Tools teach more than wood-working skills | The Latte Guy | April 3

I hear, and I forget. I see, and I remember. I do, and I understand.

– Confucius

When my dad died a couple of years ago, I inherited a plane.

Before you start asking about how many people the plane seats or how it handles in turbulence, I should let you know that the plane I inherited is the type one uses to shave wood from a board.

I also inherited a set of chisels, a hand saw or two, some clamps, a brace and a set of bits, a Yankee drill, a T-square and various odd-looking tools whose precise functions I have yet to figure out. I think one of them has to do with making rabbits, which seems odd to me, but then biology was never my strong suit.

My dad was a very skilled wood worker. He made beautiful furniture, picnic tables, benches, cheese boards, and assorted other items out of oak, redwood, maple and something called cocobolo, which is either an exotic hardwood or a state of mind. When I was home and not otherwise engaged in an important activity such as shooting baskets or setting plastic army men on fire, I’d help Dad as he worked on his latest project in the garage, although I use the term “help” here in its loosest sense.

Most of my “help” was of the holding on to the end of a board variety, or running to the hardware store to buy a couple of wood screws or a piece of doweling.

By the way, I say I “inherited” my father’s hand tools, but to be absolutely accurate I didn’t so much inherit them as I was elected to clear them out of the garage and find a good home for them.

Lacking any other immediately available alternative, I put the tools in a large box and mailed them to myself here on the island.

They arrived within a day or two after I returned from Dad’s funeral, all in good shape and none the worse for the wear,. This ,incidentally, gave me a good idea about how I might be able to save a little money on airfare next time I travel to Southern California.

Since my dad’s hand tools arrived at my door, they have occupied a safe but undisturbed location in the garage, right between the various Pinewood Derby cars Adam and I built over the years and the half-dozen or so boxes of children’s Halloween costumes that Wendy says we’ll find a use for some day.

They might still be sitting there today, untouched by human hands other than my father’s had I not spotted a class in Bainbridge Park & Recreation’s winter catalog called “Green Woodworking’” taught by Mike Ballou.

I looked at the class description, I thought about the hand tools in my garage, and before you could say Bob’s your uncle and watch your thumb, I was signed up.

Green Woodworking is an excellent and thoroughly entertaining way to learn how to use and appreciate hand tools like the ones I inherited from my dad. Mike Ballou is a very knowledgeable and patient teacher of traditional wood-working skills, and he won’t laugh at you if you split the leg of one of your sawhorses while trying to pull out a nail that you pounded in at a comically incorrect angle. Not that this ever happened to me, of course. Besides, I think the nail was defective. Or the hammer.

When I use my new woodworking skills and Dad’s plane to level out a rough cross cut, or when I use one of his chisels to tidy up a beveled edge, I can’t help but think that somewhere my dad is smiling and wondering why it took me so long to appreciate the joy and satisfaction that comes from using simple, human-powered tools.

And if I ever figure out what that weird wooden thing is with the sliding doohickey and the two little pins that I found on dad’s workbench, I’m sure I’ll have discovered the secret to the universe.

Tom Tyner is an attorney for the Trust for Public Land. He is author of “Skeletons From Our Closet,” a collection of writings on the island’s latte scene.

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