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Power tools are my friends

When it comes to power tools, I need to master the "guy vibe" - "Hey, what's that cool gizmo? How many volts does it have? How can I use it? How loud is it? What manly thing can I do with it next?"

Power tools are my bugaboo - but hopefully not my Waterloo. They are the reason I'm procrastinating on doing the wood-working portion of my latest mixed-media piece. However, I'm now to the point where I can't do anything else until that portion is done.

I need to drill holes, cut out shapes, and nail and screw stuff together. Simple, right? I know exactly where to drill and cut and nail and screw, as I have it all mapped out, but I'm afraid to start. I know this is absurd, but nonetheless I procrastinate.

Hopefully, writing about it will bolster my courage.

In one of my favorite books, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, the characters are all "born" on the assembly line. Henry Ford, of course, invented the assembly line, so in the book he is revered as a deity. The famous Big Ben clock in London has been renamed Big Henry, for example, and people exclaim "Good Ford!" instead of "Good Lord!" I found this hilarious.

Affirmations are used to brainwash the characters into being obedient cogs in the machine. Every night, over and over, from childhood on, they listen to recordings of trite proverbs like "Cleanliness is next to Fordliness." That becomes their mantra.

I need a mantra, too. "Power tools are my friends. Power tools are my friends. Power tools are my friends...."

As a teen, I met a woman who'd lost the tips of a couple of her fingers in some kind of industrial accident. Somehow this seemed ten times worse than a man having the same thing happen, although I admit this is a very sexist way to feel.

In order to become the fully competent, confident mixed-media sculptor that I'm in the process of becoming, I need to master power tools. I need to become the goddess of the workbench, the queen of the buzzing machines, masterfully gliding from one power tool to the next, knowing exactly which one to use and when - and above all, how to use them safely.

Power tools are necessary for the kind of art I do, so there's no way around it. I've become fairly comfortable with several power tools so far - angle grinders, Dremel tools, drills, and power jigsaws. The ones that still scare the crap out of me are table saws, mitering saws, and circular saws. In short, the ones that can take your fingers off in a split second.

Once I go back to art school in the fall, I'll have access to all of them and more. Hopefully I'll use them on a regular basis and chip away at my remaining fear until it's gone - or at least until it's faded enough that I don't feel the dread, yet still large enough that I don't forget and saw off my fingers. Images of bloodied fingers need to be reduced in my mind from poster-size to thumbnail-size, to put it in NLP terms. Power tools are to be respected but not feared.

The picture above, by the way, shows a reciprocating saw - a power tool that I really want right now. After watching videos on Youtube about reciprocating saws, I've decided they'd fulfill my sawing needs much better than the flimsy power jigsaw I have, and which I'm going to use to saw some stuff right after I finish writing this article.

Sometimes it bugs me that I took home ec instead of shop in junior high. But back then, that was the way it was done. Girls made cakes, and boys made cutting boards (and sometimes bongs, when the teacher wasn't looking - or so I hear).

Some women, like my good friend and former professor, Marilyn Wounded Head, a gifted marble sculptor, have a man in their lives to help them get past this silly imagined obstacle. Marilyn's husband is all too happy to rough out her marble sculptures for her. She gives him a maquette of her intended sculpture (that's a small version, usually modeled in oil-based clay). He then roughs out the big - as in, several tons - block of marble for her, and she goes in and does all the remaining carving, grinding, filing, fine detail, texturing, polishing, and so on. She brings it to life, in other words.

In marble carving, this "roughing out" is the part that pounds your joints and causes "soft tissue damage." When I carved marble for nine days straight at the Marble/marble Symposium in Marble, Colorado, in 2002, I felt for days afterward like I'd been run over by a Mack truck. I lived on ibuprofen.

Part of it, though, was that I was fighting my power tools the whole time. You have to learn to relax and feel the energy, feel it working your stone through the power tool. Then your body doesn't take much of a pounding. Your sculpture comes out a lot better, too. But it takes time to develop this "body wisdom."

Madeline Wiener, the head of Marble/marble, has developed her body wisdom during an illustrious career as a talented marble carver, and she has no fear of power tools. When Madeline carves marble, it’s like God parting the Red Sea - effortless. She's where I want to be. Where I WILL be.

With wood, it's not as hard as with marble. Easy peasy. Slicey dicey. I've convinced myself of that now.

So I'm off to work, on my wood. With my oh-so-easy-to-use power jigsaw and drill.

Power tools are my friends, power tools are my friends, power tools are my friends....