It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...

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Project by mgb_2x posted 08-09-2010 11:37 PM 2330 views 0 times favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch

it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
English novelist (1812 – 1870)

It was the early 60s and my parents both sharecropper kids from south east Missouri moved to the big town of St Louis to get far away from the farm and into a factory. Shortly thereafter they moved to the suburbs north of town into one of the 1200 sq ft track homes that covered the land. The Hazelwood school district was the beneficiary of this rapid growth and schools were popping up all over, but even with the building programs the schools were packed.

Mr Daniels was the wood shop teacher at Kirby Junior High. He was a very kind and gentle old man probably just spending his last few years getting ready to retire. The class room was well equipped with cabinets full of handtools, row upon row of heavy maple work tables with fancy vices and power tools of all shapes and sizes covered the floor. The shop classes had been built with the very best of everything as might be expected back in the day.

The kids made up the sweet spot of the baby boomer generation and came by the busload. Ready for a taditional eductional experience, the boys went to shop class and the girls went to Home Ec. Typical of kids that days we were mostly normal, some were jocks others were brainiacs, mostly well behaved but we had a few of the troublemakers.

We all entered the classroom and saw some tools and equipment that was new to most of us. Probably a handsaw, hammer and a can of nails was the most we had seen at home. Mr. Daniels explained the rules of the shop, demonstrated the equipment, showed us the projects we would make and then…as I recall…it all fell apart. 30 or 40 jr. high kids, tools in hand can create vast quantities of sheer bedlam. In hindsight what may have worked with a group of 10 or 12 did not translate to the masses.

I remember that everyday we had a pretty good idea of what we needed to do next and Mr Daniels hopped from one work table to the next giving advice. As I recall the scrap bin was always full, seems you can only plane a part so far. We made it through the semester mostly intact, I was accidentally stabbed in the hand with a scratch awl by a good friend. We all had a few projects to show at the open house and take home to our parents.

Without a doubt Charles Dickens words perfectly described the jr high wood shop that I attended. The class was full of contrasts, the good, the bad and the ugly. It was certainly new and exciting and and started me down a path that has provided me with much happiness over the years.

The walnut mallet pictured is my only project from that class that survived these last 40 years. I suspect it may have survived as I never once found a use for it. Maybe others can share their stories and pics of where their woodworking journey began.

-- "aim small miss small" m g breedlove

7 comments so far

View WoodenFrog's profile


2737 posts in 4163 days

#1 posted 08-09-2010 11:47 PM

Very nice! 40years ..Thats awesome.. And you tell like it was yesterday.
I really like the mallet and the great story about it. Thanks for sharing.

-- Robert B. Sabina, Ohio.....

View Kindlingmaker's profile


2659 posts in 4777 days

#2 posted 08-10-2010 06:05 AM

A good read mgb_2x!

-- Never board, always knotty, lots of growth rings

View RonPeters's profile


713 posts in 4131 days

#3 posted 08-10-2010 07:00 AM

Sounds like you have found a use for that mallet after all!

-- “Once more unto the breach, dear friends...” Henry V - Act III, Scene I

View Cozmo35's profile


2200 posts in 4286 days

#4 posted 08-10-2010 02:28 PM

In Medieval England, gavels were used in rent collection proceedings. If a tenant got uppity or didn’t want to pay, then the gavel was used on the person to change their mind (seriously!). It also doubled as a weapon since the collection process tended to involve a serious risk of physical danger.

If you have any rental properties, this may be a good use for it.

Nice story!

-- If you don't work, you don't eat!.....Garland, TX

View Pimzedd's profile


645 posts in 5393 days

#5 posted 08-11-2010 03:45 AM

Nice story. As a high school “shop teacher” for 34 years, it brings a smile to my face.

Just glad I never had to keep up with 30+ Junior High students in one class. God will reward every Junior High/Middle School teacher some day.

Oh yea, I still have my first woodshop project, a table top book shelf. If I were to grade myself, I would be lucky to get at “C”! I was a better teacher than student.

-- Bill - Mesquite, TX --- "Everything with a power cord eventually winds up in the trash.” John Sarge , timber framer and blacksmith instructor at Tillers International school

View John Gray's profile

John Gray

2370 posts in 5136 days

#6 posted 08-13-2010 06:24 AM

” the boys went to shop class and the girls went to Home Ec” and the college prep kids went to Spanish…..
Thanks for the post and if I had to do it over again I’d have taken SHOP! ;-)

-- Only the Shadow knows....................

View stefang's profile


17040 posts in 4584 days

#7 posted 03-30-2012 03:22 PM

Great story MGB and quite a nice mallet too. I always did wonder what a woodworker would do with a mallet like that. Probably just my ignorance showing. I’ve seen quite a few like it through the years, so it must have some practical application in wood shop. My two boys had woodshop here in Norway with some true stories that would
curdle your blood if you hand’t already experienced it yourself.

John, I can’t understand your viewpoint. I took Spanish in school and I can still count to 10 in that language, It was VERY useful on our trip to Spain, and it only took me six months to learn it back in 1955. On the other
hand, I’ve been woodworking for about 16 years now and I’ve hardly learned anything.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

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