The late Frank David at Midwest Woodworking in Norwood, Ohio, was quite particular about who could use the machines in his shop. It took several visits before Frank would let me operate his massive radial-arm saw, jointer and planer.
To say he was deeply concerned about my safety isn’t quite right. It was more accurate to say that he didn’t want to get my blood on his machinery.
“Once a machine gets a taste of blood, it’s useless,” he’d say. “I have to get rid of it.”
During Frank’s long life as a woodworker and employer, he observed that certain machines were cursed. Once they were involved in an accident, more accidents would follow on that machine.
A scientific mind could formulate several theories as to why this might be true:
1. The machine was inherently unsafe. Accidents were bound to happen over and over on a machine with an ill-fitted guard or a poor design for a cutterhead.
2. After an accident, workers would be psychologically affected when using a machine that had been involved in an accident. Their lack of confidence would lead to another accident.
3. Machines that were involved in an accident might become neglected. And that neglect could lead to a machine that was “bitey.”
4. Hemoglobin-loving fairies start growing in the dust-collection chute and offgas a neurotoxin that makes you think about giving a foot massage to Uma Thurman when you should be watching the cutterhead and fence.
To be honest, I think a little superstition and ritualistic behavior is a good thing in a woodworking shop. Think of baseball players who perform odd luck-inducing activities before going to bat (wearing a special piece of underwear, picking their noses in a special way). They repeat an activity exactly as they did once before (licking that lightswitch six times) so the result (home run!) is the same.
In the shop, I have many activities that I perform as ritual. The way I sharpen, chisel, fit dovetails and rip on a table saw are practically scripture. They might look odd – I always grip my honing guide with my left hand. My left thumb presses the plane iron in place as my right hand uses a screwdriver to tighten the guide’s screw. But the rituals remove as many variables as possible from an equation that has one incredible wild card: the wood itself.
Now if you will please excuse me, I have to do six jumping jacks while humming Prince’s “Batdance.” I have tenons to cut.
— Christopher Schwarz
14 thoughts on “Bloodlust & Superstition”
Chris -Thank god you have tenons to cut…thought for a moment you said tendons. Watch out for the fairies.
Only six jumping jacks? Well, how is the air up there in Snootyville? 😉
A scientific mind would formulate hypotheses, which might one day become theories, if supported by enough observational evidence and predictive value.
As for the real reason that the machines appear cursed: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias
I think you just hate fairies.
I’m with Frank. Once the machines have tasted the sweet tangy flavor of human flesh, they WILL want more. For more information, see Stephen King’s “The Mangler” as a reference.
Yes. I suspect we are delicious.
I’m pretty sure my chisels think so.
The lion miter trimmer in our shop has bitten everyone who has used it, and three people who just tried to pick it up to move it. New employees are told repeatedly that it is the most dangerous tool in the shop.
Speaking of ritualistic behaviour, I could not help but notice how you stroke the bottom of your hand planes (referring to a recent episode of “The Woodwright Shop). It’s a bit of a tic I suspect, but always made me shudder a bit. I fear for the day when you have the plane turned the other way around. The hemoglobin fairies will be dancing for sure.
I also stroke my saws from heel to toe to clean the sawdust. It’s a way of clearing the sole of garbage and pulling any shavings that might be hanging in the mouth. I have never cut myself when using a plane.
Does the theory extend to handtools? If yes, then Roy, who I believe has a band-aid on in every episode, has a shop full of tool vampires.
I work in a the field of rehab and as such have seen my share of people coming in with fingers reattached from using a circular saw or a shorter thumb from a table saw. It always reinforces the love I have for my disston’s and that I may never buy a machine even someday when I have a full shop I can set up in. I have had plent of cuts but never have got close to the tendon.
Any particular reason you chose to use an image depicting Christ to represent, “Bloodlust & Superstition?”
I like the image. That’s all.
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