Measure Twice Cut Once

Carpentry picture.jpg

Spring 2015. It seems as if last spring all my chores have been major projects. It started with a huge pile of old trees I had helped my neighbor cut down on his property and stored next to our barn. That was three years ago. My intention was to cut them up and split them for firewood. However, as well-intentioned projects sometimes go, three years later that pile of trees still happily resided next to the barn. It was time to clean the pile up…

Little did I know that that six foot high, fifteen foot long pile of logs had turned into the only glacier in northern Minnesota. Every spring the snow would slide off the barn roof, bury the logs and freeze the entire pile into a huge block of ice that never melted all summer long, incasing the logs in the only glacier in Minnesota. I started to peel the top layer of logs off the glacier, waited until the sun melted the under layer of logs and then removed them. The logs were pitch black, because they had already started to decompose into 5W30 motor oil. And so it continued for two months until I had cleared all the logs from the side of our barn.

My other project was rebuilding the lower section of our dock by the lake. It’s amazing what ice can do to a dock built out of 2X12’s. There is no stopping ice when it has made up its mind to destroy something. The 24-foot dock looked as if the ice had tried to shorten it by half. It was a pile of unrecognizable lumber. And of course when I started to dismantle it all the screws were totally rusted. Thank goodness for a chain saw.

* * * *

One day Judy mentioned that the basement bedrooms had never been trimmed. “They would look so much neater with some base boards and ceiling trim, don’t you think?” she said. I agreed. The two bedrooms definitely needed a finishing touch to improve their looks. And a new, fresh coat of paint.

I bought the lumber and started on my next project. All my tools were in the barn, so it was measure, trudge up to the barn, make my cuts, and then back to the basement to install what I had cut. The project was going along well. Slowly the improvement was noticeable, and the bedrooms were taking on a more finished look. I was working on a piece of ceiling trim. I measured it, 84¾ minus 1/16 th, with a 45 degree angle at one end. Prior to this, I had varnished one side and two edges of the 1×4’s I was working with. I would rip the ceiling trim from the 1×4’s and install them already varnished. Back to my next piece. 84¾ minus 1/16, with a 45 degree angle at one end. I re-measured and repeated the measurements to myself, storing them in my steel-trap mind till I made my cuts.

I headed up to the barn, and as I got outside I heard the drone of an aircraft above me. Having a pilot’s license, and having owned an airplane, my eyes were drawn up to the sky. There, high above, I saw the plane. It brought back memories of my years of flying. Flying had been a passion of mine. There is something about the freedom one feels when taking off in an airplane; being lifted into the sky by unseen forces, the feeling of freedom from the constraints of the earth, soaring high among the white cottony tufts of clouds, above an ever shrinking landscape below. I was cruising at 170 miles per hour, and yet it seemed as if I was standing still. Far below I could see little specks moving about; cars and people moving to and fro in their daily routines. Up here at 10,000 feet, the entire sky was mine. I was King of all the ether around me. I would level off at my designated cruising altitude, set my speed at 170 miles per hour, dial in my destination, turn on the autopilot and watch the landscape slowly move under me. I scanned the instrument panel, looked outside all around me. I was completely alone up here among the white cottony clouds.

I looked at the aircraft high above me, and I knew exactly what the pilot was seeing. I watched the small aircraft until it disappeared from view.

I turned back and headed to the barn to continue my project. I ran the measurements through my mind again. 83¾ plus 1/16th. With a 45 degree cut at one end. I selected a piece of lumber and made my measurements. 83¾ plus 1/16th. Something didn’t seem right. I searched my mind and tried to remember what it was. 83¾ plus 1/16th. No, that was not it. It was 83¾ minus 1/16th. I made my cuts, back to the basement, held up the piece of trim, and wait, what, it was an inch short. My memory bank must have malfunctioned. And the 45 degree angle was cut the wrong way. Double failure. I held the piece up one more time to see if it would fit as if by magic, but no, still an inch too short, and the 45 degree cut was still wrong.

I really should write down what I measure. I thought back to what Judy usually tells me, “You never remember what you say,” undoubtedly referring to my faulty memory bank. Maybe she had a point.

Ok, back to the workshop in the barn to cut a new piece. 84¾ minus 1/16th. With “You never remember,” echoing in my head, I scribbled the measurements on a piece of scrap wood when I got to the workshop. This time referring to my scribbled measurements I measured twice, made my cuts, made sure the 45 degree end was cut right and headed back to the basement. I held the trim up to the ceiling. Something still didn’t look right, something was off. Like I said, I had varnished both edges and one side of the 1×4’s so all I would have to do was cut and install the pre varnished piece of trim. Unfortunately, when I cut my trim piece to size, I had it upside down. Now the varnished side of the trim didn’t face the room. It was hidden against the wall. And wouldn’t you know it; the 45 degree angle was inexplicably cut the wrong way yet again. I could excuse myself if I had had a couple of beers, but I was sober as a church mouse.

Fortunately I had two more pieces to try and get it right. I ripped another trim piece, made doubly sure all the measurements and angles were right. And just as I picked it up I noticed a large knot in my trim halfway down, a weak spot, and the piece broke in two.

I stood there holding one half of the trim, staring out of the garage door into the woods across the driveway. There was a small wood pecker pecking on a birch tree, the birds were chirping happily, the sun was shining down from a bright, blue sky pushing its golden rays through the foliage of the trees. Inside the barn however, there was an ominous dark cloud hovering above my head. I’m pretty sure I felt the patter of raindrops on my shoulders. I took a deep breath in, and let it out slowly. I’m not one to get too excited about anything, but now I had the urge to let go of a string of colorful four-letter-words that crept up in my throat; and take the remnant of the trim piece and beat it into slivers on the workshop floor, but I kept my cool. Joe cool!

But being the cool and calm person that I am, I threw it on the pile of scrap lumber with a little bit of extra enthusiasm, sending some smaller pieces flying up in the air like summersaulting acrobats, and picked up my last chance to get it right. I worked on my last piece, measured and re-measured, measured again, and made my cuts. There was just a slight bit of trepidation as I walked down the driveway to the house and made my way to the basement bedroom. However, there is always a balance to things in life. For everything that goes wrong, something also goes right, and I needn’t have worried, because at last, it fit perfectly. I finished the remainder of the trim without incident, and that project was deemed done.

Judy came home from work and I was excited to show her what I had done. I had cleaned the bedroom, removed all my tools, dusted, and put everything back in its place. Her eyes lit up when she saw the bedroom. “You finished all that today?” she said. “It sure looks nice, good job Kaj.” I stood there with a smile on my face, reveling in the praises she heaped on me. Thank goodness there is something I can still do well, I thought to myself. Regardless…

Judy had an occasion to read this bit, and between bouts of spasmodic laughter she said, “This is so you Kaj, so you.”

You may also like