Wednesday, December 19, 2012

No. 533 – Pocahontas

Performer: Neil Young
Songwriter: Neil Young
Original Release: Rust Never Sleeps
Year: 1979
Definitive Version: Year of the Horse, 1997

Take this song, for example. This acerbic elegy to the American Indians shouldn’t be in the sentence as Stairway to Heaven except to say it’s no Stairway. I think Neil would agree with me on this one, but I like it better anyway.

When Debbie and I moved into our house, I finally was able to set up and make use of one of my bequests from my grandfather. When he left Upper Arlington and moved out to Las Vegas to be with his new wife, I was given his workbench.

My grandfather’s workbench was designed and built by him, and it was as solid as concrete. The frame was constructed by 4 x 4s; the braces and bench top were 2 x 4s. Everything was held together by half-inch-thick bolts. It weighed a ton and could survive a nuclear strike.

It also was marked somewhat haphazardly, so after Dad took it apart and handed it over to me, I had to assemble all the pieces like a puzzle. But I got it all together and was able to add the vice that weighs 50 pounds if it weighs an ounce. I added a saw groove, which required drilling into the bench and seemed something of a sacrilege.

The basement at the house was open (I don’t know if Debbie ever finished it), but I claimed a quarter of it for my workshop. I assembled the workbench and a couple of metal shelves to hold my tools. I wanted to put up some pegboard, but I didn’t have anywhere to hang it. I bought a fluorescent light fixture to put over the workbench, and I was open for business.

My first project was to build Debbie a trivet for Christmas. She had mentioned one time that she saw in a catalog a wine trivet that consisted of wine corks. Well, Debbie had the corks collected over several years; I could build that. And over a six-month period, I did just that, mostly while listening to Year of the Horse.

I started by arranging the corks in a way that filled a square, then I diagrammed precisely the arrangement—the Silver Oak cork goes here, then the Columbia Crest—so I could reconstruct it later. I did this in one day while Debbie was at work, because I didn’t want her to notice the corks missing by chance.

When that was finished, it was time to go to Lowes and buy my supplies—wood for the frame and base, a sheet of cork wood to glue the wine corks and pegs to hold the frame together. I didn’t want to use nails.

I drilled the holes for the pegs, assembled the frame and base and sanded down the edges to account for slight imperfections. It was solid, like the workbench on which it was built. Then I glued in the cork wood. This process took several months—I didn’t work on it everyday—and I carefully hid my work each day, again to keep it out of sight.

Finally the moment of truth arrived. I brought out all the corks and reassembled them based on my diagram. They fit perfectly.

Now all that needed to be done, on a different day to account for the time, was to glue in the corks and let the whole thing dry before wrapping it and putting it under the tree.

As you might imagine, that was the last gift I brought out, and it went over as well as I might have hoped. Debbie loved it so much, in fact, that there was no way she was going to use it for its intended purpose—as a trivet, or a plate for hot dishes. Instead she had me hang it on the dining room wall, which is where it stood the rest of the time I lived there.

I have no idea the ultimate fate of the trivet. I assume Debbie still has it. Other than the fact that I made it, there’s nothing that ties it particularly to me, but who knows? It stands as the only thing I ever made from scratch.

As for my grandfather’s workbench, well, it remains in use. Now, instead of woodworking projects, I build this blog and other pieces of written work on it.

After Laurie and I moved into our current apartment in 2007, I brought the pieces out of storage in Columbus and reassembled it as my home desk. It’s not the same, of course, as having it in a workshop, but I think my grandfather would have approved all the same.

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