Wednesday, December 09, 2020
When my grandfather finished explaining how a gas clothes dryer worked, and I stopped asking questions, he asked me a question.
“Would you like to help me with a project?”
I had a myriad of thoughts running through my mind. The most significant one was this: “Grandpa wants my help. He must think a lot of me.”
I enthusiastically said yes, and followed him into the partitioned room in the basement. When grandpa pulled the drawstring on the light, my eyes almost popped out my head. There in front of me, and all around me, was the most magnificent sight I had ever seen. It was far more exciting than a toy store. Much more inviting than a candy store. I was in my grandpa’s workshop filled with every kind of hand tool imaginable. To this day my favorite store is a good, old fashioned hardware store. I love tools.
My grandfather had a passion for woodworking. He was an incredible draftsman, craftsman, and cabinet maker. He was employed by the White Sewing Machine Company and used his skills to design and build the first ever furniture-style sewing machine cabinet in America circa 1920. I have never seen it, but I understand it is on display in a museum in Cleveland.
I started asking lots of questions about all the tools. I had never seen most of them. I basically only recognized the handsaw, screwdrivers, and hammer. But the walls were filled with what I would soon learn were chisels, levels, hand planers, hand drills, and more. Every tool was a hand tool. Even in 1961, and for the rest of his life, grandpa never owned a power tool.
Grandpa told me that is I kept asking questions, we would never get the project done. I asked him what we were going to build. He pointed to the workbench with a long board on it.
“I’m building a new cabinet for your grandma. We need to start by cutting this board.”
On the workbench next to the board was a carefully drawn sketch of the cabinet with measurements precisely indicated according to official drafting standards. I would later learn those standards in eighth grade drafting class, which, thanks to remembering how my grandpa taught me, I aced. Also next to the board was a ruler. It was one of those folding wooden measuring sticks that pre-dated tape measures.
Grandpa asked me to read him the measurement for the side wall of the cabinet. “Huh?” He showed me how to read the sketch and how to properly read the measurement in fractions of an inch. He then used the ruler to mark a precise spot on the board according to the measurement. Then he did something I will never forget. He drew a perfectly straight line across that board at that mark without using the ruler or any kind of straightedge. No matter how much I practiced that after seeing him do it, I never could master it. I always need a T-square. But not grandpa. He was gifted.
He then reached behind him on the wall and grabbed one of the 6 different handsaws he had. I asked him why he had so many. He explained the difference between rip saws and crosscut saws, and the difference in saw tooth size. He grabbed exactly the one he needed.
He asked me to stand on the opposite side of the table from where he was. “This is where I need your help. As I cut on this line, the sawdust is going to cover the line so I can’t see it. I need you to keep the sawdust blown away.”
As he cut, I blew sawdust. Not too hard so as to make it fly up into his eyes. Just hard enough to keep it off the line. When he finished his cut, he said, “John, that was perfect. I couldn’t have done this without you.”
Now I was blown away. For one of the first times in my life I felt affirmed. I would later learn through my own woodworking that he could have easily blown his own sawdust away. But to grandpa, giving me affirmation and value was more important than doing it more quickly by doing it himself.
It was such a simple thing…blowing sawdust. But to an eight-year old boy, his words were an affirmation of my value, which set me on a life-long quest to do the same for others.
Thanks again, Grandpa.