New Tools and Old Lessons

Well it’s the end of an era here, as for the first time in many years there is no longer a green Grizzly brand oscillating spindle sander in the Wingfeather workshop. We went through a bunch and they served admirably for a couple of years each time. See, I only equip with tools big enough to do what we do – we don’t need big tools like cabinet makers, they just take up space while we use what little bit of them we need. And smaller tools are often hobbyist tools, and not really up to the task of building things every day. Sound familiar? A big part of the problem I had with bass guitars before starting Birdsong, exactly! So I used what felt right to work with and every so often that main shaft would strip off or it’d stop going up and down and when that happens, it’s gone. A tool that pays for itself on the first part of the first bass it touches is not going to hold up the works every bit of a hundred later while I try to reverse engineer it, source a part… no. It’s gone. I mean with honors, with great respect, with reverence… but it’s gone and another one, usually waiting still in the box, gets put right in its place. The train keeps rolling.

So this time, when it was the last one and the ol’ Griz was out of stock, I decided to look at what was available out there in store-land this decade. Not much. But then I saw a Ridgid combo spindle sander / upright small belt sander and though, “If that works half as well as it looks like, it’s still worth a try...” the tool equivalent of Jonesy’s Law of Diminishing Expectation which states, “If a guy does half what he says he’s gonna do, that’s two thirds more than I expected in the first place.” Well so far it’s 2 instruments’ work into its service and I’ve only used a third of what it can do, and I’m more than halfway hopeful! How’s that, hanh? You still with me? I mean it’s got a long way to go to be the Bosch Colt plunge router with 180-something complete instrument routings under its metaphorical belt (that’s one of those hard to find replacement parts), but every legacy starts somewhere. It was almost as if they made this for luthiers. Part of smart small workshop workings is to stick with the same tools for replacement so all the accessories it has and jigs you made swap right over… but sometimes it’s time for change. You’re not just marrying that one, son – you’re marrying the whole family. I’ll keep you posted.

I want to give a shout-out to two important men in my life who I have learned a lot from, both having birthdays this weekend – my father and my stepfather. From my father Paul I learned age is just a number and received a genetic predisposition towards a bizarre sense of humor and surrounding myself with things I enjoy – including the old car thing. I learned sometimes you make decisions that are messy, and often they work out for the best given time. When you’re already pretty much formed and you hang out with a guy and realize you stand the same, look the same, and cut your breakfast up the same, you also realize there is something there to build on, and that in many cases surroundings can only influence what’s already somehow in there. Any time another project is wheeled home… “Most of this tree was already in the seed, baby.” Thanks Pops! A big Happy Birthday your way.

And Jay? Jay raised me as his own. I resisted, believe me – but his discipline, his example of going your way and being who you are and finding contentment in the face of enormous pressure to perform and produce and provide as others want you to be, his “just do it” work ethic, his ability to fix anything at least halfway, and his final lesson on when to take the exit and when to drive on past… it all was planted, it all took, and it all still lives. He was a good man, misread by most. I know I live partly his ideal life – and I do partly live it for him too since this is the ship I built and we sail this way. Since I’m still here to taste the salt and see the sun on the water, doing what I do with it absolutely everywhere around me like a nest for solutions, a total mess of potential because sometimes that’s what it looks like where things actually happen. Since I’m still here with tools in my hand fixing the tiny part of this world entrusted to me one piece at a time, music on, the bay door open, with a little grease under my nails. I salute you Jay Alexander. Happy Birthday to your memory and your essence in the Great Beyond. Your fingerprints are in my world; my little victories will always be partly your ripples in the water.

Thank you all for being with us and checking in!

Listening to: Doug Raney Sextet Meeting The Tenors; Dorothy Ashby Hip Harp and Afro-Harping; Black Crowes Shake Your Money Maker (forgot how good this still is); Grateful Dead 4-8-72, The Scientist Dub From the Ghetto, Suburbs of Goa channel on Please go check out ALL of this stuff; I hope it shines into your world.