Near-pain, small gains and lessons learned

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“Please accept my resignation. I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member.”

The quote is attributed to Groucho Marx, but after joining two “clubs” in the last month, I’m borrowing it.

The first club is of dubious distinction. I experienced my first kickback at the table saw, miraculously blocking a 14” x 25” hunk of ¾” plywood with the back of my left hand. Yeah, it hurt, but I escaped with only a couple of small cuts.

It was operator-error squared. My setup was poor and I was certainly standing in the wrong place at the wrong time. My defense is pretty lame, too: I was in a hurry. I only needed to make one cut. I left my brain in my other flannel shirt.

I shouldn’t be making jokes. Kickback happens so fast that you have no time to react. The sound of it has stayed with me. I’ve hung the offending board in my shop as a reminder to follow proper procedures. What bugs me the most is I didn’t anticipate the kickback. I’ve got to start working smarter and safer because this was my wakeup call.

The second club is made up of Pinewood Derby dads. I’m sure there are moms, too, but I didn’t see any adding weights at our local race.

As the new den leader, who has a shop, I was tagged as a potential ringer for this year’s race. It was all in good fun, of course, and completely off base.

At first, I was operating in the fantasy world of my childhood. I’ve got this great memory of building a car with my dad and I tried to replicate the experience with my seven-year-old son. We got the kit — a block of wood, four nails and four wheels — and collaborated on the design. Then, on a snowy Saturday morning, the Riggio boys made some sawdust. He couldn’t wait to show his mom what we had done.

But it soon became my project. His paint job was OK, but I had to add the second coat. He was too young to put on the wheels or use the glue, I told my wife, who wasn’t buying it.

When you can spare a few minutes, search “Pinewood Derby” on the Internet. You’ll find an industry dedicated to making cars go fast, offering plans, kits, high-performance parts and tungsten-carbide weights. Anybody with a credit card can build a competitive car. And anybody with a scale can get their car to the 5-ounce limit. At our race, modifications were allowed for every underweight car. There was even a work area set up with supplies and tools.

Our car finished third and qualified for the district race in two months. That’s more than enough time to straighten the axels and reposition the weight. But maybe I should check with my son first.

This article originally appeared in the March 2016 issue.

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