Posts Tagged ‘Shops’

On This Medium

10 December, 2008

I’ve been knee-deep in a project building something I neither have the tools for the skills for.  The wood I’m using is mesquite, which is also an unfamiliar wood to a person used to eastern hardwoods – walnut, oak, maple, cherry.  The thing is, I am awed by the spectrum of colors and variety, even in one species of timber, let alone the variety of species and sub-species!  Ruminate on this with me a minute.

I recently had a long conversation with a Native American friend of mine.  Now, before you think Dan is a kook, let me say that I would definitely not characterize him as being militant, nor anti-American (he has served his country in Vietnam, for example,) nor anti-social (he is a fellow volunteer firefighter.)  He has received honors from his tribal council, and I believe is viewed among them as being a spiritual leader.  Dan spent time explaining to this Methodist how “his people” view the spiritual world – or perhaps, the world spiritually.  In other words, he believes that there is an overarching supreme being (God the Creator), who has created this world and all that live in it to have spirits of their own.  Therefore the trees that you and I work as wood are spiritual beings and are to be respected as such.

While there is a ring of plausibility to this view (I’m not sure that we are going to be able to resolve our boundary issues on things like this in our lifetime here on earth,) the danger, of course, is in personifying inanimate objects such as trees into having “feelings” and consciousness.

The value of this point of view comes when you apply your first coat of oil to the wood you are working on, and its grain, its unique color shouts back at you!  Although I don’t understand the system that apparently is entanglement of branches and roots, I have to believe now that the paper mulberry tree out my window is not simply chaos, but that there is organization to each individual bud and tip.

Even thought I’m not prepared to embrace the religion of the Native American, since my conversation with Dan I have found myself able to enter a deeper reverence for the medium that I’m permitted to work in!  At the very least, how fortunate I am to call myself a worker of wood!  The upside to this is it gives me a spiritual excuse for exercising my Scottish heritage in saving every little offcut… I might need it for another use some day!

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The Shop Goldfish

27 June, 2008

By way of being employed in a position that moves it’s people around a lot, I’ve had occasion to re-think my shop several times. Each time feels like a start-up shop except with old friends; tools collected during the last set-up. Take, for instance, the squeaky, shiny Rabone folding rule I scored in a Georgetown, KY antique store more than a decade ago. It was a really nice location to visit during a really peaceful time in my life. The fact that it was worth 1000% of what I paid for it doesn’t hurt anything, either. Or the matched pair of Independence Tool saws, one a dovetail, the other a carcass. Tools that to the Galoot need no explanation.

Predictably each location has brought a series of new challenges with it; space utilization, power availability, weather tightness. My first formal shop, so designated because of the addition of a non-mobile tool (read this table saw,) was in the yard barn I had built for the purpose. And when I say purpose, I really mean main purpose, as every “shop” seems to collect the tent and extra coolers and fertilizer spreaders and… Layout was easy in that shop; the table saw got the center of the floor (pre-outfeed tables, stock rip fence.) The workbench (singular) went against the wall. An extension cord from the apartment hooked me up and got taken in at the end of a day. Simple. Soon that shop was a pleasant place to work, as long as you were willing to twist your hips around things as you walked through it.

With a move my shop grew into a single car garage, and with another move it grew into half of a two-car garage, complete with 8 plugs. Since the car could always be backed out of the garage, things like outfeed tables and toolboxes began to show up as my circle of “friends” grew. Full-sized bookcases that would have made an English librarian proud made their way out of that shop. Another move, and I had an entire building all to myself. Originally built for a previous owner’s wife who was into ceramics, it had a built in sink and discarded kitchen cupboards, a garage door at one end, 200v three-phase (for a kiln, I suppose) and windows all around. It also had a car-port off the back of it; just the place to store extra dimensional lumber (hardwood stayed inside.) Cherry and then walnut toy boxes, shaker tables sporting hand-cut dovetails were brought to life there. And again I was twisting and turning my way through that shop.

Another move, and it’s back to a two and a half car garage with no back window and the red sand of the Texas Brush Country defying all my attempts to keep it outside. The 110 degrees tended to keep shop time to a minimum. Another move, and here I am setting up shop in a barn.

Now, you might think that it doesn’t get any better than that, but let me briefly describe the barn; built at least 75 years ago, it’s been used to store hay, goats, feed, plumbing supplies, and various tenant’s trash since the original owner passed away. Amongst the aged hay, baling wire, broken glass, the Chevrolet exhaust, and smashed Coors cans is the one lone outlet, all housed by boards presumably milled on site that have long ago ceased to make physical contact with one another (which is good for lighting during the day.) I’ve learned where to put the horse bucket on my table saw (wrapped in a tarp) to catch the roof leaks.

Yet despite the balmy breezes of Texas blowing through my shop, it too has already given life to a 4′ x 6′ assembly table, a miter saw / radial arm saw station, and soon a permanent table for a portable planer. This is all justifiable; it begs the explanation I’ve offered my wife, which is that good shops have the same condition that goldfish do. They grow to the size of their environment.