For most of my working life, I’ve paid the bills by reporting or attempting to shape news. Most days, it’s indoor work that requires no real physical exertion except an occasional block or two walk with a laptop in a case slung over my shoulder.
Generally, it’s a walk from the office to another office, or from the office to the car.
There’s an adage that goes: Inside every reporter there’s a wonderful novel — and that’s where it should stay. I’ve written a little fiction now and again. About just enough to realize that I have minimal aptitude for it, and no real interest in getting any better through practice.
A few of my colleagues have written books that were published. One writes novels. Another has written a couple of biographies. Another, some detailed and respected works of history. I admire their ability to set aside time from a day gathering material to write news to spend energy gathering (or conjuring) material to write books.
But when I put down my notebook and set aside the computer, I prefer also to shut down the part of the brain that has already put in its day’s or week’s work.
My diversion is woodworking. It’s something I picked up from my father starting from the time I was big enough to steady one end of a 2X4 while he took a cross-cut hand saw to it. I learned how to apply enough pressure on my end of the piece of lumber to make his job of cutting easier. I learned not to pinch the board into the saw and not to press down as the cut was coming to an end because that would cause splintering.
I studied the nail-drive-driving exercise: Setting the nail by pinching it between the left thumb and forefinger, two or three light taps of the claw hammer to get it start, three or four bold strikes to drive it, and four or taps with descending levels of force to complete the drive without marring the surface board.
I learned when to use a common nail and when to use a finish nail. I learned that even though the box might say “6D FINISH” the carpenters called them 6-penny nails. I never really learned why, but to this day, I’d never refer to a nail’s size with any other description than “penny.”
Through my teens and into young adulthood, I helped my father build countless of projects. He was a lifelong laborer, but was not what you’d call a master carpenter. Most of what he built was for his own use, to offer as gifts, or simply for his own amusement. And as such, he’d use the lowest cost wood, or that which he could salvage from construction sites or even find along the sides of roads or in landfills.
When I picked up the hobby, it took the same approach. But as the years went by the power tools got better and more affordable. I graduated to better cuts of wood and experimented with more sophisticated designs.
Some worked; some didn’t.
I plan to use this space to show some of the things I’ve built, offer a backstory or two, ruminate on how I could have done better and maybe even offer a tip or two to anyone considering a wood project.
And I’ll probably talk a little bit about my dad, and bring a few items he built that remain in service three decades after he swept up his last pile of sawdust.