Woodworking vs. Farming

My father has been a farmer all of his life. Woodworking, metalworking, electricity, diesel mechanics, there isn’t much he can’t turn his hand to if the circumstances require it. So when he said he could use some help fixing some barn doors I promptly volunteered. He doesn’t ask for help often, and when he does it’s usually a good opportunity to learn something.

So, barn doors. Woodworking! Yaaay! I’ve helped Dad with barn doors before and  my thoughts turned to the tools I should bring. I figured a framework tied together with half lap joints with either boards or tin nailed over the face was the likely scenario. I grabbed a 1 inch framing chisel, my router plane, a speed square, and my homemade dogwood mallet.

When I arrived at what we have always called The Big Barn, it quickly became apparent that I wasn’t prepared for what Dad had in mind. It wasn’t the doors that were the problem, it was the doorways. Termites and the increasing size of farm equipment called for some upgrades and some adjustments.

Right away, Dad sends me up into the loft next to the first doorway. He climbs up a ladder on the outside and tells me we are going to remove a board. Ok, I’m thinking take a hammer and remove some nails; a pry bar at the most. I hadn’t counted on ninety year old seasoned white oak. My Dad had. He brought a reciprocating saw up the ladder and cut the nails away from between the board and the post.  Obviously, I’m not thinking big enough at this point. A similar treatment at the other end of this board and the top of our doorway is wide open.

Next, was a job I thought I could handle. We had taken a door off it’s hinges so as to put in new screw hooks. Once they were installed and the door mounted, we discovered that the door wouldn’t close fully because it was binding against a board. So I take my one inch framing chisel and and start pecking away at it. It was 3/4″ thick and we needed to take off about an inch and a half of material over a distance of around a foot and a half. My progress wasn’t fast enough for my Dad. The next thing I know, he comes up beside me and says, “Here. Try this,” and hands me a 9lb sledge hammer while he holds a boys axe against the wood. So I hit the axe, and about six or seven blows has most of the material trimmed down. It’s pretty ugly, but the door is now just shy of closing. A little “fine” work with my framing chisel and the door was completely functional; not pretty, but it opened and closed properly.

Afterwards, as I was driving home, it crossed my mind that there is a big difference between the craftsman’s aesthetic and functionality. My Dad didn’t need anything fancy. It had to protect the machinery from the weather and contain the cattle when needed. It didn’t need to look Baroque, Queen Anne, Arts and Crafts, or Shaker. The results had to be ready in the brief window of time between finishing a new fence  and tagging cattle. My approach to repairing the barn was the wrong one. It needed to be fixed, not fancy.

But I figure that I probably need to mix a little farming into my woodworking. A 9lb sledge hammer and an axe might be a little extreme for my needs, but a couple of large chisels and a hefty mallet in the shop might speed things along a bit for certain procedures. Also, I have an increased respect for white oak. Driving a nail into seasoned white oak is work. I expect it will be in one of my projects before too long.

It was a good day.


The Bumbling Apprentice

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