It was George that taught me so much at the bench over the years. But it wasn’t so much about the woodworking as it was about human kindness. I’ve told you how a couple of the other men at the other benches were often disparaging about Bill because he was Jewish. Well, by contrast, George was an exact opposite. He exemplified kindness and love. Bill too was kindly to me, and in addition, showed me many things about our craft. On this particular day, he was showing me a system he had for sharping crosscut saws with each size having a slightly different take. By way of age, Bill was old, way past retirement by 15 years or so, but he persisted in the face of all adversity. As I watched Bill working the saw and showing me his method I noticed that he repeatedly went into the gullets more times than once and then sometimes several times. The information was good but expediting the filing not quite so. I made to interject when I caught George’s finger go to his now pursed lips to silence me.
“Bill! Would this be a good opportunity to let Paul have a go? That way, we could see how he is progressing with his saw sharpening? What do you think?
“Aye! That would be fine!” Bill passed me the saw file and moved over from the front of the saw.
I hadn’t done much remedial saw work but I could see how Bill was slowing down and could no longer micro-adjust the file. You know, the length of each stroke measured differently, the angles had lost regularity according to touch and sight. It saddened me to see a man losing what he once could do without thinking. Some of the other men would laugh and joke about him, say of him that he was losing his touch. That he was, “As blind as a bat!” Bill was becoming grumpy through this mocking and from time to time he showed it, but he was also a kindly man too. It was the former man I had grown to know. Two world wars had taken their toll on him and the men in the shop. You could see that clearly. But his wizened shape and distorted hands did little to endear others to him, I saw this too.
I took the file from Bill and squared up to the bench and the saw chocks and leaned into the work. The file was a Stubbs file, a file known for its quality but even then, at that time, no longer available for purchase. As the file passed into and through each gullet i could feel the two sets of eyes on me. This was where I recognised something. What I had seen from a distance with my eyes, Bill could here perfectly well and knew what was happening between the saw file and the saw plate.
“Slow down a bit, Paul. You’re in too much of a hurry! Feel for the steel, my dad and my grandad always told me!” A quick calculation told me that he was talking about to craftsmen from the mid 1800s who had trained him. I slowed my pace and started feeling for the feel on the steel through the file. Vibration meant an uneven cut . . . aberrations in the surface of the tooth face instead of a pristine flat. The sound changed as I progressed.
Bill’s teeth had taken a bit of a hammering and being so close to the work he had missed what was happening. As often happens on small teeth, the file took out two adjacent teeth and resulted in one deep gullet. I couldn’t really say anything but I knew well enough to ignore the space and that eventually, a tooth wood emerge over consecutive sharpenings. I also know that one or two missing teeth made little difference to the functionality as long as there were not too many close together. At the close of the filing, I handed the saw to Bill and George and they both said to me at the same time, “This is good!” Bill took the saw and crosscut his wood and remarked on how good it felt. “You can do my saws from here on, young Paul. This is great. Well done!
There is always a moral lesson in my George experiences. Kindness is never wasted and through kindness we extend our love and care to others. The elderly often want to give but may have no context to express their gratitude. Bill passed on his working ability to me even though he could no longer work as well as he once did. The mockers and scoffers are often jealous of what you might have and take for granted. They often learn nothing from people they might despise because their hearts are not open to the possibility that an old man might just have something much more valuable than their mocking.