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by Steven D. Johnson
Racine, Wisconsin


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Making The Rounds


It has become a tradition this time of year to visit each of my local woodworking buddies, chat a bit, wish them good cheer, drop off a little gift and a card. Last week I made the rounds.

Silvio

I was out shopping and really needed a break, so I stopped by my buddy Silvio's woodshop. Silvio is always good for a joke or two and a cup of hot coffee. When I walked in, Silvio was hunched over his workbench dripping CA glue into an open crack in his finger. I said, "C'mon, man...that's not what that is for!"

Silvio said, "Yeah, but it works. Man, this cold dry weather is making my fingers crack and split, and they hurt like heck."

"I know, Silvio, but there are chemicals in that stuff that aren't good for you."

While CA glue is great for woodworking, on the skin the short ethyl chains in the ethylcyanoacrylate can degrade and could release toxic compounds. And the glue manufacturing process is not, nor was it intended to be, sterile, so impurities and germs can be trapped under a CA glue "bandage."

Figure 12 - An ounce of cure in case
your prevention doesn't work.
There are some commercially available products that contain, instead, acrylate copolymers and solvents. The solvent, usually alcohol, helps to sterilize the wound and the nature of these products assures you don't accidently glue your hand to the workbench. I use a product called "New-Skin" that works great and uses nitrocellulose as a principal ingredient. Fittingly, nitrocellulose is a naturally occurring polymer obtained from wood pulp.

I stopped by Silvio's the next day for another cup of coffee and a fresh joke and dropped off a bottle of New-Skin. Silvio is worth it...and his coffee is free.

Reggie

In typical fashion, Reggie, who I call the "whirlwind woodworker," seemed over-caffeinated and agitated. Reggie works fast and well but he has a lot of nervous energy. He makes his living cranking out kitchen cabinets but in his spare time he builds some mighty fine furniture. I've never seen Reggie relax. If you need a little energy by osmosis, he's your guy.

Reggie was particularly vexed when I visited. He barely said "Hi" before he launched into his tirade. Turns out he was outraged by a news report of a gruesome crime and the impact it is going to have on woodworkers.

It seems a dispute went bad and a man beat his neighbor to death with a hammer. Apparently Reggie believes that groups are going to lobby Washington for stringent hammer ownership rules. "We all know hammers don't kill people, people kill people," Reggie was screaming, "our Constitutional rights are under assault!" Reggie does harbor the occasional conspiracy theory and is convinced this is the year the space aliens will make their presence known.

Reggie wants to start something like a National Hammer Association (NHA) that would, he claims, be our voice and lobby in the halls of power. He says we should seek out politicians who enjoy woodworking, home repair, and remodeling, and let them know...we are woodworkers, and we vote!

Reggie's gift was a pound of coffee...decaf.

Millicent

It's hard not to like Millicent, or Millie, as we call her. She has a small shop space in a corner of her garage. Her tool collection consists of an old jigsaw, some screwdrivers and a hammer, and a rusted old hand saw. She builds birdhouses, mostly, and the occasional mailbox, squirrel feeder, or step stool. For wood, Millie uses what she finds, scrounges, or recycles.

Millie's work is, by some standards, pretty crude. Her cuts are never very straight and she uses a lot of nails and screws. Without a drill for pilot holes, she gets a lot of cracks and splits. She doesn't have a vise on her makeshift workbench, so things move as she saws and hammers. Yet, with all the butt joints, out-of-square corners, and what most would call "flaws," her works are beautiful. She has a designer's eye, an artist's appreciation for color, an architect's eye for proportion, and a free spirit that neither knows nor recognizes convention.

Sometimes I stop by when I need advice. Millie can look at a picture of a piece in progress or a sketch of a design and make suggestions that somehow always seem to improve the look. She has "it." I'm not real sure what "it" is, but she has "it." I often wonder if she had a shop full of tools, would she turn out beautiful and perfect furniture? Or perhaps she might become so obsessed with perfect joinery, absolute square, and millimeter precision she might lose that perfect design eye...the "it" I wish I had.

I gave Millie a little rechargeable drill/driver. I hope it doesn't spoil her work.

Franco

Franco is Italian, and, as he says, "'iz English, it not so well." That's okay, because Franco can speak woodworking in any language. A high-end industrial engineer by day, by night and weekend he is a craftsman...a power tool nut. In Italy power tools are very expensive. He thinks tools in America are a bargain. He has apparently set about to acquire them all.

Franco is one of the very few home shop hobbyists I know with a big drum sander. He has everything. He has a full size mortiser. He has a CNC machine. Goes without saying that he has a table saw, jointer, planer, drum sander, oscillating spindle sander, drill press, and much, much more. So, right about now you are wondering how big is his shop. Ah, that is the real story.

Franco's company sent him to America on special assignment for two years. It being a temporary situation, his wife and kids stayed in Italy. Franco rented a house. His shop started in his garage, but after a few short months he ran out of room and installed some equipment in the living room...then in the bedroom...then in the other bedroom. Franco sleeps in the dining room, eats, relaxes, and watches TV in the kitchen, and the rest of the house is all workshop.

So what do you give a guy who literally has everything? I gave him two books. The first was the quintessential American novel by Jack Kerouac; "On The Road." The second was the "Commercial Shipping Handbook" by Peter Brodie. In a year he is going to have to ship all that stuff to Italy.

Ben

Ben and I met at the big box store. The Pro Desk manager introduced us. I suspect he was trying to get rid of Ben, who was asking a lot of questions. You see Ben is just starting out. The Pro Desk guy said, "Hey, this is Steve. He's a woodworker. Ask him." And Ben did.

Since that first meeting I have really enjoyed watching Ben do and learn. His first project was a set of bookshelves. Then he made a workbench. Now he is working on a bench for his entryway. I gave Ben what every new woodworker needs. A little bit of my time. Oh, and I gave him a card and a block plane. Mostly, I gave him time.

I hope you, too, are blessed with an eclectic assortment of woodworking buddies and I hope you get to meet some new woodworkers this year. Most of all, I hope you will give them the gift of your time, your mentoring, your coaching, and your experience. You just can't put a price on that gift.

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