My Table Saw

My blogging friend over at Almost Iowa threw out a “My Stuff” challenge. I don’t typically take on such challenges, but Greg is one of my all-time favorites and I’ve been trying to recruit him to be the northern contingent of 2021 – The Year Without Pants (sponsored by Al Bundy) and figure this is all a part of the process. So here it goes:

My Table Saw

I grew up in the workshop – well, not literally because sleeping on sawdust can lead to copious amounts of morning eye gunk. But my basement room was next door to my dad’s workshop and I became very comfortable with tools at an early age. I also got comfortable with blood. Blood happens when you work with sharp blades. I remember carving something for my sister once and I cut the crap out of my finger in the process. I had planned on leaving the finish natural, but had to stain it a nice cherry red to match my residue.

When I became a man… (okay, writing that made me laugh.)

When I grew up… (that’s no better.)

When my young wife and I bought our first home, one of the prerequisites was a basement. After the ink dried on the contract, I charged down the stairs and chose a room to be my shop. Once I had mentally mapped out the placement of all the equipment I intended to buy, I returned upstairs to carry my waiting wife over the threshold and our new life as homeowners began.

To have a proper workshop, you first need a centerpiece: the table saw. This expenditure became a point of contention for my lovely bride and me. With a new mortgage and a very limited budget – we had separate goals. She wanted a sweet, cuddly baby (or four) to fill a nursery on the second floor, and I wanted a 220 volt, shiny baby to chew wood below ground. This might be the first and only argument I ever won and I did so with the diplomacy of Churchill. “If you want a cradle, I need a table saw.”

And so, I purchased my table saw.

Over the years, we’ve built a lot of furniture together, my table saw and me. That gorgeous hunk of iron has taught me a few things about life, love, and marriage which I’d like to share in no particular order:

  1. Don’t skimp on the important stuff. Worthwhile things come at a cost.
  2. Life is messy – if you aren’t making sawdust, you aren’t making progress.
  3. Patience is imperative. Shortcuts leave sloppy joints that are obvious in the final piece.
  4. Respect sharp metal that spins at 3000 RPM. If you get complacent or careless with things you love, you can get hurt.
  5. Plan every cut. Think through outcomes before you set the fence and blade height because until the wood-stretcher is invented, the cut is permanent.
  6. Don’t skip the maintenance. If you want things to last, you have to tighten, oil, and clean what you’ve got.
  7. You get better at it. Experience has taught me massive amounts about designing and building furniture (and life).
  8. You’ve got to turn her on every now and then.

Yeah, my table saw and me have been through a lot of lumber.

We’ve built a table for an orphanage in Africa



We’ve shared space with Kylie – my only kid who loved being in the shop. Together, the three of us designed and built this dresser – complete with bun feet and a secret compartment


We’ve built some other stuff, too.

I guess you could say, my table saw has had a lot to do with building me.

The Demise of my Big Johnson

I’ve had my Big Johnson for as long as I can remember. It was perfect to me and I’m not sure how I will get along without it. While age brings irreplaceable experience, it also can cause damage and wear. Moving parts are bound to produce friction and friction causes tiny chinks in the mechanism. Eventually, one of those chinks grows into a flaw and since everything in a machine must work together perfectly, too many flaws render it kaput.

Things break, expire, and just flat out stop working as we get older.

And so, my Big Johnson broke. It was a precise instrument of measurement and the best tape measure I’ve ever owned. You could ask me why I loved it and I couldn’t tell you. It fit perfectly in my hand. It just felt right – like a graduated extension of me and that is enough. Anyone who builds stuff understands.

We worked together for years. We built furniture, a playhouse, finished a basement, and numerous other projects. My Big Johnson went to Africa with me and it visited Haiti, too. In fact, I took my Big Johnson wherever I built things. If I had a friend in need, I never had a problem whipping out my Big Johnson to help with home repairs.

Saturday I pulled it out with my lovely wife to measure between pictures we were hanging and it wouldn’t go back in. A spring broke and now it is dead. I don’t think she offered the proper amount of concern for the demise of my Big Johnson.


I feel so utterly incomplete without it.

To add insult to injury, the Johnson Level & Tool Mfg. Company doesn’t make them anymore. Can you believe it? Their new line is called, The Big J… (Insert sigh of disappointment.)

Whoever was the marketing genius who originally named the product must have retired. Try to imagine the board meeting where bell curves showing plummeting sales of tape measures are plastered to the wall. A snickering young executive points out that there might be another connotation to the name causing customer reluctance. I have a mental image of a bunch of gray-haired old men sitting around a long table shocked while this young Johnson brings them up to speed.

I admit that I have the maturity of a 7 year-old. While most contractors and do-it-yourselfers may have giggled and shied away from purchase, the name is precisely why I carried it to the register. How could I know it was a finely crafted instrument that would soon become indispensable to me?

I miss it already. In fact, I will probably make a display case for it and save it for the day when researchers find a way to fix broken springs in tape measures. Kind of like I am cryogenically freezing it until it can be brought to life again.

Until that day, I’ve ordered The Big J. I am thoroughly disappointed yet hopeful that somehow we can work together. It just feels like nothing will be the same again.