Magnetism in the shop comes in several forms, as I will relate. Hear me out and see if your experiences do not match my own.

Wood is not supposed to be magnetic. Wood is of course organic, lovely, warm to the touch, capable of fiery beauty and unimaginable pattern. It is remarkably alive even when cut and slabbed into table tops. It continues to warm us with its beauty long after it has been felled, cut, dried, stacked, sanded, and finished. It is as natural to us as water or air. Familiar, comforting, dependable, resilient. So many words have I to describe wood. So why must I also use the word magnetic?

Magnetic. Or so it seems, for it can be the only explanation for its willingness to impale me at every turn. Why am I magnetic to wood or is it versa vice? It’s constant. I run my hand across a table top, bang, I am nailed with a splinter. I set my garden rake down, worn smooth by years of work and weather, let it slide out of my grip and bang, I am nailed with a splinter. I walk down my steps in the morning to eat a sleepy eyed cup of coffee and drink my breakfast cereal and bang, I am nailed with a splinter on the 50 year old hand rail! This is no way to awaken and I am tired of this attraction. Why must it be so?

Am I truly magnetic to wood I wonder? Is it a kind of attraction that makes wood peel off in needle-like sections, like the tools of a torturer to impale itself gleefully into my skin? I scream in anguish with each new barb wondering again what part of this is pay back for my life’s work or is it just plain stupidity? Because I see a wood surface and I want to run my hand over it. Experience be damned, I want to run my hand over it because I love the feel of wood and bang, well, you know the rest.

Now I have known for years of another kind of magnetism in the shop. I have known that concrete has a magnetic attraction to tool steel. You’ve seen this yourself no doubt. It’s a known fact. You work on a concrete floor and you’ll begin to see that your tools seem to have this fatal need to plunge to a cement death. This kind of magnetism must have some kind of explanation in a physics text. The requirement of sharpened tool steel or precisely milled measuring tools to leap like lemmings to their death onto the floor. What other explanation do you have? It’s not like you’re trying to push your tools off the bench. It’s not like you want to see them exhibit this sort of behavior. It’s embarrassing really to have them act this way. They should know better and yet they just can’t help themselves. It’s magnetism. It’s the only explanation I have.

Of course I have become adept at catching some tools with an outstretched foot. Note, I said some tools, not all. Some you just have to watch like Wiley Coyote all the way down to their demise. Hmm, hmm. Acme Tool Steel once again leaping to its death. And there’s nothing to be done. You can’t save it. You just have to watch.

At least with one of those magnetic wooden splinters I can pull out my loupe, set up the light, get out the tweezers and heat-blackened needle, and then start to dig like a miner for the minuscule yet potent little bit of nasty wood. It’s become second nature to me by now. Oh look, a piece of wood, let me run my hand on it, bang.

Published in: on March 24, 2008 at 10:22 am  Comments (2)  
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