Wednesday, April 14, 2010

My First Class: Carpentry and Power Tools

After growing excitement, I found myself running late for the very first class. My husband wanted to drive me, and we left a little late. We pulled into the college campus parking lot 10 minutes late. Finding the classroom inside the huge main building took another 10 minutes. Sweaty and frantic, I stepped into a classroom that was empty, except for a woman surfing the web. "Is this 1102?" I huffed. The woman had salt and pepper hair down past her shoulders and wore jeans and a t-shirt with some logo on it. "Yes, are you Edith?" Her t-shirt read "Workshop for Women." This was Judy. There was no one else in the class. I was alone for the first class, Basic Carpentry. Another woman would join us later, for the Power Tools class.

Judy introduced herself as I sat down at the stone lab tables at the college's chemistry lab. She explained that she quit her job, and thanks to the support of a super husband, volunteered for one year at Habitat for Humanity. She taught new volunteers, well, basically, how to build homes. That morphed into teaching Handy Women classes and starting a business as a Home Inspector. She loved what she was doing and it showed.

I received information like homemade mashed potatoes accept gravy. Judy schooled me on different nails and their purpose, how to use tape measures and chalk lines, different hammers, their uses and how to choose the best hammer. Who knew hammers were different? There are hammers with a wooden handle and some with a rubber grip. If you're the sort that perpetually has the dropsies, or used to sling your bat during playground baseball games as a kid, then a rubber grip might be better for you. I prefer the smoothness of the wooden handle myself. Judy taught me how to hammer a nail. This may sound rudimentary, but it really isn't. She explained that every Habitat house is built using hammers, not nail guns. Everyone is shown the proper way to swing a hammer. Apparently, if your form is incorrect, you will start to feel fatigue and soreness in your wrist, hands and arms after a few minutes. After 10 minutes of practicing my hammering, my wrist felt like I had been transcribing dictation on a non-ergonomic keyboard for an hour. After careful redirection from Judy, plus a few deep, Zen breaths I was successful. I could hammer a nail into a board in a few swings. Judy chuckled at my technique. I don't think she came across anyone so serious about their hammering. I was in a martial arts stance: my knees were bent, pelvis tucked in, with a few deep breaths before I began hammering. Hey, it worked!

Next, we were assigned a project. The second half of the class, Power Tools, had begun. I scarfed down a tuna wrap in the down time in between. I talked about the projects I wanted to do, and Judy gave me tips, websites and instructions on how to do them. By now, Lisa (I think it was Lisa) joined the class. Lisa was a plump, middle aged blond with a full set of acrylic nails. I was interested in seeing how she did, what her skill level was. Suddenly, this had become a competition.

Judy showed us everything about drills and saws, including what every button and switch does, the settings to use and how to change bits and blades. We drilled holes and sawed wood for practice. The smell of fresh cut wood filled that chemistry lab. It was intoxicating. It wafted up my nose and sent my imagination zooming like a skateboarder flying down the streets of San Francisco. I imagined the flannel clad, hunk on the front of the Brawny paper towel package in an Armani suit sweeping me off my feet only to lay me down on a fresh bed of saw dust and...whoa, whoa. I'm losing my focus here. Let's just say I love the smell of fresh cut wood.

Our in-class project was to make a toolbox. We were given the specs, wood and tools. We got to use our new measuring, cutting and chalk line skills. Half an hour into the project, I noticed Lisa was ahead of me. She just seemed to fly through things with ease. I asked her why she was taking the class, trying to feel out her background. She and her husband had a rental property. She was taking the class so she wouldn't feel left out, and had a better understanding of what was needed to maintain the property. Hmm...she was a natural. If I had been born with a hammer on the end of my wrist instead of a hand, I'd still have to practice hammering.

Lisa did finish her toolbox 10 minutes before I finished mine. To her own admission, mine looked better. I still don't know how she managed a power tools class with a full set of acrylic nails. Ahh, the power and determination of a woman cannot be underestimated.

I thanked Judy profusely and walked out to the parking lot still wearing my "Workshop for Women: apron, flat carpenter's pencil behind my ear, sporting a wide grin and holding up my new toolbox to my husband, approaching in the car. I got inside and handed him my toolbox. He just had a blah look until I said, "I made this!" He stopped and picked it up in wonder. " made this?" he repeated. YouYep. I'm one Handy Beeotch.

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