Elaine’s ski building class

So my wife is building her second set of skis. Pure birch, completely hand-built. That my friends, I think is pretty freaking cool. She decided to write it up. This is a four or five part installment. She's letting me post the details here…enjoy!

Day 1 Wooden Ski Making Class (by Elaine)

So, as you all know, my husband works as a ski tech in a mountaineering shop, and his boss decided to teach a ski making class. It’s become a hobby of Gary’s, and I thought it sounded like a lot of fun, so Dan signed me up.

I show up in the morning, and help Gary unload the car. I’m happy and confidant at this point, figuring that Gary’s going to teach us how to do everything, yaddi yaddi yadda. After a bit, another person shows up for the class, and as we all get to talking, Gary asks us how much wood working we’ve done. I laugh a little nervously,  and say “none”. It’s true, unless you count wittling whistle-flutes that didn’t work out of branches when I was a kid.

But, the other man just so happens to be a carpenter! What? Great,  so here I am,  in a class that I know absolutely nothing about, with somebody who is already light years ahead of me. Gary thinks this is great,  and Woodworking Man and he start chatting about what they’ve done.

Another guy shows up from California, but to be honest I was too worried stressing about what on earth I was supposed to be doing, I didn’t really learn much about him.

When it’s time to start the class, Gary gives us each a box of tools, and pretty much tells us to have at it. Um…thinks my little non-woodworking brain. Have at…what? Well, it appeared that Woodworking Man and California Dude were sharpening their tools, so I figured I’d do that too. Well, shit. That means I gotta take these damn things apart? No problem! Taking them apart is a synch, sharpening is awkward (I’ve never sharpened anything in my life, I always just let my knife get super dull, and then hack away with it), and then comes the really great part – putting the damn things back together. I was pretty much with the group until this point. I could not get the blades in correctly. I could not get any of the pieces to fit together correctly. This, Elaine, is why you’re supposed to look at how something works before you take the damn thing apart, I think to myself. Stealing glances at Woodworking Man, who is working across from me, I
manage to get the planer put together correctly, albeit with the blade sticking out WAY more than it needed to be, but the spokeshave? Well, let’s just say, it was not right. And, for the record, I just looked up what it’s called. I’d been calling it the green and orange thing the whole day.

And then, away we go! Wait! Wait for me! Go? Go where? I don’t know how! Well, shit, looks like everybody else is starting, I’d better too. Besides, I was getting sick of trying to fit those damn tools together, so I figured I’d come back to them. We pick up our planks, clamp them down to the table, and then clamp down a ski right next to it, and trace the contour of the ski onto our board, the same thing done with the bottom. Yay. Now, that was easy. But, dammit,  it appears that we have to go back to those damn tools.

I can quite safely say the only smart thing I did that morning was to put my other board aside. While the others started off trying to work with both of their boards on the table at the same time, I at least only had to deal with one. Like I said, that was the only smart thing I did all morning.

My tools were not working. Well, the tool-weilder was not working, would be a more accurate way of putting this statement. I was hacking away at my piece of beautiful birch, making it appear a mangled piece of wood pretty damn fast. Stealing a sideways glance at Woodworking Man, I see that he’s brought his own tools! He has a big…thing (I’m telling you, I know nothing about this craft), and sliding it easily down the ski – whooooooosh! Whooooooooosh! Whoooooooosh! Long, curling, perfect shavings of wood come off. I look down at what I’m doing. Chick. Chick. Chick.  Little hunks of wood are popping out. Something is not right.

And where the hell is Gary? Isn’t he supposed to be teaching this class? As in, you know, teaching? As you can probably tell, I was being a bit pissy. As time wore on, and I continued to chick, chick, chick at my skis, I was really fighting off the urge to chuck the damn tools across the room and storm out of there. But, I did have some dignity. Unfortunately, I also had pride, so I wasn’t asking for help. As my temper rose, so did my temperature (or maybe this was  because it’s actually kind of hard work? Or maybe a bit of both), and I desperately wanted to take off my shirt or something – I’d stupidly worn a long sleeved shirt. So, in all senses of the words, I was very hot and bothered.  I also distinctly remember thinking that if I had my way with this stupid fucking piece of wood, I could burn it up in just a few seconds in the fireplace. I’m a fantastic firebuilder…woodworker? Not so much.

Finally, Woodworking Man took pity on me and came round to my side of the bench and started helping me. Guess I had way too much blade sticking out on both tools, and that’s what was causing the chattery skipping, the blade of the spokeshave I’d actually put in upside down, and to top it all off, was using it in the wrong direction. Somebody sure knows nothing about this, no?

But, now things were looking up, as I adjusted to Woodworking Man’s instructions on how to use the tools (after he put them together for me), I slowly grew the capacity to vooosh! Shave off a curl of wood! Not a hunk! Now, it wasn’t even close to the perfect curls that Woodworking Man was getting off of his plank, but it was a step in the right direction!

My mood improved drastically at that point, and I set to work with a stoke I hadn’t had for this craft that day since I found out that Woodworking Man was a carpenter. Gradually, the ski began to emerge from the board. I was psyched. And starving!

I ran off to have a quick lunch with my husband, where I laughed at my stupidity of the morning. In retrospect, it seemed quite hilarious. After switching shirts with my hubby, as I was hot, and he was not, I was back at it with renewed vigor. Little by little, it all started shaping up.

Gary even began talking to me. I have a thought on this. I think he may have been testing my mettle. I was the only girl in the class, and I think he wasn’t quite sure how to deal with me,  and I think he actually wanted me to prove that I could do it, which was why he was kind of ignoring me in the morning. But in the afternoon, he started helping me out, giving me little tips and tricks of the trade while we all worked together.  (I actually like being in setting where girls don’t normally go…there’s no catty competition between girls that way, and as I’m a girl, nobody expects anything fantastic from me. If I fuck up, well, it’s all OK, and if I don’t, it’s incredible! The lack of pressure is really good, because then I can do a lot better. I know it’s sexist, but it works.) Things were going much smoother.

Except the hands. My god, did my hands hurt! They were OK as long as I kept them clenched tightly around whichever tool I was using, but as soon as I wanted to switch tools, it was agony as I released my death grip on it. They were, at one point, black and blue and red and purple and…white. With nice splinters all over and little abraisions. Sweet.

But, at the end of the day, the hard work, the sore hands, the sore back, all the frustration, were totally worth it. By no means were they finished, in fact, I’d only even worked on one, but man, did it feel good to look at it and say “yep, I did that!”.

The night ended off with some Advil and soaking my hands alternatively in hot and then cold water. I discovered the cold water trick while shaping the skis. At one point, my hands hurt so bad, I literally could not move them. So, I took a break and went into the bathroom, turned the tap on as cold as it would go, and stuck my hands under. It felt like heaven, and then when I was done with it, it didn’t feel like anything! Veeeeeeerrrry nice, I’m telling you.

2 Replies to “Elaine’s ski building class”

  1. Haha, this is hilarious! I have followed your blog for a few months…it’s a small world apparently, my husband works at BCS down by you. Anyhow, this is my favorite post so far, I’m looking forward to the rest in the series!
    Elaine is a true inspiration for us ladies, I wouldn’t have even shown up for something like that, even though I secretly want to make a pair of skis for myself! It’s nice to see another couple very similar to my husband and me 🙂
    Enjoy the rest of the ski season!


  2. Don’t know how I missed this when you posted, but I’m enjoying it now! Next installment, please, Elaine. Waiting …


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