Freshly sawed lumber filling the air with sawdust was a part of my life from the beginning. The sound of saws and sanders became very familiar to me as a small boy. Both my granddaddy and daddy dabbled in carpentry. As a result, I’ve always loved the smell of fresh wood.
My granddaddy adapted a good part of his garage to everything pertaining to wood and creating with it. Tools of all sorts, saws and stacks of wood welcomed anyone who entered his private shop. As a child, I loved to visit this personal space, but was always warned to be careful and not touch anything without asking.
During the summer months when I visited Granddaddy, I begged him to cut out a small piece of wood so I could create something of my own. Many times I would draw a shape on a piece of scrap wood with a flat pencil that he sharpened with a knife, carefully carving the thick lead into a long point. “Granddaddy, can you cut this out for me?” I would ask when I felt my design was complete. “Sure!” he always said even though I knew he was busy with other projects.
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I couldn’t wait to sand away the rough edges so I could paint or stain the shape. It was in that garage that I learned about the various kinds of sandpaper from very rough to almost smooth as silk. Granddaddy had a small block of wood that he wrapped a sheet of sandpaper around. He showed me how to go in the proper direction and start with the rough paper first and gradually work my way to the smooth paper to finish it off.
I learned a lot about precise measuring from Granddaddy. I have taken these lessons with me throughout all my years of being an artist. He always told me to measure carefully because you could always take off more wood if it was too long or wide but you couldn’t add any back on. “Measure twice and cut once,” he would always tell me.
Granddaddy also showed me how to bevel two pieces of molding at a 45 degree angle to form a corner. A perfectly mitered edge was always a difficult project in which Granddaddy’s lesson in measuring definitely came into play. After his initial cut, he would shave small amounts away, constantly checking until the wood formed a perfectly matched corner.
I couldn’t help but think of him the other day when I entered a room where the heart of pine ceiling was shaped with hundreds of perfectly mitered squares. I know people thought I was crazy as I stared at the ceiling smiling and wishing my Granddaddy was still alive to witness this perfectly executed ceiling.
Over the years, I have constructed all kinds of things out of wood . I spent a lot of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s creating wooden, hand-painted fireplace screens. Just as when I was a child in Granddaddy’s garage, I would carefully draw out whatever shape I wanted the screen to be and then use a hand-held saw to precisely cut out the intricate shapes. I recently saw a couple of my wooden creations and immediately thought of Granddaddy.
I doubt Granddaddy realized all the lessons he taught me in his garage. I wish he could have lived long enough to see my creations. Some of his lessons resonated much further with me than just cutting and measuring wood. I try to use his advice on measuring in my daily life. What a better world this would be if we all measured our words twice before we said them. Once they are uttered, you can never take them back.
Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; call 478-757-6877; email firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him at instagram.com/mark creates; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.