Friday, November 30, 2007

Ham, Shem, and Japheth are Hungry for McMuffins

Since today is the last day of November, I went ahead and flipped the calendar on the wall in my office to December. Now before you get the wrong idea that I am some kind of super efficient, anal retentive guy who has to have everything in its proper place and correctly labeled I will tell you the true reason behind the early calendar adjustment. Now, with December showing on the calendar, if I show up to work 4 hours late on Monday and my boss comes looking for me, he’ll think, “Well obviously Skiver is here somewhere, because he’s already flipped his calendar. He must be out in the plant or in the lab or something.” So I am already planning a leisurely Monday. I’ll sleep in and maybe go out for breakfast. Then, I’ll go hang out at Barnes and Nobles for a while and see if anybody wants to pay me to autograph copies of Popular Woodworking. Eventually, I’ll stumble into work with some story about there being problems out in the lab. However, my plans for Monday’s laziness is not what this blog entry is about.

Instead, it’s about my reaction to the December page of my calendar. I have the Lie-Nielsen calendar at work, and today when I flipped it to December I was struck by a beautiful sight. If you have the calendar, you may think I was drawn to Chris Schwarz’s farmer tan flahsing out as he rabbets with a shoulder plane, but actually my slack jawed stare was focused on the main photo.

The December photo on the Lie-Nielsen calendar is the 25th Anniversary 4 ½ Bronze Smoother. Bronze body… Cocobolo handles… dated “1981 – 2006”… truly magnificent. And I beamed with pride knowing I have the same special edition plane at home. Then, I remembered the truth. I didn’t buy the special edition.

Somewhere in the world there is a guy who suffers from a nasty disorder that causes him to relentlessly pummel himself in the face with a ball peen hammer. (I haven’t seen the guy…I’m just going with the odds.) This puffy-cheeked, black & blue fella feels nothing compared to my pain knowing I let the Lie-Nielsen 25th Anniversary plane get away from me.

Every day, I wake up and spend a couple of hours obsessing about my past and the “ones that got away.” The 25th Anniversary 4 ½ tops the list. Why did I not order a 25th Anniversary 4 ½ Bronze Smoother last year?

Look at this photo. That is Tom Lie-Nielsen and me sitting around in 2006 talking about my 4 ½. I believe as this photo was taken Thomas was saying, “That’s the plane we are making as a special edition right now to celebrate our 25th Anniversary.” He told me it was coming. I knew it was coming. I contemplated and then chose not to buy it. Why did I not order a 25th Anniversary 4 ½ Bronze Smoother last year?

I always ask that question, but I remember why I didn’t buy one…because I already have a 4 ½. In fact, I love my 4 ½. I chose not to buy the Special Edition because of my love for my 4 ½. It’s my baby. It’s my hombre. It’s my…. (Wait!!!!! Don’t say that out loud, Jeffery. There may be kids reading this.) How’s this description of my 4 1/2 : If I was going to label my 4 ½ I would inscribe it with the same phrase that appears on Jules’ wallet in Pulp Fiction. (There…that was an acceptable way to say it.)

So with that love in my heart for my 4 ½ last year I chose to not buy the special edition. However, that decision still haunts me.

I’m sure with this posting I will now get 37 emails offering me the opportunity to buy one of the Special Edition 4 ½’s for more than I paid for my first car, but that won’t happen. Because if I am going to drop that kind of money on a plane, it’s going to be a Sauer & Steiner or possibly something with religious relic value like the molding plane used to stylize the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant. That would be nice because it would add to my existing collection of Religious Relic Planes.

Last year some guy named Chuck sold me an old Stanley 45 that he said was used in making the cabinets on Noah’s ark. That bad boy is worth millions and Chuck sold it to me for only $2000. I can still remember every moment of that transaction. As Chuck was busy scribbling out the Certificate of Authenticity on the back of a McDonald’s sack covered in Egg McMuffin grease stains, all I could think was, “Chuck, you na├»ve fool. You’re making me feel guilty. It’s almost like I am stealing from you.” (But all’s fair in the world of tool bartering.)

So during December as I look up at my calendar and see the one that got away, I can at least revel in the knowledge that I have something even John Sindelar doesn’t have: I have a Stanley 45 used in the construction of the vessel that saved every living species on the earth. And I have the greasy Certificate of Authenticity to prove it.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Mr Popeil, I think the nozzle is clogged.

I had something of a Sally Field moment this afternoon.

Just to add to the excitement…I’ll let you guess which of the following it was:

1) I was standing on the side of the road doing a little cross-dressing in a wedding dress when Burt Reynolds came by and picked me up in a Black Firebird with T-tops.

2) I put on a nun’s habit and started flying. Then, I took an aerial tour of the lovely sand dunes on the shore of Lake Michigan where I live.

3) I stood up in the middle of my office and screamed like a school girl, “He likes me. He really likes me.”

4) I spent a good long time talking to my wife about how difficult it is to take a “bone loss” prevention medication once a day, once a week, or even once every two weeks. And “Once a month Boniva” is the only one with a dosage schedule that an educated, capable woman can likely remember to take.”

Yeah, it was #3. During a company approved personal break, I surfed over to Chris Schwarz’s Woodworking Magazine blog to see if he had linked to me yet. (Note: I cannot go on record as saying I looked during an actual work moment, because I don’t know whether or not “the man” might actually be reading this right now.)

Last week Chris said he would throw a link to my blog on his blog. I kind of thought there would be an obscure little link there in 4 point Wingding font, hidden under the link to Konrad Sauer’s blog. Perhaps there would be a little comparative description like: Here is a Canadian guy who makes the most amazing infill planes you have ever seen (Konrad). Then…for me…here is a lazy American guy who doesn’t actually make anything, but he’s got some dirt on me that he is using to blackmail me.

So, when I saw that Chris not only posted a link but actually wrote it up like I was a legitimately funny guy, I immediately grabbed my 15 minute hour glass and kicked started my brief taste of fame. Then, I emailed all 12 of the people I consider to be family, friends, or acquaintances and managed to momentarily crash Chris’ blog’s web server as the influx of Skiver-driven traffic shut him down. (My mom is an amazing double-clicker).

All I can say is I am so glad I still have my hair. Because with the contributor’s photo in December’s Popular Woodworking along with the photos in Chris’ note and on my own blog, I now can rest assured when old girlfriends Google my name to see which Federal Penitentiary I ended up in, they will not only be shocked to see I am still a free man (THANK YOU, JOHNNIE COCHRAN, r.i.p.), but they will get the double shock of seeing I still have my hair. (or at least a decent toupee…or plugs transplanted from Robin Williams’ back…or Ron Popeil’s flocking in a can…)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Bent Spoons and rubber tubing


I’ve been blogging for two days, and I am already getting ripped in emails from friends. A couple of friends (who are too timid to post their comments here) have asked two questions that are worthy of a response:

Why would you even buy a #1?

What can you do with a #1 if you are so intent on using it?

I bought the little guy (#464) because he called to me from the screen of my computer as I was surfing Ebay. Just as Imelda Marcos could hear the cries of homeless ballerina flats, slingbacks, or wedges I often hear the low frequency call of woodworking tools reaching out to me. In summary, he was cute, dang it. And I wanted him. After years of therapy I can almost refrain from breaking down as I say, “I deserve to be happy.”

As for tuning him up and using him, I offer two possibilities.

1) What if I someday develop a horrible disease that causes my hands to shrink? Although it would require a total revamping of my extensive glove collection, it would not require my complete abandonment of using hand planes. Because even though I could never take a firm hold of my #8 with tiny silver dollar sized paws, I would still be able to bust out mass volumes of shavings with my perfectly fitting #1.

2) Attached is a picture of my niece Maddy who just happens to turn 7 today. (Happy Birthday, Maddy!!! Remember, of all the people on this planet who lack Y chromosomes…. you are still my favorite under the age of 10.) I remember the story of King Saul’s attempt to have our ruddy, young hero David take his kingly sword and armor into battle with Goliath. But David chose not to use them because they didn't fit his style. Well, from now on when kids visit my shop and want to lend a hand I will be able to pull out a bench plane perfectly sized to their diminutive hands, rather than suggesting they tackle the behemoth task of planing with a tool sized and tuned for a king sized guy like me. Honestly, how do you teach a 10 year old boy to balance the downward and forward forces while using a #4 ½ when it’s all he can do to even carry it to the bench?

In anticipation of follow up questions, I will attempt to answer them ahead of time:

1) Won’t these kids complain about the lack of a lateral adjuster on the #1?

Yes, there will be a lot of whining about that.

2) Are you really going to put a $350 plane in the hands of children?

Having no children of my own it is real easy for me to take the misguided approach of treating children as equals. It’s kind of like back when I was still a Cub Scout Den Leader and shooting a lot of H. By the time a kid became a Webelo, I figured if he was mature enough to ask me for a hit, he was mature enough to handle it. Besides I think there was a real benefit to helping kids get over their fear of needles. I mean with the increasing rates of Type 2 Diabetes in obesity-plagued America, eventually everyone over 30 will be shooting Insulin anyway. (Note to self: Buy Lilly stock). (Additional note to self: see if the Boy Scouts of America have changed their policy on Heroin addicted leaders. If so, apply for reinstatement.)

So there you have it. Yeah….I bought a #1, and to celebrate I turned the most famous poem of Indiana’s most famous poet into a Weird Al Yankovic ditty. That’s how I roll.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Little Orphan Annie

In the 1970's in my elementary school outside Indianapolis, we were pressed to embrace, memorize, and recite verses of Little Orphan Annie by Hoosier Poet James Whitcomb Riley. It was a rite of passage in learning to stall with a four corners offense (in the pre-shot clock world). I think it's interesting that the meter of those rhyming stanzas still comes back to me during milestone moments like the arrival yesterday of my Lie-Nielsen 2002 Special Edition #1 Bench Plane (#464 of 500).

The Little Number One Plane

By Jeff Skiver

A Little Number 1 Plane's come to my house to stay.
A Lie-Nielsen Special Edition that I got on Ebay
It's got the rosewood handles and the white bronze body, too
It cost a lot of money but what's a tool junkie to do?
The Cap Screw was too tight, the chipbreaker was back too far
It's blade has never cut a wisp; it's pristine without a scar
It's spent it's life as a trophy. It has sat upon a shelf.
But I buy tools to use. I buy them only for myself.

So I'll adjust the lever; position the chipbreaker right.
But first I'll address the blade; it's an unfinished fright
The grinding marks still show. There's no polish to be seen.
Where's my pond full of waterstones? They'll quick apply a sheen.
1000 on the back, soon 4000, then on to Eight.
No need to do the whole thing just an inch or so is great.
There's now some polish on the back I can see my face in there
If I use it for a mirror I can easily comb my hair.

The bevel's time has come. Time to fulfill its destiny.
Use a honing jig. Do it Right. Don't let pride defeat me.
Through the grits on the bevel side 'til I've got it good and sharp.
Two intersecting flat planes, I've heard David Charlesworth harp.
Put on a little camber; add a micro bevel, too.
Ruler trick on the back like David taught at Marc Adams' school.
Resell value's falling, but utility's on the rise.
I'm sure if I asked Thomas I'd see pleasure in his eyes.

A Little Number 1 Plane's come to my house to stay.
Special Edition Number 464...home from Ebay.
It's trophy life is over, a cutter it's now become
I'll get the improved chip breaker. Lot's of work to be done
Some day when time has got me... to my nephews it will go
I hope it will be used and not put upon the shelf for show
But there's still 60 years to use it. A bond we'll form in Time
Number 464 was an orphan. But now he is fully mine.

Monday, November 19, 2007

You're a Slacker, McFly!!!!!!!!!

I remember standing in the hallway in the offices at the Ford Motor Company Assembly Plant in Genk, Belgium in the summer of 1999. I was the supplier of the exterior mirrors on the new Ford Transit Van that was being launched there in Genk. I was due up next to go in to report to the launch manager on the status of my parts. When it was my turn, I entered the room, made proper eye contact, gave a firm handshake and said, "Good Afternoon. I'm Jeff Skiver of Donnelly Corporation."

He replied, "Is that really your name?"

I happened to be extending my hand with my business card as I stuttering replied, "Yeah, that's my name."

He took the card and looked at it and said, "Oh my God, that really is your name."

I was noticeably confused. He said, "Well, of course you know what it means don't you?"

"Skiver???," I asked.

"Yes. Skiver. Skiving."

"It is a phrase from the leathercraft field. It means to trim off the top grain of a hide. However, to the best of my knowledge my ancestors weren't tanners."

"Well, I suppose it does mean that, but I mean the more common usage."

Again my face showed confusion. "I suppose I don't follow you, Sir."

"It means to slack off. To be a lazy buggard. You know...where's Jeff? If he's not at his desk then he's out somewhere skiving off."

"You mean, in the UK my name basically means 'Slacker', Sir?"


"Well, we don't use that term in The States."

"That's a shame. It's a good phrase. Do you have any more of these business cards? I've got some friends who will just love to see these."

To this day, I don't remember anything about that meeting with the Ford manager that I had spent days preparing for. I do remember when we left his office I turned to my friend (the Ford Engineer) and said. "Did you know what my name meant?"

"Of course," she replied.

"Why didn't you ever tell me?"

"I assumed you had been teased with it your whole life."

My college roommate (Ron) married a very sweet girl from England (The Isle of Wight, specifically). At some point I realized if I had done the same, my bride would not have taken my name. She wouldn't have even been a hyphenater. I quite likely would have been pressured to take her name.