I didn’t have the stamina to keep up. Allan was pushing me to load faster and unload at the same time. The stacks became more uneven and the stickers fewer in between which meant there was insufficient resistance to toppling. The pallet was not like the throwaway versions used today, they were substantive and well made with steel runners running the length and up the ends to prevent damage and splitting. 30″ wide and 40″ long we often stacked them chest high but with short components like rails and stiles they must be stickered every half a dozen high, otherwise Jenga wasn’t in it. Allan was not really mean spirited but when he had an apprentice he wanted to force the issues surrounding making a man out of boys. Wielding the power of oversight he was pushing me harder and harder and every time I gained the victory over one element he added in another ingredient to trip me up. The speed of feeding wood to him and stacking on the other side of the tenoner became ever faster which can be the way of machines. It’s this side of machine work that I hate the most. The sense that you start out in the driving seat and then end up being driven by the machine. I have yet to see a machine woodworker thrive in the patience we hand tool woodworkers do. Hannah pegged it for me. She said hand tools equips you to work within your natural human speed. These are the rhythms I speak about in some of my blogs. Allan was trying to destroy my human ability and humiliate by showing up my inability in front of others. I know I said he wasn’t necessarily mean spirited, unlike others, something triggered a mechanism when it came to working with new apprentices.
George, once again, saw what was going on. Though ten years younger than Allan I was his apprentice on loan to Allan. George stepped in in his inimitable style and told me to “Sweep!” At the end of every day my job was to sweep the shavings from between all of the benches of the men and bag them ready for burning when I fired up the boiler in the morning for heat. “I’ll take over here.” Suddenly the pace slowed between Allan and George and all seemed so much more calm. George began a conversation with Allan and took the wind right out of his sail. He said to Allan that it was unfair to take advantage of the young when they were trying to please not hinder and that they had yet to develop the speed and dexterity he expected of them. I listened between the bouts of machine work and the rip of the tenoner forming the dozen or so tenons at a single pass. This calming influence was flowing into me as it was Allan. What George was inadvertently doing was teaching me about relationships. When I returned to working with Allan his manner was much less aggressive and he fed the work to me at a pace I could handle.
Thirty years later one of my sons was working with me and was struggling to keep up. I switched off the machine and said I was sorry. We slowed down and never returned to that speed. I hear people say men should never work with or train their sons. That’s rubbish. If anything there should be more people like the George’s of this world to put the breaks on for a little whole. Drop a few choice words into the ears of others and we change the world.