Thursday, March 26, 2015

Easy on the …

I suppose almost  everyone is familiar with the phrase “easy on the eyes.”   This is considered a compliment meaning someone or something is  pleasing to look at it.

I think I got the extension of that concept from listening to a Roy Underhill woodworking broadcast in which he said something like “easy on the hands is easy on the eye.”

He was stressing how attention to sanding and other surface preparation which resulted in a pleasant tactile sensation also translated to an appealing visual appreciation.

I tucked that tip away somewhere and some years later I attended a blacksmith demonstration where the demonstrator described how the same rule was brought  home to him.  As I recall he was displaying at a craft show and had some items for sale done using traditional blacksmith techniques.  He observed as a woman picked up a piece and examined it and remarked, “Oh, that feels nasty.”  Immediately he could see he would not make that sale.  He was a smart fellow and already a competent smith.  He then investigated how he could create a finished surface which would feel sensuous and match the visual appeal he was already able to produce.

This “feel of the surface” was a concept I had never considered.  When I returned to my shop I started exploring my work using this as a criterion of evaluation.  It was quickly apparent that he had discovered something important.  Probably being blind would be really helpful here.  I began feeling nominal stock.  It’s obvious that cold rolled feels a lot different from hot rolled or pickled and oiled.  Hot work with fire scale feels a lot different before it goes into the tumbler than when it comes out.  So on and so forth.

I often spray Minwax polyurethane on work fresh out of the tumbler to prevent rust formation. However, that leaves a peculiar tacky feel which never seems appealing.  It  took some time to figure out what to apply as the finish coat which feels right to me.  There are probably quite a few products which will fill that bill.  The fun is in discovering what works for each artist.  I’m convinced now that how a piece of ironwork feels when carefully examined is as important as how it looks.

Lately, I’ve been really busy and lamenting that I never seem to accomplish everything I set out to do each day.  In a consolation seeking effort I recalled a footnote of history from a more serious time.  I’ll take the liberty of posting this excerpt from the wikipedia article “Account Of The Battle of Shiloh"

Curtained by rain and lit by artillery shells arching above them through the night sky, the fresh troops of Major General Don Carlos Buell's Army of the Ohio bobbed across the Tennessee River on wooden steamboats during the evening of April 6, 1862. On the western bank of the river, at Pittsburg Landing, an angry, confused and terrified mob of Union skulkers sought shelter alongside the bluffs that overlooked the river. That morning, many of these same troops had been routed from their campgrounds near the primitive Methodist meeting house called Shiloh, 2 1/2 miles southwest of the landing, by onrushing Confederate troops led by General Albert Sidney Johnston's onrushing Confederate troops, who were seeking to drive the Union invaders from their stronghold in southwestern Tennessee.

The ensuing battle, the bloodiest single day of fighting yet experienced on the North American continent, had settled by nightfall into an exhausted stalemate, with troops on both sides hunkering down for the night in the vine-choked gullies and brambles that gutted the battlefield. By then, Johnston himself was dead, having bled to death from a bullet wound to the knee, and the badly rattled Confederate high command was unsure what to do next. Some argued for an immediate retreat before the enemy could be reinforced; others wanted to renew the battle at dawn.

The Union commander, however, had no such doubts. Major General Ulysses S. Grant, although admittedly caught by surprise by the Rebels' morning attack, did not envision retreating. With his back against the winding Tennessee River, such a retreat was not an option. Nor was Grant the sort of commander who spooked easily. When one of his staff members, Colonel James B. McPherson, suggested that they consider withdrawing, Grant immediately snapped, 'No, sir, I propose to attack at daylight and whip them.' Already, reinforcements were on the way. Meanwhile, all they could do was wait. Grant tried to catch a few hours' sleep in the shelter of a large oak tree near the landing. But the incessant rain, coupled with the steady throb of pain from his ankle, which had been injured shortly before the battle when his horse fell on it, made sleep an impossibility. The Union commander then relocated to a log cabin on the bluff above the river. But Union surgeons had taken over the cabin for battlefield operations, which consisted mainly of sawing off shattered arms and legs. The screams of the wounded were too much for Grant. 'The sight was more unendurable than encountering the enemy's fire,' Grant recalled in his Personal Memoirs, 'and I returned to my tree in the rain.' It was there that his second-in-command, Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, found him later that night, chewing on an ever-present cigar. 'Well, Grant,' said Sherman, 'we've had the devil's own day, haven't we?' 'Yes,' Grant replied, 'lick 'em tomorrow, though.’

I think I’ll adopt that as my mantra - “I’ll lick ‘em tomorrow.”

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