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It's the Journey, Not the Destination

by Steven D. Johnson
Racine, Wisconsin

This month:

Off the Road and Into the Weeds

Wrong Turns

Dead Ends

Back on Course

Destination Unknown

Off the Roads and Into the Weeds

Figure 1 - Crabgrass, Creeping Charlie, Dandelion, Black Medic,
White Clover... I've got 'em all!
I’ve been in the lawn pulling weeds this month. I like pulling weeds. Behaviorists refer to "positive feedback loops" and pulling weeds has two – the cleaner, neater lawn and the bucket of accumulated weeds.

Most of my neighbors scorn the effort. Some make oddly incredulous remarks as they walk their dogs, children, spouses or selves by like, "Are you really going to try to weed all that by hand?"

Those with perfectly lush, chemically enhanced verdant grass carpets, probably fearing some diminution of their property values, not so subtly suggest, "I can give you the name of our lawn service." Perhaps they assume I have no phone book or access to the internet. I smile and keep pulling.

The big truck with its half-mile of hose and tanks of chemicals could transform my lawn effortlessly, but this life is a journey. There are highways and byways, and to me, pulling weeds is a quiet, slow, scenic country road.

Years ago, living in Cleveland, getting from one side of town to the other was much faster on the highway, but the drive went past the hulking, rusting, cold derelicts of once-vibrant, but now shuttered steel mills. The other route took longer, but wound through vibrant, colorful ethnic neighborhoods, past beautiful parks and over rivers, through sections rich and poor, all dynamic, all interesting. The highway or the byway. The journey, not the destination...I had choices then, and I have choices now.

Choices are one of the most alluring aspects of woodworking. Highways or byways. The journey, the side trips, the detours, the dead ends, the destination...with each route providing many feedback loops.

We woodworkers have choices of materials, techniques, finishes, and more. Cutting dovetails by hand for a couple of drawers are fun. For a ten-drawer chest or a kitchen full of cabinets, a dovetail jig and a router might be more fun. A sharp blade, the feel of the wood, the wispy translucent curl of wood and the fresh smell with with every stroke make the hand plane a delightful byway. Dressing several hundred board feet of rough lumber steers me back to the high-speed highway of jointer and planer.

Woodworking truly is a journey and not a destination. Our path is not linear and is not fixed. Few choose the exact same route, no one really ever destination leads to another via waypoints filled with feedback loops. There is no final plateau we reach at which point we can say, "I am the all-knowing master of woodworking." Every day we learn. Every day we take new side trips and experience new things. Ours is a roadmap with many, many possible routes to reach any given point. And there are many interesting scenes along each journey.

For a chest of drawers I am building, my imagination/sketch calls for simple square- tapered legs of which only about 3 1/2 inches will show below a bottom skirt. Before I even turn the key and back out of the driveway, there are choices. There is a choice of material. The chest is maple, and I have a beautiful slab of 12/4 curly. I could also glue up some 8/4 soft maple. In the end, I decide to use the thinner material. I run one face through the jointer, saw the board in half, and glue the jointed edges together. Next, I need to square up the stock. Jointer and planer or just a hand plane? I chose the highway. A couple of quick passes over the jointer, then through the thickness planer, and in just minutes I had a beautiful, perfectly square piece. I cut four pieces of equal length, then thought about how to taper the legs. The legs were really too short for my homemade tapering jig. Building a different tapering fixture would only take a few minutes. Instead, I took a more scenic yet still relatively speedy route and marked cut lines on the pieces and free hand cut just outside those lines on the band saw.

Figure 2 - Four little legs, forty ways to get there

To get down to the marked lines I could have stayed on the highway and used a stationery belt sander. I chose instead an even more tranquil avenue and hand- planed the legs to their final shape. A few passes on each taper with a jack plane, then a pass with the smoother, and one waypoint on this journey was achieved...part speedy highway, part leisurely byway, some nice feedback loops along the way.

Hand saw or power saw, jointer or jointer plane, smoother, sandpaper, or scraper, there are many ways to work the wood. It makes our hobby so special. Even us power tool junkies need to sometimes get off the highway and get into the weeds.


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