In Which I Have Possibly The Most Satisfying Day Of My Life

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 14.472% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

For those of you who are new here, woodworking is the old beekeeping – which is to say the flashy hobby I had that consumed disproportionate amounts of my blog time.  I took classes, made chests, boxes, even hand-cut dovetail joints.  (Terrible ones, but still.)  Gini even bought me a garage full of woodworking equipment for Christmas.
And then… it just sat there.
For five fucking years.
Why did I do nothing with all of this expensive equipment? I told myself that it was scheduling – I needed to take a full day to clean out our garage, and then at least another day to assemble all the equipment.  But the truth was this: my most infamous woodworking experience was the day I sawed off my thumb – or should have, but a piece of very expensive safety equipment prevented me from amputation.  The table saw we have is small, and has no such wardings. Should I touch it wrong, I’ll maim myself.
So I just kept… putting it off.  And why not?  It was a lot of work, after all.
Cut to Saturday, where Erin and I are at a local art fair, and for some reason Erin said she wanted to learn woodcraft, and we both agreed that tomorrow, we’d get up early and set the whole damn shop up.
Which we did, but I didn’t know how bone-deep satisfying it would be.
Thing is, I’m not a very masculine guy – and yes, my feminist friends break out in hives at the idea of masculinity, as it’s been so warped into misogyny, but there’s a certain quiet competence associated with tasks that men are supposed to possess, and I never have.  When I think of manliness in a positive sense, I always go back to To Kill A Mockingbird‘s Atticus Finch – competent at what he was, slow to pronounce judgement, quick to ask his loved ones to look at things from another angle, full of hidden surprises at just how good he actually was.  And woodworking – the power tools, the realms of hidden knowledge, the classic connections – was perfect for that.  It satisfies some deep need within me to be masculine, fulfilling a societal pressure that’s been subtly bearing down on me for decades, without me having to misshape myself to fit it.
So sitting in a hot garage, listening to tunes as we tried to figure out how to dissemble the lockdown pin from the miter saw?  Good times.
Plus, there was the unexpected pleasure of father-daughter bonding.  Erin and I have always been close, as she got her love of punk from me… but I don’t think she’d ever learned anything useful from me, at least in terms of her hands.  But the two of us grunting over complex instruction manuals together, puzzling over terrible diagrams and shorted pieces and descriptions that were just flat-out wrong, was a great way of spending time together.  We felt like we were both accomplishing something we’d longed to do for perhaps too long. Every time we finished a piece and heard the buzzsaw roar of the table saw produced ecstatic high-fives.
And there was the pleasure of watching Erin grow.  My daughter has many strengths, but “following instructions” is not one of them; hand her a manual or a recipe, and she’ll inevitably throw her hands up and go, “I cannot do this.”  But I lied, scandalously, frequently, to quietly push her; I tossed the miter saw instruction manual at her and told her that I didn’t know any more than she did about all of this, so just follow what it said.
This was not true.  I at least had the advantage of knowing how the miter saw worked, and knowing what parts it should contain when it was done.  And I did go over and provide consultation when she seemed truly stuck.  But I tossed her in the fire, with nothing but a manual and her own two hands, and by the end of it damn if she hadn’t assembled the miter saw with a bit of assistance, but then proceeded to get the jointer and the planer up and running completely on her own.
And then that was done, we assembled the firepit I had bought for Gini back in 2005, and Erin built a fire in our back yard, and she played guitar and used her new light-up hula hoop while we all bathed in smoke.
We’ve agreed on the need for father-daughter dates; the work is not done by any means.  We assembled the saws but did not calibrate them, so we need to go through and make sure everything is level and sharp and won’t kick wood back at us or misfire under stress.  There’s still hours of work to do before we can start using this stuff safely, and then comes our first project of actually building a wooden box just so she gets all of the principles in line.  (Erin, being Erin, wants to start by building a dresser.  She thinks it’d be simple.  Oh, sweetie, you gotta walk.)
But even if we don’t do that, just a solid day off spent lazing in labor, knocking off a task left fallow for half a decade, sipping beer with cans full of nuts and bolts at our feet… it was a good thing to share with your daughter.  And to share with your wife when she comes home from a weekend with her boyfriend to discover an utterly transformed garage.  And to share with you, my friends, these photos of our reconstruction.

This was the garage as it was, about an hour and a half after we’d started cleaning and rearranging – the boxes were there, but we’d swept the floor and moved a bunch of stuff around. Note that the boxes had been there so long,a chipmunk had set up shop in our miter saw box. In this sense, finding all of this old equipment working was kind of like our own Storage Wars.

The shop afterwards, with all the acoutrement in place. We’re definitely going to need a second bench, and we’re definitely going to need to screw the equipment to some blocks of wood so we can clamp them safely to the table.

Me, after eight hours of shared labor.

Erin. So very proud.

1 Comment

  1. Skennedy
    Jun 10, 2013

    That looks awesome! Think of your equipment as a way for you to level up in proprioception – just before you start, you should be thinking “STATUS CHECK! Where are all my appendages?”
    I have a 6′ tall shaved tree, and over the past seven or so years I have been making it into a walking staff. Excruciatingly slowly.
    It was two years in my closet before I debarked it using hand tools (I called it “drying time”), another three before I etched a basic spiral so I could get down the shape, and two more before I really did anything significant. A few weeks ago I broke out the dremel and deepened the spiral, and etched a perfect hand-hold for me, fits my hand like it was made for it. ’cause it was.
    But I also discovered that the dremel, with the tools I have, is not super ideal at removing a ton of wood. Maybe it’ll be another two years before I really get in there and make the spiral super deep, let alone add detail work.
    We’re moving to a place with a garage AND a basement – I am definitely excited that I might get tools beyond a hand saw, a dremel, and way too many hammers.

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