It’s no secret that I like beer. So I get asked by students occasionally: Do you drink while you are in the shop? The answer?
Now, before you read another word, know that I am not an uptight or judgmental person by nature. Plus, I want to live a long life with all my natural-born fingers attached to my hands – not sitting in mason jars on the mantlepiece.
Now the “correct” answer is to never ever touch a woodworking tool if you have even seen a beer commercial on television. Jamais! Nicht! Etc.! Historically, we know this teetotaler approach is new. Craftsmen of all trades drank all the time in the shop. There are so many accounts of drinking in shops from the 18th until the early 20th centuries that it’s weird to find an early account of a shop where people didn’t drink.
The drink was likely lower in alcohol than what we consume today. But judging from the quantities listed in historical accounts, we are all on the same historical Breathalyzer.
So what is a reasonable approach? Can you have a beer in the shop in Saturday afternoon?
Here’s my thinking, which has been developed during the last 20 years by doing stupid things (a bottle of wine and a lathe do not mix) and finding my limits.
If I have had any alcohol in the last few hours, I won’t turn on machinery. OK, I might turn on a shop vacuum. But I’m not going to mess with cutting tools.
If I have had one beer, all hand-tool operations are go. I’ll saw, plane and chisel to my heart’s content. By the way, I don’t feel anything after one beer, but I’m 6’3” and 180 pounds.
If I have had two beers or less, I’ll do donkey work. That means I’ll do some handplaning, maybe some rough sawing. But I won’t cut joinery and I definitely avoid the chisels, which are the single-most dangerous hand tools in the shop.
After three beers, I’ll clean the shop – there are very few broom injuries reported to the federal government. I put away tools. I oil stuff. Or I’ll stare at my work in progress and make notes. As a writer, I appreciate the effect that alcohol has on the creative process – do not discount it. Alcohol removes inhibitions, and sometimes that’s what I need when I stare at a work in progress. I need to decide: This stinks. Or, this needs radical surgery.
I rarely drink more than three beers in a night, unless things are going really well or really poorly. Then I sit down with the laptop and write a blog entry, which may or may not get published the next day.
So that’s the truth. You might disagree with my approach, but all I can do is repeat the following quote from one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century: “Lighten up, Francis.”
— Christopher Schwarz