What would you do if you built two stands, and one worked out, and the other didn’t? Maybe you would display the good one and just not tell anybody about the other. You might even hide it away like people tend to do with mistakes.
Norm Abrams may have done a great disservice to woodworkers with his show New Yankee Workshop. Condensed within a tidy half hour, he could take a pile of boards and feed them into one of his huge donated machines, and come out with a perfect Newport Highboy on the other end. Abrams had his people prepare a prototype for everything he made, and he had machine set-ups vetted for accuracy before he would set foot in front of the camera. He never made an error that we knew of.
But real woodworking is not like that. You can start to collect mistakes over time. You tell yourself you will fix them one day, honest. There are some woodworking projects I started, ran into something complex I didn’t know how to deal with, and the project got parked on the back of the bench unfinished.
There is that one shaker tripod table from the pair. To build them is a challenge. The joints are sliding dovetailed tenons, and the fit must be exact to work. The problem is things happen. You can get a router and the fence set, and then in the process of milling, the bit heats up and climbs up in the collet. you don’t notice until you go to fit the joints. I have a set of three legs, and the first is an exact fit, the second a bit sloppy and the third positively loose. I have not finished them. I completed only one table from the two, and the other is still calling out to me to pick it up on a rainy day.
People collect mistakes they don’t know how to remedy, and they hide them away. Life, like woodworking, is a trial and error business. We make mistakes in judgement, in temperament, and in life in general. We make mistakes in relationships and with people. We can carry other people around a long time, even those who are dead. Even some who are still living who do not know you think about them.
I once had a dream about my own Dad that makes me suspect that Carl Jung had it about right, with his theory of the subconscious as a labyrinth of darkened rooms with things stashed away. In my dream I was checking the perimeters of my house for leaks and such, and came by a window well. Peering down, I saw my father inside like a bugler who had broken in, undetected. He had blankets, food strewn around and he was hidden out there like a veritable hobo. “Dad, what are you doing there?” I asked. “I am hiding out, don’t tell anybody” he said. “Dad”, I persisted. “You can’t stay here. If you do, I have to feed you, and then I will have to tell my wife”. I woke up perplexed. It seems we carry the mystery of other people around inside, us for a long time, sometimes broken and hidden away.
There is a great comfort for hidden and broken things. It is called the church, invisible, worldwide, and from ages past. Here and there we get a reminder that we are not alone. I found a clue in an old chest that I picked up in a yard sale. It was beat up but beautifully built just the same. In the back was a time capsule taped to the interior, a surprise waiting for someone else to find it. It was a piece of yellowed paper torn out from some kind of hymn book, the immortal words of Psalm 91. It begins like this.
“He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust. ...”
Psalm 91, KJV
I was encouraged by this message from the Church Invisible. The secret place of the Most High... It’s the recognition that wherever we are in life, we will find the presence of God right there along with us, big as any problem, and never failing. There are those throughout history who have leaned heavily on those promises. It seems that the secret place belongs to God - the place we thought no one knew about, where all the broken things hide out. It is a strange comfort.
I have to get around to fixing that broken tripod table sooner than later. I will figure out a way to get by that impasse of fear that stops you from getting on with things. Somehow I have a feeling that even though I struggle, everything will turn out just fine.
Took a few years to get back to it, but finally finished the pair.