Chris Schwarz's Blog

My Lucky Scars

When I was about 11, my parents took a trip to Cancun and left us with Hazel, a Nurse Ratched type with a beehive hairdo, a messed-up back and a matching disposition.

It was Halloween, and so we were carving pumpkins in the garage. I was using my Cub Scout knife – improperly. The knife slipped and slashed the web between the thumb and index finger on my left hand. The cut was all the way through the web and 1” into my palm.

The blood on the pumpkin was impressive. I ran to find Hazel. She was a nurse and (I hoped) could sew me up. With my arm completely coated in blood I asked her: “Am I going to die?”

Hazel shrugged and made a noise that sounded like: “Maybe?”

I look at the scar from that accident every day. Not on purpose; it’s simply unavoidable. And like a lot of my internal scars, it’s an important reminder: Think before you cut. And don’t point an edge tool at your body, nitwit. So even if there were a way to erase the jagged crease from my hand, I wouldn’t.

Oddly, that scar was the reason I decided not to fully restore a handplane that I bought in 2004, was stolen from me outside Philadelphia, survived Hurricane Sandy and was then miraculously returned to me looking like something that had been salvaged from the wreck of the Mary Rose (the full story is here).

It’s one of my favorite tools for reasons too complicated to explain. During the last three years, I’ve been slowly restoring it to working condition. The bed was a bit wonky from its time in the drink, which planemaker Raney Nelson fixed for me. The sole and sidewalls were a mess, so I took care to remove only the crud that impeded its function.

But the biggest challenge was the iron. The plane had been soaked in seawater and then left to rot. So the iron was deeply pitted. I considered making a new iron, but the scar on my hand wouldn’t let me. That iron belongs with that plane. It is corroded like the plane’s other steel parts and looks like it belongs in the tool. A new iron would look silly.

So when I had some extra time, I’d lap the back of the iron to remove the pitting. I could have sent it out to have it surface ground, but I didn’t want to remove too much material and I wanted to do it myself.

Yesterday after many hours of lapping, I finally removed enough pitting to get a good edge on the tool. I dropped the iron into the plane’s body and it was like I was back in 2004. The tool performs exactly like I remember – extraordinarily.

Every time I look at that Wayne Anderson plane, I am reminded: There are jerks everywhere (and particularly in Philadelphia), don’t ever take your eye off of things that are important to you, and that life is cyclical.

Most of all, I really like how the scar on my left hand fits neatly against the cracked front bun of this fantastic tool.

— Christopher Schwarz

9 thoughts on “My Lucky Scars

  1. duckfarmer27

    Chris –

    Thanks for the laugh. I did the same thing with my Scout knife in the same spot on my hand – but Christmas Eve opening a present (my Great Uncle was a farmer who lived next door and we always opened one gift with him on Christmas Eve). Blood all over – and my Mom (grew up on a farm with 7 brothers and was an RN) tells me if I was a girl she’d take me to get sewn up, but a boy can have scars. Exactly one year later to the day, same task, slice my thumb with the same knife. I know – slow learner on this end. So don’t feel bad, you could be me.

    And that’s not counting the third cut to the index finger a few years later or the chunk out of the web by the pistol…..

    I like to think my left hand exhibits some character after all these years. Better than calling it dumb moves!

    Dale

  2. Howard

    When I was very young it was a real treat for me to listen to my grandfather’s stories. This was before television. Many of his stories are still alive in my head, today.

    Your stories are similar to my grandfather’s in that they are so skillfully presented. I enjoy your stories. I am glad that you created this blog where you share them. Writing these stories obviously must give you pleasure… like reading them lifts my thoughts…

    Christopher, I wonder how did you become such a great story teller? This skill cannot be just from your DNA? Or, is it?

    1. Christopher SchwarzChristopher Schwarz Post author

      Thanks Howard,

      I started life as a newspaper writer. At my first job we were required to turn in 500 stories a year. You get pretty decent at telling a story when you have to write a couple publishable items every day.

      So, like woodworking, it’s all about practice and repetition. I have no special gifts (just ask my kids!)

      Thanks for reading,

      Chris

  3. bill

    Sorry you had a bad experience in Phlly. I live in Philadelphia and can say that most people in and around Philadelphia are good people. It could have happened in any town. Just glad you got it back.

    1. wthitchner

      Agree! Philly is no different from any other city. It was bad luck. That was a cheap shot and It did not need to be in an otherwise interesting article. And Philly has a lot of great woodworkers. Just ask Mario Rodriguez.

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