Thursday, February 12, 2009

Shop Dignity

When I was on the mountaintop watching Mike Mahoney turn a couple of weeks ago, he said the most amazing thing. He had two sanders. I don't mean he has two electric sanders. Everybody has that. He meant he has two hired hands (people I mean) that do nothing but sand the bowls. Now you have to understand that no one likes to sand. It is boring, messy, dusty (duh), and hazardous to your health. Nobody wants to sand anything. When I heard him say it, it took me a minute to comprehend what he was telling us. He actually has two people who do nothing but sand his bowls after he makes them. Can you imagine? You just mount a piece of wood on the lathe, turn it off to a shape you like and you know will sell, and as soon as you get done with it, you take it off and hand it to the sanding person and you don't even have to apologize for that ridge in the corner of the bottom which you were too lazy to try to clean up cause you didn't want to sharpen the tool one more time. And if they want to complain about your technique, you just hire someone else.

Then I got to wondering who these sanding people must be. Is it some elderly grandmotherly type who will spend hours on every tiny pore and would sacrifice herself on a burning pyre of cracked bowl blanks if she found a scratch left in the bottom of an otherwise perfect specimen? Maybe it is a retired hippie (when have you heard that word?) who does it because it gives him just enough money to buy his weed and he can take long lunch hours and zone out with a joint and it numbs the afternoon up enough to make a little more cash to repeat the cycle. Probably has to pay him an hourly wage -- not by the hour, but on the hour, just so he will keep working, plus run another dust pipe to his work station to keep down the fumes. Or maybe it is a young couple who bring their children to work with them so they don't have to pay child care (do they make baby dust masks?) and they are saving their money to go on a world cruise. I saw a guy in the last issue of "Fine Homebuilding" who worked about two months of the year and then cruised the world in his boat with his family the rest of the year. I wonder.

You are probably asking yourself by now what all this has to do with "Shop Dignity". Well, it's like this. When I first started woodworking about 40 years ago, I worked in the basement of our first house and started with a work bench I made out of two by pine. We built a new house and I had a one car garage to fill up and soon did so. I used to pride myself on walking over the top of the pile of shavings at the lathe because it was a sign of how much work I was getting done and I really could reach the lathe better. But the big problem was I had to share all that joy with the riding lawnmower. There was no other place to put it and I was not going to leave it out in the rain. So there it sat watching me. And me nursing a growing disdain and festering hatred for its intrusion into my personal space. No woodworker should have to suffer the indignity of having to share space with the stupid lawnmower, especially one whose battery runs down every winter out of pure spite and animosity. The height of my woodworking ambition was to have a shop where the lawnmower did not live. Well, joy of joys, I inherited some money and found myself in a position to build a shop in the back yard. It is a separate building and the lawn mower is allowed to sniff around the outside, but it will never set its solid rubber front tires in my shop. At last, I have made it -- I am a real woodworker with a real shop with no lawnmower in it.

And then Mahoney comes along and has two sanders.

1 comment:

Nelanie said...

Just think, going from your little basement in East Point that you shared with your washer and dryer to a larger basement you shared with a lawnmover, doesn't this just make you appreicate your new shop even more? Your family is so proud you have it and we hope you enjoy many hours of turning and sanding in it. We love you!