Friday’s Weekend Column
About a Minnesota Man Exploring Life in the South

Slowing It Down
by James Glaser
January 9, 2009

I have decided, what is the use of living in the South if I don't slow down my pace a bit. I know, I know, my friends up North will be saying, "You already had a slower pace before you headed down there." The truth is though, people in the South pace themselves a little slower than people up North.

I am not saying that people in the South get less done, they just seem to have this knack of knowing how fast to work according to the weather. Yes, it is January, but it still gets hot down here, especially if you are out in the sun and there is no breeze.

Really though, it isn't the heat or the weather that is getting me to slow down. It is the aftermath of the Christmas season. I don't know if I want to work at that pace again. Like every other year, I think I'll be ready next year by having more product done for the season. Of course that is never true, because the thing you think is going to sell, doesn't. It is always that thing that you thought you would try, and that first small batch you made sells like hot cakes.

There you are with a whole passel full of widgets that you knew were going to be sure-fire hits, and nobody even looks at them. I just knew that this year pig cutting boards would sell, along with some cool back scratchers that look like a Canadian goose. Well, both of these things did sell some, but the small cheese cutting boards I made out of scraps, sold and sold and sold. I was still making and delivering them two days before Christmas.

It is always nice to have a hot product, but then it does get boring making them. You try every combination of wood you can think of, and you play with size and thickness, but in the end production become repetitious.

I remember back in school at Arizona State, both Ben Goo and Ray Fink, (the instructors that got me into the love of woodworking) telling me that the last step you take finishing makes all the difference. So now I am stuck taking everything I make a bit farther than I probably could get away with.

I sand with 80, 100, 150, 220, 320, and 400 grit sand paper, and if it is a really pretty piece, I take it to 600. Also, I am stuck on rounding the edges on things I make and that always takes hand sanding. But the truth is, those guys were right. That last little bit of extra work sets your work apart from other woodwork. I can see it, and the people thinking of buying it can, too.

So, in order to slow down a bit. Today I revamped the way I sand things. The last couple of months everything has been sanded right in my hand or on my left leg. I would come home covered in dust. Today I got out a downdraft sanding table I made a few years ago. The top of the table has hundreds of holes in it, and below is a fan that sucks air down through a series of furnace filters. Any sanding you do on the table top has the sanding dust flowing away from you into the cabinet below. It works great, but it is slower than holding the piece in your hand.

Also, I am back to working on several things at one time. That way you can take a break from sanding and start cutting on the band saw, or you can glue something up. I think in woodworking, sanding becomes a real job, where the rest of the work is a skill. A small fraction of woodworking is art. That is the getting your idea out of your head and onto paper or maybe directly into the wood. After that, you kind of go on auto-pilot, taking your piece through all the steps you already know how to do until it is finished.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not sick of working in wood. In fact I look forward to every day in the shop, and some days I can't wait to get there. Some days everything flows together, and others you really have to think before and while you are making your cuts. It is just that the last couple of months have been production work, and I have never been good at that.

I remember one time working at the Boise Cascade siding mill in International Falls, Minnesota. Every day an eight hour shift, doing the same thing over and over again. Two weeks. That was all I could take. Surprise, surprise, the State of Minnesota choose my sculpture idea for an out door piece for Rainy River Community College. It was fall, it was cold, I had to work with 6x12 elm (a wood as hard as rock) outside with mostly hand tools, and I loved every minute of it. In the end, the sculpture didn't pay as well as a job at Boise, but I didn't care. I never went back to production work for any one else.

You might not make that much money working for yourself, but you can choose your own hours, you can decide what work you will take, you can be proud of your work, and you might even be able to sell your business when you want to retire. On top of all of that, you never have to worry about getting laid off.

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