Posted in Life

Working with wood

Photo by Chandler Cruttenden on Unsplash

Four years ago I built a wooden play fort and swing set in my backyard for the grandchildren. Since then, some of the boards dried out and rotted, even though I treated them with some sealer. So it was time to replace some of the boards.

I was able to find some decent pressure-treated wood at the big box store and got to work. As I measured, cut, drilled, and screwed the new boards in place, I realized how much I enjoy working with wood. It is so satisfying to slice through a plank with my miter saw, blow away the sawdust, and feel that nice, smooth cut. As I drill each pilot hole and sink each deck screw, I love watching the boards pull tightly together.

As I work, I remember what my dad taught me about working with wood. My grandfather was a carpenter. I believe he mostly framed houses, but he may have done some finish work, too. He would not let my dad work that trade, though. My dad had to go to college and become an engineer. But my dad learned the craft from his father and passed it along to his sons.

When we cleaned out dad’s house before we sold it, we found my grandfather’s homemade toolbox and tools. It weighed a ton. It contained saws, hammers, chisels, planes, an auger and bits, and a few nail sets. All human-powered. I use a lot of power tools: a miter saw, cordless drill and driver, jig saw, nailer, router, and sander. But I can still work with the hand tools, too, thanks to dad.

Dad taught me how to mark a board with a carrot shape rather than just a line. That way there’s no question about where to make the cut.

Dad taught me how to start a cut with a saw, up against the side of a knuckle. Yeah, you get a few cuts that way, but slicing through a piece of wood with a nice sharp crosscut saw feels amazing.

Dad taught me how to drill holes by hand. I love watching the curls of wood come up from the hole as the auger sinks deeper and deeper into the board. After doing a few of those I knew why Dad had such big forearms.

Dad taught me how to start and drive nails straight. And how to straighten them out when they bent. And how to not spilt the wood with your nails.

I might have enjoyed being a carpenter. I never got to do wood shop in high school. I was too busy taking college prep courses. Instead, I learned from dad, from putting up shelves and fixing things around the house, and building play equipment for the grandkids.

I wonder how different my life would have been had I pursued a trade.

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