Chris Schwarz's Blog

Reckless Caution

Every evening I have a glass of red wine or two with dinner, clean up the dishes and then run a 5K , on Saturdays and Sundays I run a 10K. The running part keeps me fit, and the wine beforehand keeps it interesting.

Tonight as I was running past the neighborhood pool I picked up a partner, an aged golden Labrador that had been sniffing around the bushes in a gully. When the dog joined my pace I was a bit surprised; he was clearly struggling against some stiff joints. The dog pressed forward and we traded leads, back and forth. After a minute or so three kids came sprinting out of a house, each flying a French blue bedsheet behind and all of them calling the dog’s name.

I looked down into the dog’s dark eyes as it struggled to keep up with me, torn by the call of the children rushing behind him. And I saw myself not six weeks ago at the WoodWorks show in Ontario, Calif.

I was giving a drawboring demonstration on Saturday afternoon to a small crowd at the show and was pounding a rived peg through my dowel plate. The bench I was using didn’t have any dog holes, so I had found (quite oddly, in retrospect) a band saw riser block and was using that to support the dowel plate during the pounding part of the demo.

Wham. The riser block jumped. Wham. I squashed my thumb with the hammer. I bled quite a bit but kept working. One audience member came up unbidden to patch my finger (some woodworkers always carry bandages).

After a couple more sentences, my vision started to turn off, like closing the aperture on a camera lens. I struggled mightily to keep talking about drawboring. My body had other ideas. I sat down and gave up. Everything went black.

In retrospect, it shouldn’t have surprised me. I had been working for three weeks without a day off. I had flown to California on little sleep. I’d only had time to eat some oatmeal that morning. No lunch.

Still, the paramedics came. A Snickers bar and glucose tablet in the first aid station fixed me up pretty good. A big Mexican meal and long night’s sleep did the rest. But the whole odd experience changed my view of the world and woodworking a bit. I’ve always been prone to build things solidly. But after that experience in February, I’ve been diving even deeper into the world of juggernaut joinery. I mean, I’m only going to be here for so long. What I build should last longer.

And though I see myself erring on the side of caution in joinery, I’ve also felt unabashed to try new and wilder techniques of making the joints , plus inlay, working on my turning and trying a few curved forms from some Creole furniture that would have given me pause in January. I feel a bit reckless on that score.

And that’s what I saw in that dog’s eyes this evening. He was over his head in racing me, but he poured it on nonetheless and pushed me to sprint faster and faster. But then when his owners called him, he looked up at me.

“Go home,” I said. And the animal thought better of the race. He ended his struggle and faded back into the arms and waiting sheets of the laughing children. And I headed home to finish up some through-tenons and sharpen up the cutter in a 5/8″ beading plane that had been giving me some real trouble. With any luck I’ll be able to maintain this view of the craft and world around me , it’s just the right balance of recklessness and caution.

-Christopher Schwarz

5 thoughts on “Reckless Caution

  1. Alan DuBoff

    This is a great read. As you know, I ponder all too often on the best joint to solve a problem.

    Your ideas as well received, and I find it amazing how similar I have concluded over a short time as to what you often refer to as The Modern Shop. I was limited on space for my shop also. I recentely added a 200 sq.ft. space which I use one side for my office. The other side will be used for my hand tool shop. This is the work I enjoy most, and what I want to spend my time doing, hand tool work. You can see this space on the link to my homepage above. The picture at the very bottom right corner is the space that will be my hand tool shop. I would say theres about 120 sq.ft. plus some change to work in 10×12. I plan a 6 foot bench.

    My garage will be where I dimension my timbers/lumber using power tools, and my hand shop is where I will build with that same timber/lumber. I want to focus on the joinery, the hand work, the pride in producing hand crafted furniture.

    For my preference, I don’t mind using a table saw, band saw, miter saw, planer, and jointer to dimension my wood. I do mind using a tailed apprentice router for doing joinery, and only want to do that with hand planes, chisels, hand saws, and other hand tools. For me the joinery is where it is at.

    Thanks for continuing to share your ideas with us, Chris! You have become one of my favorite journalists to read. The woodworking community is fortunate to have someone as yourself that can express themself so elegantly.

  2. Robert Butler

    Funny how often, as we approach the later stages of life, that we are reminded of the temporary nature of our lives here. (I just passed the midway point to 100 a few years ago.)

    I built the world’s best shop this year. (Well, the best shop that could be built on a tiny 400 sq. ft. spot in the downtown area!) Instead of revelling in it, I find myself wondering if I am going to be around long enough to enjoy it! I comfort myself with the assurance that the one who made Heaven was a carpenter. I can hardly wait to see the tools!

    Life is best when we realize just how short it is going to be!

  3. Chris

    Zen and the art of woodworking. The story has just about everything. Good wine. A good dog. A little drama. And woodworking. One hell of a piece of writing.

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