Cold Stamina

Traditional carpenters … had to apportion the energy of their labors sensibly across the entire day. The more primitive the tool, the harder it was to work against the will of the material.
— Wood and Wood Joints, by Klaus Zwerger

Our website includes weather disclaimers, such as “Inclement weather does play a factor in obtaining raw material.  We will do our best to keep you informed about delays due to weather conditions.” The past couple of weeks and the weekend to come are good examples of why these disclaimers are necessary.

Dan and his team are no strangers to tough weather conditions. Up until last winter, Ogonek Custom Hardwoods didn’t have an enclosed workshop and so all work, including joinery, was done outside, year-round, in all conditions, for 18 years.

Before our son was born four years ago, I used to help Dan out on weekends, sometimes catching boards off the sawmill, sometimes catching boards off the planer, sometimes loading boards in a kiln, sometimes unloading them. As a person with an office day-job, those weekends were a real lesson in bodily stamina, especially on the coldest days. Cold has a way of draining away your energy without your realizing it, just in the effort to keep warm. It wasn’t unusual for me to end up sitting out the last hour of the day, out of the wind, in the truck, while Dan finished up his tasks. Tasks such as strapping down the skid steer to a trailer using steel chains which in the cold feel searing-hot to the touch. Tasks such as breaking up rock-hard clumps of frozen sawdust from the truck bed. Tasks like changing the razor-sharp blade of the sawmill with clumsy numb fingers. Tasks all involving pacing back and forth across jagged frozen mud, easily felt through the soles of the toughest boots.

Dan and his team don’t stop working in such cold. But the cold requires them to work in different ways, adjust how they work, and to “reapportion their energy” in response to the day-long demands of keeping warm. It’s a kind of awareness that I don’t have yet, and that I think may be increasingly rare as more of us spend more of our days indoors, working on computers. I’ll be thinking of them in the days ahead, and of others who work outside, putting their energy-apportionment wisdom to work.