You’re never too old unless you’re dead.
About a week ago I took a woodworking class. I had no real interest in taking a woodworking class or working on a lathe. I mean, I was interested in it the same way I’m interested in pretty much everything, but I never had the deep-seated desire to turn wood, hold it up and declare to the world I MADE THIS HUNK OF WOOD OUT OF A HUNK OF WOOD!
But, my mother and one of my sisters ran into a guy who gave woodworking classes at some craft show a while ago and that was it. They were taking a woodworking class in an old Cotton Factory in town that now houses a bunch of artisans and business owners who understand nothing makes you more legit than working in a century old warehouse in the bad part of town. Seriously. An old building that the wind can whistle through and mangled wood floors smack dab in the middle of the hood. It’s like a sticky trap for cool people.
NOT hipsters. Cool people. There’s a difference. Hip is now, cool is forever.
How could I let my 83 year old mother be cooler than I was (yet again)? I signed up for the class immediately.
At 11:00-ish a.m. sharp we made our way through the maze of Cotton factory corridors and buildings until we came upon Y Knot Woodturning. Our classroom for the day. Instead of books there were chisels, instead of desks there were lathes and instead of apples on the teacher’s desk there were bandaids. Other than that, same same.
We were told we could make almost whatever we wanted. Most of us wanted to make a pepper mill but Betty had to be different, and asked to make a salt box out of Ebony. When she was told Ebony would cost an extra $60 she gave a little snort and declared walnut her wood of choice.
Hugh, our instructor. I don’t think he gave us the good tools to work with. He’s smart like that.
In total I think we dropped our tools or rammed them on the lathe approximately 894 times.
Yet this is how happy he was to have us there.
In fact everyone was happy. We were all smiling like simpletons who had just been given new cardboard boxes to play with.
Betty refused to wear an apron, a dust mask or accept a seat during our 5 hours there. I on the other hand crouched on the floor due to exhaustion several times, wore safety glasses and a face mask and made sure I knew where the emergency exit was on the off chance someone’s arm was taken off and I needed to make a quick escape to avoid vomiting in Hugh’s workshop.
If you’ve never worked on a lathe before or have any idea how wood is turned, it’s pretty archaic. You literally just clamp a square hunk of wood into a wildly spinning machine and hold a very sharp implement to it and hope the square hunk turns round before the wood or the chisel flip in the air and make their way to one of your important arteries.
Please accept that lesson from me to you, free of charge. You’re welcome.
Now let’s walk you through the process of making my pepper mill from start to finish.
This is what my pepper mill started out as. A long, square piece of wormy maple. Hugh cut it to length for me and then I was on my own. He told us how to use the lathe and safety precautions to take and that was really it. You were the official lathe operator from then on.
The first step to making most things is turning the square hunk into a round hunk. To do that all you do is hold a chisel against the fence of the lathe until you have wood shavings in your underwear. Once you have that, your hunk of wood is probably round.
We always had a lathe in our home because my father was a machinist. But he was making metal bits of stuff and it never interested me. NOW I wish I’d paid attention or shown some sort of interest. But mainly he liked to be alone in his workshop and drink while using dangerous power tools, so it’s probably better I was uninterested.
Once you have your round shape, you do a bunch of stuff I don’t remember because it all happened so fast. You have to drill holes so the mill is hollow on the inside, plus a couple of holes in the bottom for the mill gear to fit. You have to cut off the top and do a bunch of other things that, like I said, I don’t remember. Every once in a while Hugh would wander over, grab something out of your hand, fix something that was about to go horribly wrong, and then he’d whistle over to the next person and do the same thing.
One of the last steps is shaping your pepper mill. You can do anything. Make it all bumpy like a typical, traditional pepper mill, or make it completely straight up and down, WHATEVER YOU WANT. It was so overwhelming I had some kind of breakdown. Everyone else knew they wanted a bumpy pepper mill and my mother was making a salt box so she didn’t have to decide on anything. I wanted to make a bumpy pepper mill because it seemed more fun to do … but … I also wanted something a bit sleeker. Against my better judgement I went with a sleek design.
There’s no template, no pattern, no guide at all. You just grab your chisel, freehand the pepper mill and hope for the best. Once your shape is done you sand it until it’s like glass and then you grab a big pile of wood shavings from the floor (or your underpants) and sand the pepper mill once more with those. Then it’s like wet glass.
Now all you have to do is put the hardware in the pepper mill, sign it and decide what you’re having for dinner.
Ta. Da. My Scandinavian pepper mill, right down to its finish of Danish Tung Oil. I kept telling everyone I just needed to lick it, but no one got the joke. I’m Danish you see.
If you look at the spot on the pepper mill that’s directly in line with the middle of my palm you’ll see two holes that look like snake bites. Those are the worm holes. And corresponding to those holds are dark stripes down the wood. Those dark stripes are created by an enzyme released by the worms. It discolours the wood.
5 hours it took to make that baby. Hugh says I could sell it for $85. The course cost me just over $100 and took 5 hours of my time so I’m not sure it’s the best way for me to make some side cash.
With our completed projects.
At home in the kitchen.
Which brings us full circle to my first point. Betty is 83 and still taking courses and learning new things. Just a few months ago she told me she learned a LOT by watching the show Orange is the New Black for instance.
So the next time you think to yourself I’m too old to (insert ANYTHING here), tell yourself to shut the hell up. If 83 year old Betty can learn how lesbians have sex without a penis then you can learn how to skydive. Or play the drums or the piano or poker.
You’re never too old. Unless you’re dead.
Have a good weekend!