Bringing Order; Hanley’s Way
The delegates in my Constitutional Crisis class have expressed the need for a gavel, to bring order when the inevitable clamors of everyone talking at once occur. I could draw from our departmental budget to buy a very nice one online for a reasonable price, but that’s not Hanley’s way. What’s the fun of buying, when I can make something? And it just so happens that a recent windstorm gave me just the materials I needed. So…
Step 1: Go out to the burn pile in the back yard, thinking that it’s so unseasonably cool that this evening might be a good night to have a campfire, and grab that perfect size branch that blew down last week.
Step 3: Guesstimate how big the head should be–about a hand’s width seemed right–cut out that much of the branch, and drill 1/2″ hole in it for the handle, going about 1 1/2″ deep, to ensure a solid connection.
Step 4: From a smaller windfall branch, guesstimate a good handle length and cut it off. Screw up the first one by cutting it much too short, go get another small branch, and get the right length the second time. Then use the utility knife and rasp to narrow and round one end to fit in the hole you drilled in the head. You could select a straighter stick, but the crooked look emphasizes the naturalness of the material. Also, without a lathe you cannot get a perfectly straight handle, so a bit of exaggeration of the crookedness helps it read as an intentional design choice, rather than as a failure to achieve straightness.
Step 5: Trim off sharp nubs where other small branches came off this one. The head has a bulge on one side, and the handle is not uniform in dimension, but you do not want to eliminate these natural variations; you only want any bumps to be smooth, and comfortable to grip, rather than pointy and sharp. Your students will appreciate this, especially the spoiled ones with soft hands who’ve never done a day’s labor in their life.
Step 7: Although you got the fit of handle to head nice and tight, and are feeling rather smug about that, glue the damn thing so it doesn’t fly off in class and hit a student in the face.
Step 8: Stain, if you want. You may be tempted to leave it totally natural looking, but you might decide that the shape is natural enough and that staining it would give it a nice finished look. So sand the wood down to get rid of dirt and some of the surface staining, but because you want to leave some of the natural look, do not go deep enough to remove all color variation. This shows up as intended in the staining, although if you choose a dark enough color the variation will be subtle.
Be sure to make a mistake here, too. Wait the required 6 hours for the first coat to dry, then being lightly rubbing the surface with a fine grade steel, and only then realize that because of the unseasonably cool weather, the stain is still tacky and now you have bits of steel wool stuck to it. Swear, switch to a fine grade sandpaper to sand out the steel wool, and go to bed frustrated. Wake up in the morning and apply the second coat of stain while your morning coffee is brewing. Let it dry and admire the finished product. Repeatedly ask your spouse, “What do you think, doesn’t it look great?” until they fling the gavel at your head.
Step 9: Write a blog post about it. You’ve already done the hard work, so go for the low-cost value added.