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Week 1: How I Spend My Week…Not As Simple As You Think

Ah, we made it to week two of boatbuilding school. The morning lecture is in danger of imparting wisdom, while the remainder of any given day has been a lesson in relearning the art of simplicity, or so it would seem.  Joining disparate planks is hardly a new avocation.  Want a chest, house, or ship to come together?  Outside of plastics and Three-D printing, the time-tested solution is cutting timber to appropriate dimensions and then securing planks to one another.

This seems a relatively straightforward process, until someone takes away the power tools and renders Mr. Edison—the man who brought us saws that don’t make you sweat—a pleasant memory that will not be indulged anytime in the immediate future. Confronted with a request to create half-laps, mitered joints, dove tails and a scattering of variations of the same, the dash is on to master chisel, plane and Japanese saws.

I like to think I am a relatively patient person—at least when it comes to woodworking. Rather than demand an expediency afforded by the latest laptop, router and wizards at Google, I am satisfied with assembling projects large and small via imagination and a table saw.  Alas, the latter has been removed from my life, at least for the time being. Joints that would require 15 minutes and some careful adjustment of the blade and table fence now burn up three hours of my day. To be forthcoming, I have rendered a hefty white pine sawdust and firewood scrap assortment while in search of a perfect straight line and a “simple” flat surface.

15.10.11_How I spent my week
           Behold the first week projects.

Another note of wisdom, BEWARE THE CHISEL. Having spent no small amount of time preparing the chisels via 500 grit sandpaper and a wet stone, these tools are ready for a close shave. Timbers are less cooperative, particularly when you add knots and a grain that does not match across the width of a plank.  The seemingly sharp chisels are now blunt instruments that, when even slightly misapplied, become a great way to cut nifty slices on the end of one’s fingers. Despite this fingernail art, no band aids or blue paint tape (a general contractor’s solution to on-site emergencies) on my fingers, yet. Oh sure, there are a few odd slices and indentations in my fingernails, but nothing worthy of a trip to the medicine cabinet or—worse yet—an emergency room.

Having managed to complete the week’s tasks in a semi-timely manner—the bevels took me four tries and more than a few choice of under-the-breadth comments—it was time to step back and contemplate what had been accomplished. A self-critique of my own work suggests there is reason aplenty for more practice.  Standing in a space that rests over waters adjoining our Pacific coastline, I can think of no better place to indulge in this endeavor.


But before I wax poetic, back to the lessons learned. As much as I would like to think years of power tool exposure would have taught a few valuable lessons—14 inch band saws do not come from the store preassembled—the safety gurus lead a how to in handling seemingly benign hand tools followed by  a lecture and quiz  to demonstrate mastery of a drill press and band saw.

Think I passed.

So far I can drill holes about where they should be located and the band saw has a blade rotating with cutting teeth pointing in the right direction. Time to take a break and see the world.  Off to Canada for turkey with family and a chance to wander the marinas of Vancouver.  You can take the kid out of boat school, but you can’t take boats out of the kid.


Eric Anderson is a retired Air Force officer who can be found puttering in his shop when not scribbling on the keyboard.  A new resident of Port Townsend, he is an avid sailor, struggling carpenter, and would-be writer.