Divide and Conquer

If you’ve got a number phobia, a wood shop can be tough, but if you’re innovative and adaptable it could well be a blessing in disguise. Given a choice I take blessing in disguise. Most folks don’t know they’re always given a choice. After the train wreck with Miss Lainge I thought I was stupid with numbers. Thank you Miss Lainge, I hope you found a place in life where you could make valuable contributions to people’s lives.

One of the things I used to tell people was, “I’m terrible with numbers.” It was a matter of time before someone called me on that. It simply wasn’t true. I’d believed a lie back in seventh grade and it was time to correct that. When we believe something we usually find evidence to prove we’re right, even if it’s proving we’re idiots. An algebra teacher in 9th grade delivered the coup de grâce. She told me I was so bad at algebra that whatever grade I got on the final exam she would give me for the course year. I had failed every semester. On the final I got a D. She failed me anyway. When I asked her about it she said she thought I’d guessed some of the answers. I started to dislike teachers. I desperately needed a good one to restore my faith. I got two. Art and English composition.

How I began to conquer being numerically challenged was by measuring without numbers. Instead of measuring a piece of wood with a ruler I’d use something to transfer the measurement from one thing to another. Sticks, dividers, almost anything could be used. That’s what people did before they had tape measures. Joints of the body were useful. You took them wherever you went so you never lost your tape measure. Finger joints were good for small measurements, arms were good for longer ones. It didn’t work well when you had a tall guy telling a short guy how long something was supposed to be. Shorter arms meant smaller measurements.

Some people took full advantage of that. They used to measure cloth by the nose to outstretched arm measurement. Some clever, but not so honest merchants, would partner up with each other. One tall guy to buy the goods and the short guy to sell them.

Dividers are true to their name. They divide. Call it a compass and it will make circles for you. They can make angles too because different triangles have fixed angles. It’s very cool and you don’t have to mess with numbers. Angles are good for things like making one side of wood square to another. The angle is called, in number land, ninety degrees. Square works for me.


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