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.

Sammy, MSEL Engineering, Terra Linda High SchoolThat 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


  1. Masterfully written Sammy! I loved the way you described your excitement, but at the same time your wariness. I felt the same way about the tools at the beginning of the semester, and now I feel the same confidence as you, and I hope all of us do.

  2. This article was very well written and I had a very cool personification of the machines. My only question which I saw below asked as well is what is “paralyzing male refrigerator blindness”??

  3. Never thought of the saws as alive, cool concept. Thank you for integrating the crippling condition of male refrigerator blindness, it is important to raise awareness on such an important reality! I suffer myself, and I am glad you took my explanation and put it into your blog. Thank you!

  4. I felt the same exact way when I first made my spoon. I was so nervous and doubtful of myself I ended up breaking my spoon and having to re-do it. I learned from my mistakes and on my second attempt I did a better job.

  5. I’m happy to hear that you have learned not only how to use all the tools in the shop, but that you have learned how to be confident and not “tiptoe” while you work with these tools! very well done!

  6. I loved the personification and detail you put into describing the tools. The reoccurring tiptoe theme is a good way to tie the piece together. I could see that the shop intimidated you at first but now you feel confident in it. Great writing!

  7. Ms. Stilson,
    Your use of personification of the tools shows how well you have gotten to know them in the classroom. I also really like the last couple of sentences; I never thought about our jobs in the classroom this way. Great job!

  8. I like how you brought the factor of how unique this class is. The way you compare this classroom to others and how we don’t use ink as much as other classes was speacial. The way you presented your first day in class and your experience made the blog more enjoyable to read

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