August 21, 2023
August 1, 2023
The past couple of weeks have been very quiet around the Hardy house, because the girls have been away at summer camp. As hard as it was for me to be away from them for two weeks, I knew they would benefit from the experience, and they were champing at the bit to go. While they were gone, I've slogged through a lot of the type of stuff one has to do when in my position. Lots of paperwork, filling out forms, cancelling credit cards, gathering documents, all the kind of stuff my brain enjoys least. But thanks largely to caffeine and the incredible support of family and friends, I have managed not only to get out of bed and brush my teeth every day, but to be something approaching productive.
But after two weeks of executive functioning, I was more than ready to see these smiling faces again when we picked them up at camp:
We got them home Friday afternoon and began the process of de-stink-ifying them and all their camp-ly possessions. Other than unpacking, I planned a weekend of rest and resettling. That night we watched a movie:
July 13, 2023
It's a Fall day in rural Georgia. It's the late forties/early fifties. There's a small thump as an acorn plops to the ground in a damp depression of a flat field. It's nearly round and small, about a half-inch across. This acorn surely doesn't know this, but it already has a name: Quercus nigra, the water oak. And that's just what it is. A water oak acorn. And it sits on the ground, just being a water oak acorn.
At some point, water is added to the acorn. Spring heat, too. Something happens. A tiny taproot slowly emerges from the acorn's shell and stretches towards the soil. The root pushes its way into the dirt, and soon a tiny, tender stem and leaflets emerge and begin a slow, unfurling stretch towards the sun. All of the parts of the acorn are still there, and for sure it's still itself: Quercus nigra. But even so, it is becoming something different.
Now we call it a seedling. And it has much added to it: water, nutrients, carbon, solar radiation. And it becomes something different still. It becomes more of itself. It adds branches. It adds height. It is still fully itself. And also it is becoming something different.
It's now the mid-nineties. A house is built in the back of the pasture, overlooking what is now a mature water oak, towering over the pasture, its round, wide crown demanding to be the focal point of anyone looking out from the house, or anyone looking towards the house from the road. It's probably 75 feet tall, and in the summertime it often hosts dozens of cows under its canopy, providing them relief from the sweltering Georgia sun. There's a boy who moves into the house. He's on the cusp of puberty, and spends a lot of time wandering outside. The boy sometimes pokes around at the tree's bark with a poorly-maintained pocketknife. This tree still very much contains everything that was once that small acorn. It's still very much itself, and yet it has become something profoundly different.
It's a Fall day in 2003. The goofy, distractible, wandering kid steers his pickup truck off the road and into the gravel driveway. He's still himself, but he has become something different. He's still goofy and distractible, but he has grown and matured. He still carries a pocketknife, but it's better maintained now, and mercifully he no longer carves in living trees. And on this day, there is something very different indeed about him. For the first time on this day, this goofy young man has a particular young woman with him. As they drive along the driveway at the edge of the pasture, she takes in the beauty of the water oak's late summer foliage. And who could blame her? The young man drives slowly as the gravel crunches under them. He keeps stealing glances at the young woman, gauging her reaction to seeing the landscape of his coming-of-age. She is pleased by it. He smiles. They are each themselves. But they are together, and even though they don't know it yet, they are in the process of becoming something different.
It's a few years later. Spring. A different car pulls into the driveway, but it carries the very same young man and woman. They are still themselves. But different. It's the same ingredients as before, except they've each had the addition of a band of precious metal. Some alchemy has occurred. They're each themselves, but they're also them too. It's something beautifully different. The young woman takes hundreds of photos. She takes one of the water oak. It's this picture:
It's a few years later. Another different car. Same them. But no, not the same. They have a new person in the car. This person is made up of ingredients from each of the two young adults, but it is something different. And the them that they are is now something so much more, and so very different.
It's later that same year. The water oak, still itself, becomes something different. Its xylem and phloem quit xyling and phlowing. The moisture starts to drain and evaporate, and the branches begin to dry out. Its foliage that year is not pretty. It's different, and it's not fun.
It's the week of Thanksgiving, 2012. The water oak's once majestic, shade-giving branches are now heavy, brittle, and dangerous. The oak needs to be cut down. The pocketknife kid, of course, ends up being the one who has to go all "Old Yeller" on the focal point of his childhood:
The tree, that was and still is the same acorn from before, is now something different. It's a log. And so it remains for a brief while, but before long the young man's parents hire a friend with a sawmill to come. Sharpened steel teeth and powerful machinery produce long, rough-cut boards. The wood is transported to the young man's home in another state. It is stickered and stacked in the basement, where it can dry, and stabilize, and spend some time just being exactly what it is: a stack of long, organized fibers of a water oak, Quercus nigra, that sprung forth from a small round acorn. And there it stays, for more than ten years, just being what it is.
It is 2023. June 21st. The summer solstice; the longest day of the year. The water oak is in the basement, existing. The young man enters the basement workshop, suddenly looking markedly older. He looks through the stack of Quercus nigra and picks a couple of choice boards out, then uses a handsaw to cut a couple of clear sections out. He sets these pieces carefully on his workbench, and then leaves. A few days later, he returns. He packs those sections up along with a grab bag of woodworking tools, carries them up the basement steps, and places them in the back of his car. They're on their way to becoming something different.
These select sections of that oak travel back to Georgia, back to the gravel driveway, to a workshop about 75 yards from where the acorn fell all those decades ago. There, over the course of a week, they are once more transformed.
The young man once again puts blade to the oak. No pocketknife this time; now it's with well-honed tools and something that, if you kinda squint, resembles skill. It is slow going. The oak fibers are severed, across the grain and with it, over and over, pass after pass, hour after hour. Eventually, what remains is flat and smooth. Four flat boards are produced. Two long, and two short. This collection of the fiber of this Quercus nigra is packed back up along with the tools, placed back in the car, and once more taken away from the pasture where it began to be what it is.
A few days later and it's back to the basement workshop in North Carolina. More sections of rough-sawn planks are selected and transformed.
July 7, 2023
July 4, 2023
Her mug was accurate. There was truly nobody better.
July 1, 2023
June 29, 2023
I have a small woodworking project I'm working on. It's the kind of thing that you can buy for a reasonable price and it'll be perfectly functional and attractive, but I've been very up front with this audience about my stubbornness in doing some things myself. At any rate, this is a good project for me and it will have a lot of sentimental value if I make it instead of buying it. But that project is not what this post is about.
We're at my parents' house this week, so I had to bring my workshop with me. For my project, I brought two boxes full of all-analog woodworking tools: dovetail saws, crosscut saw, tenon saw, bench chisels, mortise chisels, hand planes, marking gauges, dividers, the works. I figured I would find somewhere to set up a temporary workshop. Turns out my dad was telling their across-the-pasture neighbor that I was going to try to do this in their carport, and the neighbor extended the offer to use his workshop. It was a generous and helpful offer so I accepted. It happens to be extra special because the neighbor's house used to be my maternal grandparents' house, and the workshop is the very workshop where I spent many a childhood hour marveling at Papaw's skills as a woodworker, and where I learned my first lessons in the craft.
Even better still, this workshop has an actual cabinetry workbench. Now when I say "workbench," I don't just mean a table in the garage you don't mind scratching and banging on. In woodworking, a workbench must be sturdy, flat, level, and most importantly, it must have some method of holding the work firmly in place. There are several different ways of securing your work: bench hooks, holdfasts, crochets, battens, etc. But the most common work-holding apparatus you'll find in workshops worldwide is the vise. This workbench has what's called a "tail vise," which moves in and out at the end of the bench by turning a large threaded rod.
Let me take a moment here and acknowledge that I'm aware most of the eyes reading this are glazing over. If you're not into this, re-read the title of this post and you'll find that I'm as good as my word. But this stuff really is fascinating for a certain type of mind, and if you're one of the people who isn't bored by halfway-competent prose about old timey trades, you absolutely should read this book. I'm well aware that the woodworking minutiae is me really letting myself lean into the early-forties dad vibe and I've accepted it. Moving on.
The workbench available to me was most likely purchased as a kit and assembled on site. It's mass produced, but sturdy and flat. It wasn't made to be pretty, and the wood it was made from was cheap and functional finger-jointed stock. They sell similar benches at Harbor Freight and Northern Tool and the like. It's nothing flashy, and there are thousands upon thousands of nearly identical workbenches in garages of weekend wood warriors across the country. But it is sturdy, it is flat, it is level, and it has a mechanism to hold the work securely.
I brought some oak stock that I'm using for this project, and it actually was harvested from the big water oak that used to stand about 75 yards to the north of this workshop. That's not really pertinent to the post, but it is pretty neat. So I got some of that oak out and went to clamp the first board in the vise, itching to get my hand planes singing away on it. I turned the handle, tightening up the vise screw, and "CRACK!"
The benchtop's tail apron (the piece to which the tail vise is anchored) suddenly and catastrophically failed.
Nobody would have ever noticed before it broke, but one of the tail vise's anchoring screws just happened to be positioned right in the middle of the lumber's glued finger joints. In retrospect, it makes sense why it broke, but jeez, what are the odds of the screw going right through there. It's frustrating, especially when you've got big plans for getting some good work done on this project. For every one of these benches where the glue joint lines up just so with a screw hole, there are probably 200 where it's not a problem. Oh well, luck of the draw I guess. Though if I were standing in front of the manufacturer I would definitely complain about the quality control.
So there I was with a table. But I need more than a table, I need a workbench. This table was sturdy, flat, and level. But there was nothing there to grab hold of the workpieces. Nothing to keep the work secure and steady. A vise without something to anchor to can only hold one side of the work. Without a way to hold everything firmly and steadily, this was just a table.
But this project is important, and it's not one I'm willing to outsource. So I assessed my resources, and formed a plan. I did not have the type of wood I would prefer for this fix, so I used a scrap piece of construction lumber. I didn't have the right size drill bits for the threaded rod or the alignment pins, but I had a wide variety of other tools and some resourcefulness. I didn't have enough time to be dealing with this particular problem, but I have a project that needs to get done and I couldn't start working on it until I cobbled together a fix to get to the next step.
I used the broken piece as my guide, reverse-engineering how it was attached and how it worked to anchor the vise. I measured out the dimensions onto my scrap lumber and got to sawing, drilling, chiseling, squinting, test fitting, etc. And eventually, something functional emerged:
It wasn't (and isn't) pretty. It was an awkward fit because it wasn't the exact same dimensions as the original tail apron. It wasn't even the same species of wood as the rest of the bench. But I reinforced it as well as I knew how. I put decking screws in it everywhere I could possibly fit one. It was time to put a little force on it and see how it held up. If I'm being completely honest, I'm surprised at how well it worked. I still had to do a lot of resetting and fiddling, but eventually I got it to where it seemed to be holding the workpiece pretty well. And I finally got into a rhythm and by golly I made one flat piece of oak by the end of the day. This project is going to get finished.
Granted, this was not a high-end fix, and if this bench is to get used heavily in the future, it's likely a more elegant repair will be needed. But it's functional for now, and for the near future I think it's gonna hold.