Tag Archives: story

Learning yet another new skill

About 3 weeks ago when the autumn festival was in full swing, away from home, in Bangalore I made my way to a maker space nearby to spend a weekend learning something new. In addition to the thought of spending a lonely weekend doing something new, I was egged on by a wellness initiative at my workplace that encouraged us to find some space away from work. I signed up for a 2-day beginner’s carpentry workshop.


When I was little, I often saw my Daddy working on small pieces of wood with improvised carving tools to make little figurines or cigarette holders. The cigarette holders were lovely but they were given away many years ago, when he (thankfully) stopped smoking. Some of the little figurines are still around the house, and a few larger pieces made out of driftwood remain in the family home. However, I do not recall him making anything like a chair or a shelf that could be used around the house. In India, it is the norm to get such items made, but by the friendly neighborhood carpenter. Same goes for many other things like fixing leaking taps, or broken electrical switches, or painting a room. There is always someone with the requisite skills nearby who can be hired. As a result, many of us lack basic skills in these matters as opposed to people elsewhere in the world.


I did not expect to become an expert carpenter overnight, and hence went with hope that my carpentry skills would improve from 0 to maybe 2, on a scale of 100. The class had 3 other people – a student, a man working in a startup, and a doctor. The instructor had been an employee at a major Indian technology services company, and now had his own carpentry business and these classes. He had an assistant. The space was quite large (the entire ground floor of the building) and had the electronics lab and woodwork section.


We started off with an introduction to several types of soft and hardwood, and plywoods. Some of them were available in the lab as they were going to be used during the class, or were stored in the workshop. Rarer wood like mahogany, and teak  were displayed using small wooden blocks. We were going to use rubber wood, and some plywood for our projects. Next, we were introduced to some of the tools – with and without motors. We learnt to use the circular saw, table saw, drop sawjigsaw, power drill and wood router. Being more petite than usual and unaccustomed to such tools, the 400-600w saws were quite terrifying for me at the beginning.


The first thing I made was a wall clock shaped like the beloved deer – Bambi. On a 9”x 9” block of rubber wood, I first traced the shape. Then used a jigsaw to cut off the edges and make the shape. Then used the drill to make some holes and create the shapes for eyes and spots. The sander machine was eventually used to smoothen the edges. This clock is now proudly displayed on a wall at my Daddy’s home very much like my drawings from age 6.


shelfNext, we made a small shelf with dado joints that can be hung up on the wall. We started off with a block of rubber wood about 1’6’’ x 1’. The measurements for the various parts of this shelf was provided on a piece of paper and we had to cut the pieces using the table saw, set to the appropriate width and angle. The place where the shelves connected with the sides were chiseled out and smoothed with a wood router. The pieces were glued together and nailed. The plane and sander were used to round the edges.


The last project for the day was to prepare the base for a coffee table. The material was a block of  pinewood 2 inches thick and 2’ x  1’. We had to first cut these blocks from a bigger block, using the circular saw. Next, these were taken to the table saw to make 5 long strips of 2 inch width. 1 of these strips had about 1/2 inch from the edges narrowed down into square-ish pegs to fit into the legs of the table. The legs had some bits of the center hollowed out to be glued together into X shapes. These were left overnight to dry and next morning, with a hammer and chisel, the holes were made into which the pegs of the central bar could be connected. Finally, the drop saw was used to chop off the edges to make the table stand correctly. I was hoping to place a plywood on top of this base to use as a standing desk. However, it may need some more chopping to be made into the right height.


trayThe final project was an exercise for the participants to design and execute an item using a 2’ x 1’ piece of plywood. I chose to make a tray with straight edges using as much of the plywood I could. I used the table saw to cut the base and sides. The smaller sides were tapered down and handles shaped out with a drill and jigsaw. These were glued together and then nailed firmly in place.


By the end of the 2nd day, I felt I was more confident handling the terrifying, but surprisingly safe, pieces of machinery. Identifying different types of wood or making an informed decision when selecting wood may need more practise and learning. The biggest challenge that I think I will face if I had to do more of this, is of workspace. Like many other small families in urban India, I live in an apartment building high up the floors, with limited space. This means that setting up an isolated area for a carpentry workbench would not only take up space, but without an enclosure it will cause enough particle matter to float around a living area. For the near future, I expect to not acquire any motorized tools but get a few manual tools that can be used to make small items (like storage boxes) with relative ease and very little disruption.

The time is right

If you have been to schools similar to mine, you may have often been subjected to the phrase ‘A stitch in time saves nine’ mouthed by very serious looking teachers. Especially ahead of exam times when note-exchanges and cramming were in full swing. Like everything else ever preached by parents and teachers, which were relegated to the ‘banter’ category earlier, these very things seem to make more and more sense with each passing day. As has been said somewhere.. mum always seems right as you grow older. On a related note about the importance of time passing us by which causes actions to lose their relevance, I often quote a tale which was narrated by my dad. (I am a sucker for stories and my well-read Dad keeps on passing me life’s lessons through these narratives). This story, similar to Taming of The Shrew, is probably part of the Arabian Nights or some related genre and to be honest would probably be termed politically inappropriate on various counts in today’s world. Personally, I share the same views about Taming of The Shrew too. In any case, here it goes:

A wealthy merchant had two beautiful but extremely hot-headed daughters. Due to their wild nature, most of their suitors did not stay long enough and much to the consternation of their father they remained unmarried. Finally, the tired merchant sent out word, that whoever marries his two daughters would be rewarded with palatial houses and showered with luxuries fit for a king.

In the same town lived two lazy brothers who were always looking out for easy ways to earn fortunes. They were also aware of the reputation of the two girls, and although they were wary at first eventually they decided to go meet the merchant. As luck would have it, inspite of the announcements the girls had not found any suitors. The merchant welcomed them with open arms and very soon the brothers were married to the two girls.

Some time passed. The two brothers lived with their respective wives and had all the luxuries that they could ever dream of. Yet the two brothers seemed to have had widely different fates. While the elder brother struggled to find breathing space and was constantly abused by his wife, the younger brother seemed jovial and at most times was served hand and foot by his rather obedient wife. The elder brother did not fail to notice this. He took his brother aside and asked him how he had managed to ‘control’ his wife. The younger brother then let him on the secret. On the first night of their marriage, the younger brother was resting in his room. Soon, his newly wed bride entered the room and in her characteristic display of rage started throwing things around and abusing him. The husband watched her go about wildly but remained quiet. After some more time had passed and the wife stopped to rest for a while. It was then that the young man looked sternly at his wife, reached for his sword and proceeded towards his wife. Looking at him, the woman froze. He stopped infront of her and in one swoop chopped off the head of his wife’s favourite cat that was resting nearby. The wife was left open-mouthed and shaking. He threw away his sword and went off to sleep. Since that night, his wife had never troubled him any more.

Armed with this information, the elder brother went back to his home. As was customary, he was subjected to his daily dose of abuse by his wife at night. Waiting for an opportunity, the man drew his sword and following the course of action taken by his younger brother he grabbed his wife’s cat and killed it. He turned to stare at his wife, expecting her to shake in fear. The woman was horrified at the turn of events. But after a few moments of shocked silence, she jumped at her husband with a huge cry , snatched the sword and drove it straight into him.

Message from the story: ‘শাদীর প্রথম রাতে কাটিবে বিড়াল’ (literally translated: kill the cat on the first night after marriage) or in other words, take appropriate action when the time is right. At other times, the same actions would in all probability not result in the same levels of satisfaction/benefits and may even cause harm beyond recovery

Much apologies for the violence. This story has been documented for the benefit of a very charming team-mate Kashyap. Last heard he was trying to figure out if implementing some travel plans would cause some disruptions (*imaginary* from what I could understand) of earth-shaking proportions. Really dude, just go for it before you end up regretting a chance lost forever.