A woodworking friend of mine has the most boring tattoo ever.
It’s a single black dot – about 1/16″ across – on his hand. He put it there as a reminder. Whenever he sees that dot, he is reminded to stop messing around and get back to studying or working or some such.
This morning, I’m pondering a trip to the tattoo parlor myself. I need some totem to remind me to lay down my tools when someone is yakking at me.
This week I am in the heat of finishing a run of Roorkee chairs, and I’m down to the part where I am cutting and assembling all the leather bits. This involves hundreds (maybe a thousand) intense freehand cuts with a utility knife and punches. One miscut and the piece is spoiled.
For the last three days, I’ve been standing alone at my bench making these cuts. I have neat piles of hundreds of components. Zero mistakes.
Yesterday a neighbor came into the shop, asking me to make him a walking stick (he’s been using a tomato stake to help him get around lately).
First mistake: I kept working while we chatted.
Second mistake: I should have offered to simply buy him a walking stick at the drugstore a block away.
Third mistake: I installed a buckle on upside-down, and I had to then destroy and remake the piece.
Fourth mistake: I fixed the problem while he kept talking. My repair turned out to be half-assed.
Fifth mistake: I cut the belting for a chair’s thigh strap 1-1/2” too short, completely ruining an assembled $150 component.
I put down my tools and wished the neighbor a happy new year as he left, tomato stake in hand.
I know a tattoo can’t fix stupid. But you think I’d be smarter after working in group workshops for the last 23 years.
— Christopher Schwarz
28 thoughts on “Why We Are Hermits”
I love how you can take a simple 1/16” dot and turn it into a way to connect a woodworking/life lesson with you readers.
Skip the tattoo. While you have the leather working tools out — and since you have unintended scrap pieces — make one of these: https://i.ebayimg.com/00/s/MTAwMVgxMDAx/z/lXMAAOSwZNtcEgfu/$_57.JPG?set_id=8800005007
I am a luthier for bowed stringed instruments. I have learned through error over the years to put down my tools and start cleaning or to do a lesser project on the side when people come in. It makes me feel like I am still working while not being frustrated with the visitor and I make fewer thoughtless misdirected movements. I also for years worked next to a bow maker who had to camber customer bows using flame and a bending iron. Very tense work to not be interrupted so as to not break the bow. Whenever this happened the workshop was silent and I protected his space.
Be reasonable, lock the damn door.
Reminds me a bit of the Mantra at our Instrument building course. “There is no ‘I only need to’. Especially before we take a lunch or coffee break.” those are the times when you glue on the fingerboard backwards or drill a gaping hole into the peg block, or do any of those things that completely destroy most of you project. Put down the tool and have a coffee.
First rule of safety, for self and work pieces: Deal with distractions before work.
When I hear “tomato stake”, i picture one of those conically shaped wire cages…and picturing a guy using that as a cane makes me chuckle. If you do end up making him one, just make sure to put a tennis ball on the end. No real walking stick is complete without one of those. It would be like a roorkee chair without leather.
An artisanal, hand-sewn leather, curated, tennis ball, right?
The tomato stakes sold in home centers in the Northern Illinois area are very often white oak, though can be any hard wood. They come in a bundle of like a dozen, about 40″ long and a fat inch square. The conical metal ones are available in abundance, too.
I use them for all sorts of stuff from pen blanks to finials for clocks. Oh, and a bit of chicken wire and two stakes (one cut in half) works great on the ‘maters. 🙂
I once cut the tenons off of a sash rail I was making in my garage workshop right after a passerby stopped to see what I was making. I was supposed to be cutting the tenon shoulders but went straight through. Since then I work with the door shut.
I know this feeling well.
(2 single shoulders reduced to 200-250 strap-ish component pieces for belt pouches, several bits possibly usable for other parts, and the scrap).
If you want leatherworking tips, I’m happy to natter.
Make sure you charge $500 for the cane.
I learned a long time ago that when someone walks into my shop. put down the tools and give them my full attention . they are there to learn something or to have me make them something. I really enjoy the ones that come in and the first thing out of there mouth is your shop smells like my dads or grandpas shop, memories from when they were children.
It’s not a complete loss. Now you’re smarter and so are we.
Mag Ruffman explains why this is in her TED talk
Starts at 6:58 about Broca’s area in the brain.
That’s great. Thanks for sharing, Mike.
That was a great video, well worth watching the whole thing. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing!
I do historical interpretation (in period costume) at a fur trade festival, both woodworking and blacksmithing. I’ve lost track of how many pieces I’ve ruined while absentmindedly working and talking to visitors at the same time. Especially in the forge – my ever-growing collection of burned-out steel pieces are testament to that.
Plus you get the fun of looking like a complete novice, which is great when you’re trying to give some historical context with any degree of authority.
Question on Pegs VS. Draw-bore
I am building a Queen Anne side chair. During my research I read:
American Furniture of the 18th Century by Jeffrey P Greene
Taunton Press ISBN 1-56158-104-6
On page 126, third column, he says: “Furthermore, and cabinet-maker of note would have had clamps among his inventory of tools, and would not have need to draw-bore a joint.”
“In the pegged mortise-and- tenon joint, …”
To sum up the rest: Clamp compression and a peg works better long term!
Have you found this in your research or experience?
Oh, man, do I feel this. I have learned to treat the workshop as personal space. While “working” with a novice friend, I cut up a beautiful 12″ x 1″ black cherry board into parts for “boxes” – what the hell was I thinking – that were 14″ long. The board was still rough, and at this length very challenging to plane…. and I to this day I’m trying to figure out what a 14″ x 12″ box with 1″ thick sides would hold. Bowling balls? I still have those boards, taunting me, on a shelf. I’m going to use them for dovetail and smoothing practice, I think. Phooey.
Don’t allow any neighbor in your shop, easier and safer than a tattoo and you will never regret to have this printed on your skin!
Mate, you’re taking it all too seriously. There are trees, flowers, you are surrounded by nature and beauty. This is only work! Be more like JB and maintain your perspective on things!
bummer. I hear ya. I still do but I’ve learned to stop after the first mistake or two.
You’re human, you make mistakes (rarely, I know!) – you are not a machine. The humanity of that encounter was far more important. Setting your work aside for a moment will never hurt in that situation, at least not as much it may seem – in that moment.
Perhaps a tattoo of a squirrel? With a hat.
Glad I’m not the only one!
As a nurse, I have made it a habit to deliberately assume a posture as soon as someone talks to me. Generally, I tilt my computer screen down or step back from the equipment I was handling and face them. It serves three purposes: It sends a clear signal, “you have my full attention, but it means I’m not doing something else.” It also keeps me from mindlessly trying to both listen and work (which never works). It also, by negation, lets people know they either haven’t gained my attention, or my attention cannot be broken at that moment if I don’t turn to face them. **
Even after only a few interactions, patients and their families quickly start addressing me by name and waiting until I face them before starting to talk. Pretty often, people the develop the awareness to catch what they were going to say wasn’t important enough to take me from the task at hand, and will say something like, “Dav-, eh when you’re finished, it’s not urgent.”
It sounds performative, or perhaps even a little cold, writing it out here. But if all the world is in fact a stage, this is just a script and it’s your job to give it life.
**Possible benefit number four hopefully is it relieves people of feeling the need to fill dead air. It’s not awkward silence – I’m absorbed in the task at hand.
I am cattleman, woodworker, chemical engineer and a couple of other things including observer and sensemaker of human action. Observation: It is rare that a man can tell the complete consequences of his actions over the full span of his life.
It is a common misconception that patience is something you build in yourself. Rather, it is the fruit of noticing the consequences of your actions, and knowing that some of those consequences could be avoided. Will there come a day when a man looking for a cane will be recognized for the good he brought to your door?
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