Hand Made In the USA

One of my favorite times at Mendel was the wood shop class. The class met three times a week for two hours. I had some exposure to woodworking from my grammar school experiences at the Tuley Park boat building shop. This class was different. Father Hennessey, my instructor, believed in teaching the basics. At Tuley Park, I jumped into a project and started cutting wood. At Mendel, I had to learn the name and function of every tool before Father let me touch a single one.

For the first assignment, Father H. gave me a block of maple wood to square up using only a chisel and a square. It sounded too easy, but I almost didn’t finish the assignment on time. Father H. came around the benches and asked for the piece. He inspected every corner, every edge, and every surface for square and for flatness. If any sliver of light showed under the square he bounced the piece, and sent me back to the bench to do better. The piece also had to be within the tolerance he specified.  Father Hennessey was a tough, but fair teacher.

The next project was a more complicated. We had to make a chevron-shield with separate wooden letter “M” applied to it. The last project was a table lamp that looked like a hand water pump. Pushing on the pump handle turned on the light. This little lamp was in continuous use over the years serving me well at all of my desks.

Fr. H. was a tough disciplinarian. If he caught you using a tool incorrectly, he jerked it out of your hand, and hit you with it. He also had a habit of squeezing the muscle on your shoulder, the one that stretches from your neck to the shoulder. It hurt so bad that I dropped to the floor to get out of the grip. Fr. H. hardly ever had a problem with anybody in his class.

Safety was paramount in the shop. During my semester there was not a single incidence of injury. Even though the school shop had all the power tools as I used at Tuley Park, I never got to use any of them.  Only Fr. Hennessey ever used the tools powered by electricity. The experience gave me an appreciation for the term “handmade.”

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