3/10/2012

Starting Young

I guess the notion of your 5th grader standing in front of a large running metal lathe is a bit horrific. It's especially spookey to visualize them actually using it on their own. Growing up in Hawaii and going to a school that was at the time somewhat experimental was a blessing. Punahou provided me the opportunity to use my hands in spirited ways at a very young age. We had a wood shop at our school that was a bit like a full blown machine shop, and at the time pretty high tech. Ironically the name of my shop teacher was Mr. Woodward, which is kind of like a home economics instructor named Mrs. Cook. Mr. Woodward was one of those quiet instructors that would scratch his beard a couple times, grimace at what you were working on, and walk away if he thought you were just “screwing around”. The incentive was simple, if you show him you are responsible you could upgrade in machinery. If he saw you do something absent-mindedly you lost the privilege of using a tool. So if you were respectful of the machines you could actually be using a milling machine or even using an arc welder as young as 10 or 11 years old. This was a badge of honor for me at the time. Both my brother and I excelled on lathes at a very young age. My brother Tony was actually a pretty remarkable craftsman and being two years older than I was made his skills seem all that much more advanced and honed, especially on a wood lathe.

I started using a metal lathe at age ten, it was a monster. It was during the summer in 1975 and I was handed a piece of aluminum rod stock and told “don't screw around”. I was in seventh heaven. The big old South Bend lathes chuck was bigger than my head, and I had to stand on a block of Koa wood just to see my turning stock. I started out making basic shapes that Mr. Woodward drew out for me. It eventually got more elaborate when he wanted me to make a working canon out of bar stock aluminum. A great first turning project for a ten year old that involves fire power! Needless to say I was hooked and my skills aquired are still used to this day. I learned a lot of things at Punahou which included catching 15 pound koi in our pond, drawing nude models as a minor, making bottle rockets, casting bronze, glass blowing, jumping out of a banyan tree with a rope around my waist thinking I could fly. My all time favorite activity... using a metal lathe. The banyan tree rope jumping actually worked, I still claim to be the first bungee jumper.

When using a lathe; wood, cork, and various nickel alloys are the primary mediums that one needs to master to create a truly custom fly rod from start to finish

In today's overly paranoid and liability ridden world developing such skills for youngsters is very difficult. I feel truly blessed that I had this opportunity at such a young age. I strongly feel that more kids need to be exposed to many different tools and mediums at a very young age. To this day I'm convinced that God gave us opposable thumbs primarily to be able to make and operate tools. When using these tools I feel as though I am simply exercising my beliefs and rituals on a deeper level. In the end it really does bring meaning and purpose to my existence and I know many other craftsman that feel same.
                                ~Clint