Thursday, December 24, 2020

a steel drivin' man

In the struggle, man vs. machine there's the legend of John Henry, immortalized in folk music and in songs by Pete Seeger and Johnny Cash. 

According to researchers he was a real person, a black prisoner whose labor  was leased to the railroad in Kentucky to dig a tunnel through solid rock. The "hammer man," John Henry would work with a "shaker man" as a drill bit was driven into a rock face for the insertion of dynamite for blasting. It was a job being taken over at time by steam drills, and to prove the efficiency of the steam drill, they wanted to test it against their best man. That was John. The shaker man's job was to shake the bit, to cause rock debris to fall from the hole, providing necessary clearance for the bit to go deeper into the hole. It's said that John Henry won the competition against the machine but lost his life, probably to silicosis and is likely buried in a ditch behind the prison, where if he was alive, he could hear the whistles of passing trains. While John Henry and his shaker man were able to drill 9 feet of hole, the steam drill could no more than 7 feet in the same amount of time, perhaps because it had no shaker man to remove debris.

The shaker man would stand where a missed hammer strike might hit his arm or hand, so it's not just John Henry's strength that came into play but his aim as well.

Where does all that fit in? Who knows. I'm still trying to figure things out. There's no doubt that machines can make things easier for us. Faster for sure. 

This morning I put a rather large router bit in my hand held router, and neglected to get it tightened enough. So the bit began to climb out of the collet, going too deep into the wood. I managed to stop just in time to prevent it from destroying the project. I changed to a different router bit profile and managed to save the project, and I like the second choice of profiles better than the first, so all's well. My friend Zane at Marc Adams School of Woodworking used to tell students, "hurry up so you'll have time to fix your mistakes." Fortunately the fix in my case was easy.

One of the lessons one learns in woodworking, and perhaps other crafts as well, is that self forgiveness is required. We are human and we make mistakes. Those mistakes can sometimes make things better so there's no point in getting too stressed out. And self-recrimination is a waste of time.

In the meantime, my Christmas wish for all is that we stay safe. We can celebrate double next year when we've weathered this terrible storm that keeps us apart.

Make, fix and create...

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