That something would happen to remind me of my father near Father’s Day is not a surprise; I’m reminded of him on a regular basis. I was planning to write a different story about him because I wanted to have something ready to post. It’s not that I felt that I should have a Father’s Day post this weekend; it’s that I wanted to officially mark the fact that I miss him. So, what happened to the post about taking care of tools?
Earlier in the week, I was listening to a news story on NPR about how high school students today are reading books that were written for a much lower grade level. In fact, the story suggests that on average the books they are reading are written at a 6th grade level. This caused me to think about my dad, because the words in the title were a favorite saying of his. He wanted his kids to read, and he wanted us to read things that mattered. When I was very young, my parents bought a set of encyclopedias and a companion series on general knowledge. The purchase was timed to support my brother’s school work, and since he was four grades ahead of me, the content was initially beyond my ability. Consequently, the books in the companion series are one of the earliest memories I have of my father reading to me. He wasn’t a big fan of children’s stories; he was more interested in having us read something that we could learn from. Don’t worry, the morals, ethics and life-lessons baked subtly into most fairy tales were things he covered directly and in equally colorful language.
Although he would stress that we could “learn how to do anything” from reading, he also stressed that we should read those things in advance and “remember what you read,” so that we had the knowledge when we needed it. He once used the example of landing a plane as something that I might not want to have to start reading about when it became necessary. Ironically, I have used that same example with employees who have tried to avoid attending a training course. I was reminded of this by an article in the NY Times this week, further nudging me away from my topic of choice. The title of the article “ ‘Boo Radley’ of the Woods? Not to All Maine Neighbors” makes no sense if you haven’t read / don’t remember reading “To Kill a Mockingbird.” My father used the example of being able to participate in an intelligent conversation as a reason to read about current events and to be able to understand them in the context of historical events (something my brother learned better than I did).
Reading, reading to relax, reading to learn and a little bit of reading for fun has remained a focus in my life. In college, I was reminded of the need to retain what we read for reasons other than the obvious. I was forced to take an additional 6 credits of English, in a deal to avoid having to retake Freshman English as a result of transferring, and the only course available was Poetry. The first three weeks of class was spent reading Edith Hamilton’s collection of Mythology, because so many classic poems included references to Greek and Roman myths. Initially the requirement seemed like an undue burden, but I quickly found myself understanding references that I had previously ignored. When I realized that I had been skipping over phrases like “Night’s Plutonian shore” in Edgar Alan Poe’s “The Raven,” I started to understand what I mentioned last week, that poets struggle to make every word count.
I’m not sure if my father cared if I would be able to have a richer experience while reading poetry, but I know that he wanted me to have a body of knowledge that I could depend on. He once gave me a series of books dealing with the maintenance of power tools. While interesting, I didn’t see the point of reading about how to maintain tools we didn’t own, some of which were no longer being made. He told me that “things are like other things” and that knowing how and why we repair a specific table saw will be useful no matter what table saw you are using. In his mind, there was no useless knowledge; learning anything was a valuable pursuit and chances were good that the knowledge you gained would come in handy someday. In the 30 years since he passed away, I have come face-to-face on many occasions with the proof that he was right. Thanks dad, for teaching me to love reading!
Well over a month ago, this blog was featured on Freshly Pressed. That was an unexpected honor, and has led to many new followers. I am still trying to work my way through the emails I’ve received about those followers so I can, as the folks at WordPress suggest: “go see what they’re up to!” I apologize to those whose blogs I have yet to visit, but I also promise that I will get there.
There are many reasons to visit these blogs, not the least of which is common courtesy, followed closely by common curiosity. The review has been time consuming because I am trying to read the “About” page, the posts that they wrote at the time they began following me, as well as something recent. The vast majority of my new followers are legitimate writers who are sharing things that inspire them. You can find some of them listed in the sidebar, but I want to try to explain why I follow them.
Most importantly, I want to include other points of view in order to, as Lubor Placek said: “…avoid the social groupthink.” Lubor is a like-minded individual, so following him may not count but his advice was spot on. If we only read and listen to people who agree with us, we become more and more invested in those beliefs, and more narrowly defined. I started this blog because I was growing tired of trying to shoehorn a little bit of my story into two blogs that I write about Content Management and Microsoft SharePoint. I wanted a place where I could be me. Similarly, I have learned that I can’t grow as a person just by reading about technology and SharePoint. I enjoy hearing other peoples’ stories and I’ve discovered a few things.
I like poetry. When I was in college, I was forced to take two extra English courses, and the only class I could work into my schedule was Poetry. I started out with a goal of just getting through with a “C”, but I enjoyed the classes very much. WordPress is home to many poets, and some are quite good. Poetry is an art form unlike writing. Poetry is visual, it’s musical, and it’s precise. I try to find the right words when I write, but I can get by with any sentence that sends my message. Poets work hard choosing every single word, and when they succeed, the final product is a pleasure to read.
I am following a couple of bloggers who are writing about life in places I only see in the news. I follow a woman in Syria who shares truly scary stories along with passionate complaints about what is happening in and to her country. I followed her originally because we are connected by Syria, my paternal grandparents emigrated from their around 1900, but I continue to follow her because she provides information I cannot find anywhere else. I look forward to her next post, partly from an eagerness to know more and partly to know that she is still alive.
I follow people who are writing from places that I have lived. There is a special pleasure in reading a description of a place I have been to, or hearing a phrase that I won’t hear in New England. I also follow people from places that I will never live and may never visit, because I still value knowing something about those places. I follow a weather and photography blog of a friend in England because it makes me feel closer to him and his family. I follow people who are my age and older, and whose life story has been influenced by their experience growing up in a time I understand well, but perhaps not well enough. I also follow people who are much younger than me and I chuckle when some of them use the phrase “when I was a kid.” I follow a photography blog about Canada, and I marvel at how big our neighbor to the north is, and how little I know about it. I drove the width of Canada when I moved from Seattle to Connecticut, but that boiled down to six nights in six cities and the view from the road.
At a point where we have to guard our connections, because we have to guard our time, it is difficult to choose who to follow and who to just visit periodically. As Lubor suggested, I am going to try to confuse the filtering algorithms that generate the “do you know,” “you may like” and “your friends like…” links that social media sites provide. Just as the subjects on this blog are inspired by the eclectic mix of interests in my life, I am going to try and include a somewhat more random element in my consumption of other peoples’ stories.
Thank you for reading/following my blog – I look forward to reading your story.
A few weeks ago, I was stopped by one of our local policemen for going 47 miles an hour in a 25 mph zone. I seriously want to believe that he meant 37, because I drive on this street regularly and although I do sometimes see the needle hanging around the 35 point, I don’t ever recall seeing it cross the line into the 40’s. Still 37 is a problem since the street divides two very active parks. The officer gave me a warning, which I appreciated. About 15 years ago, I received two tickets in two days on an intersecting street for “failing to come to a complete stop” at a stop sign. Today, on my way home, I observed two of the most flagrant bits of driving I’ve seen lately. One was a man in a truck who blew through a red light without slowing down more than was necessary to make the turn, even though the intersection was marked with a “No Turn on Red” sign. Later, a second driver continued through a stop sign on the same street where I received my warning, without so much as tapping his brakes. Adding insult to ignorance, he tossed a cigarette out the window at about the same time.
I’m not quite sure why I am outraged by some offenses more than others. I drive at around 70 mph on the highway to work. I’m not really bothered by the folks who are probably going over 80, unless they are screaming behind me, as I approach one of CT’s notorious left-hand exits. The people who, like I twice did, roll through a stop sign without having the car settle backwards, but clearly after making sure the intersection was empty, don’t bother me. The guy who cruises through without a thought seems like an idiot. The people who turn right on red without stopping first don’t bother me, unless I have to slow down to avoid hitting them, or when they are behind me and apparently expect me not to stop.
I don’t like people who think “yield” is French for “speed up now” and I don’t like people who refuse to move over to let someone enter the highway, when doing so would cause no problems. I don’t like people who block intersections so that they can turn left after the light has turned red, and I really don’t like people who encourage me to move up into that position. I think it comes down to the fact that I don’t like people who act like they are special, and I really don’t like people who want to make me complicit in obtaining their special treatment. I also don’t like rude people – anywhere.
When our daughter was learning to drive, I had her take me to the local hardware store. The route includes an intersection with a busy 4 lane road where the cross street enters at an obtuse angle. While you are allowed to turn right on red at this light, it is very hard to see if it is safe to do so without twisting your neck around. Faith was uncomfortable gauging the traffic, so I pointed out that:
“You’re allowed to turn right on red, but you don’t have to.”
Clearly the man behind us felt otherwise. When it turned out that he was going to the same store that we were, I took the opportunity to approach him and explain just what a jerk he had been. That probably wasn’t a wise move, but he felt bad when he realized that his actions might have intimidated a young driver into making a potentially fatal mistake. He didn’t apologize to my daughter, probably because of the gesture she had made.
If you find yourself behind me, you should know that I’m the guy who:
- Almost always stops at stop signs
- Understands the meaning of “yield”
- Lets UPS, FedEx, US Mail and other delivery drivers go ahead of me at 4-way stop signs
- Will not honk at the person in front of me unless they are clearly asleep at the switch
- Stops at the light before turning right on red and waits for the light to turn green if I can’t see the traffic coming from the left. And no, I’m not going to accept your honk as a signal that it’s safe to turn
- Stops for pedestrians
- Will not pass a person on a bicycle unless I can give them a lot of room (I also ride my bicycle on the road, and I very much appreciate your giving me enough room to avoid being hit by your mirror).
Yeah, I’m that guy. If you are frustrated because I am making you late, get up earlier tomorrow and think about switching to decaf.
I normally pass by the WordPress prompt pretty quickly. That said, today’s “Say your name” prompt was compelling, because it brings me to one of my favorite stories about one of my favorite people.
My maternal grandmother emigrated from Syria to the US right around 1900. Her education was obtained hands on while: raising eight children, starting a business, helping her community build a church and surviving challenges that would have emotionally crippled most people. Like many immigrants during that period, she insisted that her children learn to speak English, but she never quite mastered the language.
By the time I was born, my grandmother owned a small apartment building outside of Pittsburgh, PA and both my father and one of his sisters lived there. Between the two kids, they had four children: Melvin, Bonnie, my brother Bruce and finally, as my grandmother had been urging, me – “Daniel, like in the Bible.” My grandmother thought that we should honor God in our lives, and the easiest way to do that would be to give your children biblical names. Dan, Daniel, Danny to a few highly respected relatives and friends, it’s been a good name. The Bible character I’m named after was a hero, and the name has held up to that image. Let’s face it, Nimrod was a significant character in the Bible too, but I think I’m better off with Daniel. I have never not liked my first name. I am not fond of my middle name, and our family name, depending on who is using it, either has a silent ‘I’ or a silent ‘o’ but I’ve only briefly toyed with the idea of changing that.
When I was about 8 years old, my grandmother went on a short vacation to Atlantic City, NJ. She wanted to bring something back for the four grandchildren that were also her neighbors, and she decided to get us sweatshirts with our names on them. These were handed out on her return to three sad faces, those would be “Brut” “Barney” and “Melbin” spelled just the way we could all imagine her saying their names to the sweatshirt man. Of course, when she told him my name, “Daniel,” she added “like in the Bible” as she always did which guaranteed the correct spelling. We were all made to wear our gifts, as a gesture of appreciation, but I had no problem with that.
“Ames…Antion” – every Tuesday and Thursday at 8:00, Dr. McDowell read our names as he began Organic Chemistry at West Virginia University in 1973. Arranged alphabetically, we funneled into our assigned seats with little more than a nod; it was early, we were tired and it wasn’t quite time to pay attention. We didn’t know that we were two of less than 10 BS Chemistry majors in the auditorium lecture hall full of pre-med students and chemical engineers. We didn’t know that within 7 months we would be roommates. We didn’t know that in less than 10 years, only one of us would still be alive.
Tony and I made casual conversation in the few minutes we had before class started most days. We groaned about Pittsburgh sports team losses, we laughed at comics in the paper. We were in the same lecture, but not the same lab section or any other classes, so we didn’t know each other well. WVU was a fairly big university, spread over two campuses; Tony lived in a dorm on one campus, I rented an apartment near the other one. Ironically, the living conditions that separated us in September brought us together in March.
Tony was informed in early March that he had not “won” the lottery and would not be able to live in the dorm during his junior year. He needed an apartment, he needed one for cheap and since he had a summer job at the university, he needed one with a 12 month lease. I had transferred to WVU, and I was struggling to rent a reasonably priced apartment on my own; my apartment had a 12 month lease. We had sat next to each other for 7 months, and that seemed to be enough to call us compatible. When Tony asked me when he could move in, I said “you can move in now if you want.” He had paid for the dorm, so he pointed out that he couldn’t contribute to the rent until May. I said: “if you can chip in $8 a month, we can get cable. If we have cable, we can watch Star Trek, every day at 5:00.” Suddenly, we had discovered our first real common interest.
Chemistry, Star Trek, Steeler football, Genesee Cream Ale, science, The Who, making fun of stuck-up women and suck-up guys, and living close enough to the edge that coins mattered were among the things we had in common. We shared an ability to laugh at almost anything, and we almost shared a birthday; Tony was exactly one day younger than me. We had our differences too. Tony was bolder than I was. One night, frustrated by the lack of parking on our street due to mid-week services at a neighborhood church, Tony put his deep voice to work. He walked up to an open window and with God-like fury yelled “This is the Lord. I told you people to come to church on Sunday, not Wednesday!” Tony was also not the optimist that I am; he always considered the worst case scenario. One day while walking up the steep hill to our apartment, Tony asked me what I was thinking about as we noticed the mailman walking down. I told him that I was trying to remember if the mailman’s name was Steve.
Tony said: “I was thinking about what I would do if he attacked us. I think I’d disable him and then push him over the guard rail onto those rocks;” pointing into the gulch below.
Tony was also a much better chemist than I was.
One night, we were working on a homework problem that involved predicting the outcome of a reaction. Neither of us had been able to buy the Tinkertoy-like molecular model kits, so we were left to using our imaginations. Tony sat across from me and started building a complex molecule in the air. He would point and say: “picture a carbon here, a carbon here, an oxygen here” and then continue pointing and rattling off the names of the other atoms: “hydrogen, nitrogen, carbon, carbon” getting more and more complex with each gesture. I was impressed with myself, for being able to follow him. Then, without warning he said: “now if we flip this guy over and look at it from this angle…”
“Look at what?” I protested. There was nothing to look at. I had been able to follow Tony as he built his fantasy compound, but only in his specially-tuned brain was there something to rotate and study. Tony’s mind was wired for organic chemistry. He went on to prove that as we both moved onto the University of Pittsburgh for graduate school. While I zipped through a 1-yr, three trimester MBA program, Tony began marching toward his PhD.
We moved apart, but we continued to share certain things. We both married too early and both marriages failed. We stayed true to Pittsburgh sports teams and we kept our sense of humor. Tony remained passionate about chemistry while I followed some good advice and turned to the computer world for a career. In 1982, Tony and I reconnected. He was working as a research chemist in NJ, I was enjoying being a consultant for Peat Marwick Mitchell in Hartford, CT. We were both divorced, both happy, and both looking forward to a career that was making sense. We were making plans to get together. Instead, a few months later Tony’s mother called mine to tell us that Tony had died..
In recent years, I had searched for Tony on the Internet many times, to no avail. A couple of days ago, an almost random attempt returned an archived article about the plane crash that claimed his life. The Internet grows quietly while we get comfortable with the idea that there are some things that we will never know. Then one day, we are surprised, and we are encouraged to reflect on departed friends.
For the final post in this series, I am going to move solidly into the world of my opinion. Sooner or later, no matter what tool you decide to buy or what project you plan to tackle, you have to find some place to spend your money. I’ll give you a preview, I am governed by “you get what you pay for” in more things than product selection. I will also add my previously mentioned view that you should never visit a store, talk to a salesman and then buy the item off of Amazon in order to save a few bucks. If everybody did that, there would be no local store – think about it and be fair. Also, please add comments regarding suppliers you like or ones located outside CT and the US.
Tools, Bits, Blades and Stuff – I have a lot of tools that were purchased from Lee Valley, and if you ever want to experience a serious drool-inducing hour, crawl through their catalog of Veritas hand tools. The really cool thing about Lee Valley is that if your tool breaks, they will fix it, or help you fix it. If your tool just doesn’t work, or if you think it would work better if… They will refund your money and, if they agree with you, they will redesign the tool. I also buy mail-order from Rocker. I have been buying from them since before they changed their name to Rockler, (I think they were the WoodWorkers Store) and they have always been very easy to deal with. They have almost everything a woodworker needs, and I really do believe that you have to support the vendors who serve the comprehensive needs of woodworkers as opposed to the ones who simply cherry-pick a few profitable items. Since I live in CT, I am fortunate to be able to shop at Coastal Tool. These guys are a large mail-order tool supplier that just happens to be located in a nearby town. They have good prices, and a good selection, but we’re talking tools, not hardware and supplies. Also proximate to me are two WoodCraft stores. I like WoodCraft because they carry a wide range of tools, hardware, stains, finishes and wood, and they seem to be totally staffed by woodworkers. You can discuss a project and get advice from someone who knows exactly what you are doing.
Brands – Most tool brands are good these days as long as you realize that a $29 orbital sander isn’t going to be as good as an $129 sander. In general, I like Delta and Porter Cable for the American-made history that they represent and for the fact that I have yet to wear out one of their tools, including the ones I inherited from my father. I like Bosch, although I wouldn’t say that I am loyal to them. I will say that with the exception of my very first cordless drill, every cordless drill, driver, etc. I have ever owned has been made by Makita. There are lots of very good cordless tools on the market, but I don’t think you can beat the feel of a Makita drill. I like Stanley tools and I am a total fan boy of the Fat Max brand. Your mileage may vary.
Wood – I prefer buying wood at one of the few local lumber yards that maintain a good selection of hardwood. Lately, I have purchased wood for two projects at the WoodCraft store in West Springfield, MA. I can’t speak for all the stores in this chain, but these guys manage to stock some nice lumber. I generally stay away from the big box stores because their hardwood is bland, expensive and no straighter than the pine, poplar and birch that they stock. I have also had good luck ordering wood from Niagara Lumber. You have to be careful, because your wood is coming via UPS and you get lengths that will ship and will be easy to package. I like the quality of the wood I’ve bought from them, but I usually buy a bit more than I would locally because there might be more waste. I have also had good luck with reclaimed and repurposed wood, so keep that possibility in mind.
Information – There are hundreds of blogs, twitter feeds, Facebook pages and websites dedicated to woodworking. Search, bookmark, Like, subscribe, follow etc. I have a charter subscription to Woodsmith Magazine and the companion Shop Notes. They also have a pretty nice show on PBS. I periodically read Fine Woodworking and Fine Home Building, and I have purchased some of their specialty publications addressing specific techniques.
All of the vendors and products I have mentioned throughout this series have websites, white papers and cyber resources to draw on, but your best bet in some cases is to search the web for that guy who does often that thing that you are about to do for the first time and who shares that experience in a blog.
If you try to justify your woodworking by saying that it saves money over buying furniture, you are going to lose. Woodworking, like growing your own vegetables, is a passion that you should never attempt to do the math on. Like eating your own tomatoes, filling your own bookcase, writing at your own desk or eating on your own table are things that you enjoy beyond their monetary value. With that in mind, we turn to the category of shop accessories with an eye toward both practical additions and creature comforts.
Looking back over my lifelong hobby of woodworking, I think that the first shop accessory I would buy today would be an air compressor. Honestly, I would buy a compressor before buying a shop vac. I was fortunate in that when I bought my compressor, I was also still maintaining a pickup truck and a Triumph Spitfire, so I could “justify” a large upright model. However, I began my love affair with air tools when they were hooked up to a relatively inexpensive portable compressor. The first foray was when I needed a very narrow profile drill in order to repair a set of cheap dressers a friend had bought by installing drawer slides. I had nothing that would fit, so I bought an Ingersoll Rand 3/8” air drill and I was hooked. That was in 1984, and I still have that drill and I still use it often. In addition to an air drill, I would add a brad nailer, a ¼” crown stapler and a pin nailer. None of these were very expensive. My nailer and stapler are from Sears, and I’ve had them for over 20 years. My pin nailer is a Porter Cable and it came at a reasonable price. Until you have built a quick jig, pinned the corners of a picture frame together or temporarily attached a template to your stock, you will not appreciate these tools.
Turning our thoughts to safety, I would invest, at least in a minimal way, in trying to get every extension cord, power cord, airline and vacuum hose off of the floor of your shop. Take the time to wire outlets in/on the walls near your power equipment and find a way to drop extension cords and airlines in from above. When working with tools, hand or power, you want to pay attention to the cutting edge of the tool, not the placement of your feet. In the same vein, consider permanent and portable task lighting to supplement generous overhead lighting. Personally, I can’t wait until LED shop lights are affordable. Fluorescent lights fail miserably in unheated shops, i.e. cold start situations, and Halogen shop lights suck up an enormous amount of electricity and give off way too much heat in the summer. If you are going to add heat, make sure it is compatible with what you are going to do while using it. I use a Big Buddy propane space heater, but I never use it while sanding or finishing where something in the air might explode. Speaking of the stuff that is in the air, dust masks and respirators should be available for you and anyone who might be helping. Of course, it goes without saying that safety glasses and push sticks need to also be available. If you wear glasses, prescription safety glasses are a necessary investment.
The other things that I use often enough to put them on the A-list include:
- Shop vac – You need to clean up the mess you make. If you can’t afford a dust-collection system, get a strong enough vac to work with your stationary tools. Or, get cheap small vacs to work with smaller contributors. I have a $39 shop vac attached to and sitting inside the leg-set of my band saw and it works like a champ.
- Tool Cabinets – You will always appreciate any effort you make toward keeping your tools organized, available, clean and rust free.
- Pegboard or Slot-wall – You will also appreciate keeping a subset of your tools handy.
- Shop rags – Yeah, you can use old tee-shirts and bed sheets, but a sack of 25 shop rags is usually cheap enough to treat yourself.
- First-Aid Kit & Fire Extinguisher – I have never needed the latter, but more than once, I have needed the first-aid kit. In its absence, the shop rags are also useful.
Once you have the basics in place, build yourself a workbench, build jigs and fixtures and figure out all the ways you can use/develop your woodworking skills in the pursuit of the perfect shop.
A word from the editor: This series has been difficult for my wife/editor to read without commenting. Almost 30 years ago, I made her a maple trestle kitchen table and six chairs. When we moved into this house, I wanted to make the table more functional by making it shorter but adding extension leaves at each end. During the conversion, I sat a circular saw on the table without noticing that the blade-guard was stuck open. The damage was irreparable, so I made the table into a workbench (and the sliding extension into a dual threaded end-vise). I need to replace that table.