My first memory of using a hand tool comes form my grandfather’s basement. He had a small workbench tucked away in the corner, just behind the basement stairs. He had a block plane or two, two cornering tools that would put a nice little radius or a small chamfer on the edge of a board. There was a hand drill, plus the usual assortment of wrenches and pliers. A woodworker he was not. But something about those few tools for wood drew me downstairs nearly every visit. Okay, so there was also the case of small 7-Up bottles under the stairs, and the pliers that seemed to work almost as well as a bottle opener.
I first learned about wood grain then, although I didn’t realize it. I discovered that those cornering tools worked in only one direction along the edge of that wood. Pull them along in one direction and a thin shaving of wood spiraled from the tool. The edge was smooth. Pleasing. But shift into reverse, move in the opposite direction, and…good grief, what have I done here? Where there was a nicely rounded edge, now there is carnage. Chunks of wood torn away, splinters everywhere. Nothing pleasing about that! So, back to the original direction, repair the damage as much as possible. Not as nice a the first attempt; a few craters remain behind, but better. I never did figure out why this happened, but I learned to pay attention with that first pass of the tool. If it worked the way I knew it could, I kept the tool moving in that direction. If I felt the tearing beneath the edge, STOP and reverse course.
That was a long time ago. I was about ten years old. Between the small sense of discovery there, and the scent of a fresh shaving of pine, I think the hook was set.
The 7-Up didn’t hurt, either.
Jeff Zens owns and operates Custom Built Furniture in Salem, Oregon. He is a frequent woodworking instructor and writer.