The Forty-Five Degree Cut

One of my high school wrestling teammates followed his father into the carpentry trade. Jimmy has told me how, over the years of his craft, he has occasionally worked in a house that his father built. Now, his father was a builder from older days which means that he did almost every part involved in building a house: He poured the footing, laid the brick, hung the sheetrock, ran the electricity lines, and more. While he did order the cabinets from Brown’s Cabinet Shop, he installed them with his crew or himself. It was a time different from today which brings me to a short piece of 1×6 inch, tongue and grooved, pine flooring about a foot long. It is one of many pieces my friend Mike salvaged from an old home; he sells it as well as other salvaged lumber to customers like me. A small pile of such old flooring sits on a shelf in my shop, some painted pink, some yellow, some white, but all ready to be remade into small, wooden object showing the old, color shades so liked by folks. The underside is rough, but the top is  sanded flooring and ready to be cut in the shape I want after I trim off the groove and the tongue. I end up with a board just less than six inches wide and a foot long.

My neighbor Ken told me yesterday that his SUV was in the garage because its front camera was not functioning. We discussed that and all the marvels of modern-day convenience and how we, two baby boomers, have witnessed and benefited from so much innovation. For instance, I type these words on a lap-top computer, and I can backspace anytime to change wording. The typewriter I learned on in high school had no such convenience. We endlessly practiced in order to be efficient in correct words per minute. Now? Mistakes are easily removed by a button or, instead of a rough draft full of pencil or ink corrections, phrases, lines, words, and more are simply deleted or cut/pasted.

There was a time in elementary schools when a boy would ask permission to empty the  pencil sharpener.(Our first experience in civic duty).  It was a guise that did not fool any, but it was a chance for a restless boy to walk around a bit, maybe even to be allowed outside in order to dump the small container of graphite and wood shavings. These manual necessities of a by-gone era can now be found in flea shops for upwards of $5, nothing but relics replaced by plastic pencils that disperse sharpened lead by the push of a button.

Our world has evolved so much in everyday amenities that we now use the noun/adjective/verb “multitasking” to convey how busy and productive (and important?) we are as we take advantage of innovations “to do more.” Since its birth in 1966, the word has become a supposed indicator of abilities and skills. It is even used in job descriptions: “The successful candidate must be a multitasker.” That may be true, but I have my suspicions of the body’s ability to perform meaningful levels of work at the same time. For instance, we all have listened to a dental hygienist chatting away as she cleans our teeth. However, I see that not multitasking, just a way to share the process of dental hygiene. Although we may try, and even say that we do, we do not, in my opinion, have the ability to do more than one meaningful task at a time. But we have tried and tried and tired so much to be like the early computers in 1966 that we now believe we are multitaskers, like those computers of 1966.

A 14th century word that is seldom used today is craftsman. Or craftswoman. Or artisan. Or craftsperson. Whatever form of the noun used it describes someone skilled in a particular craft. It is a word that we seldom use today to describe someone’s skill because, I suggest, we are in one big rush to get things done.  Instead of concentrating on doing a task as well as possible, we flit about, content with many instead of meaningful.

The salvaged, painted flooring in my shop is a statement to someone’s craft because each has been hand-sawed at a precise forty-five-degree angle in order to be securely fastened to the next, and the joint would not slip or rise, but would last until someone like Mike came along to save it from chippers. I doubt the carpenter who hand-sawed those exact angles was also involved in other tasks involved in the building of the house, and he likely was a firm believer in the proverb recorded by John Heywood in 1546, “Haste makes waste.”

I, as much as anyone, enjoy convenience. But convenience is not always the best path to follow. Doing an important task requires concentration to make the task lasting. If not, then why do it?

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