What Would be the Danger?

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John looked under the bench and found a piece of wood which he thought would do for a wedge, only the end wanted sharpening.

“Shall I take your broad chisel and sharpen it?” said he.

“No,” said Ebenezer. “I have not taught you to use the chisel yet, and it would not be safe.”

“What would be the danger?” asked John, —”that I should cut my fingers?”

“No,” replied Ebenezer. “I am not afraid of that. We don’t usually give ourselves much concern about our apprentice’s fingers. The damage that I fear is, that you might dull my chisel, and that would be of much more consequence. You see if you cut your fingers, they will get well of themselves, after a little time; but it would make me a great deal of trouble to sharpen up my chisel, if you were to get it dull.”

(John then proceeds to finish sawing a board, and Ebenezer comes to inspect the result.)

“Have I sawed it pretty straight?” John asked.

“We don’t praise apprentices much,” said Ebenezer, “especially when they are beginning, for fear it should make them conceited. People that know very little are always apt to be very vain of what little they do know.”

— “The Boy’s Own Workshop” by Jacob Abbott (William P. Nimmo, 1866)

About Chris Schwarz

Publisher of woodworking books and DVDs specializing in hand tool techniques.
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18 Responses to What Would be the Danger?

  1. Ever been on a woodworking forum? I’ll leave it there.

  2. Joel says:

    That picture is terrifying. Especially the kid on the left of the grinder.

  3. paul6000000 says:

    Looks like it’s from a residential school, so also likely terrifying in other aspects as well.

  4. Dave Reedy says:

    It looks like a posed photo. The kids look static; no action. The two boys on the right working on the same board!

  5. tombuhl says:

    hmmm, this could help explain my personal vanity.

  6. Mike Siemsen says:

    Them boys is wearing mukluks!

    • lostartpress says:

      He’s an Eskimo!

    • That was the first thing I noticed! Could be a boarding school, or perhaps a Govt school shop in a rural hub community. The boys appear to have different style muklucks, suggesting that they are from different villages. The boy with the saw has reindeer and the two on the grinder look to be made of seal skin. Some of the other photos in the collection are from the Bering Strait area, perhaps this photo is from Nome.

      • Morgan Reed says:

        Yes, that’s why am guessing White Mountain Industrial School. I’m not from the bush – I was born in Fairbanks – but both of my parents taught, and my Mom taught in one of the native boarding schools in the late 1950’s/ early 1960’s IIRC.

  7. Morgan Reed says:

    I can check with my mom, but that picture could be at White Mountain Industrial School. The reality was that White Mountain and a few others schools have a difficult history. During the first part of the 1900’s children from Alaska’s bush were forcibly removed from their village and sent to boarding schools. In some cases, where their family lacked money (in some cases literally lacked any form of negotiable currency) they would be stuck at the school for years.

    For villages above the Arctic Circle, the ability to do mortise and tenon, or pound a drawbore was of no value to a people who lived outside of any trees, much less a saw mill. It’s a great picture, but there’s more history behind that shot than one might think…

  8. There’s actually a name for this, it’s called the Dunning-Kruger effect. Pretty interesting.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect

  9. Lin Niqiu says:

    I just finished reading this book and have been trying to decide how to incorporate it into a secondary school curriculum. We need more Ebenezers to prevent there from being more Bill Boobys.

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