Ahead of the Kerf

As a writer, I love words. I like to mash ’em up and make jokes out of them and bend them to my will until they mean things that you would usually use different words to convey. When I try to pinpoint moments in my adult life when time flies and I get lost in the project at hand, it’s when I’m wrangling words, like a tangle of snakes escaped from a pillowcase.

But that gets old, because it gets lonely. And it gets to the point that I have to ask: Why do I bother? No one’s reading this, except for me and the invisible squirrels who live inside my laptop. Oh, and there aren’t any invisible squirrels in my laptop. So, I guess that means it’s just me reading it. And maybe my Mom.

There’s a reason that writers drink.

So I enrolled in construction school, with hopes that I might trade abstract thought for concrete results. (I mean that figuratively, but, yes, there will be a unit on pouring concrete.)

Turns out, my linguaphilia is too hardwired to reprogram, which I discovered while perusing Chapter 3 of Carpentry Fundamentals: Level One, about power saws. That’s where I landed on the word kerf. Never heard of it before, but what a word! Short, abrasive, and wholly indifferent to the audacity of starting with K. Kerf is the width of the cut made by a saw blade, or the amount of material removed by the blade in a complete cut. Where has this word—and its boundless potential for metaphor—been all my life? Imagine the uses.

For example, if you were writing about a nasty divorce, you could describe it as a jagged blade whose excessive kerf resulted in wobbly family structures on both sides of the cut. Or something like that. I’d need to noodle it for while. Which is what happened during the particular lecture on Chapter 3 of Carpentry Fundamentals: Level One. I awoke from my kerf reverie to find many minutes elapsed and the class moved on to mortise and tenon, the interlocking parts of hand-tooled woodwork.

Mortise and tenon! Are there any more glorious words in the English language? I can hardly wait to employ them as simile. And what about rabbeting (a cut made along the edge of a board to receive another board). And gullet (the space between the saw teeth). And  butt joint…Well, not all carpentry jargon is poetry.

But while I was hoping construction school might help me redirect my creative energy toward something concrete, it has only reminded me how much I love abstract language. Maybe carpentry school will help me join the two—words and wood—like a well-crafted mortise and tenon.

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