Wednesday, June 03, 2009

early memories.

My earliest clear memory of my father involves my hands, which may come as no surprise to those who have observed their own close integration of hand and mind. It was hot and we were working outside in the driveway at our home at 1700 Faxon Avenue in Memphis Tennessee. Dad was stripped to a sleeveless undershirt, dripping sweat in the dense humidity and was working on a redwood fence of his own design as a divider between the driveway and the back yard. I was about 4 years old, "helping" and learning to hammer my first nails.

In driving nails, there are 2 important lessons. I clearly remember Dad instructing me in one, and the other I learned later when teaching first and second grade kids at the Clear Spring School.

Dad's instructions were to hold the hammer at the end of the handle so that the full effect of gravity would give greater force to the blow. The more natural way for a child to hold a hammer is close to the head as this most closely approximates the motions of the hand itself, but gives a rather puny strike having little effect. It takes time, strength and practice to move the hand down the length of the handle giving greater speed and force to its use. I watch this process repeated each year as new students begin their relationships with woodworking tools. The hammer head, as an extension of the human hand grows out in distance and striking force with practice as the grip recedes from the head toward the handle's end.

The second lesson is one Dad had not known to teach me but which would have helped me avoid the injuries to my thumbs and fingers that came that first day. This lesson involves where to hold the nail as you start it in wood. If you hold the nail in the most comfortable and seemingly safe place, down by the tip and away from where the face of the hammer will strike, when you miss (and as a beginner you will), your fingers and thumb are crushed between the wood and the face of the hammer. If you've tried it you know it really hurts, and that may be why my memories from that first day are so clear and precise. On the other hand, if you hold the nail close to its head, near where the hammer will strike, when the hammer misses (and it certainly will) your fingers are brushed aside by the hammer face rather than being smashed against the wood. This lesson of holding the nail at the head is particularly useful to me now, as I confidently hold nails as children make their first unpracticed attempts with a hammer. I know you will get the idea from the photos below.

There is a simple lesson in this. Close observation and application of intellect can prevent injury to our thumbs.


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