I loved my woodwork teacher. He was a big man, slow, gentle and forgiving.
In Woodwork, we had to practice joining wood in different ways. We learned to use a variety of tools: saws, chisels, drills and sandpaper. Lots of sandpaper. I spent hours in my Woodwork lessons sanding pieces of wood.
Each lesson, the woodwork teacher would demonstrate how to use a tool, how to make a joint, the tenon, the mitre, the dovetail. We learned about using screws, crossheads, counter-sunks cheese heads and black Japans.
He knew his job. He was a carpenter right down to his fingertips. So was my father.
I spent many summer weeks working with my father building front porches and garden fences, putting up walls, putting up ceilings, putting in doors and removing and renovating windows.
I was excellent at woodwork. I knew the names of every single tool and how to care for them. I knew the names of all the screws, nails, and fixings. I even knew all the names of the joints that we were being taught in Woodwork lessons. I had used them all summer long and they were as familiar to me as the fingers on my hand.
Every Woodwork lesson quickly progressed the projects that I was working on, whether it was a bench hook for woodworking, a chopping board for the kitchen, a handle to put on a knife, or something to put the breakfast toast in.
Many of these items became birthday and Christmas presents for the family. They could see how well I was progressing in Woodwork. My father was very proud that his first-born son was bringing home high quality items that were also useful.
Even though I succeeded at the many projects during the term, it was the final exam in June that would determine whether or not I would pass.
There was no theory exam. It was only a practical exam. All that was required was to look at the instructions, measure up the wood, cut to size and assemble. The joint was simple; a dovetailed, half-lap mitre, and it was to be a press-fit joint that did not use glue. I knew how to do this, like I knew how to tie my shoelaces.
On the day of examination, I stood by my bench and ignored the simple instructions. For the next four hours I did nothing.
The woodwork teacher, bound by the rules and ethics of the examination board, was unable to help me. He did, on several occasions, come over to my workplace and give me a very strange look. Here was his favourite, most capable student throwing away the exam. He knew he couldn’t speak to me but his eyes wept volumes. He was confused, and frustrated because he could not interfere or intervene in my inaction.
A month or two before, on my 16th birthday, my father had presented me with his idea that I should join his company and work for him. All I needed to do was to pass my Woodwork exam and I would have a job for life.
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