Notes from my journal:
When George came into the workshop this wintry moring he parked his bike amongst the wood racks under the eaves in the same place as he usually did, slipped off his bike clips from his pant legs and clipped them to his crossbar. My eyes searched for his as he walked towards me but this day he seemed ever so distracted. He didn’t seem distracted, just engaged in thought. When I caught his eye he smiled a wide grin, nodded and said his usual disarming ‘Hello’. Some minutes passed before we started working and we stood at our corners and I waited for his nod to begin. We had a lot of dovetailing work to get started on and a week to complete the work in. My dovetails to date were not that successful and George of course knew. Keith nodded towards me from the adjacent bench and said, “Got your friend to help you, George?”
“If he’s a friend, I’d hate to see what my enemies are like!” George joked.
By midday, George had dovetailed two drawers perfectly to my half of one and mine left lots to be desired. “Always leave the line in.” He said. It was later in the day that George seemed to cotton on to the problem. “Did you know, Paul, that the trouble with a blunt pencil is there’s no point to it.” I laughed at the joke. George said it again, “Did you know, Paul, that the trouble with a blunt pencil is there’s no point to it.” I looked quizzically. “Watch!” he said. He took his pencil and slid it alongside a ruler, then he took mine. I immediately saw that my line was way off the ruler and that the pencil line was a mile wide. Lots of margin for error. Ever since then I have been a fanatic for pencil lines and sharp pencils. Why not a knife? Sometimes a knife works well and other times a pencil. The wood is what makes me choose one over the other.
George slid the small 10″ tenon saw alongside the end of his thumb and sliced a through-cut, just as I do now in my day to day if you watch my videos, and lifts the saw from the cut. “See!” he said. He pulled me near by the shoulder, gripped the top of my head and turned it to the cut. “Hold your head there and I will do another, but watch closely.” This time I got it. It was a fraction of an inch from the pencil line, the smallest fraction where his cut was perfectly parallel to his pencil line but not on it. A paper-thickness from it. He followed through with subsequent cuts to deepen the wall of the pin recess. “Now go and don’t be so rigid holding the saw. You can do it.”
After the close scrutiny and instruction, I got it. I made two very passable and acceptable dovetailed corners and found myself so euphoric inside I just couldn’t stop grinning. George asked me, “What do you think we should do with these dovetailed corners then, Paul? I felt guilty. Obviously they were too bad to use. George had cut my wood for me at the start. He placed them alongside his and said, “Whoops! I’ve cut your pieces too long. Oh well, that helps us, doesn’t it? It was only a year or two later when `i saw Goerge do this again with another apprentice that I realised it was all intended. George never allowed anyone to be demoralised.