When I first started working here at the magazine we actually had time to go out for lunch each week (we now eat at our desks), and one day after eating at a Thai restaurant we wandered into a hippie-run gallery.
Before being overcome by patchouli and someone’s very intrusive orange aura, I spied something at the counter that made me laugh. It was one of those plastic things you stick on your car that people call a Darwin fish. I’m not a political guy and don’t know if I came from monkeys or not (my wife sure thinks so). But it made me laugh and so I stuck it to the back of my Honda Civic.
Soon after, I became convinced the item was cursed or there was some divine comedy at work.
Within a few months I was rear-ended at a stoplight, destroying the back end of my car – except for the Darwin fish.
Today I’m a more cautious fellow. Sometimes too cautious. As I was working on a folding Roubo bookstand this morning, I found myself hesitating to pick up the big ripsaw and resaw the sucker. So I futzed around with the scrollwork. Then I cut a Grecian ovolo on the front lip across the grain – fun. I flattened out the backboard as best I could with a smoothing plane.
But eventually I ran out of French details to add to the bookstand and I knew it was time to do the deed.
Curse No. 2
So I got my Honda Civic back after a month of body shop work and absentmindedly reapplied the Darwin fish to the trunk. I’m sure I chuckled when I did it. Ha. A fish with legs.
That fall as I was driving some co-workers to lunch at a Mexican restaurant, a dump truck merged into me, forcing me off the road and scraping the entire side of my car. And I ran over a speed limit sign. Then the police showed up and ticketed the dump trucker and me.
What the heck? Two wrecks and a ticket in four months?
I had to take a day off of work to go to court to fight the charge. I won. I got the car fixed and thought my troubles were over.
Wait for It
After about 15 minutes of sawing on the bookstand I started getting near the point where I had to slow down and watch the kerf. Working in my leg vise was a pain because I couldn’t see inside the hinge. So I laid the bookstand flat on my bench and put a hold-down over the hinge.
This worked quite well. I could see inside the hinge and it was easier to see the kerf on the outfeed side of the bookstand as well. By clamping the hold-down over the hinge, the pressure didn’t want to pop the bookstand open prematurely.
I kept sawing and I just couldn’t get to where the two pieces released. So I got out a knife and started digging around in the hinges, trying to cut through to the saw kerf. Then I heard a sickening sound, like an enormous branch straining and breaking. I knew that sound.
Curse No. 3
The winter after my second accident was wet and windy, and the trees behind our house were dropping dead limbs at an alarming rate. So we knew we had to get an arborist out to see what needed to be done to keep our trees healthy.
So we made an appointment and waited.
In the meantime, a big storm hit with high winds and lots of rain. I was lying in bed listening to the storm when I heard that sickening sound of a tree breaking apart, the individual fibers popping like breaking straw.
And then: crash.
I put on my bathrobe and went outside to see what happened. A large branch had broken off our maple and landed smack-dab in the middle of my windshield. The branch was still reaching for the sky and it looked like a tree was growing through my car.
Wet, and a bit crazed, I ripped the Darwin fish off the back of my car and threw it into the woods behind our house.
Beating the Curse?
As I heard that popping sound in the shop I closed my eyes. I couldn’t look at first. But after a moment I gazed down and saw the bookstand hinge swinging free. My patience and knifework had paid off. I give my performance a “B,” and maybe it will be “B+” work after I clean up the sawblade marks.
I was still a little on edge after hearing the sound of the hinge separating. And I’m still a bit wary that something is going to go wrong with this bookstand.
After all, the next week after I threw the Darwin fish into the woods, we had another storm. Lighting hit a tree and the woods caught fire.
— Christopher Schwarz
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