The 8th grade wood shop project was larger than the 7th grade project, probably because we were a year larger and were supposed to have learned something about woodworking during the previous year. The project was a small bookcase, not fancy, just three shelves, two sides, and a back, about three feet tall.
We started by drawing our plans, learning in the process a bit about mechanical drawing — drawing boards, straight edges, mechanical pencils, and the proper way to indicate dimensions. We then converted our plans to blueprint. Our blueprints were made simply to guide our work and to teach us how to work from clear plans, but for me the blueprint was a wonder unto itself. Blueprint is a rather old means of duplication, predating xerography by something like 100 years. It’s reasonably easy to create a blueprint if you have the right equipment and supplies; but the result is a transformation of the original, not a copy. The black pencil lines we had drawn on white paper became white lines on blue paper, transformed into something much less ordinary, almost but not quite the reverse of the plans we had started with.
In the novel A Canticle for Leibowitz Walter Miller described a far future time, a time when all technology and learning have been lost except a set of mysterious blue documents in the library of a community of monks. The monks believe the color of the paper and the whiteness of the lines have some mystical significance, that the drawing is filled with religious meaning, and they carefully preserve these characteristics each time they copy them by hand, preserving them over many generations without knowing what they are, what they mean. I’ve always liked that image, the mystical nature of the blueprint. Rough, technical, and pragmatic, but seeming somehow mystical and magically capable of guiding a person to create a thing, if the person understands the hidden meanings.
I guess we all managed to find the hidden meanings in our blueprints, at least well enough to finish our projects.
But being able to read the blueprint doesn’t replace actual woodworking skills. Once again I battled clumsily with saw, plane, and square, shaving away much more wood than should have been necessary because the edges would not become square and smooth. Decorative curves added to the challenge. How do you plane a curve? But all of that struggle is over now, and all that remains is a small bookcase.
Somehow these two artifacts, the book shelf and the bookcase, have survived for some 50 years. Other objects, including my blueprints, vanished long ago, but these two remain, possibly because they are useful. I wonder if it’s significant that both have to do with books.