For the most part, woodworking has been a solitary activity for me. Over the years, I’ve taught myself most of what I know. I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way — and either cursed or laughed about them without any witnesses or commiserators. At the same time, by going it “solo” so much of the time, I haven’t really shared the successes and breakthroughs that also happen as we gain experience. It’s been a pretty quiet life in the shop.
Then the other day a new friend of mine asked me to do a small commissioned piece for him. He’s a pipe smoker and wanted a pipe rack he’d seen online. These racks are made by hand in Europe, and while he was more than willing to pay several hundred dollars for it, his long-distance queries to order one of them had gone unanswered. That’s where I came in.
Last week, while making some parts for our September issue’s Jigs & Fixtures project, I needed to drill some holes through a stack of plywood. I was using a little benchtop drill press to do the job. While it chomped quietly through those holes, it reminded me of how handy a little benchtop drill press is.
Last month, my family and I had the unique opportunity to travel to Kenya, Africa, for two weeks. My wife had professional reasons for being there, but I’ll admit that I went with the typical intentions of a Westerner—to see a world of new wildlife and experience Kenyan culture. I was richly rewarded on both of those accounts. Exotic wildlife is plentiful in the country’s many national parks. And, the Kenyans we met, both in cities and small villages, were warm, welcoming and very willing to share their lives with us.
Still, the curiosities of a woodworker don’t take a back seat, just because a guy spends a couple weeks out of the shop.
Up until recently, I’ve never really given much thought to sandpaper…where it comes from, how it’s made or what tidbits of interesting history might be behind it. Sandpaper has always been one of those “means-to-an-end” products for me. And, well, it’s associated with sanding. I try not to spend more time than I really need to thinking about sanding…
But, the nitty gritty details about grits became a lot more interesting earlier this spring when I had the opportunity to tour Ali Industries, a sandpaper manufacturing plant just a couple hours west of my home.
Little did I know, but Ali Industries has been making consumer sandpaper and sanding products for 40 years—and the company’s ties to other abrasives go back even farther than that. The company’s founder, Frank Ali, got into the business back in 1961 during NASA’s space race heyday. Frank saw a need for specialized abrasives in the aerospace industry, and he began to make abrasive cartridge rolls for deburring spacecraft and jets. Yep, rockets and fast airplanes—the stuff I loved to dream about as a kid. Seems that, if you don’t polish a rocket to near perfection, it can burn up when it enters or leaves the atmosphere. Clearly, not good. Thanks in some part to Frank’s efforts, his industrial abrasives helped to put astronauts on the moon and enabled military and experimental planes to slip more smoothly through the wild blue yonder. Frank even met fellow Ohioan, astronaut and former senator John Glenn back in the glory days.
Here's my sad excuse for sandpaper organization. Amazing it lasted this long!
Aside from being a dull-as-dirt photograph, this empty box is not:
A) Evidence of my secret stash of cookies. I don’t have one, but if I did squirrel away a few boxes in the shop, they’d be Thin Mints. No question.
B) A rough idea of how many boxes of Girl Scouts Cookies® my kids have eaten this spring, although it’s probably pretty close.
C) Some sad prototype for my next Woodworker’s Journal project.
Actually, this Thin Mints carton, circa 2001, has been my poor excuse for sandpaper storage. Tattered, taped up and tossed around the shop, it’s been a dumping ground for the past eight years.