Thursday, February 7, 2013

BLOG: Look out evil- I have a measuring tape!

Woodworkers get inspiration from the most unlikely of sources. Recently I was eating a sandwich when it hit me: I’ve been getting ripped off! Maybe I should give you a little background on this…
A couple of weeks ago I read a news story about a guy who was suing Subway restaurants because his “foot long” sub wasn’t a full twelve inches.  Apparently he felt a little empty inside after consuming his cold cut combo. So he went around town ordering from every Subway he could find and measuring the sandwiches. His suspicions were confirmed when he discovered, to his horror, that the average length was a mere eleven inches. Someone in the dark, smoky back rooms of Subway’s corporate offices was conspiring to cheat him out of a full inch. So he did the natural thing in such a situation. He sued. The case is currently pending, but I know we are all sitting on the edges of our seats, waiting to see if a jury awards him a lifetime’s supply of the bread end stumps that he so desperately wants.

Settle down, I’m getting to the woodworking part…

So, here I am eating my third eleven inch sub when I start to wonder if I was also a victim. I’m not worried about my sandwiches since I always steal a few napkins to make up for the smaller buns. But when it comes to woodworking, value is paramount. Had I been taking too much for granted? I wiped my mouth, stuffed a few extra mustard packets into my pocket and slipped out the door to do some investigating.

My first stop was Home Depot, the place where every fine woodworking project begins. As I walked through the automatic doors I made my way straight for the coffee stand. No orange vests in sight, so I put a few extra creams in my cup. I like my coffee milky. Over at the 2X4 pile I started pulling lumber off the neat stack and tossing it into a pile on the floor. I like to get my boards from the middle of the pallet. As I held up a particularly damp specimen of Douglas fir, sighting down it’s length with one eye closed, I noted a slight twist. It may have been the lighting, it may even have been my imagination, but I demand the best so I tossed it aside and continued rummaging through the stack. Finally, at the very bottom of the pile I found the perfect board. I pulled a measuring tape off the rack, ripped open the package and used it to check the width and thickness. I KNEW IT! It wasn’t even close to being a 2X4. Home Depot was peddling undersized lumber.

By now I was ready to blow the top off this whole thing. I took my measuring tape all over the store, tearing packages open, filling a shopping cart with evidence. Drywall screws were a 64th of an inch shorter than the label claimed. The quarts of wood finish were only 90% full. Every single sheet of plywood was off by at least a 32nd.  It’s true that a great deal of the stuff I destroyed in my investigation was fine; some of it was over the size or weight on the package. But I managed to collect a full cart of fraudulent merchandise which I pushed up to the front of the store and left by the service desk with a note that said “I’m on to you, fella!”

I wasn’t ready for a confrontation. I didn’t want to blow my cover until I saw just how high up this conspiracy went. So my next stop was Woodcraft. Same story here, extra cream in the coffee, and I ate six of the mini donuts before I grabbed a pair of calipers and headed over to the router bit cabinet. The lock wouldn’t budge no matter how hard I rattled the cabinet. Well played Mr. Woodcraft, keep the inspectors out and you can get away with anything, I bet. This nut was going to be harder to crack.

I called the clerk over to the lumber racks and asked him to cut me six board feet off a piece of Honduran rosewood, in one foot chunks. I watched closely, sometimes leaning over his shoulder so he could feel my warm breath on the back of his neck as he made the cuts. Finally he laid the last piece on the bench and I immediately snatched it up. With one accusatory eye on him I measured each piece. Then I asked him for a board foot calculator, which he surrendered without question. Good, I thought, it’ll go easier on you if you cooperate. To my surprise, each piece came out slightly over sized. They must be on to me. I threw the calculator toward the magazine racks and used the distraction to escape back to the free coffee station to refill and regroup. I knew something was fishy; I just couldn’t put my finger on it. And I’m usually very good about where I put my fingers. After all, I’m a woodworker.

That’s when the manager and a very tall security guard brandishing a Taser asked me to leave. Someone must have told them about my investigation. This was much bigger than I ever imagined. I knew right then and there that I was destined for a special purpose. I am to be the advocate of the regular woodworker, the eyes and ears of the helpless masses. Whenever there is a sale item out of stock, wherever the free coffee is less than hot, I’ll be there. Like a mysterious superhero in a Roy Underhill hat I will hide in the shadows behind tool displays and lumber racks in woodworking stores and home centers everywhere, waiting to expose those who try to cheat woodworkers out of their hard-earned money. My identity will be a mystery, my name only heard as a whisper in the wind as I swoop past faster than the eye can see, responding to every call. Justice will be my legacy, thrift my daily mission. And I will not stop until woodworkers the world over can buy a 2X4 with the confidence that they will be getting their $2 worth!

…After all, it’s not like we demand too much sometimes!