Thursday, February 7, 2008

Go Jackson!!!! Go Jackson!!!!!

(I know there are a lot of female woodworkers, but this one goes out to woodworkers with Y chromosomes...)

My wife has a phrase, “Testosterone Kills”.

She always says it to me when I leave the house with a bicycle.

I grew up as a cyclist. I am still a cyclist. My wife and I have about a dozen bikes hanging around the house. There are bikes for every racing and riding genre: fixed gear track (velodrome) bikes, Cyclocross Bikes, Mountain Bikes, a Tandem, road bikes galore. Although I am passionate about Italian bikes (take a look at the photo below, then ask yourself who else do you know that has an Italian Flag suit to wear to bike races?), we run the gamut with brands like Colnago, Bianchi, Faggin (named after former World Champion and Olympic Gold Medalist Leandro Faggin), Cannondale, Klein, and Specialized. My teenage years bare a marked similarity to that of Dave Stoller in Breaking Away. (I have to admit that although I can still quote every line from American Flyers, I never actually saw Breaking Away until I was in my 30s.)

Cycling may seem like a healthy activity. For me, it burns about 1000 calories an hour (given my mass, the roads we ride, and the speed we ride at). However, one must temper the apparent benefit of the cardiovascular exercise of cycling with the less apparent fact that TESTOSTERONE KILLS.

It is nearly impossible to be clipping along with a group of friends in a paceline without the ol’ competitive spirit coming out. Among cyclists, competition is active even when there are no race numbers pinned on the jersey….it just happens. Yes, there is camaraderie. Yes, there is cooperation as the paceline rolls along like flying geese with each member taking a turn at the front to block the wind. However, even during a casual group ride there are race moments that occur (like long climbs or sprints for stop ahead signs) when the camaraderie goes away, the testosterone flows like a tsunami, and the only thing you can think of is putting the hammer down and making some of your best friends feel pain similar to that of passing a kidney stone. There is no money at stake and there are no beautiful podium girls to kiss, but if I don’t crush some other guy (another old has-been who also now sports a double digit body fat percentage) then I am just not the man I used to be back in the day…

Most women cannot understand this. I understand it, but I wish it weren’t like that. I often wish I could find a group of cyclists who were edifying, encouraging, and full of brotherly love. However, most of the time the Go Fast Gene destroys all of that brotherly love stuff. So instead I live in a world where every bike ride is just a blink away from turning into a race.

That was my background before I found woodworking. That is the baggage I brought into this Wood Thing of Ours (La Cosa Nostra il Legno).

With woodworking, however, I have found nothing but encouragement. (Except of course for the internet forum guys who would flame their own mother....) So ignoring the internet flamers, woodworkers are very encouraging.

Woodworkers belittle themselves and tear apart their own work, but I have never personally seen anyone rip apart another woodworker.
I just don’t see guys talking to each other at a woodworking class or guild meeting saying things like, “Nice Gaps in your Dovetails, Tommy!!!! Have you ever tried cutting them with your eyes open????”

There is no equipment bashing such as, “You know, Gerald, Kunz is an ancient German word that means ‘owned by a guy too cheap to buy from Veritas or Lie-Nielsen.’”

Chris Schwarz and I have bantered with each other when there was no one else around, but we quit doing that after he went too far, hurt my feelings, and I threw a chisel at him. (As I drove him to the hospital he had to eat a big bunch of crow about his saying I had NO chisel sharpening skills.)

Truthfully, in my wonderful four years of woodworking, I have encountered nothing but friendliness, encouragement, and respect from every other woodworker I have met.

So somehow woodworking takes us to a higher level of male interaction. It moves us past the primal aggression and competition and closer to Zen.

Or perhaps it really moves us back… back to a time when we were innocent little boys and didn’t have to tear someone else down in order to make ourselves feel better.

Take a moment and watch this video. These are my twin nephews Jackson and Harrison. They are truly the toughest two kids I have ever seen. It is my assumption that for 9 months they shared a sack where they did nothing but grow, develop, and bang their heads together. They had to be doing head-butts for that entire time because they have no concept of pain. I have seen each of them take a shot to the head (normally from their older brother) that would leave any other kid on the planet wailing like Dom Deluise after dropping a cookie down a storm grate. Jackson and Harrison are Bad-To-The-Bone Junior Tough Guys. They are like little white identical twin versions of Ronnie Lott. Two tough little boys should be competitive. Two tough little pit vipers should be ready to put the smack down. Two little outlaws should be ready to prove to the world that each is the fastest gun in town. The video shows something else.

I shot this the week after they turned 4 years old. Disregard the part where Jackson grabs his crotch. (Why is it that every guy from age 2 to 92 just instinctively wants to grab his junk???) Also, disregard the unknown 6 year old stranger trying to tell us that confidence can move mountains…. whatever…. that’s a completely different motivational speech, kid. Confidence is not what makes this video great. The thing that makes this video great is: THE AUDIO. As Jackson conquers the Monkey Bars, listen to his twin brother Harrison shouting in the background.

Go Jackson!!! Go Jackson!!!

Do the last one and you’ve won!!!!!

Jackson, you've won!!!! You get the first cookie!!!!

And when I ask Harrison if he wants to do it too, the reply is a simple “no”. At four years old Harrison doesn’t define himself through comparison to the kid he looks exactly like. He doesn’t want to do the monkey bars, but he is thrilled that Jackson does.

Perhaps it’s because I have been a woodworker for exactly 4 years that I feel the same way as the four year old twins.

I don’t want to make infill planes, but Konrad Sauer has a gift from God. Go Konrad!!!! Go Konrad!!!!!

I don’t do inlays, but Garrett Hack is amazing. Go Garrett!!!! Go Garrett!!!!

I don’t make Disney inspired furniture, but Marc Adams has an ability so incredible that it almost certainly involved alien abduction in one of those Hoosier Cornfields. Go Marc!!!! Go Marc!!!!

It reminds me of a song by David Baroni, a truly gifted singer/song writer that I first met in Hobart, Indiana back in 1984. It says,

“To be a child again.

Oh if only I could be a child again.

A new beginning that would change the end

and make come true: the Might Have Beens…

If only I could be a child again.”

I still like my bikes. I love the strength and beauty of Italian made Carbon Fiber, Titanium, Steel, and Aluminum…

But through sawdust, I was re-born.


Anonymous said...

That part about other bloggers is a bit unfair... and my mother deserved to be chewed out.

Jeff Skiver said...

Yeah, I actually had to go back and add the line about the newsgroup arsonists when I remembered how they came out of the spider holes and lined up to attack Glen Huey a couple of weeks ago. The "Great Glove Debate of 2008" will end up being seen as the Boston Massacre of American Woodworking. It was the seminal event that destroyed the harmony and love.

Anonymous said...

What method does Glen Huey use to build solid wood panels? Finger-jointing.

Doug Fulkerson said...

You raise an interesting point. Why, in general, are woodworkers so modest? I mean after they have chosen the lumber, cut it, sized it, planed the rabbets and dadoes, hand sawed the dovetails, assembled it, inlayed it, stained it, and, finally, unveiled it do the invariably tell you that the one joint you can't even see has a 2 micron gap? You never hear the winner of the Tour de France say, "Well, during the 5th, 7th, 14th, 29th, 50th, 76th, and final leg of the race my form was lousy and I just wasn't peddling as hard as I could. I managed to win the race, but somebody out their probably has a better way of doing it than me".

If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say it is because woodworkers are usually in competition with themselves, not other woodworkers. If the joint has a 2 micron gap, it's because the woodworker's sawing was 2 microns off, not because somebody else wasn't drafting for them. That's just a guess. Somebody else probably has a better answer. :)

Jason said...

Another great blog entry, Skiver. Now when are you going to show us your mad woodworking skills so we can judge you based on that? ;)

Jeff Skiver said...

Doug, I like your TdF analogy.

I also agree completely with your hypothesis. I know that in almost every area of life, we compromise. The reason I drive a VW Jetta TDi back and forth to work is because I cannot afford a $200,000 Mercedes S65 AMG.

Everything in my engineering career is analyzing facts, judging performance, and making compromise decisions. If the plastic is strong enough and it is cheaper than steel...then we're going with plastic.

Therefore, I have said before that woodworking can be the one area where I don't have to make ANY compromises if I don't want to. I don't use cheap wood. I don't buy cheap tools. I may only make 2 projects a year, but they will be the best I can do.

In reality, I still pick apart my work. I obsess over problems that no one will ever notice. I am far more talented at buying tools and lumber than actually working with them. My only consolation is that I still think I have 60+ more years of this to figure out what I am doing.

Jeff Skiver said...

Jason, you have great timing with your question...I have been sick all day, but I got drugged up enough to get well enough to go to my local Woodcraft store tonight to teach a class on "Making your Own Router Table with Jeff Skiver." (If you can make it to Grand Rapids, Michigan by tomorrow at 9:00am, I am sure we can work you in and you'll catch up in no time."

Anyway, I have been sick, and as I was getting ready to leave the house to go teach this class tonight, I went up to my wife to get the rousing locker room speech before I took the field. Gail patted me on the head and said, "Remember...those who can...Do!!!! Those who can't...teach."

I think Gail needs to re-read this entry about edifying and encouraging others. All I wanted was a "Go Jeffy!!! Go Jeffy!!!!". Instead, I got slammed by my own wife.

So I had unprotected sex with an IV drug user on the way home from the class. He smelled kind of bad, but I was only doing it to get back at Gail. Now if I could only figure out why I have been so sick lately...

Jason said...


That's the best laugh I've had all day.... "Those who can't...teach." I work at a university, not teaching. A lot of people came to mind when I read that.

And thanks for the invite for your router table class. One can never have too many router tables; but one can't always afford a last minute ticket to Grand Rapids. That'd be one pricey router table. What's your router table look like?

And, how's your bench coming?

vinny said...

You hit a nerve. I'm going to quote you. Perhaps on my stationary, I'm not certain where, but you did hit that nerve.

The 'slow life' nerve that connects directly to a small crooked smile, knowing eyes, sore back - to a hundred small bumps and cuts and a thousand untried ideas. Your hit it square on.

As wood slowly surrenders it's wisdom, you finally summed the truth that shop time is not hobby or vocation, rather exploration, meditation and prayer. Ha!

"But through sawdust, I was re-born."

As are we all.

Anonymous said...

I had a dream once that not me, but MY ENTIRE FAMILY was brought back in time to live their lives over, retaining the full awareness and memory of all that they had lived up until the time they were returned back. For myself, I was taken back to being about 6 or 7, but knew all I know now.

We were all able to reflect on what we had learned the 1st time through, and not make any of the same mistakes. We were wide open to totally new mistakes, but at least we had the hindsight of what was still to come. That stuck with me for months as I pondered what might have resulted from that going back.

This might make a great Hollywood screenplay, so let me just document that I thought of it 1st.

The reason I think woodworkers are so complimentary of one another is that this craft is so difficult to master. I think we are all taking stabs at it, and if we are lucky, hitting it the majority of the time. However, it's not easy, and we know it.

Chris in MD said...

I think you hit it on the head, while I also enjoy biking (preference to mtn but road has been easier to fit in the quikie these last years with the youngins around).

I havent found a group to go riding with, my companion is my heart rate monitor these days. So I have now found the link that compels me to do better at such things, I am in competition with myself!

Your nephews are cute! THey will likely have a very healthy relationship.