Friday, 8 May 2009

Who Knew My Brother-In-Law Had It In Him...

Here is a shot of my brother-in-law’s new workbench that he just put together. My reason for posting it here is to not necessarily score any points with him, although that probably wouldn’t hurt, but to give a real example of our perceptions of others when it comes to the topic of woodworking. In this particular case, those perceptions came back to bite me on the butt this time.

To give you a little history, my brother-in-law has been married to my sister for a number of years now but, as in most family dynamics, estrangement between older siblings seems to be more the norm rather than the exception, so as a result, I never got to know this guy. Maybe it is because our parents have passed or just simply that we are older, but somehow my sister and I have become more accepting of each other and are slowly building a relationship. As a result of this, I am now starting to get to know my brother-in-law, who, for a banker, isn’t a bad guy actually.

I admit that my interest in woodworking has become a bit of an obsession, rather than just a hobby. It has seriously gotten worse since I started up with hand tools. While I still have difficulty putting two pieces of wood together with what I believe to be an acceptable result, I find my biggest joy in the hobby is in the challenge. It’s the old, “Its not the destination, it’s the getting there”, kind of thing. Lets face it; it is relatively easy to build anything if the quality of workmanship and simple rules of aesthetics aren’t included. Even when those two elusive qualities are included, we all end up with what we believe to be glaring mistakes in our creations. Some of us also realize that the mistakes in our work glare a little more than the mistakes others point out to us in theirs. It does not stop me from coming up with more complex designs for the next project, however, as that, for me, is the basic principle for being involved in all of this in the first place.

Because it is an obsession for me, over time I have learned one major lesson in communicating my love for this hobby with others – don’t!

Come on, we all have, in one-way or another, learned this lesson. We mention to someone our love of tools and woodworking and more times than often we hear that the person we are speaking to about it also has an “interest” in it. Believing we have something in common they try to build on it, finally ending up inviting you to view your newfound friend’s latest creation. More often than not what you end up viewing is a leaky roofed doghouse or a twisted paper towel holder; both nailed together with spikes with a whole bunch of plastic wood sloppily stuffed into the mistakenly drilled holes and nail splits. Looking at this kind of stuff is painful enough, but then you have to add in the pain of the so-called craftsman beaming with pride as he tries to force positive feedback from you where none really exists.

I came to the conclusion a few years ago that it is better to suffer my obsession in private, rather than be forced to view any more of those disasters. Thinking about this attitude now, I realize that it is rather arrogant, really. What’s the expression? You have to kiss a lot of toads before you meet your princess? Or in this case, prince?

I had the “Ya, I heard that before” thought when I was told my brother-in-law was into woodworking. Immediately the leaky doghouse and twisted paper towel holder came to mind. My first visit to their new home resulted in a tour of the soon-to-be workshop. I viewed a few nice tools, sadly, most of them power, but those visions of disasters were still present when I left, as I didn’t get to see any of his work. Saying I’m a great composer doesn’t really mean I can write a song. 

One day, not too long ago I was surprised to discover an email in my inbox from him and when I opened it, I was actually shocked to see this image. As with any “this is what I made” presentation, I immediately took a close scan of the picture. I was immediately impressed with what I saw. Stretchers let in to the legs, bolts that appear to have their placements measured for consistency, a frame around the top with properly mitered and well-executed corners, not to mention everything properly rounded over and properly finished. It was obvious he had some talent, but even more obvious he took some pride and joy in taking the difficult way, rather than the easy way. Hey, a man after my own heart and one that is even part of my own family. Who knew?

Of course I replied with the positives about his work, but I also had to add a hesitant apology to it as well, an apology for not giving him the benefit of the doubt when I heard the words, “He’s into woodworking too, you know”.

I will, however, definitely hold it against him that he has openly stated that he is putting off finishing his workshop until the fall as otherwise it would infringe on his time playing golf. While I understand the concept of “each to their own obsessions” – GOLF?

Peace,

Mitchell