In End Grain

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Youthful energy sparks the experience, but careful work takes time.

Editor’s note: this article originally appeared in the February 2018 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine.

Recently, the young boy a few houses down the street wanted to make some things out of wood.  His father told him that Mr. Bill (that’s me) would be the obvious choice, because “he has made quite a few nice things out of wood, and seems to know all there is about woodworking.”

Having been approached politely, I asked the elementary school-age fellow if he knew what it was that he wanted to make. I was pleased to hear that he did not – he just wanted to learn how to make things, “like you do.”

His father warned me that the child has a short attention span, and he thought it was a hopeless cause. But I took the challenge, and after a short conversation, told the boy to come back on a Sunday afternoon when I would begin to teach him a bit about woodworking. I figured I would show him how to saw some wood, drive some nails and maybe plane a board.

He showed up. He had on a baggy long-sleeved shirt – we would not use any power tools because, I told him, the sleeves were a potential hazard to get caught in moving bits and blades.  (I never intended to have power tools in the first lesson, but I was making a point.)

I showed him my tool cabinet, named the various tools while giving a short explanation of how they are used and, for some of my older tools, a history. I doubt he remembers any of it.

The next task at hand was to saw some wood. It’s a centuries-old skill that we sometimes forget we had to learn. I learned on a low sawbench my grandfather had used. He had patience. He let me saw until I was tired. He let me cut trees, then showed me why I should have chosen a felling axe instead of a splitting axe. He had me drilling holes with a brace, and when I was exhausted from trying to speed through and had slowed to a normal pace, he remarked on how much easier it was at a slower speed.

Watching that boy try to be a human Sawzall brought back the memories. I showed him twice and told him four times, but he was going to need to get there on his own.  After a large quantity of his youthful energy was expended, I pulled out some planes and a fresh scrap and had him watch me run a rabbet, round an edge and plow a groove. Clamping a fresh scrap in the vise, I handed the plane over to him. Seeing him struggle, I showed him how to adjust the plane to take a lighter cut. I reminded him again about using body weight and his big muscles to shoot through the boards.

We chopped a mortise, then I carved his initials in the chuck of mangled wood. By anybody’s standards, the board was a display of failed attempts at every basic skill. But he wants to come back. That’s a success.

He reminded me of so many things: My time with my grandfather; of having to be patient with a young lad; how some things can be frustrating; and mostly, that nothing worth having is easy. I’m willing to bet this kid will be pretty darn good one day. It might take him 30 or 40 years, but what the heck – maybe he will remember me.  –Bill Murr

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