20 December, 2014
I'm sure most of you are familiar with the old saying of "Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he'll never go hungry." Or, some variation of that. You get the point I'm sure. I went out and picked up some wood for a campaign style strong trunk (just another box project) that will be my Mother's Christmas gift. I remembered that one of my coworkers, a younger man who is almost a spitting image of myself, wasn't going to be able to spend time with his girlfriend this weekend. I could tell during the work week that he was a bit bummed that he wasn't going to be able to see her so I took action. This young man is full of potential, which he has demonstrated time and again while at our day job. He had also mentioned that he didn't know what to get his girlfriend for Christmas. He already loaned her some money for the security deposit on her own apartment so I said "That's enough. Get her a nice card and some sort of trinket. You're done." Now, before you call me callous, he's only been seeing this girl for a couple of months. Loaning her the amount of money that he did is something I would never do so early in a relationship. But, that's just me. Anyway, I sent him a text saying that if he had nothing to do, my garage wood shop was open for the night. I was expecting some sort of reply and he comes walking through the garage door. I had suggested a couple of days ago that he make something for her. Since he showed up, I asked him "So, you want to make a little wooden box for her?" He said he did but wasn't very handy. I told him not to worry about it as woodworking was simply another skill to learn. Long story short, I got him started on a simple box, showed him the things I've learned about wood grain, little tricks with hand planes and the table saw, when to be picky, when to not be picky, how to fix mistakes (because I led him down the wrong path which resulted in a large mistake) and how to have realistic expectations for his skill level. I love teaching people how to build stuff. More so than how I love to build things for people. Sure, I could finish this box for my coworker or even tweak the joinery he has so far, but I won't. I'm one of those teachers who will simply point someone in the right direction and then keep an eye on them. Hopefully before mistakes are made. I like to let people work themselves into some sort of problem and then show them what options they have for fixing that problem. I don't like teaching people in a "Do this, don't do that, shape that curve exactly as I have..." manner. They don't learn much. You have to get a person's brain working and get it into "puzzle mode." Now, this young man has had a few shop classes in his younger days and it shows. I've taught people who have never used a woodworking tool, beyond hammer and nails, and it's quite difficult. I don't know what it's like to have never had a shop class or a father teaching me about tools and their uses. Regardless, I'm a problem solver. I want to find a way to teach everyone regardless of their current skill level. My coworker is easy to teach as his brain is a sponge that soaks up everything it can. So far, he's done a really good job with his little box project. He had to move on to other things but we'll finish up after work next week. The look of satisfaction on his face is all the payment I'll ever need. He thanked me as he left and I replied with "Look, the projects I build are finite. If I can't pass on the skills I have, they die with me and won't do anybody any good." The hands-on skills that were so prevalent 70 years ago are disappearing rapidly. The schools are still cutting "shop" classes, so the schools can't be counted on. The skills of woodworking, leather working, blacksmiths, tinsmiths, machinists (manual machines) etc. are being passed on, mostly, by knuckleheads like me. I can't speak for many trades, but woodworking is alive and well in the private sector. The US is blessed with many, many privately owned woodworking schools. I can't pass on many of my skills to you, my readers, but I can, at least, pass on my passion for woodworking. Who knows, maybe you'll start seeking out more books, blogs and videos on woodworking. Pass on the things you know to whoever will listen. They may not take interest in the same things but you will have put the bug in their ear. Now, go make something.