This post is offered in response to Marian Allen’s writing prompt: “What is pleasant to one is unpleasant to another and vice versa. Write about a pleasant sound.”
Richard sighed as he released the composite slab from the clamps which had held it overnight. The various pieces of sugar maple, now held firm by the cured glue, would require a lot of sanding to obtain a level surface. He was angry with himself.
“Why did you have to hurry? If you had taken the time to add splines, this tabletop would be level. It would only require a light sanding.”
The boards had shifted in the clamps – until it sets, wood glue has a lubricating effect. Woodworkers have tricks to keep the boards aligned, but they don’t always work. Richard liked to use splines, or biscuits – thin pieces of wood let into narrow groves cut into the sides of the boards to be joined. They add strength by adding a mechanical component to the joint and by increasing the surface area the glue works on. They also tend to keep the boards aligned. Cutting the grooves for the splines takes time, time Richard didn’t have the day before. Friday night beer club was his weekly chance to catch up with his fellow retired teachers.
Woodworking is a time-consuming and solitary hobby. Solitary, almost to the point of selfish. Richard had taught Wood Shop for thirty-five years. He smiled as he wondered how many men might be enjoying their selfish hobby this morning. He wondered if they remembered the lesson he had stressed, the one he had ignored, that time spent in preparation is recovered in less time being required in later stages and much less time than required to fix your mistakes.
Still, he was retired. He laughed at his favorite self-deprecating joke, “what’s time to a pig?” Besides, he had every tool he needed to work his way out of the mess created by his laziness. His home shop was outfitted much like the school shop in which he had worked his entire career. The school building had been renovated several times during his tenure, but construction crews never touched his shop. Shop classes were being discontinued.
No one replaced him after he retired. Joseph Mills, the metal shop teacher took over, teaching a limited mix of both classes. When Joe retired, the shops were dismantled, and the equipment and fixtures were sold – his shop included one of the workbenches and a couple of small stationary tools – The shop spaces had been reconfigured to house classes and labs for computer programming, digital graphics, and Computer-Aided Design (CAD) electives were added to the schedule.
“They draw things. They design things. They teach machines how to build things, but they no longer feel it’s important to teach kids how to make things themselves. Those kids design things but they don’t even know if what they design could be built by a human.”
He thought about the other lessons kids learned in shop. He thought about the camaraderie when those boys, and in later years, a few bold girls, had to work together to unload a lumber order. He thought about how they learned to understand the responsibility of working with tools that could cause severe injuries – one of the reasons the classes were eventually dropped.
“Lousy insurance companies. They’re just as bad as the parents who think it’s every teacher’s job to hover over their children like they do. When do their children learn that they are responsible for their own actions?”
He shook his head. Those thoughts had been the subject of one round the night before. It was an old complaint, and he had shared it with the School Board when they decided to drop all sections of wood, metal, and automotive shop. He was proud that night when several of his former students showed up to explain how much various shop classes had helped them. One kid went so far as to say it was the only class that left him with lessons he used every day as an adult.
“Enough self-indulgence.” He thought. “You made a mess of this job and it’s time to fix it.”
He clamped the wanna-be tabletop onto his workbench between a bench-dog and his woodworking vise. The setup allowed him to traverse the entire surface without hitting or having to move a clamp. He started gathering the equipment he would need, a belt sander, a vacuum line, a dust mask and of course, hearing protectors. He would also put on his anti-vibration gloves, lest he aggravate his arthritis. Suddenly, looking at the tabletop on the workbench, and the collection of tools, he decided to work unplugged.
He put everything aside. He opened a drawer of his tool cabinet and reached for his twenty-two-inch jointing plane. The plane had been his grandfathers. It was over 100 years old. He would spend a few minutes touching up the blade, then set the plane for the depth required. Nice easy passes, probably a couple hundred, would do the job.
“There’s nothing like the sound of a hand plane.” He thought. It isn’t a sound you hide from behind hearing protectors. It’s a sound you savor. It’s a sound that communicates your progress and the quality of your work. It’s hard to describe, but woodworkers know when hand tools sound right. They know the smooth, continuous gentle sound of that blade slicing though the “rock” maple boards at a slight angle. No dust, no noise, no electricity, just a man and an ancient tool working in a quiet shop.
Note: I was thinking of my high school wood shop teacher, Richard Paulsen when I wrote this. This is not a new topic for me, but it’s the first time I tried to express it in a story. For a more nuts and bolts explanation, see my second blog post ever on this blog – a few of you read it in July 2011 – thank you for encouraging me to keep at this project. I’ve included a second gallery of some photos from previous post showing the tools mentioned above.
PS – if you want to know more about biscuit joinery, visit this post. There should be a picture in the gallery (if I remember).