In my father’s view, there was no clear separation between woodworking and religion.
He would speak of wood as others may speak of the Holy Writ. He understood wood. He knew how to hold it, how to cut it and how to shape it to his advantage. He knew how a piece would split or break. He understood how thick a piece needed to be in order to hold and about how much weight it would bear. He had a good eye and could see anything that was out of true or misaligned.
His high standards were based upon morality rather than speed. There was a right way to do something, no rough corners, no nails on the ground, no loose piles of lumber laying around. Things had to be neat and orderly. It had to make sense to him. He could never work for the other guy and he could never work for an hourly wage.
I have multiple memories of my father working in his wood shop. His stiff original 501 Levi’s had glue wiped all over them, nearly causing them to stand up on their own. His shop had a certain smell to it…one of fresh cut sawdust usually from pine or oak. There was the Elmer’s glue bottle, with globs of glue all around the top, hanging on a bent wire in front of the heater to keep it warm. He could often be heard singing Frank Sinatra. He has a good voice and still sings today.
He is a true engineer (without formal training) who can build anything. When I was a young boy, my father built a train that actually ran on a rail track around our house. The only thing he didn’t build was an airplane (mom wouldn’t let him).
During all these building experiences, he was often heard to speak about ham n egger’s. My brother and I could never understand what he actually meant. Though never formally verbalized, as adults, we believe we have deduced it’s proper meaning.
A ham n egger is anyone untrained, following his own dreams, not really giving a damn about what other experts think or how they say it should be done, building something that makes total sense to them, yet zero sense to anyone else. Furthermore, the true ham n egger accomplishes all this with very few tools and often with materials that can be found on hand or in his own wood pile. Additionally the phrase grants one an extra level of grace or forgiveness in ones woodworking projects that the expert or professional may not be willing to grant. Though the standard may sound low, it is set by the individual and only the individual. If you are happy with it, you’ve reached the standard. This is the true spirit of the ham n egger. It’s quite liberating once you understand it.
Original ham n egger in the background with second generation ham n egger in the foreground (me).
Though I originally discredited woodworking and found little merit in the skill, as an adult I often find myself reverting back to my fathers inclinations to accomplish something with my hands, often by working wood.
“Well boys”, my father would say, “I think it passes the ham n egger standard.” I would often say, “I think this exceeds the ham n egger standard,” but dad, very humbly would suggest that we were still firmly entrenched within the parameters of the standard.
I love you dad!