Simple Square Box and Coasters
by T.M. Mulligan
I’m pleased to share my latest woodworking project, aptly named Simple Square Box and Coasters. The commission originally asked for a simple slap-together wooden box in which he could place a necklace he purchased for his niece as a Christmas present. So the slap-together wooden box would be tossed into the same heap of recently bloomed ribbons of nylon and a pile-up of ripped and twisted wrapping paper resembling a fog-induced tangle of abstract alloy. Really, who remembers the wrapping paper of a long-forgotten gift they received at an indiscriminate holiday, the exception being gifts which modify destiny such as an engagement ring, new car, or divorce papers. But I couldn’t shake the thought; an insignificant wooden coffer hand-crafted to exact dimensions whose sole purpose rose no higher than the oft ignored cardboard box, one of millions prefabricated generic boxes produced by manufacturers. Yet this box really should´ve been seen as the first part of her gift, but instead was just another obstacle to obliterate in a doggedly pursuit of the delightful bauble inside. And after a few perfunctory refined and delightful “thank you’s,” the delicate bauble was distractedly deposited into her mother´s cupped hands. Her mother placed the bauble (whose importance continued to nose-dive like the stock exchange in 1929) among other gifts. And the slap-together box had been exiled to the paper mountain, and eventually would be crushed by the insensitive jaws of an indiscriminate refuse collector. Had I blithely reached into my pile of left-over lumber and found a throw-away board I suppose the box would experience a fate very similar to the one above. However, a particular piece of Poplar caught my eye because of its deliciously creamy base color and like a dried riverbed, a thick, malted-milk brown ran the length of the board which was absent of blemishes, gouges, chips, and knots, a cappuccino’s foam decorated by a creative barista; or, the faintly dusting of heat transforming the peaks of whipped meringue from snow-covered to densely charred remnants of a serial forest fire. I held the six-foot board respectfully in my hands, looked for cupping or warping at its ends like a sharpshooter whose focus remained on his target. I found the board to be true then placed it on the workbench to calculate the cuts. That’s when it began. I can’t find words to describe it, but it was like balance on a bicycle: no one handed you a ball of balance, you simply had balance. My experience with that board couldn’t be taught or handed down. It wasn’t an indicator of mania. It was simply, to respect the trees life in the differing colors of its rings. Those rings identified that tree like fingerprints identify people. And yet it was more: I felt a growing sensitivity and responsibility to work with the lumber to create an object of beauty. The longer I listened to the sensitivity of the wood, the greater my awareness of the woods signature became. It was then that I worked with the wood, and so did the wood with me.