Fingerprints | ACTC


by Rebekah Michael - November 19, 2021


I winced as the blade of the coping saw I had tucked under my arm bit into my skin.

What was I thinking?  

And before the question was fully formed, before I cursed softly for the spiders and crickets to hear, I knew the answer.

I hadn’t been. This wasn’t a place for thinking…it was a place for sinking. Sinking deep into that hallowed peace and syncing into that coveted harmony between body, mind, and heart. When I was enveloped by that peace and harmony, I didn’t have to “think” about the wood or the blades or the blood. The only time I forced myself to resurface and check in with myself was table saw time.

The table saw will never not want to kill you. It is hungry and unforgiving every single second of its brutal life, and it only takes a moment for the peace and harmony to become the most dangerous place in the shop.

“Hand check”. I examine my hands, front and back. I am aware of them, they are steady, and they aren’t covered with gloves or long sleeves or jewelry. 

“Space check”. I look around, scanning the floor for trip hazards and make sure my material and waste have some where to go. The table saw is clear of debris, and my push stick and push block are ready. 

“Head check”. I take a deep, steadying breath. I am fully present, aware of my body and my flesh eating tool and the necessity to keep them as far apart as possible. 

If, and only if, I complete these checks, do I awaken the beast. It is so loud, so cruel, so powerful. I am always relieved when I can lower the blade, unplug the cord, and push it back into a dim corner.

Then I sink again. And sync again.

Saws and chisels and plane irons are hungry too, but they nibble. Offer a warning nip. Usually just enough to adjust and move on, sinking, syncing. My hands became calloused from the handles, my arms bore slight scratches from sharpening (if it’s sharp enough to shave, it’s sharp enough. If it isn’t sharp enough to shave, it’s sharp enough to catch and drag on your skin and elicit an expletive…back to the stones we go), and the sides of my fingers had the occasional deep slice a la my chisels. I named the narrowest one Chisele Bündchen and it’s really not surprising that she is also the hungriest of the bunch.

I learned to take care without ascending. To anticipate the nibbles and nips and shield my reveries from sharp interruptions. The blood only bothered me if it stained the wood. Even then, it didn’t really bother me. Hand tool woodworking is an exercise in patience, humility, and connection to the natural world. It stands to reason that a craft that begins with a tree, a living thing with a unique grain pattern, density, and color, should be forgiving of the bits of us we impart as we take this beautiful thing and make a beautiful thing. Some of my favorite woodworking authors have described wood as having qualities of friendliness and warmth, and of course, movement over time. Therefore, slight imperfections at the hands of the craftsperson are to be embraced. There is nothing quite like leaning in and seeing traces of human touch on a piece of furniture or art. Overcut dovetails, chisel gouges, or the faintest fingerprint immortalized in the finish.

We should never be afraid of leaving our fingerprint.


111921-bekah-michaelRebekah Michael is the Business Administration program coordinator and a full-time faculty member at ACTC. She is a certified public accountant with ten years of industry experience, a Morehead state alum (BBA and MBA), and a passionate amateur woodworker. She enjoys fancy coffee and plain old regular run of the mill no frills no thrills everyday coffee, getting her hands dirty as an HVACR apprentice, and cherishing every day with her son, daughter, life partner, and beloved dog. Her son, daughter, and life partner are also beloved, but the dog is exceptional.