Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Upon Closer Inspection :: Part 3

1015. Act II is much like Act I. So is Act III, actually. Try as I might, I'm finding it hard to impose an actual trajectory or arc on any of this. Shop life basically consists of one task after another.

1020. Wait, I suppose I could talk about the life of an order. There's a bit of a trajectory there. A work order comes to us as a list of parts required for a job. If it's a railing order, and most of our orders are railing orders (the other kind of order we take being door orders), the list will look something like this: x feet of rail, x amounts of rail accessories (wall brackets, which hold the rail to the wall; goosenecks, piece of rail curved on one end that allows the rail to change directions vertically; elbows, like a gooseneck but which allows the rail to curve horizontally), x amount of stair accessories, x posts, etc, etc. We take the order, look at what me need to manufacture, and get to work. The first bit of business for nearly every part is grabbing an appropriate piece of wood. Wood comes to us as 10 or 11 foot lengths of various depths: 4/4 (i.e. an inch. Well, technically, about 15/16's of an inch but... whatever, that's a detail), 6/4, or 8/4. We work primarily in hardwoods, maple being the norm, but occasionally we get some more playful types of wood: rustic hickory, alder, beech, cherry, and oak. After we've grabbed the wood and made a nice big pile of it on a cart, we truck that cart over to the jointer (something like this) a-and grind it so that at least one of the edges is straight and smooth, allowing for a quick and easy cut on the tablesaw, which is usually the next step. After it's been sized on the tablesaw, depending on what its destiny is, the piece of wood gets run a few times through the planer (this), a sort of much more aggressive and no-nonsense version of the jointer, a howling banshee of a machine. Now, that sumbitch of a board is much smaller than it started out as and is ready to fulfill it's tree-ish destiny: i.e. it becomes whatever the hell we want it to become. If it's rail, we laminate it together with another piece, making it nice and strong; if it's wallbrackets, the part gets traced onto the board and cut out with a bandsaw; if it's parts for a post it gets sized on the circular saw and has either a male of female dado put into it; if it's... well, you get the point. It's putty in our hands. Hard, splintery, sliver happy, slam-your-fingers-in-it-and-regret-it putty. On their journey towards human convenience and luxury, most parts, not all but most, require routing. A router is essentially a motor with a spinning bit on the end that cuts a profile into a piece of wood. Some routers are small and whiny; some glare at you; others are demon possessed; and the biggest ones are filled with spite and malice and you don't put your hands anywhere near them but allow a power-feeder to do the work for you. So, for instance, with rail we rout the board four times, once on each edge, to create a nice, round (depending on the profile) piece of rail that anyone would want to hold onto and caress. After it's been routed (routered? I'm not all that sure about the verbiage here), it's ready for sanding, which is what I spend most of my time doing. All the above processes are hard on wood, you see. They leave marks, jaggies, tears, scratches, chatter, rips, and sometimes blood on the piece, all of which sanding is supposed to remove. After everything is smooth and ready for the prom, it, like Laura Palmer, gets wrapped in plastic, labelled and then stands around awaiting installation, which isn't our job.

1100. But so, let me tell you the story of my feet. For the past eight years, my feet have lived a comfortable, stress-free life, the extent of the demands leveled against them being nothing more strenuous than carrying me from one sitting position to another. They carried me to desks, chairs, couches, car seats, bus seats, movie theater seats, church pews, and, their favourite, the kitchen table chairs. Theirs was a life lived in innocence. Occasionally, they were forced to stand in a line somewhere, which they resented greatly, but they managed, they coped: their mostly pampered life out-weighed whatever small inconveniences they every so often encountered; they knew they had it made, and had it good, so they kept their mouths shut during those brief stints when actual participation was required. When they carried me out of the university last Christmas, however, they found themselves walking into a very different lifestyle. Now, instead of carrying me from sitting position to sitting position, they carry me from standing position to standing position. This is a terrible thing, I assure you, and they have voiced their protests most vehemently, drawing into their protestations my calves and lower back, all of who feel very put out by this change of affairs. It's a full-body mutiny. Their plan is to incapacitate me.

1130. Their plan may be working. Throughout most of the morning, I feel pretty good. Around 1130, though, which is the mid-point of the day, pain begins to set in. Remember, gentle reader, that I've been a slouch for nearly eight years, a slacker of the highest order. That it takes about four hours for fatigue to start setting in isn't embarrassing - it's an accomplishment.

1200. Lunch is nearly here.

1215. I've noticed that, in writing about the minutiae of my day-to-day life, I've created something of a paradox. In physics (or quantum physics, meta-physics, or something - I can't really recall), there is a law, or at least a principle, or maybe it's only a vague, effervescent notion (I'm talking out of my ass here, I know, but I swear to you I've heard this before... somewhere) that says simply measuring a thing actually changes that thing, so that the very act of observation defeats the purpose of observation, i.e. to see that thing as it really is. In writing about what I do at work, I've created a lovely little meta microcosm because at work I've begun thinking about writing about being at work. What's worse, I am at this moment writing about being at work thinking about writing about being at work. So I've now descended, perhaps irredeemably, into a post-modern miasma of self-consciousness. I've officially spilled over, blurred subject and object into an indistinguishable, indistinct mass of self-aware and rhetorical narcissism. I've kicked loose, lost balance. I've stumbled into a more frightening rabbit hole.

1230. Lunch. Lunch will save me. Now I've got something solid onto which to hold. An empty, grumbling stomach pushes away all those Gordian concerns. Take that, post-modernity.

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