Woodscraft 10: Shop Rules

16 08 2014

Cleanliness Is Next to Godliness

That precept is not in the Bible.  People may think it is, but it isn’t.  The man who made a point to preach it — John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist churches — seemed to think that it ought to be. My parents and both pairs of my grandparents lived as if it were. 

Slovenliness, to use Wesley’s term, had no place in our family.  Could I follow the fashion of the day and dress the way the other boys did?  In warm weather, fad dictated  wearing one’s shirt outside one’s pants and with all the buttons undone, revealing the white T-shirt underneath.  Not I, however … at least, not within sight of my mother or father.

If the T-shirt for some reason had to be visible, it had better be white.  Snow white.  And don’t even think about rolling up its short sleeves.

If pants or trousers had belt loops, then a belt was to be worn passing underneath every loop. 

The legs of dress pants were long enough to touch the tops of the feet.  The creases along the pant legs were to be sharp and crisp with exactly one kink.

The sleeves of dress shirts reached to the back of the hands.  The cuffs of suit coats and sports jackets went to the wrist.  Between one-quarter and one-half inch of shirt cuff was to be visible below.

And by the way, one did not put his hands in his pockets unless he was getting something out: a pen, some money, a handkerchief, a stick of gum, something. Otherwise, “Keep your hands out of your pockets.”  Why?  It looked slovenly.  Worse, it looked indolent: lazy, habitually lazy.  Hands were made to do something worthwhile, something productive, something enterprising.  Hands should not be so idle that they had nothing to do other than loaf in pockets.

And so it went.  Not just with regard to dress, either.

Litter was disgraceful.  One ought not throw it anywhere.  One ought not allow it anywhere on one’s property, not for one day, if possible, and certainly not by the coming Sunday.

Fencerows were to be clean of weeds.  So, too, gardens, crop fields, and pastures.  Fields in the spring and fall had better be tilled clean of all residue (regardless of the potential for exposed soil being eroded by wind and rain).  Furrows plowed through fields must be straight as a beam of light.

When it came to housework, my mother strove mightily every day except Sunday.  Her home would always ready to serve as a guest location for any of the popular family situational comedies seen on television.

My father kept his trucks in fine condition, but they tended to look as though a working man worked them.  My mother, however, kept her cars in showroom condition.  One dared not throw or kick or shoot anything if her car gleamed anywhere within range.

As for my father’s shop, there was a place for everything, and everything was to be in its place.  That meant tools, every one of which everyone treated as if it were made of sterling.  That also meant, at the end of every work day, all wood scraps went into bins, all wood shavings went into barrels, and all wood dust went into vacuum cleaners.

No Smoking

That made sense, of course, what with wood and wood residue all over the place.  But the shop rule went further than that.  Neither of my parents smoked, and neither approved of smoking.  (That didn’t keep my father’s father from smoking his imported German pipes on occasion.)

Now, back in those days, tobacco products existed everywhere.  About the only place one could go to get away from tobacco smoke and spittle was inside a church sanctuary. 

Advertisements for tobacco products presented themselves everywhere: in newspapers and magazines, on billboards, on the radio, and on television.

And candy versions of tobacco products for kids were everywhere.  They included cigarettes, cigars, and even chewing tobacco.  The ‘chaw’ was bubble gum.  So, too, were the cigars; they came in pink, green, and yellow.  Candy cigarettes came as paper-wrapped chocolate.  The candy looked a lot like the real thing in their suave plastic cases, but the look had to be spoiled to get at the candy.  Candy cigarettes also came in hard mint form packaged in boxes that mimicked real brands available.  Each piece was white with some red food coloring added at one end to give it that lit-up look.  It tasted terrible.  One may as well have eaten the real tobacco product flavored with menthol.

Cowboys smoked.  My mother, who let me use fake guns, would not let me use fake cigarettes.  A pal of mine gave me a pack once.  Only once.  The first time my mother saw me riding around the yard sucking — or trying not to suck — on one of those candies, she quickly had something to say.  “Get that filthy thing out of your mouth.  You look and smell like a demon.”


“You heard me.”

“What do you mean, smell?  This is mint.  Sort of.”

“Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.  Act like it.  Spit that thing out.”

But not on the ground.  No littering.  The whole package of candy went into the garbage can, and I had to rely on toothpicks thereafter.

No Drinking

My father had every intention of making it to retirement with all his fingers intact.  He would say, “When working, one must be alert, under control, and in command.”  He meant working anywhere,  but his precept applied especially in his shop, what with all that electricity and all those power tools with all those sharp edges.

My mother would recite, “Who hath woe?  Who hath sorrow?  Who hath contentions?  Who hath babbling?  Who hath wounds without cause?  Who hath redness of eyes?  They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine.  Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright.  At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder.”

Her father had a souvenir of the Prohibition Era of the 1920s, a sheet of paper posted in his workshop at the farm.  “Don’t succumb to the evil pleasures of Mr. Booze!” implored the headline near a cartoon of a bottle.  Why?  “It’s illegal.  It’s expensive.  It tastes terrible.  It burns when it goes down.  It gives you bad breath.  It makes you sick.  It makes you stupid.  In short, it’s foolish!”

No Cussing

My mother would have preferred “No Cursing” to the slang spelling.  My father explained that “cussing” referred to all expletives whether profane or obscene.  That pleased her well enough, though she herself didn’t stop there.

She would not tolerate the use of any of the four-letter words that, at the time, were banned from radio and television.  Neither would she tolerate any of the allegedly sanitized versions of those words.  That meant I was not allowed to say such words as “heck” and “darn”. 

“They refer to profane words,” she would say.  “They are derived from profane words.  They have the same profane meanings.” 

“And it is not right to make light of hellfire and damnation,” my father would say.  “You have no authority over either.  You should not wish either on any one or any thing of God’s creation.  Only He has the right and the might to do such cursing.”

“What about the Devil and his doings?” I asked.  “Can’t even he be cursed?”

My mother said, “Do as the Scripture records and say, ‘The Lord rebuke thee’.”

The same prohibition applied to such expressions as “gosh” and “golly” and even “by gar” as well as to “gee” and “gee whiz” and “jeepers”.

The mother of a friend of mine did not have the habit of cursing.  I did hear her often say instead, “God bless America!”  I asked my mother whether she thought that was all right.

“I don’t think so,” she answered.  “Not unless she’s praying.”  Then she asked me, “Kurt, what is the Second Commandment?”

“Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain,” I recited.

“And what does vain mean?”

I thought about it.  “Stuck up.”

“Well, yes.  It does mean being possessed of a selfish and haughty pride.  The word means more than that, though, at least in old English.  Taking something in vain means to treat it as though it were empty, worthless, or futile.  Today’s meaning of vain comes from that older meaning.  A person who is vain is taking pride in someone who, apart from God, is worth less than dead grass cast into an oven, as the Scripture says. 

“But God is not worthless.  He is Creator and King of all Creation.  He is Light and Love and Life.  He is our Refuge, the fortress Rock of our salvation.  He is our Father; hallowed be His name. 

“One does not mention the name of God without all due consideration, without reverence and respect.  He is Light; one does not treat His name lightly.

“Words are important, son.  By saying the Word, God created all the heavens and the earth.  By sending the Word, God sent life and light.  We behold the Word’s glory, full of grace and truth.  We have been given the ability to speak and to hear words, to write and to read words.  The Word of God communicates essential grace and truth to us, and we can communicate via the Word to Him.  By the Word we communicate, we commune with God.  By the word we communicate, we commune with one another. 

“Words, therefore, should not be vain.  They should be full of grace and truth.  As Jesus said, ‘Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.  A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things.  An evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.  I say unto you that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment’.”

My mother made sure I got that message by holding me to account for my idle words.  If something from my mouth made her expression turn sour, something sour would go into my mouth: vinegar.  Too this day, I cannot eat German potato salad without thinking of my mother and what she said to me.

My father said to me, “Well done, Kurt,” when I presented my new walnut rifle stock and foregrip.  He held both pieces in his hands as if he were inspecting them for the first time.  That wasn’t true, of course.  He had worked with me as I worked with them through every part of the process. 

One piece in each hand, he alternated hefting them.  He studied each piece from front to back and from side to side.  He nodded.  He tucked one piece under an arm so that he could run his hand along the other.  He nodded again.  “Yup,” he said.  “I reckon these’ll do just fine.  You can take ‘em over to Hank, and he’ll get ‘em together on the gun.”

“Oh,” I said.  “But Hank is gone fishing.  When I was over there this morning, he said he’d be gone all afternoon.  Don’t you think you can do it?”

He did.  And he did. 

 woodcraft 1




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