Image: Bones by Corinne Schulze, used by permission
I sanded all day today. My hands are dry, raw, sensitive. I can feel the texture of these computer keys more than most nights, which makes me wonder if at least some of the dust that’s now covering the floor beneath my workbench was once the calloused skin of my now aching fingers. Sandpaper is relentless. Which is the point, I suppose.
Wood dust fascinates me. Each tool in the shop creates its own unique brand. I will often pause for a beat after using a tool to run my fingers through the byproduct, feel the texture and weight of it. I’ve learned that the table saw creates light fluffy particles, the lathe sprays off thick curly chips, and the router (no matter what bit I’m using) spits heavy, scratchy grains that get in between my sock and shoe and annoy me the rest of the day.
But what sandpaper pulls from wood is the best by far. Ghost-fine and elusive as chalk, I can hardly take a pinch before it scatters in the tiny wind created by my thumb and forefinger. This dust is wood, I remind myself, in its most particulated form. It feels it could pass at any moment from solid to gas and vanish into the warm air that fills my shop.
Because there is not much else to think about while I’m sanding, the smallness of this dust occasionally stirs my imagination. Quantum physics, Zen Buddhism, Christianity, and other philosophies urge us to meditate on the smallest, the least, the nearly invisible, the simple, as doors to The Truth. It is not in the large things that we come to know ourselves, but in the small ones.
As I silently sand, not only do the wood particles grow smaller, but my conscious thoughts as well. Hours go by, my arm numbly repeats its back and forth row over the wood, and my mind slowly opens to the simple quiet. At the end of such a day, there are few words worth saying aloud.