finished. The project started out as an idea in my head and took root. Soon the idea grew into plans that took the form of crude drawings that outlined the basic design, shape and look. Then the plans were revised over and over again until the project appeared -- bold and possible on the paper. Soon a list detailed all that would be needed to complete the project: more wood, some fasteners, glue, stain, etc. Then the real fun starts: putting it together.

It is the construction phase of a project that appeals most to me. I am always amazed at what the tools can do. Whether I am using a handsaw or a power lathe, each tool shapes and molds -- but only as directed. I am in control, if just for a moment.

With each segment completed, the project slowly rises up as one piece is fitted to the next. I always pause when the raw project emerges. It doesn't matter if it is a simple shelf or a complex piece. It is always something to behold when the plan actually comes together. After that, the finish is applied and the project is ready to be shared.

Each completed project reminds me of the following:

"Measure twice -- cut once." I need to check my measurements to avoid costly mistakes. I sometimes heed this advice when tempted to speak out. I measure my words twice before I speak them.

"For want of a nail, the battle was lost." This old rhyme about a battle being lost due to the lack of a rider, due to the lack of a horse, due to the lack of a shoe, due to the lack of a nail reminds me that each piece -- no matter how insignificant it may appear -- is important. The joint may hold together without glue, but it will not last. The small action I take today may seem insignificant, but it may have serious implications in the future.

"Haste makes waste." When I get in a hurry and rush steps, the finished project suffers. If the paint is not dry before I touch it, my fingerprints will remind me to give it time. If I put pressure on a joint before the glue is set, the joint fails. I need to slow down and complete each part fully before moving on. It is true in wood. It is certainly true in life.

"Use the right tool for the right job." Each tool is designed to perform a specific function, and it is best to use the right tool. If I try to use my legs as a vise, chisel with a screwdriver, hammer with a pair of pliers, or turn a screw with a coin the results are usually poor. I must also be sure to use the right tools in my life. I can't use discipline when understanding is called for, anger when action is needed, or apathy when empathy is required.

"What you don't see is as important as what you do see." A coat of paint may hide a bad piece of stock, wood filler may obscure a weak joint and a lap joint will not be noticed where a dovetail joint is called for, but what is hidden often determines the real quality of a finished project. I need to make sure there are no weak links in my construction.

On that note, I gotta go. There's wood to plane and nails to pound before I sleep.

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