Friday Meaninglessness

Roughed out

Image by MontanaRaven via Flickr

In another life, I had hobbies of all sorts.  I used to draw.  Pencil art, mostly, and I was particular to the comic book-style artwork.  Line art, essentially, with some shading and such, but most of it’s open art.  I got into trying to draw with Photoshop too, but I’ve neither the time nor the equipment to make that happen in a meaningful way, so I’ve dropped that.

Before that, a lifetime before that other life, I built furniture.  Yep, I took planks of wood of various kinds, cut them into pieces sized appropriately to the particular thing I was constructing, and through varied methods of joining them together, I built furniture.  Carcass work for the most part, but I could do other things.  (In the strictest sense of the industry, I was probably a cabinetmaker, not a furniture builder; I did not address matters like chairs or upholstered pieces.)  I built a couple of tables, and a few cabinets for various rooms.  I custom-built a buffet that hung on a wall in our house, where, as far as I know, it remains to this day.  That was a wish from my beloved, and a labor of love.

My favorite part of the process was finishing.  There is a long-standing saying among woodworkers that a bad finish can ruin a great piece, and a great finish can save a mediocre piece.  I took that to heart after being unhappy with a few finishes I’d applied to early pieces, and decided wasting wood wasn’t an option anymore.  So I got hold of some books and a couple of videos and studied them, and learned everything I could about furniture finishes.

My favorite furniture finish was wipe-on polyurethane or other high-resin finishes, like varnishes.  I loved them because you could do so much with them when they cured.  I could knock the sheen of the surface to either a semi-gloss or even a flat (although it’s easier to just buy flattened varnishes, which have silica added to them), or polish them to a high-gloss, mirror finish, which gleamed in the light like a still, clear mountain pond and shimmered in the light of a room or from the sunlight falling through a window.

I also loved the marrying of left- and right-brained activity involved with making furniture.  The aesthetic aspect calls upon the creative, voiceless, image-oriented right-brain, while the precision of calculation, measurement and joinery required to make two or more pieces of wood stay together in a strong and lasting way requires the logical, language- and process-oriented left-brain.  For me, it was a great match.

Oh, and I love the smell of sawdust and metal and oils in a woodshop.  The cast iron tables of the stationary tools, blades, the whine of the motors … there’s something primal, guttural in that.  And the solitude, concentration and focus of using fine-tuned hand tools – planes, saws, chisels, spokeshaves, riving knives, scrapers – there’s a poetic calm, a meditative sort of trance-like state achieved in those moments, which stretch to hours without your notice.

I loved woodworking, and miss it dearly.  As years of my life slip away, lost to the rushing white-water rapids and crashing boulders of time’s river, irretrievable and irreplaceable, I wonder if I’ll ever do it again.

What about you?  What hobbies do you have, or have you had before?


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8 thoughts on “Friday Meaninglessness

  1. My wife and met swing dancing. I ran the swing dancing club at the University of Utah for almost 4 years.

    I’ve had (and still have somewhere) a coin collection and a comic book collection.

    I would love to take up woodworking someday….

    Wow, that’s quite a hobby collection, Bryce! You’re a busy guy! Swing dancing sounds like loads of fun, but I’d look like a manatee out there trying to Foxtrot. Ugh. And I had a stash of comics myself, but I’ve lost ’em. Still, next time you’re in the Midwest and a table saw just layin’ around, I’ll show ya the ropes. 😉

  2. There is no better non-food smell than new-house smell. The combination of primer, sawdust and gypsum. It’s intoxicating.

    Mmm, new house smell!

    But you have to be very careful when working with wood-finishing products. When I was a teenager, I spent a summer working for my father. Mostly, I sanded cabinet doors and gables. In the late 90s, high gloss white kitchens were in. One day, I spent a lot of time in the spray booth just moving pieces back and forth. The fumes from the high gloss paint got me good and loaded. I hate to admit it, but I think the high I got from the paint fumes are the reason that night was probably one of the most fun nights I’ve ever had in my life.

    They’re much better now. With adequate ventilation you’re fine. But I know what you mean; production shops cranking out a lot of stuff shoot lacquer, and guys can pass out and croak if they don’t have charcoal respirators.

  3. I studied Tae Kwon Do. I achieved the rank of first degree black belt. But I had a bad knee and it was TKD or running and I choose running. The TKD at my rank became all about teaching classes for the master or competition. I taught for a living, didn’t really like being free labor and I never got into the art for the competition aspect. I was good at sparring but preferred working on my form. It was a discipline thing.

    I kick-boxed for a while but the knee issue came up again and again I choose running.

    Running was my thing. I haven’t been really able to run since my asthma started up a couple of years ago. Now my achilles tendon is the problem. So I am doing yoga and other things to try and correct my knee issues. It’s working but slowly. I hope to really run again someday because I miss it terribly.

    Ah, the martial arts! How I love them, miss them! I studied Shotokan, Isshyn Ryu and a little Bok Fu before falling away when I moved to the Midwest many, many years ago. I sparred a lot — mean, vicious at it, loved it too much — but didn’t stick with it once I moved here. I was too fussy about the school, too broke all the time, and just … didn’t stick with it. I’d love to take up running, but man … where do I start with my problems with that hobby?

  4. I draw some. Fix broken things. Work on the house, like rebuilding walls and stuff. When I had a ’67 Firebird and no kids I worked on it for fun. Made my own frosting and decorate birthday cakes. Used to really be into photography. Seems like I used to do a lot of things, but I don’t anymore. I know how, I just don’t.

    Now most of my activities involve writing of some kind. I also like to make images on the computer for my headers and icons and stuff like that. Watch science shows. Boring stuff.

    Maybe you should find work as a carpenter.

    I still doodle … on PostIt pads, when I’m on the phone at work (when I HAVE work), things like that, but I don’t sit and really DRAW any more. I wish I could. When I win the lottery, maybe. 🙂 Oh, and I don’t know if you knew this but carpentry and cabinetmaking are very different. I couldn’t cut it in construction now. I’m too old, achy, fat and allergic to cold and physical labor. 😉

  5. If you had those hobbies then find them again!!!…The sweet spot is retracing your steps of your journey and finding the bend where you made a turn!!! Its not the destination Knyt its the journey…I collected baseball cards and comic books and yes I had an original BATMAN…anyway I enjoy the here and now finding new hobbies with new sensations and tingles Zman sends

    Too true, Zman, and I’m enjoying the ride right where I am — well, most of the time — but sometimes I sit back and remember the good things I used to do in the “before time”. Maybe someday I’ll be able to retrace my steps and see where I zigged when I should’ve zagged, but for now, I’m just strolling memory lane … and writing about it when I can. 🙂

  6. I’ve always been a reader. Books have always been my only hobby (other than a few sporadic bursts of drawing)….


    Ah, I think you sell yourself short, Damyanti. I’d say, based on YOUR blog, cooking is a hobby of yours too. 🙂 And reading and drawing are NOT boring hobbies. Without readers, who would writers entertain?

  7. As writer I have found out that reading is an essential part of my passion. Knowing how other writers work and feel. Not just the mechanics of writing we learn those when we learn how to write. I’m talking about seeing the world as others see it. Knowing the sounds and sights as our fellow man sees them. Only another writers heart can give you that, and we will not find it if we do not read. I first gained my calling by reading the works of men like London and Hemingway who lived what they wrote. I envy John. He was there and saw it all happen. From the wedding at Cana to that final trip to Jerusalem, and the terrible ordeal on Good Friday. He was there and his Gospels tell the story of the man he followed for three years. Yes by all means read. I once spent time with someone who could not read. I like to think that I helped open that door. Dono Nobis Pacem

    Thank you so much for a great reminder of what a wonderful privilege we have in reading. And yes, John was a lucky man indeed.

    Thank you for coming by and taking the time to read and comment! I’m glad you did! Welcome!

  8. I’m a beader… I like taking random items (beads, clasps, chain, cord, pendants, etc.) and stringing them together to make a finished piece. It’s my one pathetic attempt to use the right side of my brain more. However, the left side still wants to dominate as the majority of my designs are all symmetrical. One day I will break through and put together an asymmetrical piece!

    DZ likes working with wood downstairs in our basement, too. I’ve helped with a few projects and can see the allure. One day, you’ll get there again. ~k

    Sounds like fun. I know another person who works chainmaille. She’s done some cool stuff. While it would annoy me with its tiny-ness, it seems like a great concentration enhancer.

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