Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Jack Plane

More than 20 years ago I packed up my stuff and moved to Arizona with the notion that I'd become a newspaper person, except the newspaper didn't want me, so I applied for a job as a technical writer for an aerospace company. On the last page of the application I was instructed to write a few paragraphs on a technical subject--anything at all.

As my subject I chose the jack plane, my very favorite carpentry tool, and one that has been around for thousands of years. Today, they are made completely of steel, but years ago they were all wood except for the metal cutting blade that sticks out from the bottom and that shaves wood into transparent ribbons.

I'm using one now because the replacement boards in my office are a bit thicker than the floor. The jack plane is the perfect tool for this problem, though people tend to use sandpaper instead.

The idea is simple--a little tongue of steel sticks out the bottom just a bit and scrapes away the wood, turning an uneven edge into a smooth one.

The concept is both simple and impossible, and there are profound philosophical issues to consider, and years ago, sitting in a room and filling out my job application, I knew that the company did not care to hear about the existential nature of a carpenter's plane. No, they just wanted to see if I could write clearly. By getting cute, I could very well lose the job.

More later.

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