Seeing the Fangs


My wife had a nasty scare the other day. She was mowing near the house with our zero-turn mower when she accidentally ran over an old bath mat the dogs had dragged up. The mower started a nasty vibration that jerked her body and thusly the control levers. The mower immediately took off like a bucking bronco, tearing a chunk out of the doghouse roof, knocking a support post completely loose from the back porch, and demolishing the patio table before she could get it stopped.

She wasn’t hurt, and neither was the mower. The porch post was easily replaced, and I never liked that table any way. However, when I asked her when she was going to finish the yard, she gave me a wide-eyed look bordering on panic.  I shook my head and said, “You know you’ve gotta do it.” After she finished the yard, I commented, “Not as much fun as before, eh?”. A shake of the head was her only reply.

Ever feel that way about a woodworking tool? It’s more common with power tools, but handtools aren’t immune. It usually goes like this:

You get a new tool that answers a vexing need or burning desire in your shop. You immediately grab the shiny answer-to-prayer and plunge into your work. Ah!  Wonderful!  Marvelous!  Perfect!  It may even clear up your complexion.  You continue in this blissful state until, usually without warning, you’re reminded that this wonder tool can do more than shape wood.  Tablesaw kickback, router leaping out of the cut, or planer eating a thin board are but a few examples.  It’s as though you’ve been petting a cute little puppy that suddenly turns into a snapping angry beast.  Even if you aren’t bitten, you now know that it has fangs.

Once the shakes stop, you return to work – but the relationship has changed, and you approach the tool with a new caution and respect.  You have seen the fangs, and know what you are really petting.  No longer an answer to prayer, it has magically become just a tool.  Your actions become a little more deliberate and your focus a little more keen.  The cause of your fright is never completely gone from  your mind.  You’re a little more serious, and some of the fun is gone.

And maybe that’s a good thing.

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