Tuesday, October 19, 2021
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The Brown Noser

When The Only Tool You Have Is A Radial Saw, Every Problem Looks Like A Thick Slab Of Brazilian Rosewood

Published Friday, April 9th, 2021

You know they say sometimes you eat the bar and sometimes the bar eats you. There’s a constant push and pull in life, in the cosmos, and you’re not always gonna catch it at the right time, or make the right choice. As people, the experiences that make up our consciousness and worldview open us up to the world in important ways, but those experiences can also constrain us, whether we recognize it or not. You can go through life with tunnel vision… I guess what I’m trying to say is, when the only tool you have is a radial saw, every problem looks like a thick slab of Brazilian rosewood.

If you grew up in an environment where you constantly had to defend your basic safety and continually advocate for respect from other people, of course you might default to being wary and perhaps even aggressive in your interactions with the world. It’s kind of like how if the only tool you have is a radial arm saw, every problem you encounter probably looks more or less like a rich, thick slab of Brazilian rosewood. It might seem impossible to think of anything to do other than revving up the 5-horsepower motor of your saw’s 14-inch blade, carefully positioning your problem on its built-in standing table, and performing a series of straight, bevel, and compound bevel cuts on the slab until it’s shaped to your satisfaction, whether its ultimate purpose is the back of a chair or the back of a triple-O model guitar. Not to mention polishing and varnish after.

When the only thing standing between you and the world is a highly functional but technically obsolete standing radial arm saw, all your problems look like enticing, richly marbled and satisfyingly heavy slabs of stunning Brazilian rosewood, so you can be hesitant to take them head on. After all, Brazilian rosewood is endangered. These slabs you have, they’re part of the problem. European furniture makers and, more recently, guitar makers drove the colonial logging industry that’s nearly driven these unbelievable trees to extinction. It’s important to know the provenance of any Brazilian rosewood you’re handling to make sure it hasn’t been illegally logged or traded, primarily for ethical and secondarily for legal reasons.

But I know you. I know that when the only tool you have is a radial saw, and so every problem looks like a slab of Brazilian rosewood, I know that in your mental space where this extended metaphor is unfolding, I know that you’ve ethically acquired those slabs of Brazilian rosewood. Remember? Your godfather, the guitar maker, he bought them from local small-scale loggers before the trees were endangered, and he bequeathed those slabs to you. Those problem-slabs are ethical to saw. I know all of this is swirling around your head like the otherworldly marbling on that rosewood.

Start that saw up and get to cutting… you have a mandolin to build.

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