Words... the right tool
“A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver."
Proverbs 25:11 (NIV)
We live in an age where iphones have created the expectation that things must have more than one function. That a phone should have a camera... and a day timer... and have Candy Crush for when you are bored. A phone should be able to wake you up in the morning, and tell you what kind of weather you are going to have today. So it is assumed.
The necessity for multifunction however, is not how people thought about tools in the past. The best tools were designed to do one job only, with precision. Let me tell you a story that illustrates why.
Ten years ago my daughter stepped on my guitar. The top broke and it has been sitting in a corner for a long time, gathering dust. I finally decided this year that I would try to make a new top for it. Other people do it, I reasoned, so perhaps I can figure out how. There are many steps involved with such an intricate woodworking project, and especially without the prior knowledge of what can go wrong, chances are you will run into a snag.
I bought some straight lined quarter sawn Douglas Fir, and resawed the 3/4 inch strips in half to glue up for the top. This is an involved process because it means jointing the edges perfectly straight, then glueing the thin panels, then planing the whole to create a starting point.
I prepared one top plus an extra in case I screwed up the first one. One of the first steps to making a top, is to cut a circular channel in which to inlay a rosette, the decorative pattern that surrounds a sound hole on a guitar. I bought a circle cutting jig from Lee Valley, one that spins on a drill press, and started in.
What I found out very quickly is the reason why they always say, DO A TEST PIECE ON A HUNK OF SCRAP FIRST. Because you will run into the unexpected. In this case, it was something I did not think of, that the cutter has an angular edge to one side. That means that even if you cut the channel precisely, the edge of the hole will be on an angle. It will not match the 90° slope of the inlay. Working around this, I glued in the rosette, and endeavoured to fill in the crack with some sawdust and glue. It ended up being a very obvious flaw, on a part of the guitar which is the first thing to draw your attention.
Top one in the scrap heap. On to top number two. This time I cut the hole a smidge smaller, and tried to come in manually to trim up the edge. The problem with a wood like Douglas Fir, is that the stripes in the grain represent hard and soft wood. Early and late wood, in growing terms. The dark lines are the hard parts which grow slowly in winter, and they are more dense. The light lines are the spongy part of the grain, the early wood. That is the wood which grows quickly in the spring and summer. Long story short, to cut along this is like trying to cut across corduroy. The knife jumps and bumps and skips over the harder parts, and slips into the soft parts. That meant that my trimming job was maybe as bad as the angled hole on the first top. It would also require a bit of patching with glue and sawdust. Top number two in the trash.
What did I learn from this? First of all, there is a BIG difference between a circle cutting jig and a PRECISION circle cutting jig. I was too cheap to buy the precision jig because I imagined the regular circle cutting jig would do.
Words can be like that. People use words which are sloppy or frivolous. Sometimes they are ambiguous on purpose, because we do not want to be pinned down to a precise opinion. People can be afraid of words, because choosing words carefully, means you believe something. Words are the basis of any intention, and the means by which anything great has ever been accomplished. Choosing your words with discernment and thought is a great virtue. Most historic undertakings have begun with some kind of written statement of belief which underwrites the worth of a cause. Carefully chosen words are designed for others to read them and say, “I believe that”.
As a first blog post, I mean to stake my claim in life, with words. Words are the building blocks of civilization. With them people have codified law, crafted statements of faith, won the heart of a lover, and in the mouth of gifted orators, words have inspired the human heart to greatness.
Hence, I promise to choose mine thoughtfully and with care. I want to say what I mean and to mean what I say. To do otherwise would be to misuse a tool which is intended to be precise.
Two wasted tops in the trash remind me why this is important.