Apr 22, 2006

The gnarl spot

He built perfect tables. He cut the mortis and tenons by hand, a hand holding the unformed wood and a hand holding the flat chisel peeling off paper thin shavings in brown-grained curls. He cut them exactly to the pencil leaded lines and fitted the pieces togehter where they'd slide with a shhhh and stand without wiggle, centered and straight and set at a perfect angle.

He built traditional tables of every tradition. He built the tables of guilds' men from the old world, the tables built for lords and kings and bishops and archbishops. He built the tables of new world craftsmen, the tables of revolutionaries and visionaries and capitalists and landowners. He built thin legged tables and tables with claw feet, he made them with heavy lines and light lines and straight lines and curved ones.

He used a chop saw, a circular saw, a band saw - blowing a power of wood up into the air and floating it there and then down again too in a dusting breathed across the shop. He used a pedal lathe, carbon bit chisels, spoke shaves, and planes straight, skewed and curved, letting shavings feather fall into drifts around his feet.

He'd lay his hand, his right hand, on the surface, lay it falt and let it feel the weight of his arm. He'd get down on his knees so his eyes were at the edge of the top and he'd just look at it, watching the flat expanse and the straight grain. And every table he sanded to perfection. He sanded it to seven degrees. going from rough to softer and softer and finer and finer until the saw marks and clamp marks disappeared and the grain rose up in long running lines running down the length of the table top. The surface shone softly smooth.

For all that though, for all the knowledge and the skill and the patience, what made his tables the best tables, what brought them up from fine craftsmanship to artisanship, up past duplicatable and reproducible prefection, was the ever present knot.

Every table had one. A gnarly knot that left the grain twisting in swirls and ripples. A black mark where once a branch took root in the trunk. It was an eruption, a disruption, a blemish. Amid the perfect lines and high polish there was always left this defiant spot that was never in synch or symmetry or balance or harmony. He could have fixed it, could have picked different boards or made different cuts, but he didn't try to. He left it alone, accepted it as a moment of dissonance, let is stand as his signiture.