Ink and pen have much less of a place in this classroom than in most others on Terra Linda High School’s campus, the name of the course spilling in sawdust over the transcripts of those lucky enough to be taking a class there. The first time I walked into the engineering woodshop, I was greeted by an strange, almost alien, setting. Tubes snaked across the ceiling and meandered down the walls to greet oddly shaped machines which I could hardly begin to guess the purposes of. The piles of wood in the corner seemed to taunt me as I thought about all of the beautiful structures I was currently unable to build with them, all the tools I couldn’t hope to name, let alone use properly. I crept around saws that had been hibernating all summer. Their power was undeniable, and I watched them with a sort of awe, itching to use them yet at the same time wary of their strength.
That first day, however, I had no need to worry. Our class’s first lesson had us practicing a task I had once thought mundane- sweeping. But I soon learned that in the woodshop, the ability to quickly and efficiently sweep the monstrous piles of sawdust that build up over the class period was essential to keeping the woodshop in a healthy working condition. It was a grounding realization. We were as much stewards of this place as we were guests in it, and we had to learn how to care for it before we could hope to use it properly.
After that, we learned the woodshop steadily. We started to use hand tools to shape our first projects, spoons. Mine, at least, did not turn out as perfectly as I had wanted, but I now realize that this was the idea behind the project. I could see any mistakes I had made laid out in front of me on the spoon, how I had gone wrong when using some of the tools the first time around, and how to improve.
It was during the time of the spoons that the sleeping saws made their debut. These machines had held my respect since day one, and I almost expected a grand procession when I first began to use a bandsaw to shape the sides of my spoon. Instead, I was greeted by a shaky, noisy creature, grouchy at having been woken, and not at all inclined to to make itself more approachable for a beginning builder such as myself. As I finished with my first cut, I pulled the spoon away from the saw and examined the choppy line I had gouged in the wood. It was far from the graceful, fluid work I expected to create, and as I moved away from the saw, I tried to reason out what had gone wrong.
I came to an unexpected, but undoubtedly correct, conclusion. I had approached that saw with the spoon in my hands like an offering, holding no control over how the saw interacted with the wood. The bandsaw is a machine, and will give me what I put into it. If I tiptoe up to that machine with my back stooped and my eyes shifting, I will get an unsure, wobbly, and unbalanced piece of work. These saws do not tiptoe. I must not tiptoe.
Now, halfway through second semester, I stride through the woodshop. I am comfortable working with every saw in the room, and the multitude of other tools around me. Each day at the beginning of class, I put on my toolbelt because I understand how to use it to make my work easier and more precise. In the process of developing and building our semester long project, a playhouse, my team and I have had to stretch our skills to solve problems, make do with what we have, undo what we have, and struggle through paralyzing male refrigerator blindness. But we have met each day with our shoulders back and our footsteps echoing around the roaring power saws. We do not tiptoe. They are wary of our strength.
By Samantha Stilson